Nice and the South- Antibes, Cannes, St Tropez
If you can time a visit to Cannes just right, the fireworks festival is twice a month in the summer, and just fabulous. We planned this excursion to actually spend the night at the Carlton for a fun “staycation” and we could see the show from our rooms in our pajamas! The Carlton Beach restaurant is right across La Croisette, the fancy shopping street in front of the Carlton, on the beach, and then we plopped on sunbeds (beach chairs) for the afternoon. The sea is really calm in the harbor and at the end of the Carlton dock are water sports where you can rent a boat and driver and go tubing, or water skiing. There are also professional photographers on the beach who take photos if you want and you can choose later if you’d like to get any of them. The breakfast on the Carlton Terrace in the morning is amazing- it is a feast complete with homemade hot chocolate for the kids.
Ile Sainte Marguerite
Lunch at La Guerite on this island one of my VERY favorite day excursions ever. If you don’t have a yacht, you can still eat lunch at La Guerite, which is so chic and laid back at the same time. (Sand under the tables, but they also just happen to have the only Poupette store not in St Barth’s right at the restaurant. as if buying lunch and day beds and wine all day isn’t enough, you can also buy clothes! And of course you end up thinking what you wore isn’t at all cute enough, so you do…)
We took the local ferry from Cannes to Ste Marguerite, Trans Cote d’Azur, at the Quay Lunel. The 9:30 am departure and 4:15 return to Cannes is perfect. When we arrived we toured the old fort, prison, and Museum which is really cool. My son loved the prison cells (and in-room potties).
If you book lunch at La Guerite, remember to also book at least two-day beds, which make it so fun because you can dip into the med, change, shower outdoors, and hang out before and after lunch.
Note on getting around: you have to be comfortable driving, to do this itinerary- we rented a mini cooper convertible and it was lots of fun, as we were never in a rush to get anywhere, but the roads are REALLY windy, and you get lost lots on those roundabouts even with google amps (it’s so annoying she will say “take the second exit on the roundabout but she means something else sometimes, and also Google maps notes Road NUMBERS and the French label everything with the town in the direction the road goes. And then the number once you are actually ON the road).
St Paul de Vence and Vence
The walled town of St Paul de Vence and the hills above it toward Vence are incredibly beautiful. On our only rainy day, this was a perfect activity as it if filled with art and shops and a great way to pass a non-beach day.
We started with the Matisse Chapel, in Vence, which I always have loved. It has a wonderful story about how Matisse was so grateful to the nun that nursed him to health that he felt like he had a second lease on life and designed this chapel for them. It is a real labor of love and took years. His take on the scenes from Jesus life and Mary and Jesus depiction is so modern and feels so light compared to the heavy churches and paintings the children are used to seeing around the 17th-century castles.
The other wonderful art collection is the Foundation Maeght in St-Paul-de-Vence. The couple collected amazing outdoor sculptures by Miro, Braques, Calder and you can walk around the property as you like. Nothing is cased in or even identified with plaques. The art really is amazing.
When in Saint Paul de Vence you can’t miss lunch at La Colombe D'Or, Place du Général de Gaulle. This restaurant has priceless works of art hanging all over the walls, again with no plaques or glass screens. The Calder by the pool just sits across from the diving board (a little girl was hanging on it when we were there!) and we found another little Calder mobile in the linen closet! The story goes that the artists would sit and talk around the fire, and eat at this place. Often they couldn’t afford meals since they weren’t worth millions yet, and so they would pay for their food with paintings. The restaurant ended up with one of the best private collections of Picassos, Bracques, Calder, etc. in France! Jack sat under a “Sandy Calder” painting and Whitney was under a Klein.
Walk through the gate in the ramparts inside the walled town of St Paul and you feel like you are in a medieval castle world where a knight will ride down the cobblestones streets on his horse. Besides just looking at the buildings, the water fountains (with wonderful mountain fresh drinking water still running through to them) also in St Paul de Vence there are some really cute shops that have fun beach cover-ups that aren’t like anything in the US. Tipi at 2 rue du Bresc (firstname.lastname@example.org) has great ones, and Viktor at 21 rue Grande has the backless cover-ups with the colored tassels you see all over Ibiza. For little girls, the brand “les Filles de Provence” makes the ruched top dresses in Provençal fabrics that Whitney loves.
A note on shopping: I love window shopping in France- from small stores that sell olive oil to the beautiful brand name boutiques – it’s so fun to pop around little towns. On a trip with children, there isn’t so much interest in shopping, and the experience is more about water activities, beach, fun meals, people watching. To incorporate a little bit of local shopping on their level, a fun thing I did for them was to give them each 10 euros a day to spend or save for the next day. We kept a running total on the iPhone. We had fun deciding on little trinkets at each place, or whether to save up for something more expensive the next day. It gave them a fun project in which to participate. (and gave me an excuse to window shop in nicer stores along the way!)
Eden Roc in Cap
I love staying at the Chateau Saint-Martin & Spa outside of Vence. It is part of the Oetker collection which own Le Bristol in Paris and Eden Roc in Cap d’Antibes and it is so lovely and the spa is top-notch. I had the best massage I’ve had in ages there. The pool is gorgeous, and if you want to go to the beach they have private beach chairs at Keller Beach in Antibes, which is a wonderful beach with a great lunch restaurant, Restaurant Le César at Plagiste Antibes. Lunch at Les Oliviers on the property under the olive trees is also wonderful if you don’t feel like driving all the way to the coast.
At dinnertime, as always in France, the restaurant at the hotel does a wonderful children’s menu- with plain grilled sea bass and real food just simpler (instead of only chicken nuggets or pasta as they do in the states).
A note on children’s meals at nice French restaurants: The French are so wonderful with children- they treat them like real people, only all the menus are half price for children. My twins ended up eating vegetables, fresh fish, delicious foods which they would not have ordered if they had the choice of pizza or pasta. They even had starters- soup or melon with prosciutto or tomatoes – included as part of the children’s menu, so they get a taste of French “fine dining.”
Cap D’Antibes is the jut of land between Cannes and Nice with the little towns of Antibes on one side and Juan-les-Pins and Golfe-Juan Vallauris on the other. In Antibes, Le Viele Antibes is a really charming old town with shops and cafes and narrow winding streets- the old town of Antibes enclosed by ramparts. The “cap” may be one of my favorite places on the planet. There are two of my favorite places in all of the South of France right there. On one side are the two “private” beaches Joseph and Keller on Plage de la Garoupe. There is valet parking (which comes in really handy on the Riviera because by the time you have navigated all the small roads and one way and one lane for two directions getting where you are going you are sweating and so grateful to just give up the car and not wonder how to jam it half onto the sidewalk in a teeny space like other people have.) The restaurant Cesar at Keller is very popular, but I prefer the lower key Joseph beach. The people who work there are so nice, they are always bringing you what you need and last time we were there the young guy who took care of us kept coming up with new games and toys for the twins (nets to catch jellyfish! And then when they got bored of that, floats for races in the bay, then a floating soccer ball…). As with all the “private” beaches, you get your sunbeds (beach chairs) for the whole day to pack your things, and then run a tab all day- and just pay at the end. We sit on our chairs until about 2 pm, then walk on the sand in our bare feet behind the chairs, order the most delicious lunch and a bottle of rose, and then swim and hang out for the rest of the afternoon.
A note on private beaches in France. I love the French way of the “private” beach clubs. For anywhere from the cost of lunch, to an additional fee of never more than $100 per day per bed, you get your own oceanfront day bed and umbrella, towels, and facilities- showers and toilets; and each “beach club” has a fun restaurant to go with the chairs. Each one has a slightly different vibe, but they are all casual and you can go from chair to lunch and back or order lunch right to the chairs. It’s a fantastic way to spend a vacation day on the beach, and you can explore as many beaches as you like since you only pay for the day.
On the other side is the impossibly chic Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. You literally feel like you have walked into a Slim Arons photograph in technicolor. It is so clean and white and blue and minimal but gorgeous. The Grill restaurant is so incredible I could sit most of the afternoon looking out at the Mediterranean and eating the freshest sushi and sashimi with a glass of rose. My twins could spend all day jumping off the high dive and trying their skills at the trapeze/rings/rope obstacle course which has been hanging off the cliff by the pool since the 1960s. The walls are hung with glamorous Slim Arons’ photographs from the 60s and 70s and it is still full of old-world glamour while updated with modern luxury.
Golfe Juan and Juan Les Pins
On the other side of Cap D’Antibes, Juan-les-Pins a bustling informal beach town on the water with tons of shops and cafes and traffic…There are lots of non-formal, “private” beaches with restaurants along Golfe Juan which are fun to take a sunbed for the day, play in the Mediterranean, and then have lunch at the café. Each restaurant has its own beach chairs that you “rent” for the day.
Here are our favorite Lunches/Private Beaches:
Plage Bretagne Beach, (Juan Les Pins); Nounou, (Golfe-Juan Vallauris); Bouddha Beach, (Golfe-Juan Vallauris); La Voile Blanche and probably the most well-known is Tetou, which is famous for its bouillabaisse (only phone for reservations), (Golfe Juan).
I love St Tropez and have even written a blog just about the town (check my Travel section), but going with children is a different experience. We went by private boat and spent more time swimming off the boat and having fun in the water at Pompelonne, and less time shopping. With the boat, we were able to go into the port just to poke around, and leave when the children had enough. St Tropez has more gorgeous “private” “beach club” lunch spots than any other town in the south of France- it is hard to choose! If I had to, my absolute favorite beach club is Les Palmiers, and we like to go around 3 pm to see all the action. The twins loved the fashion show and the DJ! (see my other blog for my other favorite beach clubs in St Tropez).
Note on boating: It is fun to spend at least a day out on the water, looking at the Cote d’Azur from the sea. For a private charter, most large hotels will arrange a boat (we normally stay at the Hotel Byblos in St Tropez and they have their own charter company. If you are renting a house and want a private boat charter, we used the Private Boat Charter Dark Pelican http://www.darkpelican.com. They Pick up in Nice 9:30 am and Return to Nice 5:30 pm. They brought snorkeling equipment for the children!
If you don’t want to do the private charter, the ferries run on the hour or even half hour from Cannes or Nice to St Tropez, and the Trans Cote Azure catamaran ferry is inexpensive and very easy. Nice to St. Tropez ferry http://www.trans-cote-azur.co.uk/nice-saint-tropez.php