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St Paul de Vence, France

Just up the road from the beaches of Cannes and Antibes stands St Paul de Vence, a medieval walled city on a hill, with gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside. Founded in 1388, St Paul de Vence developed into a retreat for artists in the mid-20th century, with famous names like Chagall, Matisse and Picasso spending time painting there.

St Paul de Vence, France

St Paul de Vence is surrounded by a city wall, complete with battlements and a cannon facing the main entrance.  It was an important fortification for France in medieval times, and the excellent sight lines that led to its selection as a fort make for some beautiful views today.  The town’s layout of meandering cobblestone streets seems unchanged from that time, and one can happily wander around from art gallery to coffee shop, to gelato stand, to church, to another art gallery, and so on.

St Paul de Vence, France

At the back of the city stands the village graveyard, which surrounds the 16th century Church of St. Michel. The artist Marc Chagall lived in the village for 20 years and he featured it in many of his later paintings. You can visit his tomb, where he lies buried with his wife and her brother. It’s a simple slab tomb, somewhat near the front and center. The cemetery is understated beauty, with gorgeous views, flowers and walking paths.

St Paul de Vence, France

Other sites to see include the recently completed Folon Chapel, by the Belgian artist Folon, La Place de la Grande Fontaine (Great Fountain Square), the pétanque court where locals still gather to play ball games, and the café right off the court, where celebrated artists gathered in the 1920s and 30s, including Chagall, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Léger and Folon.  What a scene that must have been!

St Paul de Vence, France

Our boys loved exploring the cobblestone alleyways of the city and peering down into the old wells.  They felt as if they were in some fairy tale and wanted to explore every twist and tun.  Only stopping for gelato or pet a local cat.

St Paul de Vence, France

St Paul de Vence, France

The Tourist Information Office in St Paul de Vence offers guided tours Monday through Saturday.  They have 10 different tours you can take in various languages.  Adults are 7€ and children 12 and under are free.  You can also rent pétanque boules from the office.

St Paul de Vence, France

St Paul de Vence is a magical place to visit, with surprises around every corner.  We can’t wait to return!

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History and Art in St Paul de Vence

 

A view of Nice from our Villa in Nice, France

Nice is known for being a romantic destination and a relaxing getaway by the Mediterranean.  But it also is a lot of fun with kids, as we found out.

We started with a train ride through Nice on the Petit Train de Nice (Little Train), which is just a series of cars connected to a lead car shaped like a train that takes you around the city.  It took us through the streets of the old town and to the Chateau on the hill (or Castle Hill), which has gardens and amazing views of the city and sea.  The kids enjoyed the ride, and it gave Rich and me a chance to understand the layout of the old town of Nice.

Train rides last about 45 minutes with a ten minute stop at the Chateau on the hill. A headphone commentary is available in French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian and Japanese.  Get on the train where the Proménade des Anglais meets the Avenue de Verdun.  (More info: http://www.trainstouristiquesdenice.com/)

A tour of Nice on Petit Train de Nice

Castle Hill is a great place to spend an afternoon.  You can walk up the 300 ft hill or ride an elevator to the top.  The views are amazing and there are waterfalls, gardens, a couple of cafés, and a playground to enjoy.

Next, we grabbed a treat and walked along the Proménade des Anglais or the “English Promenade”.  It was built in the 1800s by an English priest who, concerned about the large number of unemployed people who had migrated to the city during some especially bad winters, convinced the town to pay them to build a beautiful promenade along the water.  It’s very scenic, with beautiful views of the pebble beaches and the sea.  It’s lined with restaurants, shops, and bike rentals.

In Cimiez, there is a wonderful park with Roman Ruins and an amphitheater.  The kids loved running all around the amphitheater trying to figure out what it looked like long ago, and re-enacting gladiator battles in the middle.  The park also houses the Musée Matisse and the Nice Archaeological Museum.  There is a café that serves up delightful treats and a small carousel. The Chagall Museum is also close by.

Most restaurants in Nice are open for lunch from 12 to 2pm and then close until dinner at 7pm.  On Sunday, bakeries and Markets close for the day at 1pm.

Nice, France with Kids

We only had a few days left before we met up with a family member in Germany, so we decided on a whirlwind tour of Paris.  We rode the bullet train from Nice and booked a cute loft in the Latin Quarter.  It’s a dangerous spot: there are multiple Boulangeries full of decadent treats within a minute’s walk!

On our first day in Paris we heard something from the boys that we never thought we would hear.  “That was so much fun!” they said.  They were not talking about a visit up the Eiffel Tower or a Ferris wheel ride in the park.  They were talking about the our visit to the Louvre!

We went on a private family tour with “Paris Muse,” which bypassed the awfully long line and took us on a top-secret mission through the museum.  Our guide, Anya, was a young New Yorker who was great with the kids.  She kept their attention and filled their heads with fascinating history!  At the end they decoded a secret message and got a prize.  It was a blast!  The bonus was that Rich and I enjoyed the tour just as much as the kids did!

#flashbackfriday Our kids loved the Louvre in Paris. Have you been? #travelwithkids #familytravel #childhoodunplugged

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Somehow, I managed to sprain my foot on our first day, which really put a damper on things.  But a little Motrin and a few open air bus rides did wonders.  We were still able to see a lot of the city.  We strolled along the Seine, played in the Tuileries Garden, visited Notre Dame, drove around the Arc de Triomphe, explored the Champs-Élysées and visited the Eiffel Tower.

And we dined, and snacked and dined some more.  Thank goodness we only had 4 days or we would have all gone up a pant size!

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4 Days in Paris, France with Kids

Monaco

It was a little rainy so we decided to drive to Monaco for the day.  I’m not sure what I was expecting but I was really blown away by it.  It’s so clean, so picturesque and so friendly.  It’s surrounded by mountains (and France)  and built up around a harbor full of the largest yachts we have ever seen. The streets are so clean and every intersection has a smiling and helpful police officer.  Monaco has 1 officer for every 60 residents!

We toured the Palace, where the Prince resides.  It was fun to tour a real palace after visiting so many ruins.  The kids enjoyed the throne room, which Prince Albert II still uses, and Rich and I loved all the amazing artwork.  Harrison was enthralled by the Arms Room, which showcases guns from the 1600s right up to the present, including actual machine guns from World War II.

After the palace tour we strolled the small alleys and shopped in the tourist stores.   We had a wonderful lunch at an Italian bistro and then ice cream from one of the many shops that surround the palace.

We took a train tour through Monte Carlo following a lap of the Grand Prix, saw the famous Monte Carlo Casino (sadly lacking Daniel Craig!), the harbor full of mega-yachts and the shopping streets with Rolex and Louis Vuitton.  We had fun Ferrari-spotting, with the boys each scoring at least 5.

On our way back, we walked through the sculpture garden, which was a perfect end to a beautiful city.

We all decided that we should move to Monaco.  Just need to find several million dollars lying around and we will be all set!

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Monaco

We have discovered the exclusive world of the private French beach, and we will never be the same again.  Comfy lounge chairs and umbrellas, white sparkling sand, blue Mediterranean water and a smooth French waiter who follows every sentence with “it’s no bother.”

Tall cold drinks decorated with fruit, plates of cheese, tuna tartare, salad niçoise, and some warm baguettes all served in wicker baskets.  Gentle lapping waves with yachts bigger than my house in the background.

Ah, heaven!

Here are a few of the family-friendly beaches on the Côte d’Azur:

Cannes

Cannes has one of the most famous (and expensive) beaches, but it lives up to the hype for beauty.  You have to park in a city parking lot a few blocks off the beach and then walk to the water and choose which restaurant/beach you want.  If you eat at a restaurant, you get to use their beach for the day.

Vegaluna
This private beach is centrally located in Cannes.  It has a wonderful restaurant that serves food to the tables or right to your chair at the edge of the surf.  They have large lounge chairs and umbrellas, a small children’s play area (for under 5), and a beautiful sandy beach.  Service was excellent here.
http://www.vegaluna.com/EN/

Between the private beaches you’ll find the auditorium from the Film Festival (Palais des Festivals), and the red carpet is out all year long for your Instagram snapping fun.

Juan Les Pins/Antibes

This area has sandy beaches and many options to choose from.  Parking is public and there is free parking available, but it’s a bit of a walk from the lot to the beaches.

Plage de la Gravette
This is a public white sand beach walking distance from the old town area.  Toilets and parking are available.  Lifeguards and shower from July- August.

Ponteil beach
This beach is in a calm bay that is safe for kids.  There are lifeguards from mid-June to mid-September, and parking along the street.

Gazagnaire
In the summer, this beach has a jellyfish net, showers, street parking and a sandwich stall on the beach.

Royal Beach
The Royal Beach Hotel has a private beach that is open from April through September.  They offer sun loungers for 20 per day.  Lunch and dinner starting at 20.  Kids menu
http://www.hotelroyal-antibes.com/en/royal-beach/

More information on Juan les Pins and Antibes beaches can be found here:
http://antibesjuanlespins.com/en/plages/

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Beaches Cote d'Azur

The trip to Nice was easy but finding our villa was the challenge.  We landed in Nice at 9 pm and began our long journey to our villa.  The first challenge was to pick up the rental car.  Not an easy task in Nice.  First you have to find the rental car agencies.  Rich can read French but the signs were less than helpful.  The information desk was empty, not an airport employee in site.  We finally figured out that we need to change terminals, which is done via bus.  So we waited for an eternity and boarded our bus.  Next stop: Terminal One, but no rental cars.  After a few minutes, Rich was able to find a sign leading us on a path through two parking garages, over a bridge, down a dark path to the car rental building.  We grabbed our car, remembered how to drive on the other side of the road and took off through the streets of Nice.

Rich had printed out the directions to our Villa, where the caretaker would meet us with the keys.  So we headed into the hills, on dark winding roads looking for our new home, as the boys became increasingly tired.  The road went on and on, and after a while the directions stopped matching the roads.  There were no streetlights and few signs.  To top off our situation, our Ireland SIM card was not working at all here, and nothing was open to buy a new one.

We tried retracing our steps and starting over, twice, with no luck.  Tired, and with the boys panicking and losing faith in their infallible parents, we stopped at a hotel/restaurant.  Rich went in with Harrison and using his rusty French, asked the staff if they could direct him to the address for the villa.  The owners came out and after some conversation with Rich, they pulled out a map and found where we were looking for.  One of the owners announced that he would drive his car over to the house, and we could follow him.  Hurray!

So we followed the owner to the house, which was miles away, and quickly determined that the owners’ directions were incorrect: it’s the FIRST roundabout, not the SECOND…

And… there was no one at the villa.  At this point it was almost midnight and the housekeeper had given up and gone home.  We went through our notes and found her phone number, but of course, our SIM card didn’t work.

So we headed back down, with the boys now asking out loud if we shouldn’t just go back to the airport or sleep in our car…  We found what appeared to be a restaurant, but it ended up being a loud drunken party being held in a restaurant, and there was no pay phone to be found.  We drove back the way we came, looking for a pay phone, or something open, but this is a village far from the city, on a Saturday night, and Zut Alors, no one is around.

We finally came across a Thai restaurant in St. Jeannet that was still open, and the owners were putting away tables and chairs (thank you for your late night eating habits, my dear France!).  Rich and Harrison headed out again to talk to the owners.  They did not speak English, but Rich managed to explain that his phone was not working and he needed to call the caretaker of a nearby villa to meet them.  They took pity on us and called the caretaker, who they talked to in rapid-fire French.  And we were saved!  She drove out to find us, and we followed her back to the villa.

Quelle Journée!!!

After we settled in, we got to hit the beaches in Cannes, Juan les Pins and Antibes.  Check out our post on them in: Family Friendly Beaches on the Côte d’Azur.