France

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 (Part Deux)

Bonjour and Happy Thursday! As I mentioned in my previous post, the Côte d'Azur is a glittery, resort wonderland and makes a wonderful trip for a honeymoon or a fabulous summer getaway. I've touched upon how to get there and where to stay. So now that you've got that suite reserved at Hôtel le Cap Estel (can I come, please?!) you're probably wondering what you should see and do (other than celebrity spotting, that is) and where to imbibe on delicious Niçoise cuisine and crisp rosé (which, btw, is totally appropriate here as it is from this region...and everyone will be drinking it!) Here are my recommendations on how to do just that: 

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

Explore Vieux Nice (the old town). Take a stroll along the boardwalk-like Promenade des Anglais and be sure not to miss the produce & flower market, La Marché Cours Saleya/Marché aux Fleurs.

Peonies, my favorite <3

Peonies, my favorite <3

Eat your veggies, everyone!

Eat your veggies, everyone!

Gorgeous tomatoes

Gorgeous tomatoes

Fleurs, fleurs, fleurs

Fleurs, fleurs, fleurs

Wander the little cobblestone paths of Eze Village. There are no cars allowed in this medieval village so park your car at the bottom of the hill and walk up. Some of the best views of the Riviera are found up here.

See how the rich live on Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. Drive past the most expensive homes in the world and take a tour of the pink seaside mansion, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. When the sun is too hot to bear, rent some loungers at Plage Paloma and enjoy a dip in the teal blue sea.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Charter a luxury yacht for the day and see the Riviera from the water. Depart from the Nice area and set sail to Cannes and the islands offshore-- Île-Sainte-Marguerite & Île-Saint-Honorat. Stop for lunch in Antibes and a post-meal dip in the Baie des Milliardaires (Billionaires Bay). Captain and champagne included.

Our yacht for the day (sorry for the blur)

Our yacht for the day (sorry for the blur)

A 46-ft Sessa with Captain

A 46-ft Sessa with Captain

Check out the cute little seaside towns of Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Stroll the quaint streets and stop for a seafood lunch (and a few glasses of rosé) on the docks. 

Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Refreshments in Villefranche-sur-Mer

Refreshments in Villefranche-sur-Mer

Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Beaulieu-sur-Mer

Channel your inner Princess Grace (or Prince Rainier) in Monaco. Get all glammed up and take a stroll along the harbor, admiring all the mega-yachts, or try your luck at the black jack table. Enjoy lunch at a chic café or perhaps dinner at a trendy restaurant is more your style. But whatever you do, take it easy on the drive...

 

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK

Le Safari in Vieux Nice for a lovely, fresh seafood dinner. When it's nice, aim to sit on the large outdoor patio. Reservations needed. (1 Cours Saleya)

Pain & Cie in Vieux Nice for a delightful petit dejeuners in rustic, classic French digs. (3 Rue Louis Gassin)

Le Relais Bar at L'Hotel Negresco in Nice for a martini or glass of champagne with live piano music. Expect to be transported back to the Belle Epoque era at this historical spot. (37 Promenade des Anglais) 

La Mère Germaine in Villefranche-sur-Mer for an upscale lunch on the dock. The seafood is super fresh and the rosé super crisp. Parfait! (9 Quai de l'Amiral Courbet)

La Caravelle in Villefranche-sur-Mer for a casual dinner in a cute, outdoor patio on the steps of a narrow street. (3 Rue de l'Église)

Restaurant Le César in Antibes/Juan les Pins for an upscale, rosé-filled lunch on the private beach Plage Keller. The restaurant provides dinghy service for yachts anchored in the bay. (1035 Chemin de la Garoupe)

L'Avenue 31 in Monte Carlo for yummy, Italian-influenced fare in a trendy dining room. (31 Avenue Princesse Grace)

Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Beach umbrellas in Nice

Beach umbrellas in Nice

The view from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

The view from Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

As I mentioned before and what I can't say enough of is how glamorous and luxurious the French Riviera is. If you can swing it (and your wallet can handle it!), it's an amazing place to visit. The Alpes-Maritimes/Nice area is perfect for first timers but if you've already been there & done that, then I'd recommend trying something the other side of the Riviera--the Var, which is home to seductive Saint-Tropez. Stay tuned for my next post which will feature just that!

Rosé-filled lunches in Antibes

Rosé-filled lunches in Antibes

Lunch on Keller Plage, Juan les Pins

Lunch on Keller Plage, Juan les Pins

Someone was enjoying the high life a little too much....but who can blame him?!

Someone was enjoying the high life a little too much....but who can blame him?!

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 (Part Deux)

In my previous post, I began to tell you about Paris--what to see and do and suggestions of hotels to make your home base. In this post, I will get into the eating and drinking aspect of your holiday to the City of Lights. To begin, here are a few tips to help make your food experience go as smoothly as possible:

  • Dining options are usually classified as either cafés, bistros, or brasseries. A café is the most casual and serves coffee, alcohol and light fare. A bistro is generally a small, modest place that is meat-centric (as opposed to seafood). A brasserie is generally a larger, slightly more upscale establishment offering more seafood than meat. Although these days there's a fine line between bistros and brasseries.
  • Listen very closely to this one! An entrée is actually an appetizer. Don't get fooled or you'll end up leaving the restaurant quite hungry!
  • Café au Lait (coffee with steamed milk) is the drink to order with your petit déjeuner (light breakfast usually consisting of a croissant or pastry with coffee or tea).

WHERE TO EAT

BISTROS & BRASSERIES

Drouant for a delicious dinner that highlights chef Antoine Westermann's farm-fresh, local, seasonal veggies. I miss his bistro, Mon Vieil Ami, but this is the next best thing. Reservations needed. (18 Rue Gaillon)

Septime for one of the most popular tables in town. Modern, bistro dishes in a rustic yet elegant atmosphere. Reservations a must and can only be booked 3 weeks in advance. If dinner is too competitive, lunch is a great alternative. (80 Rue de Charonne)

Huitrerie Regis for oysters in a lovely, quaint seafood and oyster bar. Menu includes a large selection of bubbly and white wine (naturally). There is a minimum 1 dozen oysters per person rule, but it was delicious and the best place to try France's famous fines de claires oysters. They don't take reservations and the place is small but if you go on the early side of the dinner rush you should not have a problem getting a table. (3 Rue de Montfaucon)

Josephine Chez Dumonet for some of the best duck confit around as well as other French classics served in a traditional bistro setting. Reservations needed. (117 Rue du Cherche-Midi)

Le Stella for seafood in true brasserie. When it's nice, request a table outdoors on the terrace. I recommend ordering the seafood tower or at least some oysters to accompany your meal and fit in with the crowd! (133 Avenue Victor Hugo)

Le Relais de l'Entrecote for steak frites. This casual yet delicious eatery is a must if you like steak & french fries (don't expect anything else on the menu!) Just tell the waiter how you would like your steak to be cooked and watch as your plate keeps filling with steak and fries. There are a couple locations around Paris but it doesn't feel like a chain. They don't take reservations so I recommend going to dinner on the earlier side if you don't want to wait in a long line. (20 Rue Saint-Benoît)

Le Bistro Marbeuf for a casual meal in a cosy French bistro. A great option if you're in the Champs-Élysées neighborhood. Reservations recommended but not necessary. (21 Rue Marbeuf)

CAFÉS

Eggs & Co. for a sit-down breakfast or brunch. This really cute little place in the Saint Germain neighborhood serves (farm fresh) eggs and lots of them prepared in a million different ways. I recommend the eggs benedict with a green side salad to balance out the meal. Good coffee and freshly squeezed OJ too. Truly an egg-cellent choice! (11 Rue Bernard Palissy)

Coutume Café for a light breakfast, snack, brunch and/or coffee in a rustic, cozy atmosphere. (47 Rue de Babylone)

Café Trama for a really delicious croque monsieur in a rustic yet modern setting. (83 Rue du Cherche-Midi)

Briezh Café or Little Briezh for authentic crêpes. The savory, buckwheat variety are what draws the crowd but sweet ones are also available. Whatever you choose you can't go wrong. Reservations recommended. (109 Rue Vieille du Temple & 11 Rue Grégoire de Tours)

Cuisine de Bar for a tartine-filled lunch. Open-faced sandwiches served in a cute, light & airy setting. Reservations not accepted. (8 Rue du Cherche-Midi)

Cosi for yummy sandwiches served on warm, fresh flatbread. This is the place that inspired the chain we know here in the States but is not associated in anyway. Great to take away and have a picnic lunch in the park. (54 Rue de Seine)

OTHER DELIGHTS

Poilâne for fresh apple tarts right out of the oven. Despite being a bakery, do not expect a baguette to be found here. Several locations but I prefer the one in Saint Germain. (8 Rue du Cherche-Midi)

Eric Kayser for one of the best baguettes in the city. Yummy croissants too. Many locations but don't let that deter you. I prefer the one in Saint Germain which also has a few tables for snacking onsite. (18 Rue du Bac)

Androuet for authentic French cheeses to go with your baguette and wine. Don't be afraid to ask the staff for some help selecting. Several locations but the one in Saint Germain is strategically across from Eric Kayser for baguettes. (37 Rue de Verneuil)

Berthillon for ice cream or glacée as the French refer to it. This is one of the best ice cream parlors in the city so if you're only going to have ice cream once, make sure this is the place. Having a pocket dictionary is always helpful in deciphering the flavor menu. (29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île)

WHERE TO DRINK

Prescription Cocktail Club for a prohibition-era drink in a dark, speakeasy, loungey atmosphere. Fun place to go after dinner. Located in the Saint Germain neighborhood and a little tough to find because of the lack of signage but you'll know you found the right place when you see the bouncer outside. (23 Rue Mazarine)

Tiger for a craft cocktail in a trendy, retro setting with a bright, tropical twist. This place specializes in gin & tonic (they offer several spins on the classic and make their own tonic) but for those not into gin they offer some other fun, tasty cocktails. Located in the Saint Germain neighborhood. (13 Rue Princesse) 

La Terrasse at Hotel Raphael for a rooftop cocktail with views of the Eiffel Tower. Open for lunch and dinner, which is a tough choice. Either way you get an amazing view! Reservations by phone or email are necessary to get a table on the terrace. (17 Avenue Kléber)

Les Deux Magots for an aperitif or coffee in Hemingway's old hangout. Grab a table outdoors when the weather is nice and watch the Parisian world go by. (6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés)

Les Philosophes to take a break from all the walking through Le Marais. Perfect for an aperitif or coffee outdoors on the terrace. Also has some of the best onion soup incase you need a snack too. (28 Rue Vieille du Temple)

Well, I hope you're hungry and thirsty because you've got lots of eating and drinking to do! This list could go on and on since there is just so much good food in this city. You won't go home hungry, that's for sure! Have you been to Paris already? What is your favorite restaurant? Bon appétit!