The glamorous French Riviera or Côte d’Azur can be a traveling parents’ dream or a complete nightmare, so you have to know what you are doing or risk being stressed out and broke! In the summer time, traffic coming in and out of the major cities can be horrendous, and distances are deceptively long, so rather than be grumpy and tired (you and the baby), follow our tips on what to see and what to skip:
Getting to the French Riviera
You can fly directly into Nice from many cities in Europe and through Paris if you are coming internationally. Warning though: as the gateway to one of the most popular and richest tourist destinations in the world, Nice airport is surprisingly primitive. Nice is also connected to other parts of France and Italy by train. For more details on how to access Nice, click here
Monaco with Kids:
If you are a car freak, this place is a must-see. For the rest of us, Monaco is a glitzy, unapproachable place, which maintains exclusivity through exclusion and sheer stupidity in pricing. Nothing really spectacular in terms of kid stuff either, and your “affordable” eating options are not particularly impressive. Plus, it’s quite far up the coast, and quite a distance from everywhere except for Nice. Monaco is worth going to if you want to live vicariously and imagine yourself driving one of the dream machines that drives up to the casino and is given prime placement in the parking lot, for all to wonder and gawk at. And because it’s it’s own country and a rich person’s playground. Guaranteed though, your baby will not be impressed, Therefore, it’s a COULD SKIP.
Cannes with Kids:
Nothing going on here aside from the film festival. That is assuming you are not available for beach parties and nightclubs. The main strip is lined with international designer names meant to inspire awe in all who encounter it, and the back streets effectively turn into one, large, overcrowded, overpriced mall. Restaurants that are accessible to people with children are average at best and you end up spending more money than you wanted on an over-sweetened sundae or dry salad. People only go to Cannes to say they did.
VERDICT: COULD SKIP
Juan Les Pins:
This little town close to Cannes doesn’t often make it to the list of “hottest places to visit on the French Riviera” and that’s partially because it attracts more university players than casino high-rollers. But a couple of days in Juan les Pins and you notice that there are TONS of families and kids, strolling around till the wee hours (this is Europe, after all) and a variety of cuisines that cater to every taste. It is indeed a party town, but it has a much more laid-back air than Cannes or Monaco, so you don’t need to be dressed in Cavalli to feel part of the scene here. You have both public and private beach options, so you can partake or avoid as much as you want.
We stayed at the Hotel Juana, which we thought was overpriced, but considering this was the Cote d’Azur, we should not have been surprised. The same type of 5-star hotel in Cannes or Nice would have been double the price. The location in Juan les Pins and the concierges were wonderful, which made it a much more palatable experience.
VERDICT: GOOD PLACE TO MAKE YOUR BASE IF YOU WANT TO TRAVEL AROUND THE COAST
Believe the hype, Saint-Tropez is all that. Bond-esque yachts, thriving arts, miles of beaches, topless women and a subtle austerity that only France can achieve. But it is a logistical nightmare so you want to potentially start planning way before you even land. First, in the summer, the strip of the A8 highway that takes you through the centre of St. Tropez to the beaches is so crowded, it could take you more than 2 hours to make it down a 5 mile strip. Therefore, our concierge recommended an inland approach that took us 3.5 hours to complete from Juan les Pins, but at least we were moving the whole way. Secondly, the beaches get booked up, way in advance. Yes, booked up. They all charge between 18 and 30 Euro for a chair and umbrella and can accommodate only a certain number of people. The beach with the best reputation for ambiance with kids is “Club 55” or Cinquante-Cinq. We unfortunately weren’t able to get in because it was booked up for weeks ahead, and we tried the morning of! As our concierge eloquently put it, “Everyone wants to go there, but they don’t know why they want to go there.”
As much as you would like to head to trendy and world-famous Nikki Beach (which is not even on the beach!) and look for Pam Anderson, be rest assured that children are not welcome there. Instead, try La Plage des Jumeaux, which is much more appropriate for kids with its cafe and restaurant and general family vibe.
When you are done with the beach, drive and park into the charming town of Saint Tropez. Of course there are upscale boutiques galore, but there are also charming art galleries and exclusive children’s stores like Interdit De Me Gronder , with gorgeous outfits for children, at Saint-Tropez prices. Stroll down the boardwalk and gawk at the line of luxury yachts docked for your viewing pleasure or continue to explore down the streets. Either way, St. Tropez does not disappoint.
VERDICT: If you have the money, this is where to spend most of your time in the French Riviera.
Many people don’t think beyond the coast into the mountains in the Côte d’Azur and they are missing out. A short 30-minute drive from Cannes up into the hills is the spectacular historic town of Saint- Paul de Vance, home to several local artists, and a quainter, less touristy version of neighboring and better-known Vence. You’ll find that its winding, narrow streets are difficult to navigate with a pram (so better baby bjorn for this one), but it is totally worth the effort. Sample olive oils and honeys, marvel at the crystal and art, and buy some herbs from Provence (if you haven’t made it there). There are a few highly unique children’s artists interspersed across the town so better plan on spending at least a day in St. Paul (given it will take you twice as long to get around with a baby without a pram!)
France – General Travel Tips
1. Some of the best toiletries in the world for kids and adults alike come from France. You will have no problem walking into a pharmacy and finding all you need in terms of toiletries.
2. French bakeries and dairy are still the best in the world, so your child will be well taken care of on a diet of croissants, cheese and yogurt at least.
3. Road signs in France are horrible, so invest in a GPS or risk going around the same roundabout several times just to find a sign that corresponds with the map. Old school is overrated when you are traveling with a child. Further, tolls can be anywhere from one euro to fifty euros depending on how far you are going, so ensure that you always have cash on you. Many toll booths don’t have attendants so you can get pretty badly stuck if you are not carrying enough money. Similarly, trolleys at the airport require a one euro coin and some of the smaller airports do not have change machines, leaving you with a nightmare scenario of managing your bags and the stroller and baby.
4. Milk entier is whole milk.
5. In the South of France, “Casino” is the supermarket chain, so don’t be confused.
6. The weather even in the summer can be windy, so make sure to pack a sweater or light jacket for yourself and the baby.
7. Language is not a problem in the major cities but French is certainly appreciated.
8. Useful words in French:
* doctor – un docteur
* emergency – un cas d’urgence
* taxi – un taxi
* bathroom – la toilette