The south of France has long been known as a playground for millionaires.
Years ago it served as inspiration for legendary American authors such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and today you’re likely to see Beyonce sunning on a yacht in St. Tropez.
But that doesn’t mean that travellers without a disposable income can’t enjoy the French Riviera.
In fact, you can experience the coast’s old world charm and dazzling beaches on a budget.
Here are the most affordable towns on the French Riviera.
Cannes and Nice are probably the most popular cities on the Côte d’Azur.
The difference between the two cities, though, is that Cannes doesn’t have much to offer the budget traveller. Nice, on the other hand, is just as beautiful, and a lot less expensive.
The city has multiple chain hotels that offer rooms during peak season for under $US150 per night. There’s the Mercure Nice Centre Grimaldi, and the Best Western Alba Hotel, both of which are in excellent locations.
If you’re looking for a more intimate experience and would rather stay at a boutique hotel, try the Ajoupa Apart’hotel — which offers apartments complete with a kitchen — the Nice Garden Hotel, or the Clair Hotel. Although basic and modest, TripAdvisor reviews say all three hotels are clean and in prime locations.
Nice has a number of beaches that are free and open to the public, such as the Beau Rivage Public Beach, but beware that most of these are sprinkled with pebbles instead of soft white sand, so spending a few euros on a padded beach mat might be a smart idea. For a full list of the city’s public beaches, click here.
One of the best activities to do in Nice is simply stroll along the Promenade des Anglais, the boardwalk promenade that runs along the length of the beach.
For those who aren’t beach bums, Nice has a selection of 20 museums and municipal galleries, as well as private art galleries and artist workshops. You can either pay 10 euros for a 48-hour pass to a few museums that all fall under the same category (ie fine arts, sciences, history) or you can pay 20 euros for a 7-day ticket to all museums and galleries in Nice. For more information on museum and gallery tickets, click here.
Travelling around and into or out of Nice is extremely easy and cheap.
Trains run along the coast, stopping at different towns. A train trip to Cannes, for example, can cost anywhere from 5 to 15 euros on the SNCF train line.
Bus travel is even cheaper. Lignes d’azur buses travel up and down the coast. Although slower and less luxurious than the train, these buses cost one euro no matter how far you’re travelling.
Within Nice there’s a tram line that has 21 stops throughout the city — again only one euro per ride.
For the more active and adventurous tourist, there’s Velo Blue, which has bikes stationed all over city that are available to rent. The first half hour is free, and then every hour after that is one euro.
Located in the Alpes-Maritimes region of southeastern France, the city of Antibes sits between Nice and Cannes and includes the small town of Juan-les-Pins. It’s a picturesque resort area straight out of a postcard.
Since Antibes is smaller than Nice, its selection of budget hotels is not as extensive. A few hotels that offer rooms for around or under $US150 per night — all of which received favourable ratings on TripAdvisor — include Hotel La Jabotte, Hotel Eden, and Le Petit Castel. There’s also a Best Western (the Best Western Le Grand Pavois) in the city that offers reasonable rates.
Some of the city’s best-known beaches lie along the Cap d’Antibes, a small peninsula on the edge of Antibes, which is home to a number of luxury hotels such as the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. The Plage de la Gravette, the Plage de Ponteil, and the Plage de la Salis are the three main public beaches in Antibes.
Tourists can pay just 10 euros for a 7-day pass that’s valid for all municipal museums and the Fort Carré, a fort on the outskirts of Antibes that dates back to the 16th century.
For those looking to visit just one or two museums, there’s the Musée Picasso, which houses a small collection of Picasso’s paintings and ceramics. The museum’s rates are reasonable; for pricing, click here. There’s also the Musée Napoléonien in Juan-les-Pins, which not only tells the history of Napoleon, but also offers spectacular views of the Cap d’Antibes.
Some of Antibes’ other landmarks include churches such as the Chapelle de la Garoupe and the Cathedrale Notre Dame de la Platea d’Antibes, as well as the Garoupe Lighthouse (Phare de la Garoupe), and the Sentier du Littoral (a walkway along the coast). All of these are either free or charge just a small fee for visitors.
Like Nice, Antibes offers train service (SNCF) or bus service (Envibus). The Envibus has 31 bus routes throughout Antibes, and a one euro ticket will get you pretty much anywhere.
Although it doesn’t sit along the coast, the small town of Vence is still part of the French Riviera. It’s nestled in the hills of the Alpes Maritimes, and its quaint cobblestone streets and stone buildings make up for its lack of beaches.
Because of its size, Vence doesn’t have any chain hotels, but it does have some affordable boutique hotels. A few that earned high ratings on TripAdvisor include Hotel Miramar, Hotel Le Floreal, Hotel Villa Roseraie, and the Hotel Mas de Vence. All four offer rooms for under $US150 per night.
A visit to the Ville medieval in Vence is a must. This tiny medieval town is truly a piece of history, and there are explanatory signs all throughout the village which provide a history lesson for tourists. Vence also offers the Chapelle du Rosaire, a gorgeous chapel which was decorated and designed by artist Henri Matisse; the chapel has an entrance fee of six euros, but the church’s beauty makes it well worth the visit.
Saint Paul de Vence is another must see, and it’s just a short 10 minute ride from Vence. The walled village sits perched a top a lush green hill. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time during your visit.
There are three lines of buses that run through Vence: the Navette gratuites, the Ligne 46, and the Créabus C40. Two free shuttles run from the town center and Vence’s east side to the central bus station. Click here for more information on Vence’s bus system.
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