hotels

Seductive & Sizzling Saint-Tropez

Saint-Tropez. The glam destination of the jet set in the '60s. Brigitte Bardot. Need I say more?

When most visit the French Riviera they gravitate towards the area to the east known as the Alpes-Maritimes which includes Cannes, Nice, Monaco and everything in between. But there is the area to the west known as the Var that is also worth visiting. It is in the Var that you will find small but sexy Saint-Tropez which used to be just an old, sleepy fishing village until Brigitte Bardot started filming there in the 50's. Today it is a glitzy spot to see and be seen but still holds some of that old world charm from days past. That atmosphere makes it one of my favorites on the Riviera.

The beaches in this part of the French Riviera are sandy (unlike those in the Nice area) but St-Trop as it is often called, actually does not have many beaches in its town center. You must venture to the outskirts of town to find the sandy stuff. For the crème de la crème, head to Ramatuelle (about 10-15 min away) and you won't be disappointed. It's for this reason that I recommend having a car during your stay. Hitting the beach and soaking up that hot sun should definitely be on your list but here are some other suggestions as well:

Vieux Port

Vieux Port

The little streets are so quaint!

The little streets are so quaint!

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Stroll the quaint cobblestone streets of La Ponche (the old town). Lined with shops, cafés, restaurants and more these skinny pedestrian-only roads are super charming and not to be missed. Start by the east end of the port by the tourism office and make your way towards the citadel, weaving through the labyrinth of lanes.

Enjoy your café au lait and croissant while overlooking the luxury yachts in Vieux (old) Port. A lovely place with an outdoor terrace to do just that is Sénéquier, which is practically a landmark in this area. (Quai Jean Jaurès)

Sunbathe like a celebrity at Le Club 55 on famous Plage de Pampelonne. The place to see and be seen. Celebs have been known to visit so keep your eyes peeled. Lunch at the restaurant is a hotspot and a must. Reservations needed for both lunch and to rent lounge chairs on the beach. NOTE: lounge rentals do not include towels so bring your own. (43 Boulevard Patch, Ramatuelle)

Go shopping for some trendy Tropézienne footwear. This is where the espadrille was born and L'Espadrille Tropézienne is a perfect spot to pick up a pair. Also a good choice are the custom-made leather sandals from Rondini. (15 Rue des Commerçants & 18 Rue Georges Clemenceau)

Start (or end) your night with a cocktail at sleek bar Café de Paris. Located harborside, this casual place by day turns into a scene at night but is one of the few places in Europe I've found that knows how to mix up a proper martini. (25 Quai Suffren) 

Do some people watching in the quaint, main square Place des Lices. There are plenty of cafés to choose from as you watch the locals play pétanque as the day goes by.

Try the pastry of Saint-Tropez at La Tarte Tropézienne. Known as la tarte de Saint-Tropez, these pastries typically consist of brioche filled with custard and topped with pearl sugar although the fillings can vary. If you're concerned about fitting into that bikini don't worry--they come in miniature sizes as well. (Traverse des Lices)

Hike the scenic seaside path known as the Sentier du Littoral. It is a lengthy trail (16km and about 5 hours) but you can tailor your route to a shorter one if you'd like. The tourist office (8 Quai Jean Jaurès) has maps and can help you and I also found this website informative. 

Fill your bellies with yummy French food. Of course. Some of my favorite spots include the charming little Restaurant l'Olive (9 Rue Aire du Chemin), wine bar and restaurant Le Dit Vin (7 Rue de la Citadelle), and sophisticated restaurant The Strand (2 Rue du Petit Bal) with its lovely outdoor patio.

Big waves at Plage Pampelonne

Big waves at Plage Pampelonne

Narrow alleyways in La Ponche

Narrow alleyways in La Ponche

Views from under an umbrella at Le Club 55

Views from under an umbrella at Le Club 55

WHERE TO STAY

It is important to note that accommodations in St-Trop are not cheap, especially in July and August which is considered high season. To catch a little bit of a break, consider staying in June or September which still have warm temps but are not as expensive.

Hôtel Pan Deï Palais or Hôtel Byblos for a splurge. These exclusive, 5-star hotels are some of the most luxurious in town. And the latter used to be frequented by stars like Brigitte Bardot and Mick Jagger.  

Kube Hotel or Pastis Hotel for luxury and style with a (slightly) cheaper price tag. The latter is the smaller of the two with a more boutique feel. Both are located slightly outside of town but are a short walk or taxi ride away and the Kube offers a free hotel shuttle. 

La Résidence de la Pinède for a 5-star, luxurious hotel with private beach. This one is also located slightly outside of town but the infinity pool overlooking the turquoise sea is worth the walk to town. Be prepared to splurge on this one though.

If you're on more of a budget, do not fret. The 3-star Hôtel des Lices in town is a lot more affordable. Or you could go with a lovely, tasteful B&B slightly outside of town like Villa La Begude or Villa Casabianca. And don't worry, all of these options have a pool for cooling off!

GETTING HERE AND AROUND

The closest airport is Toulon-Hyères Airport, which is about an hour away. It is a small airport and there are not a whole lot of airlines that fly here so visitors can opt to fly into Nice, which is a larger airport with more airlines about 1.5 hours away. The closest train stations are Hyères and Saint-Raphaël and from there, a bus or boat can bring you to Saint-Tropez. Or there is ferry service from Nice. A car is definitely the most convenient but...

A few words to the wise:

  • Traffic in and out of town can be brutal during rush hour. Try to avoid traveling at those times if at all possible. Or travel à pied! 
  • A resort town like this is unfortunately expensive, especially during July and August which is their high season. 
  • And lastly, this town is not necessarily known for its cuisine although that is starting to change. Food is pretty average overall although it is possible to find some good spots if you're willing to put in the effort.

So there you have it, folks. Get Saint-Tropez on your bucket list if it isn't there already and you won't be disappointed. But once you go you will be spoiled forever. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Lunch at Le Club 55

Lunch at Le Club 55

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

La Joie de Vivre in Paris

Paris is such a romantic, magical city but, like Rome, is another one of those that can be greatly influenced by your experience. My first trip to Paris was everything but. I was a poor college student living abroad, trying to pack in as many sights and museums into my long weekend as possible and eating dinner consisting of a baguette, Babybel (not even French cheese....what was wrong with me?!) and cheap wine from the Monoprix in my hostel room each night. By no means were my friends and I living like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City and to boot the Parisians we encountered were rude so we had no desire to go to a bar. After leaving I never saw the appeal to return, but return I did, with my husband when he had to go for a work trip a few years ago. Thank goodness for that trip because it changed my entire perspective on the city so much that we are always looking for a good excuse to visit the City of Lights.

Paris is just a 7-hour direct flight across the pond for us East Coasters and both Air France and Delta offer several flights to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) per day out of Boston, New York and D.C. Once you're there, the Metro is a clean and efficient way to get you just about anywhere in the city. I recommend spending at least 3 nights, so you can at least see the city's icons and enjoy some Parisian culture. Here is my list of things to do while you're there as well as my favorite places to stay.

WHAT TO SEE & DO 

See the Eiffel Tower twinkle. Every night, this famous landmark lights up the skyline but what's even more spectacular is that every hour on the hour it will twinkle for a minute. Wherever you are, pause and feel the magic. A great place to take this all in is from the River Seine or the Trocadéro. It doesn't get any more romantic than that. (Metro: Trocadéro, École Militaire)

Admire the views from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. This landmark's location in Place Charles de Gaulle where 12 major boulevards intersect make for some amazing bird's eye views, especially at night when the city is all lit up. I actually prefer this view over that from the top of the Eiffel Tower because you can actually see the Eiffel Tower, which in my opinion should never leave your sight during your entire stay. (Metro: Kléber)

Explore the city by bike. This is a great and fun way to get your bearings and get an overview of this city's landmarks. Plus burn some calories from all those croissants! There are tour companies that offer a guided option bringing you past all the major sights or you can grab a bike from the city's bike share (called Vélib) and venture out on your own. That brings me to....

Experience Saint Germain via a picturesque picnic cycle. If you're feeling extra Parisian and are looking for a more off the beaten path bike ride when you've already been there done that, I suggest hopping on your Vélib bike, grabbing some provisions from some local shops and ending your ride through this lovely neighborhood at a pretty park for a picnic. The bikes even come with a cute little basket to fill with baguettes and cheese and wine. Timeout can help you map out your route, just try to avoid doing this on a Sunday when many shops are closed. And while we're at it.... 

Discover Saint Germain on foot. Known by locals as the 6th arrondissement, this gorgeous area is filled with high-end retailers, art galleries, bookshops and quintessential Parisian cafes. Located on the Left Bank of the River Seine, the 6th is known as one of the ritzier, more upscale neighborhoods of Paris and where Hemingway used to hang out among other famous writers. Definitely dedicate an afternoon to strolling its boulevards and side streets and Paris will win you over. A couple memorable streets to check out are Rue des Canettes, with banners of French flags hanging above, and Rue de Buci near the intersection of Rue de Seine with beautiful flower markets and cafés. And of course you can't avoid (and you shouldn't) the main drag of Boulevard Saint-Germain(Metro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Mabillon) 

Wander the quaint, hip neighborhood of Le Marais. Located on the Right Bank of the River Seine is this area also known as the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. It is such a cool, fun area to explore and hang out in. Here you will find some good boutique shopping which is a nice break from the designer labels and this is the area that the Jewish population settled during WWII so today there are still many kosher patisseries, falafel stands, etc. Wander the streets-- Rue des Rosiers, Rue Vieille du Temple, Rue du Tresor, and the surrounding area. Very quaint and enjoyable with lots of cafés and creperies. (Metro: Hotel de Ville, Saint-Paul, Bastille)

Say hello to the Mona Lisa. Obviously. Located in the Museé du Louvre is this masterpiece by Leonardo DaVinci. It's quite a touristy thing to do but you can't go to Paris and not see this! The Louvre also offers much more to see and I recommend at least purchasing advance tickets that let you skip the line. Or if you'd like to make this a learning experience, there are plenty of guided tours offered by Viator and others. (Metro: Louvre-Rivoli)

Sit down for tea at Ladureé. A luxurious patisserie known for their macarons but they have other traditional French pastries as well. There are a few locations around the city, but be a traditionalist and go for the original. (18 Rue Royale; Metro: Madeleine, Concorde) 

Shop 'til you drop. Paris is home to many of the famous designers we long to fill our closets with. You'll find many of them on or near Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Rue Saint Honoré/Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in the Place Vendôme area. You'll be delighted to know that those French labels cost less when you purchase them in France. TIP: Hang onto your receipt, get to the airport early and go to a VAT refund desk to get extra money back from taxes. They will give you Euro on the spot or refund your credit card if you paid that way. (Metro: Concorde, Pyramides, Tuileries)

Snap a photo with some gargoyles at Notre Dame cathedral. This cathedral is a perfect example of French gothic architecture with gargoyle statues and a flying buttress. Free to enter the cathedral but you must purchase tickets and wait in a (long) line to climb the bell tower. (Metro: Cité)

Take a cruise down the River Seine at night. This city comes alive at night. After all it isn't called the City of Lights for nothing. A great way to see the city all lit up is on a relaxing river cruise. Boats depart Notre Dame area or Eiffel Tower area regularly and last for 1-2 hours. There are several operators--Vedettes Bateaux and Bateaux Mouches--to name a few. For a boat with a bar, check out Canauxrama.

WHERE TO STAY

SAINT GERMAIN for a smaller, more charming, upscale atmosphere on the Left Bank with local culture but still centrally located for seeing the sights. As noted above, it's quite a lovely area.

Hotel Verneuil - A charming boutique hotel down a quiet Parisian rue but in the heart of it all. Decor is classic French with luxurious toiletries from L'Occitane. Standard rooms are a bit on the small side, so I recommend upgrading if you can. There is a concierge to help with your stay, an honor bar in the cozy living room and a room for breakfast if you so desire. (8 Rue de Verneuil)

La Villa Saint-Germain - An upscale, sleek, sophisticated boutique hotel with many amenities you'd find at a larger hotel including a bar, breakfast room, room service and a gym. (29 Rue Jacob)

Hotel d'Aubusson - A grand, chic boutique hotel (and a little more of a splurge) with a lovely ivy-covered patio, jazz/piano bar & cafe previously frequented by literary giants Sartre, de Beauvoir and Camus. Rooms are spacious for this city and toiletries are by Hermès. Guests have access to various board games & video consoles as well as 24/7 room service. (33 Rue Dauphine) 

Relais Christine - A 5-star hotel in a beautiful mansion setting tucked down a discreet side street. Rooms are on the larger side for the city, decor is that from a luxe country home and amenities include a relaxing spa, gym, breakfast room and honesty bar. (3 Rue Christine)

LA VENDÔME for a luxe, grand atmosphere on the Right Bank with all the high-end designer shopping in the heart of all the action. 

Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme - This 5-star hotel is definitely more of a splurge but is one of the most luxurious places to rest your head. Decor is traditional and royal and the hotel has all the amenities including a lovely courtyard offering al-fresco dining. (5 Rue de la Paix)

Renaissance Paris Vendôme - A luxurious 5-star option with big name brand but boutique feel. Decor is contemporary and amenities include a spa with indoor pool and trendy hotel and champagne bar. (4 Rue du Mont Thabor)

Westin Paris Vendôme - A palatial, upscale, 4-star option with views of the Eiffel Tower and Tuileries Gardens. Amenities are what you'd expect for a hotel of this calibre and it boasts a restaurant with a charming courtyard. (3 Rue de Castiglione) 

Now that we've got the basics down (you've got lots to do!), stay tuned for my next post which will be all about how to fuel your stay at my favorite haunts. Because that is just as important, if not more! Au revoir!

When in Rome...

There's no denying that one has to see Rome when visiting Italy....and that it is one of the most touristy places in all of the boot. But what people may not realize is that it's possible to have a local, off-the-beaten-path experience in the Italian capital city as well. You may need to make more of an effort than you would in other places to find some true Italian culture but once you ditch the tourists, you will learn to love this city.

Getting to Rome is easy from the States and Alitalia offers direct flights from several U.S. cities to Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport (FCO). In just about 8 hours from the East Coast you can be sipping on a Negroni, chowing on some cacio e pepe, and strolling the romantic streets of the Eternal City, the same streets that emperors once ruled. Chè bello!

How you spend your time will greatly influence whether you love or hate this city. After all it's BIG and it's busy. There is so much to see and do, especially if you're a Roman history buff, that you could keep busy for weeks on end. So here is what I think you should prioritize on your upcoming trip to Rome: 

WHAT TO SEE & DO

Colosseum & Roman Forum - I mean....pretty self-explanatory. Purchase tickets ahead of time that let you skip the (very long) line. Tickets purchased on the official site are cheapest and include entrance to both but do not include a guide. If traveling in the summer, try and check these sights out in the morning before it gets too hot because there is a lack of shade.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

Roman ruins

Roman ruins

The Vatican & St. Peter's Basilica - Another one that doesn't need an explanation. Consider doing a guided tour with skip the line access because there is a lot to see here and it helps to have a bit of commentary. Also, lines get very long!

St. Peter's preparing for an event...a large mass perhaps?

St. Peter's preparing for an event...a large mass perhaps?

Old map of the Florence area in the museum...I spy Certaldo <3

Old map of the Florence area in the museum...I spy Certaldo <3

Spanish Steps - Located in the area known as Tridente, the steps are a great place to pause and enjoy a gelato followed by some serious designer shopping. Despite all the tourists this is a lovely neighborhood once you get winding through the streets.

Trevi Fountain - The grandest of fountains and a favorite of mine. If you can, wake up super early to see this when there are no crowds because during the day it is absolutely chaotic & filled with tourists all trying to get a selfie. 

Pantheon - An ancient Roman temple that now functions as a church. Make sure you go inside and check out the oculus, it's impressive. If possible, try to visit in the morning because the line to get in can get pretty ridiculous. Free & no tickets needed.

Piazza Navona - One of the bigger, more famous, picturesque squares. Great for people watching.

Campo de' Fiori - This large square is an open-air food market by day, and popular spot for bar hopping by night although the crowd skews young.

Piazza del Popolo - A large square located in the upscale Tridente neighborhood perfect for a glass of prosecco and people watching (as the name suggests!)

Trastevere - A charming neighborhood on the other side of the Tiber with lots of small, winding cobblestone streets and ivy-covered trattorias. 

where to stay

Being such a large city, there is an overwhelming amount of hotels to choose from. Your best bet to narrow it down is to first decide which neighborhood you want to stay in and then start looking at the hotels in that area. My preference is the lovely neighborhood of Tridente, but Centro Storico is another smart choice.  

TRIDENTE - Stay here if you want to be in an upscale, shopping district with a mix of grand streets lined with designer stores and charming little side streets filled with cafes and bars. The Spanish Steps are located here so you can expect many areas to be crowded with tourists and locals alike but all you have to do is tuck down one of the side streets to escape the crowds and experience the charm. 

Piazza di Spagna 9 - A small, luxurious, boutique B&B-meets-art gallery with chic and modern decor overlooking the piazza where the Spanish Steps are located. Some rooms have balconies and there is a breakfast room onsite. Artwork changes regularly and guests can purchase some of the art on display! (Piazza di Spagna, 9)

Crossing Condotti - A small, boutique-y townhouse with cozy, traditional decor and an honesty bar & kitchen with drinks & snacks. No restaurant or breakfast but all the more reason to have a cappuccino with the locals and discover a nearby trattoria. (Via Mario de' Fiori, 28)

J.K. Place Roma or Portrait Roma - For more of a splurge, consider staying at one of these stylish, luxurious options. The former offering an onsite restaurant, the latter being only 14 rooms but boasting a fabulous rooftop terrace. (Via di Monte d'Oro, 30 & Via Bocca di Leone, 23) 

An empty Piazza di Spagna!

An empty Piazza di Spagna!

Neighborhood florist in Tridente

Neighborhood florist in Tridente

CENTRO STORICO - This neighborhood is for you if you want to be in the middle of the historic center and a stone’s throw from the famous sights. It will definitely be busy and touristy but it is a good area to stay in as long as you’re not on one of the main roads or piazzas. There are so many old, narrow alleyways and tiny little piazzas jam-packed with restaurants and bars. As long as you know which places to avoid and don’t fall into one of the tourist traps you will enjoy it.

Hotel Raphael - Covered in ivy, this full-service Relais & Chateaux property offers traditional yet luxurious accommodations and a lovely rooftop terrace for cocktails and organic, vegetarian-centric meals. Reserve one of the Richard Meier rooms which offer a bit more contemporary decor. (Largo Febo, 2)

Relais Orso - This rustic-chic yet modern boutique hotel is one of the more affordable options, which makes it possible for you to upgrade to a suite with hot tub on the private terrace. No restaurant, but there is a rooftop bar. (Via dell'Orso, 8)

Hotel Indigo St. George - Despite being part of large American chain IHG and on the outskirts of the neighborhood, this is a fabulous option with some charming Italian flair. Decor is contemporary yet luxurious and the vintage Fiat 500 photography in the rooms is a fun touch. There is a romantic spa with Turkish hammam and a large hot tub onsite too. (Via Giulia, 62)

No question that seeing the sights is important here, especially if you've never been, but it's just as important if not more to balance that with some cultural exploration of your own. Stay tuned for my next post, which will be all about the eating and drinking that should be happening on your next Roman holiday. Ciao for now!