Visiting the French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur, is like turning the illustrious pages of a storybook. The little villages nestled in between beaches along the Mediterranean Coast in the South of France are picturesque in every way — and are the perfect backdrop for a much-needed vacation. But what to do if time is not totally on your side? Make the most of it, that’s what. Below, find your guide to the area when you have limited days off.
How to Get There:
La Compagnie, the French boutique airline, is used to running a route between New York City (Newark Airport) and Paris. But now, the company is offering direct flights to Nice, the major hub for exploring the South of France. Not only that, but the airline is a business class-only airline. Yes, you read that right. Every seat (74 total on every flight) has ample space, plugs, and all the accouterment for your entertainment and comfort. Plus, the lie-flat seats allow you to rest and arrive ready to go the moment you land. (An amenity kit with complimentary Caudalie products helps as well.) You’ll have lounge and priority board access, and you’ll be welcomed with a glass of Piper-Heidsieck Champagne as you board the plane, so your mind will immediately be in vacation mode. Did I mention the food? Crafted by Chef Christophe Langrée, it’s a nod to French gastronomy. If they have it, don’t miss the onion soup. And don’t sleep on the croissants by Maison Kayser.
Thinking you can’t afford business class? Starting at $1,500 dollars round-trip, it’s a pretty good deal compared to the other airlines offering similar service to Nice — most of which are double (if not more) the cost. Pssst… they’re offering deals right now since it’s a new route, so make sure to take advantage.
First up: Cannes
Where to Stay:
The Hôtel Martinez, an iconic hotel that has been open since 1929, just finished its renovation, where it pays homage to its Art Deco roots with beautifully furnished rooms and a lush and welcoming lobby. Don’t miss the original staircase — a perfect place to grab a photo (or two).
Where to Eat:
If you’re staying at the Hôtel Martinez, you must check out their newly reimagined private beach and restaurant, La Plage du Martinez. The shareable plates for lunch and seats overlooking the blue water, it’s the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon. The Hôtel Martinez also has fantastic cocktails at the Martinez Bar, including “The West Indies,” which comes in a small chest that emits smoke upon opening. (Talk about presentation.)
Dinner at La Palme d’Or is a must — a two-Michelin star restaurant with incredible views, service, and a six seasonal menus that you’ll choose from menus resembling dice. Don’t miss out on the truly amazing cheese cart and the tea infusion cart, at the end of the service.
What to Do:
The beach is an obvious, but make sure to give yourself half a day to visit the Lérins Islands, including Île Sainte-Marguerite Île Sainte-Honorat. Sainte-Honorat features a monastery and several cathedrals, plus beautiful vineyards and gardens. (Yep, the monks make wine and olive oil which you can also buy.)
As you walk the city, stroll to the top of the old quarter of Cannes, Le Suquet, to get a beautiful view. You’ll need walking shoes — the cobbled streets wind up and around to the top overlook.
Next Up: Monaco
Where to Stay:
Staying at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo is like staying in a piece of history. The centrally located hotel directly across from the casino is famed for its Old Hollywood history, celebrity guests, and truly luxurious accommodations.
If you’re looking for more of a beach vacation vibe, go ahead and book at Monte-Carlo Beach. Even if you don’t stay here, you can make your way here via a shuttle from Hôtel de Paris that comes every 20 minutes. Hang at the beach club and order some great food at Elsa, their restaurant with amazing views of the beach. Fun fact: Elsa is the first 100% organic restaurant to receive a coveted Michelin star. You can also get a massage or treatment at their small but mighty spa, Le Tigre.
Where to Eat:
Mada One is a cute, design-lover’s dream of a restaurant and bar. Order some appetizers and a couple of glasses of wine and just enjoy.
ÔMER at Hôtel de Paris is chef Alain Ducasse’s newest restaurant, with chef Patrick Laisne at the helm of the kitchen. Order shareable plates and don’t miss the octopus dish cut right at the table. Refuel with a coffee at Café de Paris, where you can people-watch as you overlook the main area right in front of the casino and Hôtel de Paris.
One of the most under-the-radar places is Le Train Bleu, the restaurant in the casino that draws inspiration from train cars. Most people only think of the casino as the casino — but the train car restaurant serves amazing high-end Italian, and is a little gem in the city.
Nightlife options are admittedly limited, but Le Bar Americain at the Hôtel de Paris is a must stop. The drinks are fairly pricey but you’ll be surrounded by a bit of history and you can enjoy live music at certain times. Get there for an aperitif in the early evening, or after dinner for a nitecap (and music).
What to Do:
You can’t go to Monte-Carlo and not visit Casino de Monte-Carlo, which is not only a historical landmark but a true wonder of architecture. Head to The Exotic Garden to get a cool view of the city and see some amazing greenery, and then head to the town or the old city to see the palace and where many Monegasque (people native to Monaco) live.
Other Standouts and Tips:
If you’re making the drive from Cannes to Monaco, make sure to stop in Old Nice to peruse the square and shop the farmers market where locals and tourists alike congregate. Order socca, a regional favorite that’s basically a chickpea crepe and tastes like a crepe and a tortilla chip had a child. (In other words, get two.) Have lunch at Acchiardo, which has been a family-run restaurant for more than four generations since 1927.
Want to ride in style? You can drive the coast with Rent a Classic Car, which features a fleet of convertible classic cars from Jaguar, Ford, Aston-Martin, Mercedes, and more. Their trained drivers will let you relax and enjoy the scenery, or you can choose to rent the car and get behind the wheel yourself.
Lastly, a transfer with Monacair, the helicopter company, to the Nice airport is a must. Not only is it super cost- and time-effective (it’s cheaper than a taxi from Nice to Monaco and takes approximately 7 minutes, while a taxi can take up to three hours in traffic), it also is just super scenic. Plus, if you’re flying with one of their airline partners — including La Compagnie — you’ll go through security at the Monocair airport before getting on the helicopter, and head straight to the terminal upon arrival. You won’t have to do security twice. Definitely worth it.