Apr 30th, 2024, 10:00 AM

You Might Want to Reconsider Your Summer Trip to the French Riveria

By Isabella Logue
Image Credit: Isabella Logue
How my winter trip to Nice and Monaco changed my outlook on off-season beaching

Going to a beach town in the middle of March sounds pretty risky, right? Many restaurants are closed during the off-season, the sun is hidden behind a never-ending stream of clouds and you’ll definitely need a sweater. These were the thoughts going through my head as I browsed the cheapest flights for my spring break, most of which were headed to the South of France, a popular anglophone summer destination. I had visited Nice once before in May and the weather had still been a bit breezy and cloudy, so I could only imagine what March might look like. Why go to a beach town if you can’t spend your days at the beach? 

At any rate, unable to pass up the cheap flights and hotel deals, I booked a trip to Nice for three days during the first week of March for myself and my roommate, Jaylee. Naturally, the weather forecast changed every day leading up to our departure so packing and constructing an itinerary was a complete guessing game. Nevertheless, Jaylee and I were eager to escape the gloom of Paris and enjoy a few days by the Mediterranean, even if bundled up in sweaters and scarves.

“We have begun our descent and will be landing shortly,” announced the pilot, “Today’s weather is sunny and 14° with clear skies. Welcome to Nice!” Stepping out of the plane into the warm sun, I realized that I may have misjudged winter time in the French Riveria.

As we checked into our room at the beautiful and historic Hôtel Beau Rivage, which was once frequented by artist Henri Matisse and cost us a fraction of what it would be in just a few more months, we were disappointed to learn that their lounge chair service was closed for winter. Still, Jaylee and I headed to the sea determined to soak up whatever sun we could. While our beach day was admittedly less cozy than originally planned, the warmth of the sun comforted us as we indulged in the time honored tradition of people watching. Children scurried about collecting sticks to build sandcastles on a beach with no sand, couples sat along the rocky shore-front eating coastal staples like caprice sandwiches and gelato and a group of teenage boys even dared to take a dip in the icy ocean. 

Image Credit: Isabella Logue

That afternoon, as I strolled through the farmers market in the old town center, the melodic sounds of guitar and accordion from street musicians drifted through the alleys as they sat against Chapelle de la Miséricorde, a brightly colored baroque church built between 1740 and 1770. The scent of the salty sea breeze and the energetic murmur of street vendors filled the air while I walked to the highly praised Hobo Cafe for a matcha latte and yogurt granola bowl. Finishing off the last of the fresh fruit that decorated my dish, I couldn’t help but appreciate how vacant now were the streets that had been flooded with throngs of people during my visit over the summer. Later, enjoying a wood burned margarita pizza for dinner in the lively Cours Saleya old town square seemed a great way to end a long day of strolling the cobblestone streets and relaxing along the Promenade des Anglais. 

One of the most alluring features of the French Riveria is the train service that makes exploring the coast an easy feat. With the skies clear and the sun blazing, Jaylee and I decided to ditch our pre-planned itinerary and make the short 20 minute venture to Monaco for our final day down south. Unlike Nice, I had never previously visited Monte Carlo and had little idea of what to expect or what the must-see sights were. After briefing myself on the city’s history through a quick google search, Jaylee and I were off. 

Upon our arrival in Monte Carlo, we made our way to the famous Casino, which was surrounded by Porsches, Ferraris and Bentleys. The streets were pleasantly uncrowded and a brilliant Mediterranean sun shone down as we made the steep hike up to Prince’s Palace, the official residence of Monaco’s royal family. 

Climbing final stairs and nearing the top of the palace, I noticed a voice that seemed distantly familiar. Out of curiosity, I turned to look at the man and found myself face to face with actor Hugh Grant, who was likely hoping to avoid crowds and remain incognito by vacationing during the off-season. Nonchalantly, I continued onward, admittedly sneaking a glance whenever I could. As I reached the stairs’ end, it occurred to me that I could now say that I had walked the streets of Monaco with Hugh Grant—a sentence my rom-com loving self still can’t believe. 

Image Credit: Isabella Logue

We reached the Prince’s Palace after the long trek up the stairs. The top of the castle overlooks Port Hercule, which is home to over 700 vessels and faces the streets where the famous Formula 1 racing takes place. What captured my attention most, however, was the mesmerizing blue water. The late winter sun made the sea appear a neon color that shimmered beneath its rays. To call it beautiful almost seemed an injustice.

From there, we continued to explore the old town of Monte Carlo, which boasted picturesque views of the dramatic coastline and the colorful buildings that seemed to glow underneath the bright sunlight. We ate delicious pesto pasta at a small restaurant tucked into one of the towns’ many side streets and enjoyed gelato outside Saint Nicholas Cathedral, where Grace Kelly famously married the Prince of Monaco in 1956 and is buried. 

Image Credit: Isabella Logue

Our trip came to an end as we took the return train to Nice. There we enjoyed one last Aperol Spritz while overlooking the sea that I would inevitably long for once back in the Parisian gloom. Though you may not be able to spend your days covered in tanning oil by the Mediterranean or wearing shorts and tube-tops, winter in the French Riviera has a special energy that offers the same sunshine and slow-paced relaxation without the crowds and high prices that come with the summer season. Who knows? You may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a vacationing celebrity.