Visiting the South of France – a day trip to Nice

Won back in 2019, our prize of a 5* trip of a lifetime to Cannes in the South of France had been a long time coming with various lockdowns and travel bans forcing us to cancel and reschedule multiple times in the intervening years but we had finally made it and after walking up in our luxurious 5* hotel room at the Five Seas Hotel, we were excited to see what was on offer at our included breakfast.

Once up in the rooftop breakfast room, we were not disappointed as we were greeted enthusiastically by courteous staff, shown to a table with views across to the Cannes sign in Le Suquet district, poured fresh juices and handed a menu each. On our table already lay two baskets, one full of fresh bread – crusty chunks of white French stick and slices of a seeded bread – the other filled with delicious pastries. Further to this, the menu contained a wide range of options from cereals to cheeses and meats, fruit and hot, egg-based options. Not wanting to come across greedy, we ordered a selection of cheeses between us to eat with our bread and a cheese omelette each with a side of bacon. The staff seemed surprised that this was all we wanted so my friend added an order of the salmon to eat with her bread and I added a bowl of fruit to my order along with a pot of tea.

The bright blue sea

Waiting for our choices to arrive, we munched on the light, flaky Pain au Chocolate pastries. As each of our courses arrived, we were running out of room on our table. Everything that arrived was just as delicious as the course before it from the tasty selection of hard and soft cheeses to what we both agreed was the best cheese omelette we had ever tasted. The fruit salad that followed, full to the brim with fruits including apple, kiwi and pineapple finished it off perfectly.

Fontaine de Soleil

We were on a schedule that morning having booked onto a walking tour of Nice, a 40-minute train ride from where we were staying in Cannes. With the Cannes train station being just a short stroll from our hotel, we had just enough time to return to our room and grab what we needed for the day before heading straight out.

Above, Nice Opera House, and below, my travel mascot, Mr Ted, visits the old sweet shop, Henri Auer

At the station, the ticket machines were easy to navigate and the station platforms well-signposted. The train followed the coastline offering beautiful views of sandy beaches and blue seas as we made our way into Nice. Unfortunately, it was an overcast day with rain forecast later. Pulling into Nice station, we followed google maps to the main shopping street, Avenue Jean Medecin, from where it was about a 20 minute walk down to the seafront.

Arriving early for our tour, we took at stroll through Jardin de Albert 1er, a small urban park dotted with sculptures, and along the sea front where I was surprised by the bright blue colour of the sea, before making our way back to the Fontaine du Soleil meeting point.

After admiring the fountain, which is dedicated to Greek god Apollo, we followed our guide into Nice’s old town stopping to hear about the old sweet store, Henri Auer, and the Nice Opera House before continuing to Marche Aux Fleurs, a bustling market selling flowers and food. From here we made our way to Place du Palais de Justice, a square in the old town in front of the courthouse and then to Place Rosetti where Nice Cathedral stands.

Enjoying views from Castle Hill

Our guides then led us along some more of the winding, narrow old town streets until we were back out at the far end of the seafront. Here, we took an elevator up Colline du Chateau or Castle Hill where the Castle of Nice once stood. Now, the hill is parkland with a cafe, children’s playgrounds and beautiful views over Nice.

Unfortunately, the occasional drizzle had now turned to heavy showers but while the views did not look much like the blue-skied picture in a complimentary postcard we were given, it was still pretty spectacular and our guides explained that the bright turquoise colour of the sea was caused by large grey stones on its seabed.

Above, and below, the man-made waterfall on Castle Hill

After visiting three viewpoints on Castle Hill, one of which looked across to the port on the east side of the town, our tour came to an end leaving us to find our own way back down to the centre of Nice. Before taking the elevator back down, we took the short walk to see the man-made waterfall built into the hill and visible from the fountain we started at.

Back down at the seafront

Back down on the seafront, the rain was getting heavier so we decided to shelter at one of the bars along the promenade ordering a few snacks to keep us going. The rain stopping again, we headed back out walking back through the old town and exploring more of its narrow streets lined with shops, cafes and restaurants.

Eventually, we ended up back out in the main town where we walked along Promenade du Paillon back to Fontaine du Soleil. With the rain once again getting heavier, we headed back into the old town and found a cafe to sit in and have drinks before looking for somewhere to eat dinner.

Place Massena, the square that is home to Fontaine du Soleil

With Nice once being part of Italy before joining France, there is a heavy Italian influence in the restaurants there. We had passed many lovely looking restaurants in the old town over the course of the day but now found many of them to be closed until around 7pm – by which time we had to be making our way back to the train station – so unfortunately, we had to settle for one of the more touristy restaurants near to the market area.

After dinner, we started our walk back to the train station only for a heavy rainstorm to set in. We arrived at the station soaking wet and were glad when we got back to Cannes and our hotel to dry out and warm up! It was a shame the weather had not been on our side today but we had still enjoyed our trip to Nice and our walking tour of the city. We had one full day of our trip to the South of France left and planned to use it to visit Monaco and we were both hoping that the weather forecast for a return to sunshine the next day would be correct!

A 5* weekend in the South of France

Cannes

Way back in 2019, I was lucky enough to win an online competition I’d entered for a trip to the French Riviera. The prize consisted of a three-night break in a 5* hotel in Cannes, business class flights with British Airways, private transfers and spending money. Inviting one of my friends along as my plus one, we arranged the trip for the following April.

In the BA lounge at Heathrow awaiting our flight

Spoilt for choice, we were given the pick of a range of luxury Cannes hotels and after a bit of googling, decided to go for the Five Seas hotel, a small, boutique hotel tucked away down a back street of Cannes rather than one of the larger hotels lining the sea front.

All set to go, things, of course, did not go to plan and with lockdowns and travel bans suddenly in place everywhere for the first half of 2020, we ended up having to cancel our plans.

Drinks on offer in the lounge

Thankfully, the prize promoters were willing to honour the prize and, naively expecting things to have returned to normal within a few months, we rescheduled for September 2020. And then, with PCR testing, travel bans, lock downs etc etc still being a threat to travel abroad, we rescheduled again to April 2021. And then to September 2021. And then to April 2022.

We were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it there but it was fifth time lucky and the other weekend, we finally got to the point of packing our suitcases ready to head to Heathrow airport!

Even at this point, things were not plain sailing. We had booked an early afternoon flight back from Nice which would give us the morning in Cannes but just weeks before we were due to travel, the promoters informed us that this flight had been cancelled by BA and we had been put on a morning flight, our transfer from the hotel to the airport now scheduled for a disappointing 8.30am.

Above, a late night arrival in Nice, and below, transferring to our luxury hotel the next morning

But being a freebie, we couldn’t really complain and we had at least booked the early morning flight into Nice giving us most of that day there to get to and explore Cannes.

Or at least that was the plan. With flight cancellations amongst other problems at UK airports being heavily in the news during the school Easter holidays, and BA often being mentioned as an airline cutting flights, I was keeping a close eye on the flights we were booked on.

On the Wednesday, just 2 days before we were due to fly on the Friday morning, and a day before we departed for London to stay in an airport hotel overnight, I happened to check on the status of our outbound flight only to see it listed as cancelled. Not only that but when we signed into the BA website, we had been bumped onto the 9pm flight which didn’t arrive in Nice until 00:05 Saturday morning.

Managing to get hold of the promoters, we came up with a plan to transfer onto the 9pm flight but on the Thursday night. We would then cancel our London airport hotel, instead booking a similarly priced hotel at Nice airport before transferring to our Cannes hotel on Friday morning as originally planned. It was a long night as we wondered if the promoters would successfully be able to arrange this with their flight providers but the next morning, just hours before we left for London, we got a phone call back saying it had all been arranged!

Strolling along La Croisette in Cannes

Since my friend and I were travelling from different parts of the UK, we’d decided to use our UK transfers allowance on trains instead of private transfers, opting to upgrade to first class in line with the theme of the weekend. Once in London, we used the tube to travel to the airport, deciding to put the remainder of the UK transfer money in with our spending money for Cannes.

After using the self-service bag drop off machines at Terminal 5, our business class tickets came with fast track security passes and we were soon in the departures lounge a full 3 hours before our flight was due to depart. We had done a bit of research on the airport lounges available to us and decided to follow the signs to the BA South Galleries Lounge.

We were surprised at how large the lounge was, with a range of seating options many next to a charge point for phones or laptops etc. Food was being served from a central kitchen and a variety of snacks including crisps, pretzels and biscuits lay at self-service areas alongside bar areas with champagne, wine, beers and soft drinks which were also all ‘help yourself’. Self-service hot drinks machines also sat in every section of the lounge so you never had far to walk to get what you wanted.

At the market

Finding a quiet, cosy corner to sit in, we scanned the QR code on the table to access the menu ordering the steak and ale pie with mash each before helping ourselves to drinks. Within minutes, our food was delivered to our table. We spend the next few hours eating our way through the menu and the tasty treats dotted around the lounge before deciding to take a walk to check out some of the other lounges available to us.

We ended up in the BA North Galleries Lounge, smaller version of the the South Galleries but with a better view of the runways so we spent some time sat watching the planes come in to land as the sun set until it was time to board.

Above, down by the beach in Cannes, and below, on a hilltop in Le Suquet district enjoying the views

Expecting to get just a snack on board as part of our business class ticket, we were surprised to find it was a full meal. I was quite pleased that neither of the choices – salmon or quinoa, were things I ate or I’d have probably eaten it despite being full from the offerings in the lounge. Instead, I politely declined, settling for drink.

Once at Nice airport, we quickly passed through immigration and collected our luggage before crossing the road to our hastily booked airport hotel. The room at the Campanile was cheap but cheerful and fine for the few hours we needed before our transfer to Cannes the next day.

The next morning, we were promptly met outside the hotel by our driver to take us to our Cannes hotel. Luggage taken off us and lifted into the car, doors held open for us and complimentary bottles of water placed before us, this was very different to our usual experience of dragging our luggage to the nearest station or shuttle stop, jumping on a busy train and trying to find our own way through an unfamiliar city to a budget hotel!

Back in Le Suquet admiring the views

Instead, 45 minutes later, we pulled up at the door of the Five Seas Hotel. Before we could even undo our seatbelts, various staff members were surrounding the car emptying it of our luggage and holding doors open for us. As we walked into the foyer, we could see our luggage safely lined up against the wall waiting to be taken to our room.

We were greeted by a series of friendly faces, invited to take a seat on cosy furniture in the foyer and offered complimentary water or juices as someone checked us in. Despite it not even being 11am, we were then told our room was ready. Expecting to be given our room number, key and be sent on our way, we were surprised when we were instead led to the lift – which was called for us, doors held open when it arrived – and taken to our room, given a tour of its facilities and having all the hotel facilities explained to us.

The room was lovely with a free minibar containing snacks and soft drinks, a large bathroom and separate wardrobes amongst other features. Once settled in, we headed out to explore. We had a vague plan for the trip to try and see as much as possible of Cannes that day then to use the local trains to visit Nice, Monaco and Antibes on the other two days.

The Cannes sign in Le Suquet district

Making our way down to La Croisette, the long promenade, we strolled along the front for a bit before deciding to head back into the town to find some lunch. Here, we stumbled across Marche Forville, an indoor market which today was filled with various street food vendors. Grabbing some homemade bruschetta and a savoury pie to eat on the go, we continued to walk through the town, soon finding ourselves on the main high street.

Resting from the steep walk up to the hilltop viewpoint

After some window shopping, we returned to the seafront grabbing an ice cream from one of the many gelato vendors on offer before deciding to hop on to Le Petit Train de Cannes, a cute land train that takes tourists around the main parts of the town while a pre-recorded commentary plays.

The train took us down the far end of La Croisette, the commentary pointing out the many famous hotels which various celebrities have frequented over the years.

Back down by the sea front

Much of La Croisette promenade looked like a construction site during our stay as the town raced to make itself presentable in time for the upcoming film festival and as we passed churned up pavement after churned up pavement, we wondered how it would ever be ready on time! Even some of the famous hotels and venues such as the iconic Carlton Hotel and the infamous Palm Club, were currently closed for renovations.

It was a shame the train didn’t have a hop on/off option like tourist buses but it was still fun to get a glimpse of the highlights of Cannes and learn something about what we were seeing.

Down by the beach

The train did make one stop, at the top of the hill in Le Suquet district – the old town with winding, narrow roads and colourful houses – outside L’Eglise Notre-Dame d’Esperance. Given 10 minutes until we were told the train would depart for the rest of the tour, this was long enough to visit the church and walk up to the walled viewpoint for beautiful views across Cannes.

Hopping back onto the train at the sound of its bell being rang, we both agreed we would walk back to Le Suquet district after the tour and explore further so after we pulled up back at the seafront station, this is exactly what we did.

Above, the famous Carlton Hotel, and below, drinks at its rather pricey beach club

Finding a bar in one of the street’s there, we sat and had drinks, people watching for a while before continuing to wander, eventually finding ourselves back on the hilltop. With more time to spare, this time we walked up to the higher viewpoint by a sculpture of huge letters spelling out Cannes and then into the gardens of the neighbouring Musee de l’explorations du Monde before heading back downhill taking narrow street after narrow street until we happened to see the sea glistening in front of us.

Passing by Palais des Festivals, site if the Cannes Film Festival

Finding ourselves at the western end of the bay by the Port of Cannes, we strolled out along on of the jetties, looking back at the town and enjoying the views before walking back into town to look for somewhere to have dinner. Menus at the more touristy restaurants were not too badly priced although a bit more than I was used to and at over 20 euros each for a margarita pizza and soft drink, I was still glad we had been given spending money for our trip as part of the prize!

Posing on the red carpet

After dinner, we walked back to La Croisette and walked further east along the promenade as far as the Carlton Hotel. It was a nice evening and the sun was starting to set so we decided to look for somewhere outside to sit and have drinks. With the Carlton Hotel closed for renovations, its beach bar was open to all. Glancing at the over-priced menu, we immediately dismissed it and continued to walk before stopping and turning around. Being used to travelling on a budget, if this was our own money, there’s no way we’d ever consider visiting such an expensive bar but we’d been given spending money to live the life on this trip so we decided maybe, as a one off, we should just forget the cost of the drinks and go for the experience.

Ending the evening at our hotel’s rooftop bar

After taking seats on the cosy loungers on the beach, we perused the menu and ordered. There was a good atmosphere with mellow trance music being played from the main bar area and a few groups of people sat dotted around at the various tables or at the bar and it was nice to relax with drinks as the sun started to go down. The ambience was spoiled slightly by pigeons jumping onto our table and stealing the complimentary nuts we’d been brought with our drinks and we noticed other tables having a similar problem. While we sat, some of the bar’s patrons got up to walk along the jetty and take photos and once we’d finished our drinks, we decided to do the same.

Back at our hotel, we freshened up before visiting its rooftop bar. With prices not far off those at the Carlton Beach Bar, we didn’t stay for long but the service from the staff serving, like everything else at the hotel, was impeccable.

It’d been a fun first day in the South of France and after all the walking we were more than ready to take to our uber-comfy beds, ready to see what the next two days would bring.