French Riviera: Nice, Cannes, Monaco

Two weeks ago was half-term for my children so I decided as usual that rather than spend the money on babysitters and/or holiday camp that we would spend the week travelling. My husband couldn’t join us due to work commitments so it was just me and the kids. I had a few criteria, top of the list being warmer weather, multiple cities within close proximity and as always, budget. I went to my bucket list of places that I want to travel and narrowed the list to the top 5 based on my criteria. After researching flights, hotels and things to do I quickly narrowed my list to 3 destinations: South of France, Southern Italy or Portugal.

I decided on South of France, Nice specifically because it offered an ocean front with a warm climate and I could easily travel to other locations in close proximity such as Cannes, Monaco-Monte Carlo, St Tropez or other destinations in the South of France. Nice also offers many interesting cultural things to see and do for adults and children such as museums, tours and great food. I booked the first flight on out a Tuesday (better rate) returning on Saturday evening giving us 5 days to cover the region.

Overcast view of Nice
Overcast view of Nice

Just under a 2 hour flight from London, we arrived in Nice at half past 10AM local time giving us the full day to explore. Against my better judgment I overpaid for the 15 minute taxi ride to the hotel when I should have used Uber for half the price.  We stayed at the AC Hotel Nice which was across from the beach and within walking distance to restaurants and shopping in Old Town and trains to nearby cities. I was pleasantly surprised that my room was ready when we arrived so we checked in, dropped our bags and hit the streets.

 

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My children were eager to walk along the beach where they were surprised to find rocks instead of the sandy beaches that they are used to. The weather was a heavy overcast but not raining so we strolled along the beach and stopped at a park to enjoy a quick carousel ride before finding a place to eat lunch. We settled on a (tourist trap) restaurant that had a mix of the French food that I wanted and the Italian food that my children wanted. Nice is near the Italian border so there is a heavy Italian influence which made for an interesting mix of cultures. I enjoyed my mussels with a glass of Rose and my children enjoyed their pizza and pasta dishes while I watched a rude exchange between our waiter and another customer that reiterated that fact that I was still in France despite the Italian influence.

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Rocky beach in Nice

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It was still early when we went to the tourism office to purchase a 3-day French Riviera pass that included unlimited rides on the hop on/hop off bus in Nice plus admission into museums and other places of interest in Nice, Cannes, Monaco and several other cities in the area. We hopped on the bus to get a quick lay of the land and learn some interesting facts about the history of Nice. We hopped off at the Matisse Museum (which is closed on Tuesdays) to explore the ancient Roman ruins and a park lined with beautifully haunting olive trees where men played bocce and I was surprised to find several busts and walk ways named after famous Black American jazz musicians Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong. It was an unexpected opportunity to weave Black American history into our adventure. In Europe we had turned the clocks back for daylight savings only the week before so although it was still fairly early we headed back to the hotel once it started getting dark.

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Ancient Roman ruins
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I did have an old school hip hop “Nice & Smooth” moment… Dizzy Gillespie plays the sax, me myself I love to max…
Olive tree grove
Olive tree grove

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The weather forecast called for rain on Wednesday so I decided to stay in Nice and spend the day mostly indoors. We grabbed breakfast on the go and headed back to the Matisse museum which was open. The space and exhibit reminded us of the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice due to it’s quaint and manageable size as well as the casual vibe that made the art feel more approachable.  We compared these experiences as we gained a deeper appreciation for Matisse’s art. It is important to me to expose my children to art and culture in an environment that feels accessible and relatable to encourage their creativity where ever we go and that is a constant theme in all of our travels.

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After the museum we headed back to into the center of Nice for some light shopping and a late lunch/early dinner. I was careful only to buy things that I couldn’t find in London because I had a small carry-on and buying additional luggage and paying for checked baggage was not in the plan. I only intended to buy a limited edition Keith Haring Clarisonic from Sephora since there is no Sephora in London but I also found a store with cool workout clothes and was I tempted to buy the whole store but I remembered how my luggage was set up so I limited my purchase to only 2 outfits, including one for my upcoming marathon. We made it to the restaurant just in time to miss being caught in a very heavy downpour. We dined al fresco the entire trip and sat front row to thunder and lightning throughout our meal. We waited for a break in the rain before making out way back to the hotel for the evening.

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Nice at night after the rain storm

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Thursday’s weather promised to be warm and sunny so we decided to go to Cannes for the day. It was a 15 minute walk to the train station and after a half hour train ride we arrived in the beautiful coastal town famous for its annual celebrity film festival. I planned to take a quick boat trip to visit the local island of Sainte Marguerite so we stopped in the local tourism office to confirm directions and times for the ferry. We had an hour and a half before the next ferry so we went to the small beach nearby to stick our toes in the sand and ocean until then. As we attempted to board I realized that I lost my French Riviera pass. Annoyed that I had to now pay for the roundtrip ferry we boarded and quickly arrived on the island. After reading great reviews on trip advisor I looked forward to enjoying a leisurely afternoon on the island and perhaps a little more beach time but honestly I wasn’t impressed. It felt like we were on Gilligan’s island so after walking around the heavily forested island for an hour we were ready to go back to Cannes.

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Beaches in Cannes

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Ice cream at the marina
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Lighthouse from the ferry in route to Sainte Marguerite island from Cannes
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View of Cannes from Sainte Marguerite island
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Leaving Sainte Marguerite island

Once we were back in Cannes I retraced my steps to the tourism office to find my French Riviera pass to take back to the ferry to receive a refund but didn’t find it. The kids were in the mood for burgers so we tried the Cannes version of Shake Shack called Steak and Shake.  We returned for a final visit to the tourism office to purchase a new French Riviera pass when I found my card. We walked back to the ferry office to receive a refund for the trip which I was even more adamant about given my level of disappointment, only to find the office closed. I quickly let it go as we enjoyed the sunset over the marina in Cannes and then departed back to Nice.

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Cannes marina at dusk
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Cannes marina at sunset
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Beautiful church in Nice

Friday was another beautiful day and we made an early start to Monaco-Monte Carlo. The trains were plush and luxurious compared to the graffiti riddled trains to Nice which set the tone for the principality well associated with champagne wishes and caviar dreams. It was a quick 20 minute train ride before we arrived and were utterly blown away by the vistas. We had 2 stops on our agenda and decided to start with the Exotic Garden. Monaco is a very vertical city so after literally a 15 minute hike we reached the gardens which overlooked the city and the palace of Monaco. The gardens housed cacti and succulents from all over the world, many were over 100 years old. It was a place that felt truly magical in its rarity and serenity and the kids and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there.  There are caves and an anthropology museum on the same site but we opted not to go and hike back down to our second destination, the Oceanographic Museum instead.

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On the train to Monaco
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At the exotic garden overlooking Monaco
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Breathtaking ocean front views
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They loved it as much as I did

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Jacques Cousteau was the former director of the Oceanographic Museum which received great online reviews and it did not disappoint. We visited the Copenhagen aquarium several months ago which boasts the largest aquarium in Europe and the kids and I agreed that the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco was better as it seemed to house more types of exotic sea creatures and also featured a shark petting tank, proving that bigger isn’t always better. The Oceanographic Museum is located within the palace so on our way out we saw the changing of the guards before heading to a local restaurant to eat.

We arrived at the palace
We arrived at the palace
Inside the palace
Inside the palace
The church where Prince Renier and Princess Grace Kelly were married
The church where Prince Renier and Princess Grace Kelly were married
We loved the Oceanographic Museum
We loved the Oceanographic Museum
Roof top views of Monaco from the Oceanographic Museum
Roof top views of Monaco from the Oceanographic Museum
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Changing of the guards in Monaco

After dinner we walked along the waterfront admiring the views and conspicuous displays of wealth with each yacht seemingly bigger and more extravagant than the next. We ended our walk at what I’ll call “dealers row” where my kids played “that’s my car” with the McLarens, Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls Royces.  I had a flashback to when I played that game as a kid on Quincy Street in Brooklyn and my cars were the Honda Accords, Infinity Q45s and Acura Legends.  In that moment I felt really far from where my life started and happy that my children are able to have the mind opening experience of travel. We took the train and travelled back to Nice just as quickly as we arrived.

On our final day we decided to stay in Nice and enjoy the rooftop pool. I had requested a late checkout so that the kids could splash around for a couple of hours before we had to leave. We checked out at 2pm and went to a nearby restaurant that the kids had chosen because it was showing the Chelsea vs. Arsenal World Cup match. After Arsenal’s victory we took a final walk along the rocky beach in Nice back to the hotel to collect our luggage and take an Uber to the airport. We covered a lot in the 5 days but left enough undone to warrant another trip.  It was a beautiful holiday and although it is a popular destination in summer, I would highly recommend it during the Fall.

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