Best Places to Visit in French Riviera – Varied Experiences

the-french-riviera

After our Tuscany stop, our cruise ship headed to three cities that we consider some of the best places to visit in French Riviera, each providing a unique experience.

The French Riviera

The French Riviera (Cote d’Azur) is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered as extending from Cassis or Toulon on the west to Menton at the France-Italy border in the east, where the Italian Riviera joins. The region is an established holiday destination, with paths connecting many coastal villages and towns. Here are some of the highlights of the three city ports we visited.

Monaco (Monte Carlo)

Our first stop at the French Riviera was the Principality of Monaco, a semi-enclave within the region, surrounded on three sides by France and fronting the Mediterranean.

Monaco was the only port in our whole Western Mediterranean Cruise itinerary where our ship had to be off the shore due to limitations on the number of large vessels that the port can handle. As such, Viking Star used tenders to transport people to and from the port.  The process took longer than usual as it was windy and the waters were relatively rough. However, we were amazed at how skillfully and calmly the crew managed the whole operation and got everyone onshore and back to the ship safely.

Upon arriving onshore, we were met by our knowledgeable local tour guide who took us to a leisurely walk around the neighbourhood of Monaco-Ville. We passed by Chemin des Pecheurs, admiring the beauty of the Mediterranean, back-dropped by the spectacular view of The Rock, a 62-meter monolith.

monaco-the-rock

We then headed up the cliff through escalators until we reached the Oceanographic Museum at the top of the cliff. It was inaugurated in 1910 by Monaco’s Prince Albert I who devoted most of his life to oceanography.

Along Avenue Saint-Martin, we passed by the residences of Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie. At the end of the avenue is St. Nicholas Cathedral, the burial site of the royal family, and where the wedding of Prince Rainier III with American actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly took place.

monaco-st-nicholas-cathedral

After spending some time taking in the view of the Cathedral and the surrounding areas, we headed to the Prince’s Palace, passing through some of the streets of Monaco’s Old Town. We reached the Palace’s main square just in time for the daily changing of the guards. It was a pleasant experience, although not as grand as Buckingham’s. If you want to see this, you have to be at the square at least 15-20 minutes before noon to get a good spot.

monaco-palace-guards

From the square, we enjoyed a panoramic view of Monte Carlo with its famed casino and streets that transform into a circuit for the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix that has been running in May of each year since 1950.  JR, a huge fan of Formula 1, can only wish that he can go back and join the rich and famous to experience an actual race.

monaco-marina

With about an hour left before we had to head back to the ship, we meandered through the alleys to get a feel of Old Town Monaco.

Marseille

Our next port was Marseille, France’s oldest city, nestled between the Mediterranean and hills of limestone. Our cruise had an included onshore excursion, a relaxed drive through the port’s historic city.

Our scenic tour started with our tour bus taking us through the Vieux Port (or Old Port) area, where the Greeks landed in 600 BC. It is now surrounded by a yacht marina and dotted with stylish hotels, waterfront cafes and seafood restaurants.

marseille-old-port

Our ride along the Corniche du President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had lovely views of islands offshore, the shimmering Mediterranean coastline and the beautiful houses and buildings lining up the corniche.

We headed up the hill overlooking the Old Port and Frioul archipelago, navigating through narrow streets until we reached the imposing Notre-Dame de la Garde. The church is a neo-Byzantine construction studded with beautiful mosaics and murals, built on top of a Romanesque crypt.

marseille-notra-dame-de-la-garde

We then drove back to Quai du Port, where the bus dropped us off in front of the city’s old Town Hall for our usual free time. We spent more than an hour in the port area, taking pictures and admiring the various items at the Christmas market.

We also found the Marseille soap that is in Zen’s must-buy list in one of the department stores nearby and ended up grabbing more than just a few bars.

savon-de-marseille

Sete and Montpellier

Our last stop in France was the port city of Sete, the gateway to the bustling city of Montpellier.

Montpellier is about 10 kilometres inland from the coast of the Mediterranean. It has been a center of learning for centuries and home to the Montpellier University, one of the world’s oldest, even predating the Rennaissance.

Sete is the port city, also known as “the Venice of the Languedoc.” Located on a thin strip of land, Sete received its name from the many canals that crisscross it, linking the Mediterranean to the enclosed salt-water lagoon of Ethang du Thau.

sete-canals
The city has an unpretentious atmosphere, a contrast from the other resorts in southern France. We decided to take the scenic city walk tour rather than venture out to Montpellier attractions due to the limited time our ship is stopping.

We met our tour guide at the pier ashore and walked along Sete’s main canal. We learned that Sete (being a fish port) is a destination for seafood-loving gourmets. You can feel the strong cultural identity of this city and its inhabitants in the churches, art galleries and other public buildings along the quay.

sete-seafood-restaurant

During the usual free time, we enjoyed the opportunity for leisurely shopping and strolling along, before we headed back to the ship for the next and final stage of our cruise which we will cover in another post.

Three Cities –  Varied Experiences

The French Riviera was the second leg our Western Mediterranean Cruise.  The region offers so much more and deserves another visit to further explore. But the three cities in our itinerary provided us with varied sights, differing atmospheres and unique experiences. Loved it!


We hope our post gave you a peek at the best places to visit in this area and we welcome your thoughts and comments. If you have been there, you may likewise wish to share your experience.

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(14) Comments

  1. Jesse Lee

    Amazing trip!
    The French Riviera seems to have a lot to offer and experience. I have always wanted to see Monte Carlo because it looks beautiful.
    I like the pictures that you included here cause it gives a great idea of what to expect in each city.
    What city was your favorite one?
    The Montpellier University would be cool to see especially since it has been around for so long.
    This post makes me want to travel more and explore new areas.
    Thanks for all the traveling inspiration!

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Jesse,

      Yes, it was an amazing trip. We loved Monaco. It lived up to the fame that we have been reading. However, both Marseille and Sete/Montpellier had their own (quite different) charms to offer. We are glad that you like our stories and pictures. Hopefully, they provide you with a lot of inspiration to do your own travelling.

  2. Jeff

    I really was amazed by your beautiful photographs of the French Riviera, you know before reading your article and seeing how beautiful the scenery is I never thought about a vacation to the French Riviera before now I am adding the French Riviera on my dream vacation spots all because of your article

    Thank You
    Jeff

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for your comments. We are glad you like our article and pictures. Before the trip, we would normally associate the French Riviera to beach resorts. Indeed, the region offers a lot more. Which of the cities of the region has piqued your interest in your next vacation?

  3. Michael

    Wow, after going through your site makes me want to travel more. There are many places I’ve never been to. Of course, I have to make more money and have time to travel more. Hopefully, the online business I just started will make my dream come true. Have a happy new year!

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Michael,

      Great to know that you have started an online business. You will surely be on your way to realize your dream vacations. Have a great new year to you too!

  4. John

    All these places that you’ve mentioned are exactly where I would want to go for a nice vacation. I’ve done the nice tropical and modern stuff but now I want some old historic type ventures. Where do you recommend I start for someone coming from Asia.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi John,

      We spent our earlier years in life as well in Asia. So Europe (with its history and architecture) has always attracted us. We think that would be a nice starting point for you as well. Our visit to the French Riviera is actually part of our Iconic Western Mediterranean Cruise. You may want to check this earlier post to provide you with an overview of our whole itinerary. If you have additional queries, do let us know.

  5. Ken

    I have never thought of going to the French Riviera until now. I really love the images you placed in the post. They are so clear and really make you want to step right into them. The information you provided about your experiences for all the places you visited was wonderful and discriptive. I guess when traveling you have to be perpeared for anything includeing rough waters and docking shuttles. Glad you made it safely to and from on the tenders.

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Ken,
      Thank you for your comments. We are glad you love our images and that you found our post descriptive of the experience. Yes, in any travel one has to be prepared. We must say though that the cruise ship crew handled the tendering process very well. We all got off and back on the ship safely – notwithstanding that, quite a number of passengers had mobility restrictions. Kudos indeed to the ship’s professional crew.

  6. Virginia

    OK, your post just made me drool a little. Beautiful pictures and I love the stories that go with them. My last European trip was to the Amalfi Coast and I am dying to get back to the region. Unfortunately, no Europe for me this year, although I do have a trip to Hawaii lined up. I suppose that will do! Ha! Thanks so much for taking us on your adventure!

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Virginia,
      Thank you for your comments. Yes, the French Riviera left us some interesting experience. Earlier, our cruise stopped at Tuscany and it stole our hearts as well. Surely, you had the same experience when you visited Amalfi Coast. But a trip to Hawaii should be exciting. Which part of Hawaii do you intend to stay?

  7. Timotheus

    I continue to be awed and inspired by your travels and adventure. This second leg of the Western Mediterranean Cruise is so fascinating and interesting!

    First off, love Monaco! And I find watching the changing of guards fascinating! I would do that wherever I go, provided they have it. And the view from the square is awesome! Breath taking!

    And Marseille! Songs and poems written about it. Movies made showing the beautiful sights here. You are so lucky to see it all!

    Then Sete and Montpellier. I must say. So enchanting!

    I look forward to more of your travels. Thank you so much! 🙂

    1. JRandZen

      Hi Timotheus,
      Thank you for your comments and we are glad you are inspired by our stories. Yes, this leg of our cruise was fascinating and interesting. Definitely a different experience compared to the Tuscany leg. Monaco is quite a gem of the Mediterranean and the other cities had their own unique offerings. Do you have plans visiting this part of the world?

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