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the french riviera in a nutshell

Cote D"Azur train shuttle (propertyofrawsilkandsaffron)

You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all goes the saying and if I were to sum up my visit to the French Riviera last week, it would be just that (not in a bad way).

The French Riviera consists of seven major towns (Nice, Cannes, Monaco, Antibes, Menton, St. Tropez and Saint Raphael) and a dozen or so smaller ” plages” (Sea) access villages from the Cote D’Azur shuttle train. If you happen to have a Multi-country railpass (which includes France) or a French railpass, you can have unlimited rides on the Cote D’Azur shuttle train between the towns and the beaches.

Our plan was to stay in Cannes for several days while we touched up on the towns to the west of it and then move to Nice for a few more days in order to access the towns on the East of Nice. So while in Cannes, we hit up Saint Raphael, St. Tropez and Antibes and when we stayed in Nice we touched up on Monaco/Monte Carlo, Villafranche Sur Mer and hopped over to Italy’s small town of Vintemilla (near the border of France).

I must say that although each town had some uniqueness, they all resembled one another in many ways. I spend hours taking numerous photos and when I brought them to the hotel room to upload on my Mac I-photo (here is another entry coming your way) I was having trouble deciphering which photo was of what town.  Again this is not a bad thing, just an observation on my part.

All towns had a port, countless yachts docked along the piers and cruise ships, a main street with shops and restaurants, an old town hidden away in the hills (which are amazing and worth trekking up to if you want to get away from the crowds),  and of course beach access. The food tasted similar, the wine the same but I am sure if one asked the locals in each town to tell you their differences, they would say they were all different. I guess it’s like that everywhere but I can tell you this, twenty years ago when I first visited the area, it all seemed different to my youthful eyes.

So as I stepped off the Cote D’Azur train shuttle in each beach town, I tried so hard to see the differences in each town in order to make my trip more challenging, while simultaneously wondering how I didn’t notice the similarities in the Riviera when I was younger. But it wasn’t until the last day when it finally hit me. Although each town is  a mere extension of the other in infrastructure, it is how the locals live and act that make them different and that is something you have to pay close attention to, in order to notice.

For example, in Cannes and Monaco/Monte Carlo and St. Tropez, the locals seemed privileged and didn’t care much about tourism (understandably so). While Saint Raphael, Antibes, and Villafranche Sur Mer (the more quieter towns), the locals seemed a bit more humble and smiled when spoken to. Nice (although beautiful and the most fun) had a bit of both and was too commercialized to appreciate in my opinion.

What was sad is that all the towns with the exception of Villafranche Sur Mere are dirty and crowded in the summer months and when there, it is very difficult to feel as tho you are on vacation. Most anything you do is a challenge, such as shopping, eating at a restaurant and taking the trains. It is a redundant feeling of being stuck in an amusement park on an American holiday weekend. I think by the end of the trip, although I had planned on visiting Menton, I intentionally skipped it just to sit on a beach and rest my brain and eyes from all the chaos past the main boulevard adjacent to the beaches.

When I went to my hotel room for the last time on the last evening, I felt sad knowing I would leave this  area the following morning and although I, first hand, confirmed  summer can be crazy in the French Riviera, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. What I would change however, is going there in early to mid-June instead of Late August just to get the beginning of the summer to enjoy the flowers still in bloom and walk the streets while they are still clean and unblemished by all the tourist’s carelessness.

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