I have always loved a good surprise. It’s that rush of adrenaline when the actual moment happens like a surprise birthday or engagement, or like most recently for me, a trip overseas.
As someone who has visited over 20 countries in my life, the French Riviera was not on my bucket list. Yes, I have been to Paris several times, even seeing a couple of Grateful Dead shows there years ago, but I never thought I needed to head South. I can admit now, I was wrong!
The idea of traveling to the French Riviera all started when a friend of mine reached out to say she and her husband would be renting a house in Provence, France for her husband’s birthday. I couldn’t resist her invite to visit and asked my brother to tag along for this once in a lifetime adventure.
The coastal town of Nice was our first stop and reminded me a lot of Santa Monica, California with people running and biking on the boardwalk. The Negresco is likely the most famous hotel there and is definitely worth a visit. We stopped in for lattes our first morning which was a fun place to sit and people watch. Taking a stroll through the Old Town section of Nice is an easy walk and great place to grab lunch amongst the locals.
Up for some light exercise? Then check out Caste Hill which includes stairs you can hike up to see some stunning views of the city of Nice. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes because there are lots of stairs and uneven sidewalks.
Next stop was a charming and classy town called St. Jean Cap Ferat which is also known as the “peninsula of the billionaires.” We stayed two nights at the Royal Riviera and fell in love with the staff and the large breakfast buffet. This hotel is situated on the water, a cape that is gorgeous and quiet with the sweet sounds of birds chirping around the clock.
The nice part about this location, is that we were able to base ourselves there and bounce over to Monaco and to one of the special surprise highlights of the trip, a medieval village called Eze.
Eze is perched high above Cap Ferat and is a fun drive on narrow streets. U2 fans, the rumor is that singer Bono lives there. Be sure to check out the La Chevre d’ Or which translates to The Golden Goat. Heads up, it’s a little tricky to get there due to the crowds. Parking is almost non-existent, so go directly to the hotel valet. The stroll through the hotel gardens is a treat.
I was in awe seeing unique statues everywhere with the French Riviera in the background. Grab a table at the restaurant veranda and then be sure to roam the hotel grounds which include lots of intricate stairs, shops, and rooms built into the mountain.
We spent the next two days exploring the city of Monaco. We got lucky our first day there because our cousin connected us with a friend of hers who is a member of the private Monaco Yacht Club. Talk about fancy.
Wow! I have never seen so many huge yachts in one place. We also toured the Prince’s Palace of Monaco. If you are a history buff like my brother and me, you will love this tour which offers an inside look into portions of the palace which was built in 1215.
It was also fun to check out the Car Collection of the Prince of Monaco. The personal collection consists of some 100 restored cars including one of the original Bond cars. The museum is down the hill from the palace and is a bit of walk but worth it.
By the way, Monaco does not allow ride-sharing services and the taxis are rare and hard to find so plan to park and walk everywhere including heading over to the Casino de Monte-Carlo. If you want to gamble in the casino, don’t forget your passport.
The second half of the trip included Provence which was less than a 3 hour drive from Cap Ferat with half of it being on small two lane roads. My friends had rented Bastide de Bouche. Here we found plenty of time to walk on back roads and to enjoy pure silence amongst the trees and an occasional donkey or rooster.
The Cote d’ Azur region includes several high-end wineries and small villages as well like Aups and Cotignac to grab an espresso and relax with the locals.
It was hard to leave this special place and our friends but it was time to head home with a quick stop in Cannes. We made last minute reservations at the Carlton Hotel Beach Club, which was simpler to do than we expected.
The club is situated right on the water and the vibe here is everything you might imagine the French Riviera would feel and look like. It was the perfect place to wrap up a fabulous and surprise-filled trip.
Au revoir & bonne chance! (Goodbye & Good Luck!)
Written by: Lu Parker
As an Emmy and Genesis Award winning journalist, Lu has worked in the television news business as an anchor and reporter for more than two decades.
She is also an inspirational speaker, author, former Miss USA, and founder of Be Kind & Co., a lifestyle media brand focused on kindness.