honeymoon

The Allure of the Côte d'Azur

The French Riviera has been a place that I had been wanting to visit for a long time for its glamorous lifestyle and beautiful scenery but I was waiting for a special occasion that would justify the splurge since it is quite an expensive destination (this place is literally dripping in money, it's absurd). Our honeymoon fit the bill quite nicely. The Côte d'Azur, as it is known in French, is the popular resort area where the Cannes film festival is held and it has earned a prestigious and exclusive reputation from the many celebrities that visit, spending a pretty penny on private mega-yachts and glittering seaside mansions.

Geographically, the French Riviera is the stretch of coastline in the southeastern corner of France from Toulon in the west to Menton in the east where France meets Italy. It also includes the sovereign state of Monaco which is technically a separate country from France and is the wealthiest place on earth famed for its casino, fast cars and enormous yachts. The French Riviera is unofficially divided into two sections--the western part known as the Var, which includes Saint-Tropez, and the eastern part known as the Alpes-Maritimes which includes Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monaco just to name a few. This post will focus on the Alpes-Maritimes & the Nice area but I will get to the Var & Saint-Tropez later!

Cannes, and the historical Carlton hotel

Cannes, and the historical Carlton hotel

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

The Côte d'Azur is accessible by plane via Nice-Côte d'Azur Airport in the east and less-busy Toulon-Hyères Airport in the west (best for accessing the Var & Saint-Tropez). It is also accessible by TGV high-speed train, and travelers can take a direct route from Paris which is about 5-6 hours through some of the prettiest terrain (the Provençal lavender fields are a shade of purple like no other!) Once there, visitors can get between most towns via regional train, bus or rent a car. Of course renting a car will give you the greatest flexibility and will allow to you visit some of the smaller, quaint towns so if you don't mind driving in a foreign country, go for it. Just beware that some of the roads are very narrow so the smaller the car the better!

Boating in Antibes

Boating in Antibes

WHERE TO STAY

First you must choose an area to call your home base, which can be tricky due to the sprawling size of the Riviera. If you have the time, I recommend splitting your time between the Alpes-Maritimes (the Nice area) and the Var (the Saint-Tropez area). Both of these areas are different in terms of landscape and vibe. Specifically, I found that the east had more of the well-known towns to explore, was extremely pretentious and the landscape was more mountainous with pebbly beaches. On the other hand the west didn't have as many of the big name towns but it had the best beaches in the region and the culture was a tad bit more down to earth yet still wealthy. If you only have the chance to choose one and if you've never been, then go with the Alpes-Maritimes as this area gives you the best representation of the Riviera. If you've been-there-done-that then the Var might be better for you. 

The good news is that there are plenty of places to stay, the bad news is that they all are so appealing! But here is my list of hotel recommendations that should make your search a little easier:

Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée or Le Méridien Nice if you want a small-city vibe and to be able to have everything at your doorstep yet still have access to the beach. These upscale hotels are centrally-located overlooking the Promenade des Anglais and offer all the amenities you'd need for a comfortable stay. (13 Promenade des Anglais; 1 Promenade des Anglais)

Château de la Chèvre d'Or or Chateau Eza if you're looking to stay in a quaint, medieval village that feels removed from busy Nice yet a close drive away. These luxurious, 5-star hotels are located up on the hilltop in car-less Eze Village and the rooms are spread throughout the village rather than in a traditional hotel building, giving these hotels a unique, homey feel. The views are stunning and the sweet-smelling jasmine is intoxicating. (Rue du Barri; Rue de la Pise)

La Voile d'Or or Hotel Royal Riviera for sometimes more afforable, yet still upscale, options in an exclusive neighborhood. These hotels are both located on the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat which boasts some of the most expensive villas in the world as well as a cute town. (7 Avenue Jean Mermoz; 3 Avenue Jean Monnet)

Hôtel le Cap Estel in Eze or Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes for a really, really, REALLY special occasion that you don't mind splurging on. Or realistically-speaking, if you win the lottery. These uber-glamorous, gorgeous 5-star gems are dripping in luxury and have arguably the best pools on the Riviera. The former is a short drive from Nice while the latter is closer to Cannes. (1312 Avenue Raymond Poincaré, Eze; Boulevard John F. Kennedy, Antibes)

Entrance to Chateau de la Chevre d'Or hotel

Entrance to Chateau de la Chevre d'Or hotel

Doors to the hotel rooms of la Chevre d'Or

Doors to the hotel rooms of la Chevre d'Or

Does this post have you dreaming of the Côte d'Azur yet? Now that you know how to get there and where to stay, stay tuned for my next post which will be all about what to do and where to eat and drink in this magnificent place! Au revoir!

Views from la Chevre d'Or

Views from la Chevre d'Or

Huge bathroom in a cave

Huge bathroom in a cave

Views from la Chevre d'Or

Views from la Chevre d'Or

a beach in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

a beach in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Yours truly, soaking it all up

Yours truly, soaking it all up

Living La Dolce Vita on the Amalfi Coast (Part I)

No shortage of gorgeous views from the Amalfi Coast

No shortage of gorgeous views from the Amalfi Coast

A year and a half ago, I had the privilege of spending a week of my honeymoon on the beautiful Costiera Amalfitana and I swear my life has never been the same. Italy tends to do that to you and it's so unfair! Every day since then, I've been plotting my return checking flights to NAP on the regular. What makes the Amalfi Coast so special, you ask? The laid back culture, gorgeous views of the Mediterranean and the food, naturally. It is here that I believe the phrase "Il dolce far niente" was born, translating to "the sweetness of doing nothing." Once you go, you'll understand and wonder why it took you so long to visit. Or like me, you'll wonder what it takes to own a villa on the cliffs...hmm... Just so you know where exactly I'm talking about, the Amalfi Coast is the stretch of coastline along the Gulf of Salerno between Positano to the West and Salerno to the East. When planning a trip to the Amalfi Coast I recommend doing your research because it is a large area that is impossible to cover in just a week, two weeks even, so you need to be strategic on where you want to spend your time. Don't try to do it all because you will miss the little bits of culture that make this place so charming.

Despite being off the beaten path, the Amalfi Coast is extremely touristy which can deter a lot of people at first. The easiest way to avoid all the crowds is to choose the right month to visit--June and September in particular offer lovely weather without (as many) crowds. Otherwise, be strategic about which town you stay in. I can speak from experience that there are parts of this region that are less touristy than others so the town you decide to stay in can heavily influence your vacation. We knew we wanted some solitude so with a little research we found the town of Praiano which was next door to Positano. It ended up being perfect because it was small and quiet yet we could easily get to all the action in Positano via hotel shuttle and visit the other towns via public bus. We could also get to the island of Capri which we wanted to see. Others who don't mind the busy-ness of these two larger towns prefer to be in the heart of it all. That's fine too. The important thing is that you get to enjoy what this wonderful area has to offer.

There is a lot to be said about the Amalfi Coast so I plan on breaking it into two parts for digestibility. First, we will talk about getting here and around, and where to stay. In my next post I'll get into the good stuff--what to see, and where to eat and drink. So:

 

GETTING HERE & AROUND

The Amalfi Coast is reachable by both Naples Capodichino Airport (NAP) and Salerno Costa d'Amalfi Airport (QSR) or alternatively you could arrive to either of these cities via Trenitalia hi-speed train service. From these two cities you will need to take either the public SITA bus or hire a car to reach the coast, making it a little bit tricky to get to. NOTE: The roads along the Amalfi Coast are SO windy and the local drivers are fearless so be prepared (and ginger candies recommended for those who get motion sickness). But the journey is well worth it once you take in the view from atop the cliffs for the very first time. Once you're there, the SITA bus runs pretty regularly between towns if you decide not to rent a car and there is ferry service between some of the larger towns and cities (i.e. Positano to Capri, Naples to Sorrento, Amalfi to Positano and Salerno, etc.).

A long journey from Firenze, but we're happy we finally made it!

A long journey from Firenze, but we're happy we finally made it!

If you are arriving via Naples, I recommend spending an evening in this chaotic city. Why? For the pizza of course! Most importantly, this is where pizza was invented and Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale, 1, Napoli) offers some of the best authentic pies around. They only offer two varieties--margherita and marinara--but after trying one your life will never be the same. Its location is perfect for exploring the old section of town known as Spaccanapoli, a must-see. Secondly, Napoli is where espresso comes from so I recommend that you have a shot of the thick, tasty stuff to fuel your jetlagged day. Gran Caffè Gambrinus (Via Chiaia, 1/2, Napoli), the city's oldest cafe, offers table service and an outdoor patio to enjoy your doppio and traditional sfogliatella pastry. And lastly for those history buffs out there, Pompeii is just a short drive or train ride on the Circumvesuviana line.

Arriving by ferry to the city of Napoli

Arriving by ferry to the city of Napoli

Wandering the streets and squares of Spaccanapoli 

Wandering the streets and squares of Spaccanapoli 

A bustling piazza in Napoli

A bustling piazza in Napoli

Pizza and Peroni at Da Michele...best pizza of my life! 

Pizza and Peroni at Da Michele...best pizza of my life! 

WHERE TO STAY

I highly recommend staying away from the crowds where we stayed in Praiano at a place high up on the cliffs for the most majestic views, unless you have mobility issues. There will be LOTS and LOTS of stairs to get down to the beach but they're great for counteracting all the eating and drinking that will be happening. NOTE: Don't expect beaches to be large or sandy--they are usually made up of pebbles instead of smooth sand or consist of large rocks from which you can jump off of (don't worry, there are ladders to help you get out). But the cerulean blue of the Mediterranean is so inviting that you must do as the others do and jump in!

Casa Angelina - It was our honeymoon after all so we splurged on this 5-star resort and it was worth every penny. The upscale hotel is minimalist with large windows and white furnishings to offer a gorgeous contrast against the blue sea outside. Guests have complimentary access to exclusive One Fire Beach Club several hundred steps and a lift below. Relaxing on a bright orange chaise lounge with glasses of prosecco and a side of taralli and large green olives becomes routine. (Via Gennaro Capriglione, 147, Praiano)

Casa Privata - This lovely & stylish 4-star B&B is a great choice and a little easier on the wallet. The 8 rooms are located in a recently restored old fisherman's villa and garden house. The grounds include a pool, small private beach, and an organic garden used in the restaurant's offerings. (Via Rezzola, 15, Praiano)

Hotel Tramonto d'Oro - This comfortable 4-star option includes a cliffside restaurant and pool with sweeping views and access to La Gavitella beach below as well as a shuttle to the only sandy beach in Praiano. Rates are some of the more affordable ones in the area. (Via Gennaro Capriglione, 119, Praiano)

Grand Hotel Tritone - This 4- star hotel might not be as stylish as the others but certainly makes up for it with its facilities. Guests looking to swim and bask in the sun can choose from the pool perched high on the cliff, one of the few private beaches in town, or the pool down by the beach. There's even a restaurant on the beach so you don't have to go all the way up those stairs for a bite. (Via Campo, 5, Praiano)

If you would prefer to be in one of the larger towns and don't mind a splurge or big crowds, check out Le Sirenuse in Positano or Grand Hotel Convento in Amalfi.

The view from our private terrace at the Casa Angelina hotel

The view from our private terrace at the Casa Angelina hotel

Loved having complimentary access to One Fire Beach Club courtesy of Casa Angelina

Loved having complimentary access to One Fire Beach Club courtesy of Casa Angelina

The hotel Tramonto d'Oro perched high on the cliff

The hotel Tramonto d'Oro perched high on the cliff

So now that you've picked out a hotel and figured out how to get there, I will tell you how to best spend your time on the Amalfi Coast and where fill your bellies (and hearts). Stay tuned for my next post which will do just that.

Stairs on the Amalfi Coast are no joke

Stairs on the Amalfi Coast are no joke

A beach typical of the Amalfi Coast
A beach typical of the Amalfi Coast
The view of the cliffs from the beach 

The view of the cliffs from the beach 

Life from under an orange umbrella....One Fire Beach Club 

Life from under an orange umbrella....One Fire Beach Club 

My favorite snack of taralli and olives
My favorite snack of taralli and olives
Enjoying lunch al fresco 

Enjoying lunch al fresco 

The popular town of Positano as seen from the sea 

The popular town of Positano as seen from the sea