My vacation in the French Riviera was the most memorable of all my holidays probably because it was my first self-guided tour. The French Riviera (Cote d’Azur, in French) is the southern coastline of France that stretches from Marseille in the west to Menton in the east, and includes the state of Monaco. The more well-known French Riviera towns are Cannes, Nice, Saint-Tropez, Eze and Monte Carlo.

The relatively mild winter and warm, sunny summer and the stunning coastline have made the region a magnet for aristocrats and celebrities since the 18th century. Singer Elton John, movie star Brad Pitt, ­legendary Formula One driver Michael Schumacher, Roman Abramovich (owner of Chelsea FC), Alex Ferguson (ex-manager of Manchester United), Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) and the Saudi Arabian royal family are on the very long list of well-known people who own luxurious mansions and villas on the French Riviera.

Avenue Jean Medicin, the pedestrian shopping street of Nice.

Although the region is the playground of the rich and famous, it is still possible to enjoy a holiday there without breaking the bank. We went in January last year when hotel room rates were low. A Junior Suite for three adults (inclusive of daily buffet breakfast) in a small three-star boutique hotel right in the city centre of Nice, cost us €70 (RM348) per night. The hotel, located on a side street off Avenue Jean Medicin, the main pedestrian shopping street, is only about 500m from the Nice Central Train Station (Gare de Nice).

Nice Old Town (Vieille Ville) and Promenade des Anglais, the promenade where 84 people were killed in the terrorist truck attack on Bastille Day last year, is only 10 minutes away on foot. Food is also quite affordable. Dinner in an inexpensive restaurant cost us €12 to €15 (RM60-RM75), and less than €10 (RM50) in Asian (Chinese and Indian) restaurants.

Making Nice our base, we travelled to Monaco, Eze and Cannes. Transportation was incredibly cheap. A 40-minute bus ride to Monaco cost only €1 (RM5).

At Monte Carlo, the administrative area of Monaco, we got off the bus outside the Monte Carlo Tourist Information Centre. About 100m away was the famous Monte Carlo casino-cum-opera complex which was featured in the James Bond movies Never Say Never Again and Golden Eye. Further along was Port Hercules where the yachts of the rich and famous were moored.

The French Riviera.

The writer and his wife posing in front of the Monte Carlo Casino.

Monaco is very hilly; there are elevators and escalators you can take to get to Monaco Old Town (Monaco-Ville) or down to the port. From Monte Carlo, we took Bus No.1 (€2/RM10 per ride) to the Prince’s Palace of Monaco, the residence of the royal family and Saint Nicholas Cathedral, the place where the late Princess Grace Kelly got married and also the place she was buried.

The next morning, we took the tram (€1) to Vauban stop and used the same ticket to take Bus No.82 to Eze, a small medieval village perched on a 430m-high cliff. Eze, located between Nice and Monaco, is about 30 minutes by bus from Nice. Most of the shops and restaurants were closed (as it was winter) but we had a fun time exploring the narrow cobblestone alleys lined with tiny houses and souvenir shops. The best place to enjoy the stunning view of the Mediterranean coastline is from the Exotic Garden (Jardin d’Eze, €5/RM25 entrance fee), a garden with an array of cacti and exotic plants and sculptures.

The French Riviera.

The quaint little houses in the medieval village of Eze.

Later in the afternoon, we took the TER (Transport Express Regional) train from Nice Central station to Cannes (25 minutes, €6/RM30). Taking Bus No.200 (€1) is much cheaper but may take hours because the bus makes multiple stops along the congested route.

From the Cannes train station, we walked down to the waterfront to view more luxury yachts, and strolled along Promenade de la Croisette to the venue of the annual Cannes Film Festival (Palais des Festivals). Not much to see in Cannes, so we decided to walk up Le Suquet, the old quarters of Cannes with winding cobbled lanes lined with restaurants, overlooking the Bay of Cannes and the city.

The French Riviera.

View of Cannes from Suquet Hill.

On our last day in Nice, we went on foot to the 100-year-old Russian Orthodox Cathedral of St Nicholas, built by Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II for the Russian aristocrats and industrialists living in the French Riviera. Then we walked to the flower market in Old Town. After that, we took the elevator (Ascenseurs du Chateau) located beside Hotel Suisse up to Castle Hill Park (Parc de la Colline du Chateau), the site of a citadel which had been demolished. From the lookout points, we enjoyed stunning views of Angel’s Bay (Baie des Anges) and Promenade des Anglais.

The French Riviera.

The beautiful Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice.

The French Riviera.

Nice’s Port Lympia.

During our short stay in Nice, I was deeply touched by the kindness of the local people. For instance, when we were looking for the bus bay of Bus 99 (that goes from Nice Airport to the Central Railway Station), a gentleman – who noticed we seemed lost – approached us and pointed us in the right direction. And when we were waiting at the wrong bus stop to take the bus to the airport, a bus driver stopped his bus and walked across the road to tell us the exact location of the bus stop 100m away! Wow, that’s something I will never forget. The perception that the French are rude and aloof must be some kind of misunderstanding.

The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.


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