Cruising along in a silver Aston Martin, taking in the entire coastline of the stunning Côte d’Azur, we finally pull up to the grand façade of the Monte Carlo Casino. Dressed to the nines in a tuxedo and long fitted gown, we walked up the red carpet, had our photos taken inside, and then made our way to the bar to grab a drink—shaken, not stirred.
Did I just describe James Bond’s night out or my husband and me on his annual birthday trip? Instead of a party, we take a trip together to celebrate each year. But choosing the right location for the perfect birthday trip can sometimes be a challenge. It needs to have the right blend of relaxation, sights to see – but not too many – and a place to properly celebrate. This year it needed to be even more special because my husband, Cameron, was turning another decade older, and we needed to ring in his milestone birthday in style. The French Riviera delivered on all of these requirements—and more.\
CRYSTAL BLUE PERSUASION
The only international airport in the Riviera is in Nice, France. As the largest city on the Côte d’Azur, Nice makes the perfect home base for your trip. We arrived late in the evening and headed straight to our hotel, which overlooked the crystal-clear water. There is nothing better than waking up to the soft sound of Mediterranean waves crashing upon the shore.
We began our first full day by enjoying coffee on our hotel room balcony, and then strolling down the Promenade des Anglais on our way to Old Town. You could be forgiven for spending the majority of your time in Nice on the Promenade; the views are spectacular, and it feels as though the ocean is actually calling to you. But there is so much more to see.
We left the Promenade for the Cours Saleya pedestrian street in Old Town and spent some time shopping in Nice’s daily market. Striped awnings stretched over stands overflowing with fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, and handmade items for sale. Of course, we couldn’t resist the fresh pastries, and we also picked up some lavender-scented soaps made in neighboring Provence.
The Côte d’Azur is nothing short of inspiring with its unique architecture, stunning water, and fields of lavender, and we are far from the only people who felt that energy. Artists have flocked to the region for centuries, and the Riviera features more than 100 museums to prove it. Twelve of these museums are dedicated to a single artist who worked in the Riviera, Marc Chagall.
The Musée Marc Chagall houses the artist’s most impactful pieces, including the 17 Biblical Message painting. Henri Matisse is honored in the Musée Matisse, which holds some of the artist’s best-known works. It is near the artist’s former Nice residence and the cemetery where he lays buried. After a day full of sightseeing and walking along the beach, we returned to our hotel, where we indulged in in-room massages. Feeling relaxed and happy after a perfect first day on vacation, we looked forward to the next day of our adventure.
If the first day of our vacation was about seeing everything the Riviera had to offer, the second day was about experiencing its epicurean offerings. The French Riviera holds more than 50 Michelin stars spread amongst 38 restaurants, not to mention all of the adorable cafes and bistros tucked along almost every street. Good food is easy to find; the more challenging choice is narrowing your options. We let reservations and location help make this choice for us. A word to the wise – many restaurants in the Riviera are booked up months ahead of time, so if you have your heart set on a particular place, it helps to call ahead.
We managed to secure a seating at Jan, a popular spot located in a former motorcycle repair shop, not that you would ever know it thanks to the elegant décor. Every detail, from the blue walls to the unique dishes, were handpicked and added to the restaurant’s sophisticated yet comfortable vibe. Jan has a world-renowned reputation thanks to its South African chef and namesake, Jan Hendrik.
The menu, a mix of South African and French cuisine made with all fresh ingredients from local markets, was inspired by Hendrik’s grandmother. There is no option for a la carte; you must have the chef’s selection – but rest assured, he won’t steer you wrong. Even if the flavors sound like they won’t work—Cucumber Ice Cream, is this for real?—you may just discover your new favorite dish.