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The Mediterranean coastline of south-east France is a feast of flavoursome food, fine art and intoxicating fragrances. Leaving the hustle and bustle of city life in Champs-Èlysées and La Défense, and in light of the Cannes Film Festival (happening 8-19 May), we explore five more of the region’s gems beyond Paris and discover what gives them their je ne sais quoi.
Stay in for: Fast food and fast cars
Despite the abundance of bistros and kerbside cafes in the city, residents love nothing more than to indulge in grab-and-go style street food. It’s a national obsession, and we suggest you join them. Take your appetite to the Cours Saleya Market and wander the centuries-old streets of the Old Town with the street food tours of Les Petits Farcis, where you’ll discover how the history of the city has shaped its cuisine. For a real taste of Nice, its owner suggests trying socca, a chickpea pancake cooked in a wood-fired oven until crisp and smokey, and pan bagnat, a hollowed-out bread roll drizzled with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and filled with the elements of salad niçoise.
With your appetite satiated, hit the open road and explore Nice’s coastline in classic movie style. The hairpin bends between Monaco and Cannes beg to be navigated by an old-school convertible, and Rent a Classic Car, located on the Promenade des Anglais, has a garage full of them for you to choose from. Its owner shared that the 1950s, 60s and 70s were the French Riviera’s golden eras, and their cars reflect that era perfectly. Rent a Classic Car’s fleet includes a Porsche 356 Speedster, James Dean’s favourite; a Jaguar XK120, Humphrey Bogart’s wheels of choice; and a Mercedes 190 SL, driven by Princess Grace of Monaco. All you need is a headscarf, some shades and your pick of the French Riviera to visit for the day!
Fun fact: You can walk among Roman Remains
Prior to 1860, Nice was actually part of one of the Kingdoms of Italy, at which time it was called Nizza. Walk up to the Parc de Arenes de Cimiez and you’ll find an ancient Roman coliseum, the ruins of a Roman bath complex, a 500-year-old olive grove, and a monastery.
How to get there: Take a domestic flight over from Paris, just over an hour away!
Go there for: Its beautiful hilltop view
Aside from the spectacular coastal views afforded by this medieval hilltop village, Eze is also a commune for talented artists who display their paintings, ceramics and glassware around the town’s cobbled streets. After perusing their work, we suggest you grab a sketchpad and join the crowds of budding artists to be found sketching and painting in the exotic Jardin d’Eze. This exotic oasis is a slice of botanical bliss, perched 429m above the Cote d’Azur’s sapphire sea.
Explore more of Eze’s medieval charm at the oldest building in the village, Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, which dates back to 1306. This 18th-century Notre Dame de l’Assomption stands out from the rest by its blue-faced clock, making it a great meeting point if you get lost amongst the many tour groups.
Fun fact: Churchill’s canvas
Sir Winston Churchill was a huge fan of Eze and he loved to paint the views from the hilltop. An old Frenchman once told him: “With a few more lessons, you will be quite good.” Churchill’s French landscape paintings have fetched up to $1.8 million in auctions.
How to get there: Take a day trip out with a 20-minute drive from Nice.
Go there for: Their zest for life
Sitting snugly with the Italian border on the far east coast of the south of France is the medieval town of Menton. It hosts all the beauty of the better-known coastal villages but a fraction of the crowds! Better known as the Pearl of France, it is famous for growing lemons of divine provenance. Legend has it that Menton itself grew from a lemon from the Garden of Eden. Don’t miss savouring some sweet and refreshing Limoncello de Menton (Lemon liqueur, a Menton special), served at any seafront bar or cafe.
Since 1869, the town has celebrated its citrus success with an annual Lemon Festival, which attracts 160,000 people for two weeks in mid-February. It is a spectacle worth travelling for and bigger than the Monaco Grand Prix. Highlights include gravity-defying lemon sculptures 9m high, float processions and fireworks.
If you’ve had a tad too many of Menton’s lemons, make a reservation at the town’s two-Michelin-starred Mirazur, which claims fourth position on the World’s Best Restaurants list and is widely considered the best restaurant in France. The menu features the best of local produce and seafood, guaranteed to make your taste buds sing.
Fun fact: Deja vu, Bond-style
Visit Menton’s famous Basilique Saint-Michel, a triumph in baroque design constructed in 1640, and you might get a sense of deja vu. That’s because it appears in the background of a high-speed motorcycle chase in the 1983 Bond movie Never Say Never Again, starring Sean Connery, which was filmed in the town.
How to get there: Take the scenic route via the train (TER), just over 30 minutes away!
Book via SNCF here.
Go there for: Its stunning art scene!
Also known as the “City of Art”, this ancient part in south of France is a quaint town filled with old-world charm. Dotted with art galleries, bookstores and cafes along the streets, Vence is a walled historic centre that is home to the important artworks by renowned French artist, Henri Matisse, with the most significant work of his being the Chapel of the Rosary.
A charming village for lovers of the fine arts, you’ll also find equally intriguing contemporary art pieces at the Maeght Foundation. Inaugurated in 1964, it houses at least 12,000 pieces of artwork that ranges from ceramics to paintings to sculptures, including works by 20th century artists, Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and more.
Fun fact: Wine Tasting
Have a taste of full-bodied or aromatic wines to your liking at Le Petit Cave de Saint Paul, an authentic 14th century wine cellar with one of the most extensive wine library in the region, right in the heart of Vence.
How to get there: Take bus 400 from Nice to Vence, only an hour away.
Board from rue Verdun/Albert 1er bus stop and purchase your bus tickets from the bus driver directly.
Go there for: Perfumeries
A travel experience to Grasse is measured in scents, and not in sunshine. Light scents of Rose fill the springtime air each year, before it transits subtly to Lavender in Summer, Jasmine in Autumn and Mimosa in Winter.
With Grasse being the centre of the world’s perfume industry, here you’ll discover the process and history of perfume making at any of the free tours and workshops held by various perfumeries, including the oldest, Galimard. You could even create your own perfume!
And if you’re up for a challenge, you could bring your scent-sory experience to a whole new level and put your nosing abilities to the test at the International Perfume Museum. Stroll through the perfume gardens and see how many scents notes (citrus, floral, woody, spicy, fruity and musky) you’re able to identify.
Fun fact: Festival for the scents
Celebrate the scent of Jasmine with the locals at the annual festival, Fête du Jasmin or La Jasminade, which happens in the beginning of August over an extravagant parade of floats and musical entertainment.
How to get there: Take the hourly train rides from Nice, just slightly over an hour away.
Book via SNCF here.
No visit to France would be complete without a chic little stopover in Paris to shake off the jet lag. Start your french rendezvous here: say mais oui to some of the world’s most famous galleries and museums, listen to the bells of the Notre-Dame de Paris and steal a kiss with a loved one from atop the Eiffel Tower. Alternatively, lose your heart to traditional Parisian street cafes of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, where the coffee is strong and the croissants are the lightest you’ll ever taste.
To truly immerse yourself in the heart of the city, book a stay at award-winning Fraser Suites Le Claridge Champs-Èlysées, Paris. The 114 luxury serviced apartments are housed in an early 1900s heritage building, steps from the Arc de Triomphe. Solo travellers or executives on business will find the fully-furnished studio suites perfect for their needs. These come with living, dining and study areas, fully equipped kitchen, modern bathroom, and a private balcony with great views.
Or check in at the five-star Fraser Suites Harmonie, Paris La Défense, minutes from the River Seine in the centre of the city’s business district. Close to many of Paris’ top corporate offices, Fraser Suites Harmonie is home to 134 luxurious fully furnished residences and a wide selection of facilities to make any stay hassle-free. Keep updated on events around town with our interactive e-concierge system, or make restaurant reservations and pinpoint local attractions via our handy smartphone provided. After a long day of meetings, simply unwind at the Lobby Bar for cocktails or beer.
Adapted from Fraser Cachet Issue #30 © Frasers Hospitality and SPH Magazines