South East France

When we were discussing where to go for our holiday, we had a few ideas such as New Zealand, Canada and Hawaii. Finally though, we decided to spend most of our time on the French Riviera plus a few more days in London. It was my first time going to Europe and obviously I was beyond excited.  I read up on things like places to visit, where to eat, how to get around, how to avoid scams but nothing, absolutely nothing can ever prepare you enough for the magic of a place that is entirely new to you.

We had about 8 days in France, and we made Nice our base for most of the days with a short 3-day trip to Aix-en-Provence. Most days were spent on short trips to nearby towns and communes using either the bus or the train and we ended up visiting about 10 places in total.

#1: Nice City

We were lucky enough to stay at Holiday Inn on Boulevard Victor Hugo as its location was unbeatable. Throughout our stay, we walked pretty much everywhere, including Promenade des Anglais, restaurants, shops, stations, you name it. As it served as our base for day trips, we didn't end up spending much time in the city, thought we did eat at quite a few restaurants and cafés.

#2: Vieux Nice (Old Town Nice)

Old Town Nice was just about 20 minutes walk from our accommodation. We visited the famous Cours Saleya market twice, once on a rainy afternoon where one last flower stall was packing up, and the next on a sunny morning where we got to see the full range on offer including fresh produce and knick-knacks. It was also in Old Town Nice that I had some of the best sorbets and ice creams ever!

#3: St-Paul-de-Vence

Not even rain, wind and cold could stop us. We took a bus to this medieval town and when we arrived I immediately felt like I had stepped back in time. I had never seen such a village in real life and as you can guess I was blown away. It's quaint, it's quiet, but full of surprises. You never know what shop or gallery or restaurant you will encounter when you turn the corner. I know some people feel that the shops are a little touristy, but hey, you can always choose to ignore them and just enjoy the scenery and atmosphere. I, on the other hand, got some soaps and aperitifs and am very happy with my purchases.

#4: Aix-en-Provence

Midway, we made a short trip to Aix which was about 3 hours from Nice by train. We stayed at Les Floridianes which was comfortable but located within a street that was much more deserted than we'd hoped. We were such girls and spent the whole first day shopping, but we did manage to walk around the whole city to see main sights as highlighted on the visitor map such as Cours Mirabeau, Cour d'Appel and fountains upon fountains. I felt like Aix had a very relaxed and classy vibe.

#5: Les-Baux-de-Provence
Though we 'lost' a day to shopping, we made it up with a 'Provence In One Day' tour that started just outside the Apple Store in Aix. We had a lovely guide who fed us interesting bits of information in English and Spanish for the trip. The first stop was Les-Baux-de-Provence, a commune named after the aluminium ore, bauxite. The village had a rocky, gloomy sort of charm and indeed, the views were picturesque regardless of whether we were looking at, or from it.

#6: Vers-Pont-du-Gard

Our next stop was Pont du Gard, an ancient aqueduct built by Romans in 1st century AD. Can you imagine that? The thought of standing on so much history was quite overwhelming, really. I've studied and read about them but I never thought I'd be able to see one. We saw groups of children presumably on a field trip and wondered what it would be like to have so many cultural sites so close to home!

#7: Avignon
The next city we headed to was Avignon. The weather wasn't too kind to us but we still managed to cover a bit. My favourites were the Palais des Papes (largest Gothic palace in the world!) and the Pont d'Avignon. Most memorably though, Avignon was where I took my chances and ordered foie gras for lunch, and loved it! 

#8: Châteauneuf-du-Pape
For me, this scenery looks like it could be a painting. This, plus castle ruins made me wonder how a place could be so beautiful. I also experienced the most enjoyable and informative wine tasting session I have ever had in one of the old pope cellars. Moments like swirling my glass just because other people did and sniffing the wine although I had no idea what I should be smelling are now things of the past. We were taught the basics of evaluating wine by sight, taste and smell from a very helpful sommelier called Cecilia. 

#9: Monaco

I know that Monaco isn't part of France, but I had to include it here. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I was going to like Monaco because most people associate it with high rollers and luxurious lifestyles. But there is so much more to this place than that. One of the most unforgettable experiences of this trip was having a lazy lunch at Crystal Bar atop Hôtel Hermitage. A glass of champagne in one hand, wind blowing in my face, gazing out to the great blue sea. No, I wasn't thinking of how nice it would be living the high life, I was thinking of all the people, the things, the dreams that were important to me. I might have left a piece of my heart in Monaco. And oh, the bus ride? One of the best views you'll ever get. Try your very best to get a seat though, especially when you're on your way home. 

#10: Antibes

And finally, on our last full day, we visited Antibes, the town that has it all. Beaches, mountain views, shops, restaurants, chapels, museums, I didn't know what else we could ask for. It was the only town where the thought, 'Hey, I could live here.' came to me. I don't know what else to say. You just have to see this place for yourself.

When I told whoever asked that I was going to spend 8 days in French Riviera and its surroundings, most people said 'That's too long.' Maybe I'm a super slow and relaxed traveller who needs to see everything in detail, and not just have fleeting experiences of places, but 8 days is definitely not enough. Heck, even 2 weeks is probably not enough. Cannes, Grasse and Èze are just some of the towns that we would have loved to visit but simply did not have enough time. What about Menton, Saint-Tropez and Fréjus? 

The world is too large to discover everything, but when you travel, you might just discover at least part of yourself. 

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