16 things to do on a Côte d’Azur trip

Nice or Marseille? Why not both of them? At the first glance, I was tempted to say that those two have nothing in common (except their zip code indicating Côte d’Azur area). But, at the second look, I have discovered that they do share the intense passion for art, the delicious food, the light of Mediterranean Sea, the nice people and that joie de vivre with a French trademark. What did I loved, why I want to come back then? I know at least 16 motives to take a Côte d’Azur trip. 

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In Marseille…

I’ve always wanted to see Marseille – I had that bohemian image about the port, the colourful streets, about the mix of people and cultures. Not to mention I know people who craved for the famous bouillabaisse. 🙂 And, I was pleased to say that the second biggest French city outcome my expectations. What I advise you to do in a short trip to Marseille? 

1. First of all, start with the port. Those thousand fishing boats, dozen of fishing and sailing associations, the hustle of the non-stop  those big yachts, those shuttles across the water (fun fact – Marseille is bragging with the shortest ferry boat ride in the world – just a couple of meters between the two borders of the port). A stroll around the Vieux-Port – recently renewed by the architect Norman Foster and landscape architect Michel Desvignes – offers a glimpse of lavish life in the south of France; glitzy hotels and bars line the promenades, restaurants and cafés are waiting for a stop. 

To eat – try the bouillabaisse at restaurant Miramar (“membre fondateur de la carte de la bouillabaisse”) or Les Grandes Halles for a lot of choices. 

To drink – well, a lot of choices – from Provençal wines, like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-de-Provence, Rasteau, or Bandol to the local pastís.

2. Continue with a visit to Cosquer Méditerranée, a large-scale replica of an amazing prehistoric cave discovered in the Calanques, at a depth of 37 meters under the sea, an amazing journey at the beginning of the civilisation. And then, as long as you are already at the end of the Port, enter in MUCEM Museum, dedicated to the cultures of Mediterranean. 

3. No visit in Marseille is complete without a trip to Notre-Dame de la Garde, the impressive church that guards the city. This is a beautiful example of Byzantine meets Romanesque architecture, constructed in 1853 and known locally as “Bonne Mère” (the good mother). Even you are not a fan of religious sites, a visit here is worthing for the breathtaking panorama – a view to Estanque, to the Calanques in the south and (why not) an aerial view of the city of Marseille and its famous stadium, Olympique.  

4. A walk into the oldest district in Marseille, Le Panier, with its cobbled lanes, shuttered windows, and pastel hued homes. The historic area is well-known for its many winding pathways and stepped streets. If you’re looking for a souvenir from your trip (local baskets, potteries, or sweets as the local navette de Marseille) then this is where you’ll find shops to buy small gifts!

5. An afternoon in the hipster neighbourhood of Marseille, Cours Julien – a lively area, with thousands of graffitis, book stalls, small cafes, organic market, vinyl records, vintage clothes, or handmade gifts and small restaurants with ethnic food. The places to enter on your way to a cafe: Savonnerie Marseillaise de la Licorne, Maison Blaize (for delicious teas) or Maison Emperor, one of the oldest stores, founded in 1827, where you can find… almost everything you have ever dreamt of. 

What I should put on the list for my next visit? The architectonic wonders as the Courbusier building, Frac Paca Contemporary Art Center (designed by Kengo Kuma) and CMA-CGM Tower designed by Zaha Hadid. And a trip to Château d’If (unfortunately postponed because of the strong wind).

What else could you go from here? Arles, Camargue, Luberon, Aix-En-Provence, Cassis, Nice, Vence. READ here & here about these destinations. 

Something to remember: a lot of movies were shot here, in Marseille: Jean-Luc Godard’s iconic “Breathless”, Luc Besson’s “Taxi” and many others… 

In Nice…

Initially, I thought that I have nothing more to discover in Nice, as long as I visited it, every year, for the last 15 years or so… But the French Riviera has a lot of secrets to tell, though. And that’s, for short, how a weekend well spent in Nice looks like.

1. Start the visit in Nice with a long walk on Promenade des Anglais. Nothing compares to the blue of the waves under the Mediterranean light (rumour has it that there are more 300 sunny day a year and 7 km of beaches, so let’s enjoy!).

2. A city of history and art. Nice Côte d’Azur is an architectural crossroad. To mention only a few emblematic sites: the Turin heritage and the Garibaldi square, the Belle Epoque style and the Régina Palace in Cimiez, Art Deco and the Palais de la Méditerranée, or the Russo-Byzantine inspiration and the Orthodox Cathedral Saint-Nicolas. Not to forget that the city of Nice offers reasons for daily walks to all art lovers. The Nice landscape can also be discovered through the various works of art installed in the public space: Bernar Venet’s “Nine Oblique Lines” on the Quai des États-Unis or Jaume Plensa’s “Conversation in Nice” on the Place Masséna. The tramway lines are embellished with a collection of pictorial and sound works signed, among others, Jaume Plensa, Ottoniel, Kersallé, Ben, Jean-Charles Blais, Kim Sooka, Noël Dolla.

3. The museum tour – Chagall, Matisse and others – Nice was always a good home for all the artists. Marc Chagall National Museum (www.musee-chagall.fr) has an impressive collection of 250 Chagall works – among them a huge stain glass window illustrating The Creation of The World, drawings and sculptures. Until 9th of January 2023, the museum has a special exhibition “Chagall en éditions limitées : Les livres illustrés”.  To put also on the list: Musee Matisse (www.musee-matisse-nice.org), Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art (www.mamac-nice.org) and Museum of Photography.

4. The food scene. The famous salad Niçoise, pan bagnat, socca (a kind of crusty chickpea pancake with a soft interior – see the pictures below), pissaladière, les petits farcis, raviolis niçoise, ratatouille and, of course, a lot of rosé – these are the things to try when in Nice. To eat: La Maison de Marie (https://www.lamaisondemarie.com/), Chez Acchiardo, Bocca Nissa (https://www.boccanissa.com/)

5. Plus: on and off a hiking trail – “Lou Camin Nissart” that goes 42 kilometres around Nice, through the woods, hills and vineyards. Start on the Promenade du Paillon and goes to the heart of the port district, before climbing to Mont Alban which offers a 360 degree panorama. Discover the Mont Vinaigrier, Saint-Pancrace and Saint-Roman de Bellet before going down by Magnan on the Promenade des Anglais. Hidden paths, forests, vineyards, olive trees… Put on the list Domaine de la Source – https://domainedelasource.jimdo.com/ – for an amazing story of a family owned vineyard and some delicious wines). 

What I should put on the list for my next visit? The National Sports Museum is a must for me. Plus a visit in the Nice’s olive land. I didn’t know that Caillettes are some specific kind of olive in Nice cuisine (smaller, ranging from yellowish green to purplish black, slightly acid). From Castagniers to La Trinité, passing through Nice, Le Broc or Colomars, it is cultivated in terraces. Among the domains to discover: the Mill of Castagniers, the Lessatini Domain, the Oliveraie de la Sirole or Champ Soleil (www.olivedenice-aop.com)

What else could you go from here? In all the beautiful villages around the city – Villefranche-sur-Mer (I bet you didn’t know that the town is the cradle of modern freediving, a kind of capital for this underwater sport where the 2019 world championships have been organised), Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Èze, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. And yes, to my favourite restaurant in Cap d’Ail, A’Trego, at the border of Monaco, designed by Philippe Starck. 

Something to remember: that Nice is not only a summer destination. Apart from the famous carnival in February, Nice Côte d’Azur area has not less than 7 areas for winter sports (ski, snowboarding), no far than two hours drive from the city. Put on the list Boréon, Saint Dalmas-le-Selvage, Roubion-les-Buisses, Auron and Turini-Camp d’Argent. 

Photography: www.france-fr.com, www.atout-france.fr., @explorenicecotedazur @explorefrance @choosemarseille, www.dreamingof.net