5 Things to Do in the South of France This Summer

Jun 4, 2016

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While there’s never really a bad time to visit the South of France, summer is when the region really pops. Here, Nice-based TPG Contributor Lane Nieset tells us about her favorite things to do there and why you should make a trip to the South of France this summer.

There’s nothing quite like the South of France, especially in the summertime when you can do everything from whale watching in a replica of a 16th-century Turkish sailboat to dancing the night away at a festival by the beach.

Many hotels and restaurants here operate seasonally and typically start opening their doors in April to prep for the busy summer months ahead. You could spend your entire trip basking on a beach sipping rosé à la Brigitte Bardot, but there’s more to see than just the sandy (or pebble-filled) shores. Here are some of my favorite things to do there this time of year.

1. Dance to Live Music at Waterfront Festivals

Catch live music in the summer during the Nice Jazz Festival. Image courtesy of Atout France/Robert Palomba.
Catch live music in the summer during the Nice Jazz Festival. Image courtesy of Atout France.

After the famous Film Festival wraps up in May, Cannes preps for another party taking place right off its iconic Boulevard de la Croisette. The three-day music festival, Les Plages Électroniques, sets up stages in the sand and features DJs like Apollonia, Bella Sarris and Branko this year from August 4-6. The best part: Dancing in the sea is more than encouraged.

Throughout July and August, Promenade des Anglais in Nice is home to a festival dubbed the Prom’ Party — performers take over various stages set up along the Promenade and some of the beaches are transformed into late-night disco parties.

At the seaside Théatre de Verdure and Place Masséna, the Nice Jazz Festival makes its way to town for a five-day event, taking place this year from July 16-20, bringing high-profile headliners like Melody Gardot and The James Hunter Six.

 2. Treat Yourself to a Glass of Rosé

Catch the sunset from a seaside restaurant like La Réserve in Nice. Image courtesy of La Réserve's Facebook page.
Catch the sunset from a seaside restaurant like La Réserve in Nice. Image courtesy of La Réserve’s Facebook page.

Perhaps the unofficial drink of choice, rosé is acceptable any time and any place, but preferably on a terrace overlooking the sea. In Nice, head to La Réserve, a refurbished 1930s seaside perch that juts out over the water and is one of the bars of choice come sunset. Nearby in Monaco, do like the locals do and head to Jack along the port for apéro, the French evening ritual of enjoying pre-dinner drinks.

If you want to visit the vineyards yourself, take a road trip through Provence and the region’s lavender fields, stopping in picturesque spots like Verdon Gorge along the way. Auto Europe offers car rentals in Nice with pick-up locations at the airport, ferry terminal and train station — just make sure you request an automatic vehicle if you’re not used to driving a manual one (ie. a stick shift).

For the full Provence experience, post up in a cozy guesthouse like the four-bedroom La Licorne in the village of Cotignac, home to the Mirabeau winery — rates range from 80-120 euros (~$91-$136) per night year-round.

3. Whale Watching Along the French Riviera

Set sail in a traditional vessel off the coast of Cannes or Monaco, where you can go whale watching in the summer months. Image courtesy of Atout France/Michel Angot.
Set sail in a traditional vessel off the coast of Cannes or Monaco. Image courtesy of Atout France.

Located about 30 minutes from Nice off the coast of Cap Ferrat and Monaco lies one of the prime spots in the region for whale watching — and peak season happens to be from June to September.

Head off on a half-day whale watching trip on a replica of a 16th-century Turkish sailboat with SOS Grand Bleu, navigating around the Cap Ferrat peninsula, Cap d’Ail and the coast of Monaco.

If you’d rather take in the marine life from below, the Riviera has some of the best underwater visibility in France with more than 30 dive sites including shipwrecks and coral caves.

4. Hiking, Biking or Pretty Much Any Outdoor Activities

The Côte d’Azur is lined with more than 4,000 miles of paths for hikes of all levels as well as cycling trails around the coast that lead into Italy. Hit the road on one of the many mapped out bike paths for a day-long trip through perched villages and medieval military towns like Briançonnet, or for something simpler, rent a bike and make the 34-mile loop around the Cap d’Antibes, home to the iconic Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc.

5. Explore Islands off the Coast

Bask on one of the beaches on the island of Porquerolles, located between Toulon and Saint Tropez. Image courtesy of Atout France/Franck Charel.
Bask on one of the beaches on the island of Porquerolles. Image courtesy of Atout France.

The French Riviera is already a beach paradise, but just off the coast you can day trip — or tack on a few more days — to check out one of the area’s many islands.

From the port in Cannes, a quick ferry ride drops you off in the Lérins Islands, home to the Île Sainte-Marguerite adn the infamous prison, Fort Royal, that once housed the Man in the Iron Mask. In April, the island’s waterfront restaurant La Guérite reopens with its roaring Sunday parties and sunset dinners.

For Caribbean-style sand and a more removed island atmosphere, take a 15-minute ferry near the town of Hyères from the Port de la Tour Fondue and head toward the Porquerolles, where the main mode of transport is by bike. The archipelago is off the coast between Saint-Tropez and Toulon — the largest of its three islands, Porquerolles, is lined with white-sand beaches and pine forests. Take a seat in the village and join the crowd on a terrace sipping pastis (an anise-flavored cocktail) before heading for a dip at nearby Plage de la Courtade.

Getting to the South of France

As of this writing, there is only one nonstop flight available from the US to Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport (NCE) — Delta offers a nonstop flight from New York City (JFK) that starts at 102,500 Delta SkyMiles for a round-trip redemption in economy or 295,000 Delta SkyMiles for a round-trip redemption in business class. You might want to consider flying from your city to a major European hub like London-Heathrow (LHR), Dublin (DUB) or Madrid-Barajas (MAD) and hopping aboard a low-cost carrier to get to the French Riviera.

A Final Tip

Some credit cards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred CardStarwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and the Citi Premier Card, don’t charge foreign transaction fees, making them ideal to use during a vacation in France. For more fee-free credit card options, check out this post.

Have you ever been to the South of France during the summer? Tell us about it, below.

Featured image of Cassis courtesy of Atout France.

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