Feeling Fancy in The French Riviera

In the French Riviera, I ate crepes! We didn’t get a chance to eat them while we were in Paris, so I took full advantage of the fact that we were still in France and the crepe situation was still abundant. Who doesn’t love a good crepe?!

We bounced around the South of France for six nights and it was glorious. Stopping in Nice for one night, Monaco for two and Cannes for three. I was under the impression that all three cities would be very similar as they all sit right along the coast of the Riviera, I was wrong. Each city had a completely different vibe and the way that we planned our visits couldn’t have been more perfect.

DSC_0160

With glittering seas and ideal beaches, the French Riviera is the perfect tropical getaway. It’s the Caribbean of the European jet set, and oh how I would love to make it my annual spring break destination. There is nowhere more glamorous than Monte Carlo or Cannes and I never wanted to leave!!

Nice

We arrived in Nice by train from Geneva early Thursday afternoon. Nice was my least favorite of the three cities we visited on the coast, so I was happy with our decision to only stay for one night. We last minute booked a room at a small boutique hotel called Hotel Excelsior. It was really cute and only blocks away from the sea, which was a huge perk! Once we walked to the beach, the views of the sea were beautiful. Deep blue waters with accents of teal sparkled along a rocky beach while a picturesque hill crowded with tiny square homes made for a screensaver setting. It was charmingly European, but the city itself was quite dirty.

20140619-165146-60706949.jpg

Walking along the Promenade des Anglais, which is Nice’s beautiful palm-lined seafront, was the first thing we did when we arrived. Not as romantic as I had imagined it would be as rocks kept getting stuck in my shoes causing my mood to alter. So we decided to take a stroll into the old town where rocks were less likely to make me crabby. Nice is known for good living and rich history. It is filled with young French people who live there to take in the exceptional art scene, Mediterranean food and lower prices (lower than any of the other cities along the coast on the Riviera).

20140619-165148-60708669.jpg

20140619-165301-60781462.jpg

Old town was sweet. A large square surrounded by Palm trees sat in the center with a huge fountain where tourists took pictures and locals ate gelato. Scattered throughout the square were these long funny looking poles with what looked to be figurines of humans meditating illuminated by neon lights. It was rather bizarre, but made for something intriguing to observe! Just beyond the square, tiny cobbled streets dispersed filled with hundreds of Mediterranean restaurants. We ended up having dinner outside under the stars at a tiny spot where we ate local fare. We were serenaded by who seemed to be a 17 year old boy genuinely singing old school Destiny’s Child songs accompanied by his acoustic guitar. It was quite an interesting event, but I would never complain over a Destiny’s Child song lineup being played in the background of my dinner, of course!

20140619-165151-60711906.jpg

20140619-165149-60709514.jpg

20140619-165303-60783237.jpg

20140619-165147-60707860.jpg

Monaco

Friday morning we eagerly woke up to catch the slow regional train to Monte Carlo, Monaco – the world’s second smallest country (Vatican city being the smallest!). Lifestyles of the rich and famous perfectly describe this luxurious yacht town. Being a top destination for high rolling gamblers, celebrities and the super wealthy, it has been on my bucket list for years to see exactly what it’s all about. Known for its sparkling harbor, outrageous yachts, high-end shopping, fancy streets and ritzy casinos, there is no doubt that the prices might make your stomach sink. Being as unreachably expensive as it is, many people take day trips from Nice as it is only an hour train ride away. We stayed two nights on the beach at the Le Meridian Hotel – which had an amazing pool, private beach, and was only a minutes walk from the main part of the city.

20140619-165803-61083402.jpg

The hotel thought it was our honeymoon (ah the perks of being young newly weds on vacation!), so we got upgraded to a huge room on the top floor with a balcony overlooking the Sea. We had been debating whether or not we wanted to stay right in town at the infamous Hotel de Paris or stay on the beach… and this upgrade confirmed that we indeed did make the right decision! This European adventure has been amazing, but exhausting at times. We are always on the go, running from museums to sights to restaurants to attractions…. so we were extremely looking forward to doing basically nothing but cocktail by the water during our stay.

20140619-170017-61217500.jpg

We wanted to get exploring the town out of the way so that we could spend the rest of our time relaxing. So that was the first thing we did! Walking through the fancy streets, shopping the extremely high-end retail and eating lunch near the famous casino. The town is funny… Other than the casino and harbor where ginormous yachts crowd the water, there is not much else to Monte Carlo! The restaurant situation is far and few and the shops are scattered and not easily accessibly located. It was still fun to see the main square, harbor, park, and shop through the streets, but there wasn’t much going on. In a strange way, it kind of reminded me of the ritzy part of Beverly Hills.

20140619-165308-60788908.jpg

20140619-165305-60785294.jpg

20140619-165618-60978752.jpg

20140619-165805-61085215.jpg

Our first night, we ate dinner on the beach at a small restaurant we stumbled upon while walking along the water. We ate seafood and watched the sunset, it was nothing fancy, but so beautiful!

Our entire Saturday was spent by the water, alternating from beach to pool. The pool at our hotel was really nice and the beach bar was even better. Tropical cocktails flowed over competitive card games (I’m better than my husband at gin, but he’s too embarrassed to admit that!). Other than soaking up the sun and staring at a sparkly hombrė teal to navy Sea, there’s not much else to say! It was perfect. We ate lunch at one of the outdoor bistros at the hotel and then dined at the other outdoor restaurant for dinner that night. We literally did not leave the hotel for one minute and it was heaven!

20140619-170021-61221123.jpg

20140619-171314-61994503.jpg

20140619-170016-61216711.jpg

20140619-170019-61219437.jpg

20140619-170015-61215028.jpg

20140619-170825-61705300.jpg

20140619-170823-61703732.jpg

A firework show ended our evening 🙂 Monte Carlo was great.

20140619-170828-61708932.jpg

20140619-170830-61710727.jpg

20140619-170827-61707027.jpg

Cannes

Sunday morning we boarded the slow regional train to Cannes – home of the Cannes Film Festival and celebrity sightings. Cannes was my favorite of the three stops we made in the French Riviera, and no… I didn’t even run into any movie stars! Lush palm trees, beautiful people, sexy beaches and a seafront town to die for make up this ritzy region.

DSC_0156

20140619-172533-62733623.jpg

We stayed at the most beautiful Design Hotel called Five Sea Hotels. With a rooftop pool, exceptional spa, patisserie/cafe and wonderful food, we couldn’t go wrong. The restaurant scene was amazing and the shopping was perfect! With hardly any cars driving on the narrow side streets, we walked a ton and found some really cool spots.

20140619-171952-62392891.jpg

One of my favorite dinners of our whole trip was eaten our first night there at a place called Restaurant La Brouette De Grand Mere. It was a French brasserie with no menus and a set price. Here’s how it worked: we sat down and they just started bringing food accompanied by a glass of cava (champagne) to our table. Starters included fois gras, salad, cheese and meats galore! They then asked us, “white, red or rosė” – these were the wine options. Once we were set up at a table filled with delicious starters and a bottle of French wine, they greeted us yet again with five different entree choices. I’m not done yet. Before our entree came out, they gave us the freshest salmon carpaccio accompanied by an ice cold shot of vodka. Which my husband and I found quite humorous. And then after the entree came desert! And our bellies were filled with all things wonderful. I love dining experiences like that. It was such a fun night!

20140619-171318-61998733.jpg

20140619-173015-63015196.jpg

Much of Monday was spent roaming the streets if Cannes, which are so cute. High-end designers neighbor small boutiques while fancy restaurants neighbor burger joints. It’s the perfect mix of everything! We walked along the harbor, staring at all the sail boats anchored on top of one another and found an old street that lead up a steep hill where a beautiful castle sits.

20140619-171316-61996258.jpg

DSC_0158

DSC_0161

DSC_0163

DSC_0167

DSC_0166

DSC_0165

DSC_0168

DSC_0170

Later that afternoon, we reserved two lounge chairs on the beach through our hotel. We had the option of laying on chairs in the sand directly in front of the water or laying in chairs up on a pier. Sand is not my husbands favorite thing, so we laid in the sun on the pier overlooking the ocean, boat drinks in hand 🙂

20140619-171948-62388642.jpg

20140619-172250-62570384.jpg

20140619-171946-62386926.jpg

20140619-171949-62389111.jpg

We had our hotel make us dinner reservations at this swanky French restaurant called L’Affable. It was more upscale than our meal the night before, so I dressed myself up with some coral lipstick and one (one of the two) of the dresses I brought. A great wine list and huge window from the kitchen into the dining room so that guests can watch the chefs cook called for a really fun night.

We spent our entire Tuesday lounging by the rooftop pool at our hotel. It was so nice. The infinity pool looked out over the whole city with a sliver view of the ocean. So if you can imagine, it was a fabulous day. We ate lunch by the pool, fought off aggressive seagulls and just relaxed. We ended the afternoon with a couples massage at the spa followed by a bottle of wine, burgers and a Mad Men marathon. Now that is my kind of day!

20140619-172258-62578222.jpg

20140619-172252-62572303.jpg

20140619-172254-62574131.jpg

20140619-172256-62576132.jpg

Early Wednesday morning we ran (like chickens) to the train station where we were planning on boarding the regional line from Cannes to the Nice airport to catch our flight to Barcelona. Little did we know, all the trains were on strike. So literally nothing was running. We hated the thought, but figured we had to bite the bullet and take a very expensive cab ride to the Nice airport. Again, little did we know all the cab drivers were on strike too! In a serious panic, we contemplated renting a car… just to get us to the Nice airport (a little over an hours drive from Cannes). We ran back to the hotel (like chickens) and our very kind concierge informed us that there was a bus leaving in four minutes heading to the Nice airport. So for the third time that brisk Wednesday morning, we ran (like chickens) to the bus stop a couple blocks away and paid €40 for a ride to the airport.

A series of unfortunate events lead to a smooth plane ride from the South of France and into the heat of Barcelona (where, just our luck, there was another strike). Tales on tapas, sangria and Spanish rice coming soon! Until then, safe travels!

Paris is Always a Good Idea

In Paris, I ate escargot. And a ton of macaroons… My favorite! The food was heavy and the pastries were perfect. The French wine was amazing and the creme brûlée to die for. Needless to say, we loved Paris! Everything about it.

DSC_0063

The city of lights never ceases to amaze me. My husband and I spent a few nights in Paris five years ago and have been dying to go back (a few nights in Paris is never enough). We had a list of things we were unable to do the last time we were there due to timing (and jet lag) that we were really looking forward to doing this time around. There were also things that we did the last time that we felt unnecessary to do again. For example: The Louvre. You have to go to the Louvre when you’re in Paris – you can’t leave the city without seeing the Mona Lisa, of course! But we spent countless hours at the Louvre a few years ago, so we didn’t feel it necessary to wait in line and do it again. Another example being Versailles. Amazing, but, been there done that. We did, however, check a few things off our “Paris Bucket-list” that have been some of my favorite memories thus far!

DSC_1299

We arrived by a super fast train from Brussels early Tuesday afternoon. We didn’t have the best of luck booking our hotel room last minute as we were completely unaware that the French Open (a huge tennis tournament) was taking place the same weekend we were there. Five years ago we stayed at a beautiful boutique hotel called Hotel Lancaster that we were planning on booking again. However, due to the masses of people visiting for the Open, the hotel had no availability. We searched and searched and ended up staying at The Westin right next to the Tuileries Garden. It was beautiful, but very large and corporate, which isn’t my favorite. We did have stunning views of the Garden and the Eiffel Tower though! And got to build up some of our SPG points, which is always nice! There’s nothing more romantic than the Eiffel Tower all lit up at night.

20140606-173810-63490434.jpg

Thursday afternoon my husband took me on a walking tour that lasted entirely too long. He loves taking me on walking tours and I do like it! I figure, the more walking, the better shape I will be in when I return home. And the less my sisters will make fun of me for gaining so much pasta weight 🙂 Mike and I both forgot just how large the city of Paris actually was. When we were there five years ago, it didn’t seem so big. Maybe it was from all the excitement of being on our first European vacation together, or maybe it was the extreme jet lag and multiple bottles of wine we drank, but we didn’t remember walking this much! Regardless, we had a great day waltzing the city together. Getting lost on side streets and in tiny neighborhoods never gets old to me. I think the best way to get to know a city and its culture is to try and walk as much of it as you can! Which is why comfortable shoes are very, very important.

20140606-173812-63492263.jpg

That afternoon, my husband got a professional shave at a local barber down the street from our hotel. It was not easy finding a place with availability, we must have called 20 different barber shops. It must be a really popular thing.. to get professional shaves in Paris! I had to mention this because most of you (friends and family) have been concerned about the length of Mike’s beard. It was concerning to me as well. And after I refused to kiss him until he did something about it, he bit the bullet and cleaned up.

20140606-185119-67879938.jpg

That night, we ate dinner at a tiny French bistro our hotel had recommended. The concierges at The Westin hotel were not the greatest, we had a hard time comprehending some of their suggestions, but we were so exhausted from traveling that morning and walking all day, we wanted to stay close… so we took their suggestion and ran with it. The restaurant was called L’ Ardoise and it offered a three course tasting menu. It was actually really good! But it didn’t have the authentic Parisian vibe we were looking for and was pretty ordinary. The next three nights we did our own research and planned our own dinners which were much better!

Friday morning we started our day by visiting Notre Dame – the well known cathedral that sits at the true heart of Paris. This was our second time there, but we had to see it again as it’s just so beautiful! The square in front of the French Gothic masterpiece actually marks the center of the city. There is a symbol in the middle of the square (image below) that shows exactly where it is. Norte Dame is the most visited site in all of Paris, so there were a ton of people crowding around and a very long line to get inside. Typically, the line is only long to walk the 422 spiraling steps up to the top of the tower, but both the tower line and the line to get inside the cathedral were massive. So we skipped going inside as we did it a few years back. If you have never been to Paris though, I’d suggest going late in the afternoon before it closes as that’s usually when the lines die down. You can’t miss the stunning stained glass rose windows and towers. Unfortunately, there is no real hunchback of Notre Dame. But if you walk the hundreds of steps, you can see the huge ‘Emmanuel’ bell and the amazing Panoramic views of the city.

DSC_1281

20140606-173814-63494148.jpg

DSC_1274

DSC_1273

DSC_1280

Side note: the best views of the outside of Notre Dame are down along the river where you’ll spot some restaurants on boats. Don’t eat at these restaurants, but walk down the steps to get the best views!

DSC_1287

After visiting Notre Dame, we stopped by the Deportation Memorial – which was directly behind the cathedral and was really cool. It was an entire memorial dedicated to the 200,000 French victims of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. If you’re already in the area after visiting Notre Dame, I highly suggest going here. There is no line and it is really cool to see.

20140606-173816-63496718.jpg

Important note: the locks that are clustered on the bridge behind Notre Dame and next to the Deportation Memorial are not the infamous “love locks”. These are locks dedicated to remembering loved ones who have past away. The “love locks” bridge is closer to the Louvre entrance. This is important to know as you don’t want to be caught smooching your boo and locking a master lock with hearts drawn in permanent marker on the wrong bridge. That would be both disrespectful and embarrassing. 🙂

20140606-174657-64017279.jpg

After visiting the Deportation Memorial, we crossed the bridge to the residential island known as Ile St-Louis. This is a great place to stop and have lunch! It’s a ritzy little neighborhood (that is very expensive and exclusive to live in) that houses just enough boutiques, restaurants and amazing ice cream shops to lure you in!

20140606-174659-64019009.jpg

With food in our bellies and rested feet, we headed to the most beautiful chapel I have ever seen. It’s called Ste-Chapelle and the hour long wait was so worth it. Never have I seen stained glass so intricate and beautiful before. This was on our “Paris Bucket-list” that we didn’t have time for the last time we visited. It is Paris’ most exquisite Gothic monument and is literally tucked away within the Law Courts. Which is what causes the long lines as you have to go through security to enter. Buying tickets in advance won’t get you inside any quicker either. We went late in the afternoon and waiting an hour wasn’t nearly as bad as going earlier in the midst of school groups and masses of tourists. The chapel was constructed in the 1200’s making its history and beauty jaw dropping. Make sure you go on a sunny day, it makes the colors illuminate even more beautifully in the room!

DSC_1290

DSC_1298

We then walked around the Left Bank and had fun stopping at all the tiny painter’s tents and shops that line the waters. The Left Bank is so beautiful and gives you the real “Paris” feel. This is where we bought our lock to secure on the “love locks” bridge! We walked along the water of the Left Bank toward the Right Bank to the bridge that brings you to the entrance of the Louvre. This is where the true “love locks” live. And this is where you can write your love note in permanent marker on a lock to secure on the bridge, if so inclined to do so. We made sure we wrote our names, plus our dog, Calvin’s name on the lock, secured it, took some photos, and moved on.

DSC_1300

20140606-174702-64022556.jpg

20140606-174704-64024407.jpg

20140606-184731-67651474.jpg

20140606-184729-67649268.jpg

DSC_1285

We hung out in the fashionable Luxembourg and Tuileries Gardens, people-watched, took some photos in front of the Louvre and strolled along the tree-lined paths. If it is beautiful out, this is the perfect place to people-watch. There are a ton of chairs to sit back and lounge on in front of the beautiful fountain and florals from the garden. Tired from our jam packed day, we headed back to the hotel where we could relax a bit and get ready for dinner.

DSC_1302

DSC_1301

20140606-184924-67764124.jpg

That night, we dined at a not-so-fancy French bistro – Brasserie Relais Madeleine. The reason behind going there was that it was the first place we dined at in Paris five years ago. Other than its sentimental value to the two of us, there’s really nothing special about it. But it is actually a really fun place with a true Parisian vibe and reasonably priced casual French food. If you don’t feel like spending a ton of money or dressing up, it’s the perfect place to wear jeans, read the menu written on the mirrors and feel like a local.

Saturday was one of my all time favorite days. We woke up extra early and took the regional train to a town on the countryside of Paris called Giverny. From the small train station there, we hopped a shuttle bus to the most beautiful place I have ever been – Monet’s Garden. Stepping foot onto the property where Claude Monet lived for the last 43 years of his life was a dream. My favorite painter’s pastel pink house and famous gardens are heaven for any impressionism lover. The lily pond and Japanese bridges where so many of Monet’s masterpieces were painted was absolutely exquisite, I never wanted to leave. The beauty is so hard to explain through a blog post, you have to go there to experience it. It’s surreal. The best way for me to describe it is… I think this is what heaven looks like. It seems like it would be such a task trying to get there, but any hotel concierge or guide book can tell you how. It’s really not that hard and is so worth it! My husband went as a child, so it was his second time experiencing it. His family hired a private driver to take them to the garden from Paris, so that is always an option too if you don’t feel like dealing with the hustle and bustle of public transportation!

DSC_1308

DSC_1310

DSC_1312

DSC_1314

DSC_1315

DSC_1316

DSC_1318

DSC_0008

DSC_1322

DSC_1324

DSC_0003

20140606-184731-67651830.jpg

DSC_0004

DSC_0030

20140606-184734-67654690.jpg

DSC_0035

We took the shuttle and the train back to the city of Paris, where we ventured to the 16th arrondissement to the Musee Marmottan, where a Monet exhibit was taking place. We bought tickets in advance while we were at the Garden that morning and were so thankful. The line was wrapped so long it would have taken us hours to get in if we hadn’t purchased our tickets in advance. Having our tickets in hand got us in right away. The exhibit was exceptional. It was like a full day of Monet and I loved it!

After our beautiful morning and afternoon of Monet, we ventured to a part of Paris we had never been to before – Montmartre. Montmartre is an artsy/bohemian neighborhood that attracts a ton of local writers and artists – it is actually where Picasso lived during the early 1900’s! It was a really cool and vibrant neighborhood. Tents filled with painter’s and caricaturists lined the main square while whimsical colorful restaurants clustered every inch of every street and corner. We had made dinner reservations in advance at one of the coolest little spots called Coq Rico. Specializing in rotisserie chickens. I highly, highly recommended taking a walk through the Montmartre neighborhood and then dining here. But if you do not like chicken, don’t go. Order the whole rotisserie chicken with french fries and steamed vegetables paired with a nice French wine and you are in for a delicious dinner for 2 (or 3 or 4 as the whole chicken is so big!)!

Before we sat down for dinner, we spent some time on the steps of the Basilica De Sacre’ Coeur – which is a beaming white domed church that sits right at the top of the hill in the Montmartre area. It’s a beautiful old church that opened in the early 1800’s and since then 800,000 people have been buried there. Very well known people such as Chopin, Proust, Pissarro, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. The neo-Gothic tombstones are really cool and the church is gorgeous. In front of the church are steps that offer phenomenal panoramic views of the city. Amongst these steps lay people hanging out, drinking beer and listening to live entertainment from local musicians. So Mike and I, trying to be one with the locals, grabbed a beer, sat on the steps, and listened to music before rushing to our dinner reservation. It was really fun!

20140606-185117-67877647.jpg

20140606-184926-67766351.jpg

20140606-184928-67768137.jpg

20140606-184930-67770228.jpg

After dinner, we took a walk a few blocks south of Montmartre to the very lively Pigalle area. Also known as the neon-lit Red Light district. But also home to the infamous Moulin Rouge. I had to see the Moulin Rouge in person (it is one of my favorite movies!), so we strolled the streets, took some photos and cabbed it back to our hotel.

20140606-185124-67884255.jpg

The next morning we set out for a Sunday stroll through the Rue Cler market where we stopped at a few local tents and grabbed necessities for a picnic! We decided we wanted to spend the day at the Eiffel Tower. We walked all along the Champs Élysées, stopped in a few fabulous stores, strolled through the Arc de Triomphe and made our way to the market. We got sandwiches from a local fromagerie shop (cheese shop), pastries from a patisserie, macaroons from a bakery and a bottle of wine from a tiny wine store. We then headed towards the Eiffel Tower – which always seems closer than it actually is – found a lovely spot in the grass right of front of the beautiful sight and enjoyed a bottle of wine and lunch with a stunning view. It was a very romantic afternoon.

20140606-185119-67879129.jpg

20140606-185124-67884738.jpg

DSC_0053

20140606-185120-67880811.jpg

DSC_0062

20140606-185120-67880414.jpg

We were planning on going to the Museum d’ Orsay, which houses a number of important paintings and more impressionist masterpieces later on that afternoon, but were having such a good time enjoying our picnic, it got too late to see the museum. We weren’t super disappointed as this wasn’t a museum that was particularly on our list of things to do, it was a last minute maybe.

As I have mentioned before, dining on Sundays has been difficult in Europe. Every restaurant we wanted to make a reservation at was closed. So we decided to just wing it and walk around the city stopping at the first nice brasserie we come across. We ended up stumbling upon a really cute one where we ate escargot and other French fare. It was the perfect ending to our time in Paris.

20140606-185122-67882873.jpg

Monday morning we were sad to leave, but excited for our next adventure. We would be boarding three separate trains throughout the day that would take us into Interlaken, Switzerland. Home of fondue, Swiss cheese, delicious chocolate (like the Toblarone) and of course, the Swiss Alps. Stay tuned for mountain tales on Interlaken. Until then, bon voyage!