So when Dana and I chose to postpone our Asia trip until fall, we decided a shorter vacation was in order so that we had something to look forward to this summer.
Eventually, we settled on the South of France. Sunshine, beaches, great food, endless rosé... it had #adventuresofJayNa written all over it.
Because we only had a limited amount of time available, we elected to fly directly from JFK to Nice, France using credit card points. (Chase Sapphire Preferred FTW). We basically boarded the plane, ate dinner, drank some wine, went to sleep, and woke up in France. Seven hours on a red eye and we were there and ready for four and a half days of adventure in the French Riviera.
Oui s'il vous plaît!
The Principality of Monaco is a city state, meaning it's actually its own country. It's the second smallest country in the world, and the most densely populated in the world. It's also one of the richest. In 2014, it was noted that 30% of the population is made up of millionaires. Soooo yeah. Get ready for some insane people watching and be prepared to drop some cash. However, we felt like it was on par with New York City in terms of prices for things. (Not that New York is cheap, but at least we were used to it.)
That said... when in Rome... er... Monaco... arrive by helicopter. You probably think we're ridiculous, but hear me out. I looked into all potential forms of transportation, and not only was this the most bad-ass way to start our vacation, it also just made the most sense. A taxi would have taken an hour, and probably would've cost at least 100€ or more. We didn't want to rent a car. The train doesn't go to the airport, so public transportation would've required a bus to Nice, and then a train to Monaco, and then a cab to the hotel... probably taking 2 hours or more. So a 7 minute helicopter ride with stunning views and a luxury Mercedes van to whisk us away to our hotel seemed like a no-brainer for 145€ (especially when our other flights were essentially free). They run about 40 flights per day so you should have no trouble finding one that works for you. If your inbound flight arrives late or you get stuck in customs, no worries. They will automatically book you on the next helicopter. The check-in desk is located just outside baggage claim in Terminal 2 between A2 & A3. You can book directly online. And if you need any further convincing... just check out the video I posted on Instagram: (hover your cursor to press play)
Like I said, no brainer.
Fairmont Monte Carlo
As you might imagine, one of the richest cities in the world is home to some of the most expensive accommodations in the world as well. Fortunately, I'm always on the lookout for a good deal, and snagged an awesome flash sale at the Fairmont Monte Carlo for several hundreds of dollars less than the other luxury hotels in the area. For 350€ per night, our package included a welcome glass of champagne upon arrival, continental breakfast served poolside each morning and a large room overlooking a courtyard (ocean views would've been more.) Breakfast alone would've been around 50€ per day for two people, not to mention the champagne, so I felt like this was a great deal! The hotel is also conveniently located just a short walk from the Monte Carlo Casino and Square, as well as several clubs and restaurants. It's also situated on the famous hairpin turn during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
But let's be real. The main draw to this hotel is Nikki Beach Club, the gorgeous pool perched atop the hotel, looking out over the Mediterranean. It was also the perfect way to spend our first day in Monaco after our red eye flight. They offer bottle service and cabanas poolside, but we opted to "slum" it over in the normal sun beds for free, which were perfectly fine! (They can fill up quickly though, so don't wait too long to grab chairs). They offer food and drink service all day and night, but as you can imagine, the prices reflect your surroundings. That said, the "frites" that came with our 28€ club sandwich might be the best fries of my life. (I was also starving, so take that for what it's worth).
Fairmont Restaurants & Casino:
There are also two other restaurants on the hotel property worth checking out: l'Horizon Deck and Nobu. We didn't eat dinner at either, but both offer a pretty nice happy hour each night from 6-8pm that we stopped in at on our way to dinner. l'Horizon Deck does 50% off champagne during happy hour, and Nobu does 50% off all drinks. We also ordered an appetizer at each and were obsessed with the bread and butter at l'Horizon Deck. (Also... do yourself a favor and get the crispy rice with spicy tuna at Nobu. You won't regret it.) Additionally, the hotel has a casino on site (Sun Casino) if you'd like to do some gambling and don't want to do it at the Monte Carlo casino.
Casino de Monte Carlo & Monaco Nightlife
Speaking of the iconic Casino, you should at the very least walk by, snap some photos, check out the fancy cars parked out front and do some people watching. After our pool day, we walked around Casino Square, and stopped off at Cafe de Paris for a glass of rosè to take everything in and enjoy the scene and the sunshine. We had every intention of going back at night to actually gamble, but our second evening took us elsewhere and had way more fun anyways with our new German friends. (Plus, we had already gambled at the Fairmont on night one). But if you do decide to go, make sure you have your passport and know it will cost 10€ just to get inside. (Since it's technically a tourist attraction in addition to being a casino, they charge an entrance fee.)
As for clubs and bars, definitely check out Buddha Bar for drinks (they have food as well), especially if you are staying at the Fairmont, as it's basically next door. Twiga is also very close to the Fairmont on the water open until 2am (you can see it in my first photo of the hotel). Others that were recommended but we never made it to: Jimmy'z (same hotel as Blue Bay Restaurant, below) and Sass.
Blue Bay Restaurant
Monte Carlo is also home to some world class dining, so we knew we wanted to check out one of the high end restaurants that offer a tasting menu. I made reservations at three different spots (I love having options), but we ended up going with Blue Bay on our first night in Monaco. We liked the fact that it offered a trendy, seaside dining atmosphere and it was also the cheapest of the three. It has one Michelin star, and is in the top 2-3 restaurants recommended by travelers on Trip Advisor. Their 5-course tasting menu is more like 8 or 9 courses once you factor in amuse bouche, bread, desserts, etc and it will only run you 88€. (This quality of food would cost WAY more in New York).
Blue Bay boasts modern French/Mediterranean cuisine with a heavy focus on seafood. We were served things like fish gelee soup with a potato coriander emulsion (top, second from the left) or chicken smoked with sugar cane and fresh coconut (top right). It's about a mile down the road from the Fairmont... you can walk if you aren't wearing heels, but we opted for a local bus that only cost us 2 euro each way. (Just don't try to take a cab at dinnertime... the valet people will laugh at you. Apparently taxi's are not super plentiful in Monte Carlo.)
The other two restaurants I made reservations at but didn't have a chance to visit:
-Joel Robuchon Monte-Carlo (2 michelin stars, #3 Trip Advisor, located in Hotel Metropole)
-Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse (3 michelin stars, #1 Trip Advisor, located in Hotel de Paris)
-Le Louis XV-Alain Ducasse (3 michelin stars, #1 Trip Advisor, located in Hotel de Paris)
Our second night we were craving some hole in the wall Italian food, and Il Terrazzino fit the bill perfectly. (BTW... You'll notice a lot of Italian food in this region, even at non-Italian restaurants due to the proximity to Italy.) I remembered seeing the high reviews on Trip Advisor, and we spotted it when we were waiting for our bus to Èze (more on that next). One piece of advice: show up hungry. You will be served a ridiculous amount of food. They do offer items a la carte, but the real value here is to do the prix fixe menu.
It's only 45€ and you will get endless (or so it seemed) antipasti. I actually took photos of everything and considered including them all in the photo collage above, but the photos ended up being so small because there was SO. MUCH. FOOD. Bruschetta, octopus, ricotta, burrata, salami, cheese, carpaccio, vegetables... just to name a few. Once you've basically tapped out on antipasti, they will then bring you three family-style plates of pasta, all house made. The raviolis stuffed with ricotta and served with a simple marinara sauce sound so basic, but they might be our favorite raviolis of our life. Dana forced herself to eat the final two so as not to leave any behind. (I told her she was my hero.) We insisted they not bring dessert but they did anyways. A plate of cannolis, a plate of pastries and a giant bowl of fruit salad. We. Were. Stuffed.
When we mentioned we were doing the French Riviera, several people recommended we take a day trip to Èze. It's a magical little medieval village perched high atop a hill. We LOVED it. Èze was, without question, one of the highlights of our trip and was a nice change of pace from Monaco.
Once you reach the base of the village by bus, you will be walking the rest of the way, winding your way through the medieval castles and getting lost in the cobblestone streets. (The top of the cliff is 1400 feet above sea level, and our iPhones tracked something like the equivalent of 63 flights of stairs that day.) There you will find adorable shops, galleries, restaurants, and a few hotels. At the very top is a botanical garden with a large collection of cacti and succulents and panoramic views of the Mediterranean. There is a small fee for the garden (7 euro I believe), but it's worth it just for the views. We also enjoyed probably our favorite meal of the trip in Èze. (More on that next.)
To get to Èze from Monaco:Walk to Cremaillere bus stop (about 10 minute walk from the Fairmont hotel), take the 112 bus to Èze village for just 1.50€. Our bus arrived about 10 minutes late, so don't freak out if you're there on time and it's not there yet. There's a little coffee shop near the stop if you arrive early. Morning buses to Eze from Monaco depart at: 8am, 9:55am, & 11:55am and it will only take you about 15 minutes to get to the base of the little village. (The bus goes all the way to Nice, so you can take the same bus if you are staying there. To check the full bus schedule, click here.)
There are two very highly rated restaurants in Èze: La Chevre D'or and Chateau Eza. Both boast stunning views and world class cuisine. I chose Chateau Eza because it was a little cheaper, and the reviews were just as spectacular. It was actually a little cloudy and misty the morning of our visit, but we didn't mind as it added to the charm and mystery of the place. However, during our incredible lunch, the clouds broke and we were treated to the most beautiful views from our little dining terrace. (And as a side note, both are located inside hotels if you plan on staying the night in Èze as opposed to doing a day trip.)
We arrived a little early (and in the rush to get to the bus stop on time had skipped breakfast so were also bordering on hangry.) They sat us on the bar terrace so we could at least order some rosé and they also brought us a couple small snacks. (Can you say GOAT CHEESE LOLLIPOPS?!?) Eventually, we moved down to our dining terrace that we only shared with one other table. They also brought us a little amuse-bouche tart stuffed with more goat cheese and served with a pea pesto. We had our eye on the cheese plate for dessert, so we only ordered two mains and it was the perfect amount of food. We got the seafood risotto and the duck with seared foie gras, polenta cake and vegetables. The cheese plate for 2 costs 40€, but if you like cheese, it's definitely worth it. All in all, when you factor in the wine (hands down our favorite of the trip), the food, the views, and the service... this was our favorite meal during the four days. Highly recommend Èze and this restaurant!
Next stop on our whirlwind France vacation: the beach town of Cannes. We heard wonderful things about Saint Tropez, but in the end, Cannes made the most sense with our limited amount of time. (Saint Tropez will have to wait for another time!)
To get to Cannes from Monaco:
The train to Cannes is just about an hour and is a beautiful journey along the coast. It was right around 20€ one way. To check the train schedule, or to book tickets, click here. (We simply bought ours at the Monaco train station after taking a cab from the hotel. The station is about a 15 minute taxi ride from the Fairmont.)
Hotel Le Cavendish
I'm always intrigued when small boutique hotels rank #1 or #2 on Trip Advisor, so I immediately was drawn to Hotel Le Cavendish. It's not right on the beach, but we were able to book a pre-paid room package that included beach access both days at a private beach club with towels and a beach bag included for your use for less than 200€ total per night (beach is about a 10-15 minute walk.) It's conveniently located about a five minute walk from the train station, and the beautifully appointed rooms make you feel like you've just stepped into a French film. (The private terrace was my fave!) Each booking also includes free continental breakfast, but it's WAY more extensive than the one we had in Monaco. Croissants, a yogurt bar, espresso drinks, cheeses, meats, hard boiled eggs, quiche... you will not leave breakfast hungry. And not to bury the lede, but the other major draw to this hotel... FREE HAPPY HOUR every night from 6-9pm. No seriously. Full bar, wine, beer, etc. It's served in the same room as breakfast, so it's not an actual bar per se that you would go to outside of happy hour, but this is a screamin' deal. We took advantage of this both nights of our stay before walking down to Le Suquet for dinner.
Le Beija Flor
Both nights in Cannes, we found our way to Le Suquet for dinner and drinks. It's the Old Town part of Cannes, with narrow little cobblestone streets and no shortage of restaurants and bars. It's exactly what you would imagine a small town in the South of France to be and we loved it. Following our day at the beach, we were craving some traditional French food. Dana really wanted French Onion soup, and I was in need of some moules frites (mussels and fries). We hit the jackpot with both at Le Beija Flor. We sat outside as people strolled by, enjoying our rosé and chatting with the adorable owner, Christophe. The mussels were Normandy-style from his grandfather Antoine and I was obsessed! I'm hoping to get the recipe from him so I can share here on the blog. We also had a seafood risotto and steak and stopped short of licking our plates clean.
On the recommendation of some UK girls sitting next to us, we also went to Le Jardin Secret for drinks after dinner and liked it so much we returned the next night. It's literally a little secret garden off one of the side streets and was a lovely place to sit outside and enjoy some wine. We also stopped in at Charly's Bar, which was lively and provided a fun scene on a Friday night. (It's also right next to Le Beija Flor.)
Iles de Lérins/Saint Marguerite & La Guerite Restaurant
While at Charly's Bar, we were lucky to meet our new Belgian friend Jan, who owns a sail boat and happened to be docked in Cannes for a few days. He invited us out on the boat the next day, along with his friend Axel who came down from Monaco. We sailed around, taking in the sunshine and multi-million euro yachts hanging out off the coast. We decided to sail over to Iles de Lérins/Saint Marguerite and have lunch at La Guerite Restaurant. We radioed over from the boat, and they sent a little shuttle boat to pick us up. Once there, you dine with your toes in the sand brushing elbows with multi millionaires (perhaps billionaires) and gazing out back across the bay to Cannes. The food is completely overpriced, but that said, still very delicious. I kept it simple with gnocchi, and was very glad I did. It's very easy to screw up gnocchi, but these were wonderful little pillows that virtually melted in my mouth and served with a simple but flavorful tomato sauce, basil and shaved Parmesan.
If you are not lucky enough to have a private sailboat, there is a ferry to take across to the Iles de Lérins, which is rated as the #1 thing to do in Cannes on Trip Advisor. Several reviewers recommend bringing picnic lunches and spend the day on the beach or visiting the castle. OR, if you do decide to dine at La Guerite, I believe they will shuttle you over if you have a reservation with the restaurant.
Getting back to Nice airport from Cannes:
If you are returning to the airport from Cannes, there is an express shuttle bus that's super easy and fast. It took about 30-35 minutes, and you can grab it right in front of the train station. It's bus #210 and it runs every day, several times per day. A one-way ticket is 22€ and you can purchase it on board. For more information, click here.
All in all, it was a whirlwind 4.5 days, but so much fun and satisfied our travel bug until the next adventure!