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Visiting the French Riviera and Saving Money Doing It

While the dollar may be down, traveling to Europe remains hot and the Cote d’Azur is no exception. Over ten million people visit this section of France annually and it looks like this year will be no exception as bookings are strong according to French hoteliers and tour companies. The tourists go to enjoy elegant, luxurious resorts, its marvelous beaches, mild temperatures, and warm water. And, they go to check out what celebrities are enjoying the area also. Sun worshipers enjoy the beautiful beaches and the sea but walkers and hikers will find the mountains only a short drive away.

Tourism on the French Riviera really grew back in the post WWII era and began to welcome summer vacationers. Previously, it had been primarily a popular winter playground for wealthy French and English visitors.

Some of the most popular towns and their attractions are mentioned in this article.

Antibes is a old town, wealthy and boasts of having both the Picasso Museum and the Chateau Grimaldt within its environs. Shopping is excellent here – be sure to check out the popular market – and you’ll find little eateries with delicious food throughout the town. There are also many public and private beaches nearby. You might want enjoy a boat trip to the nearby Iles de Lerin, with its pine-scented woods. Oh, and this is a great place to buy that yacht you’ve been thinking about.

Cannes is the major “star” of the French Riviera, famous for the International Film Festival which is held there every spring. Here you’ll see yachts and cruise ships floating in the azure water, and you’ll notice some of the yachts look as big as the cruise ships. The old port is in the heart of the city and its really quite small. The famed “Croisette” – the boulevard and the beach which extends around the bay towards the east of the port- is in the protected “Rade de Cannes”. Around the point to the western side runs the Boulevard Jean Hibert going along the coast where you’ll find some terrific sandy beaches. And, Cannes is a true shopper’s paradise for chic and expensive gifts, clothing and baubles. Every Saturday you’ll want to browse through the Marché Brocante- “Sur Les Allées”, opposite the old port, beneath the trees.

Next comes Monaco/Monte Carlo and it is probably the most famous place on the entire Riviera. This is a picturesque little town with spectacular gardens, yachts and tennis courts. And, it’s a very popular place with car racing fans; the Formula One motor race takes place through the streets of the city itself. For one weekend every year the streets are barricaded off and the race is off. And, of course the gambling which is very different (quiet actually) compared to the American style casinos of Las Vegas.

Nice is the capital of the French Riviera. Here you’ll enjoy the rich blue-green sea, diverse shopping, splendid restaurants and the lovely art-deco facades on many of the buildings. Don’t miss the ancient Roman ruins, the Matisse Museum or the Cours Saleya Flower Market, or the Russian Cathedral.

Although there are many more towns along the Riviera, those are some of the most well-known.

So, how do you save money? First of all, you’ll want to pay for as much of your trip as you can by using US businesses and paying with the US dollar. IE: Cruising on an itinerary which stops at several ports on the Cote d’Azur. And, really look for the deals – the cruiselines have hundreds of itineraries and they’re all competing with one another to offer extra amenities to lure the American tourist this year. (A good travel agent can be of a big help here.)

Next, if you’re doing a land trip, make it with a US tour company which packages several elements together – hotels, transportation, meals, etc.

If you’re not taking a tour, consider renting an apartment where you can cook some of your meals. And, if you have children accompanying you, this can be quite a savings. Many of them offer weekly maid service also. Menton has a nice selection of apartments for rent. B & B’s can be quite charming and often save you some money. Others are pricey so do your homework before you go. In France, these are known as ‘Chambres d’hôtes.’

Then, travel in the off season months when you can. Traveling off-season offers another big benefit besides less expensive lodging and similar costs. It won’t be nearly as crowded as the busy summer months and you’ll get better service.

For breakfast, visiting the local boulangerie (bakery) or patisserie (pastry shop) can save you quite a bit of money for a delicious, fresh breakfast. And a fresh produce market will offer seasonal fruit and vegetables – just remember to wash them first. Try that upscale restaurant, but for lunch on similar (or the same) dishes that are served in the evening at a much higher price. And, look for a prix fixé menu. They usually feature a choice of starters, entrees and desserts for a fixed price. This should be less expensive than ordering off the menu. Order a carafe of house wine, which is a good value and good quality. A glass of house wine will usually be cheaper than a than a Coca Cola!

Use a credit card as much as you can. The credit card rates even beat ATM withdrawals by a fairly significant percentage. However, be sure to read the fine print on your credit card agreement. Not all credit cards are created equal so you’ll want to chose the one with the least expensive fees. Often the best deal for international travel is a Capital One Visa. And, using the right card can end up saving you hundreds of dollars.

Finally shopping! When it comes to wines and champagnes, look for the local brands. They’ll me cheaper than the brand names and often just as good. In Cannes, the rue Meynadier has reasonably-priced shops along with a nice selection of food shops, green grocers, and butchers shops and sporting goods shops where you can buy quality golf clubs. If planning to buy perfume, check out local prices first – you might find them just as reasonable.

Now, go pack. Bon Voyage!

About Jeffery Swanson