The French Riviera on a Budget: Cannes You Do It?
Known as the holiday destination for the rich and famous, from the casinos in Monaco, to the film festival in Cannes, there is no doubt that the French Riviera really does have so much to offer. But is it possible to tour this beautiful coastline living the life of the elite without the lavish price tag?
Charlotte Daniels and a group of language assistants (hardly film stars) worked in the South of France and toured the beautiful Côte d’Azur for a week, visiting some spectacular sites and all without breaking the bank. Basing themselves in Nice, they travelled to various stunning destinations along the coastline and had a truly unforgettable experience.
In this article Charlotte shares her top tips so you can soak up the beautiful French sunshine, explore the joie de vivre, visit some breath-taking sights, and all on a cheap travel budget…
Essential Destinations to Add to Your Côte d'Azur Itinerary:
- Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Èze, Menton, Villefranche-sur-mer, Monaco, Monte-Carlo
1. Travelling is Èze-eee
If you’re aged between 18-27, SNCF (the French railway company) offers a discounted rail card called a ‘carte jeune’; it gave us 30% off travel throughout the year in France. This was invaluable as it gave us lots of really useful discounts for our trip along the Riviera.
Fast TGV trains are definitely the most economical way of travelling between the main locations along the coastline. The scenic train route connects most of the key destinations along the Cote d’Azur, including Nice, Cannes and Antibes, as well as the small, quirky and unique villages in between which are definitely worth exploring. Short journeys in between Villefranche and Monaco, for example, can cost as little as £3 for a return journey with the carte jeune and approximately £8 return for longer journey such as between Cannes and Monaco. Prices certainly aren’t as extortionate as you might expect in such a luxurious location!
However, here it is really important to note that when travelling by train around the Cote d’Azur you must always validate your train tickets in one of the yellow validation machines at the station before boarding the train. As we unfortunately discovered for ourselves, failure to do so can result in a hefty fine on the train! Further information about travel advice and local laws and customs can be found here.
And if the train isn’t for you, the Côte d’Azur features an extensive and well-developed public transport system. You can easily and comfortably travel by bus between destinations. The tram is also another popular mode of transport and is equally very economical. 7 day tickets cost around 15 euros, although trams do rather limit destinations as this system is not quite as extensive compared to the trainlines.
2. Somewhere NICE to stay?
Accommodation is always a concern for the money-conscious traveller and especially in the luxe of the Riviera, you would assume you were going to face hefty hotel prices. Nevertheless, we found the best way to manage a tour of the French Riviera was to base ourselves in the region’s capital, Nice, and then take daily trips out to each of the various locations by train. This way, we only needed to secure one reasonably-priced accommodation.
Invaluable to us throughout our year of travelling was the site: AirBnb, and I would certainly recommend this for finding accommodation. There were so many options for AirBnbs in Nice and all at very reasonable prices. Dependent on the size of your group, you could find a room for anything from 11€ a night.
This is a great way to avoid having to afford accommodation in the notoriously pricey towns like Monaco and make your base in a bustling town full of culture with everything you could want at your fingertips.
However, if AirBnb doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of hotels and hostels in Nice. One relatively reasonably-priced example is The Villa Saint Exunery Beach hostel which is very central, just a 10-minute walk to the Old Town and the Promenade des Anglais. Prices start from around £15 for a dorm bed.
The French Riviera gets more than 300 days of sun per year, so you’ll want to be out enjoying the sunlight anyway! So, accommodation is one of the easiest ways to save on your travels!
3. Eat like a local!
Avoid the expensive restaurants and cafés found along the coastline and explore the local street food! You’ll be surprised by the impressive quality of meals and snacks that you can purchase at the street carts. You must make sure you taste all the regional specialties including: fougasse, socca, salade nicoise, barbagiuan and, of course, the very reasonably-priced and quintessentially French range of wines on offer. Even if you’re not a wine drinker, you simply must try a sip of the regional sparkling wines and rosés.
One really key tip for eating in the French Riviera is taking advantage of the open-air markets. One of the most endearing things about France is the quality of fresh foods available to purchase at the street markets. From fresh-made bread, local cheeses, and fruit and vegetables, to olives and meats. Cannes’ vibrant market sells gourmet foods and organic fruit and vegetables on a daily basis (except Mondays) and in Nice’s Old Town the flower and vegetable market takes place nearly every day in the Cours Saleya.
So, avoid those expensive restaurant bills and eat like a local!
4. SEAing the sights
Enjoying all that the Côte d’Azur has to offer doesn’t need to break the bank! Be sure to make the most of the free activities when exploring; take a stroll along the public beaches, visit lavishly decorated hotels even if you aren’t staying there, hike to the high point in town and look out over the Mediterranean Sea, walk around the ports and watch the local fishermen, visit ornate cathedrals, and find local parks and fountains. A lot of the museums in this region are free so take advantage of this too! And don’t miss out on the free entertainment available in the main towns, especially at peak tourist times.
Best Places to Visit
Here’s a list of must-see places to visit and things to do in the various places along the coastline on the cheap (all accessible via train and bus):
Any trip to Nice must begin with a hike up to la Colline du Chateau, a viewpoint from which a panorama of the stunning coastline and Old Town can be enjoyed.
In Nice, most museums don’t charge for entry (with the exception a few national museums such as Musée Marc Chagall). Take time to explore the rich history of the region – the Matisse Museum includes many of Henri Matisse’s masterpieces. Also on the itinerary is the Musée D’Hisoire Naturelle and Marineland Sea Life Centre.
You can spend hours getting lost in the cobbled streets of the Old Town, a charming maze of narrow streets full of culture and filled with traditional eateries, galleries, shops and cafes. You can be sure to find a bargain here, and then take the time to enjoy a coffee in one of the squares hidden in the maze soaking up the sunshine. Then take a stroll down the famous Promenade des Anglais where you can find shops to suit any budget.
Top tip: fans of shopping are encouraged to visit Nice in the second half of July, as there are huge sales in the local shopping malls.
Plage Macé is one of Cannes only free public beaches and is definitely worth a visit. It’s a stunning section of coastline and the perfect place to take a dip in the sea and catch some rays. You also won’t need to worry about leaving your belongings along the seafront as it’s known to be very safe!
The ‘crème de la crème’, this has to be one of my favourite spots along the Riviera. Although typically known as a spot for the rich and famous, the delights of this lavish principality can be enjoyed without the excessive spend. Excursions to stately sights such as the Fort Antoine, Monaco Cathedral and the Prince’s Palace are all free, and can give you a real taste of this lavish lifestyle.
Then, after taking a stroll along the coastline, marvelling at the number of Jaguars driving along the roads and soaking up the exclusive haute couture, take a stroll into the Monte Carlo Casino. Yes, that’s right – the casino! What else would you do in Monte Carlo? Located in the Place du Casino, a square filled with Jaguars and Porsches belonging to the elite, this is to place to really experience the ‘Monaco lifestyle’ without spending a penny. As long as you’re appropriately dressed, the doormen will allow you to enter the main section of the casino where you can take pictures and really see how the other half live.
Villefranche sur Mer:
A picture-postcard beautiful village exhibiting a stunning beach front and crystal-clear waters. It’s definitely worth a day trip to visit this quaint, little, colourful, mountainous village just outside of Nice.
Another glorious sandy beach for you to enjoy. Also not be missed is the seafront Picasso Museum in the Old Town, and be sure to make time to grab an ice-cream at the famous Amorino in the Place Nationale, filled with unique cafes and eateries.
A hidden gem in the mountains, just a short train/bus ride away from Nice. The medieval village of Èze is a must on the tour of the French Riviera. This immaculately preserved village boasts some stunning views of the coastline, winding streets, stone buildings and a breath-taking Mediterranean backdrop. Situated 1,400 feet above sea level, be sure to be prepared for the hike up the steep paths of the village. Stone staircases and paths snake amongst statues and sculptures leading to the unmissable Jardin Exotique d’Èze which also offers reduced price student entry.
As if this wasn’t enough to choose from…
…. discover the real joie de vivre by foot. Enjoy the free walking tours available around the larger cities, like Nice, and take advantage of the several long-distance hiking routes (the Sentiers de Grandes Randonnées) which pass through the Alpes-Martitimes in this region, with over 4,000km of signposted routes for walkers of varying levels of fitness.
5. Do Your Homework:
A final note, in order to have a smooth and enjoyable trip along this stunning part of the world, it’s really key that you do your research first and make sure you’re fully up to date with the travel advice and guidance.
This includes advice on matters such as insurance and countries’ laws and customs. Especially given the recent terrorist attacks in Nice, this advice and preparation has never been more important. To be a real savvy traveller you’ve got to know all the insider tips, but must also be aware and informed of the risks and necessary precautions when travelling.
So, now you have the savoir faire, you’ve got no excuse! Check out the guidelines, get yourself prepared and well-informed, pack your suitcase and get on the next low-budget airline flight out to catch those rays along the French Riviera! Profitez-bien!
The French Riviera on a budget – yes, you certainly Cannes!!
By Charlotte Daniels