Ah, the famous Cote d’Azur (French Riviera) – Mediterranean coast of south-east FRANCE. This region is well known & travelled that planning a trip here made me nervous. We also went during peak season, end of June/beginning of July. We knew this region would be littered with tourists – so, we were in search of authentic experiences. After a lot of research, we found some off the beaten path places to discover and took a chance on them. Oh am I glad we ever did. The SOUTH OF FRANCE has something to offer for everyone, not just for the rich and famous.
AIX EN PROVENCE
AIX EN PROVENCE is a very lively city, hustling and bustling with young people everywhere. We realized after the fact that AIX EN PROVENCE is a university city – go figure. The pastel coloured streets separates itself from northern FRANCE which has more of a Germanic + Nomadic style.
We happened to stumble upon Aromatherapie by accident. We walked into essential oil paradise – 100% pure, natural, organic and cruelty free oils. I’m a little obsessed with essential oils and have a ton at home. I was in search for two oils – lavender & ROSE. Of course they had lavender oil, I wasn’t too concerned with that. It was locally made in the PROVENCE region (where all of FRANCE’S lavender fields reside).
They also carried 100% pure rose essential oil. I was scared to ask about the price. For newbies to essential oils – rose oil comes with a heavy price tag. Young Living sells 5 ml of rose oil for $315 CAD. Yikes! 1ml of 100% pure rose oil was 27 Euro ($41 CAD). How could I say no. Know writing this…I really should have bought more. He explained to us that it takes 5 tons of rose petals to make 1 litre of rose essential oil and that is why it is so expensive. 1 ml gives you 30 drops. I was on a high after this purchase.
The gentleman that was in the store was a pharmacist and we had a lengthly discussion of how he believes in essential oils for medicinal reasons. He saw how much we enjoyed and knew about essential oils that he gave my friend and I each a free bottle of echinacea essential oil, so sweet. If you’re ever in AIX-EN-PROVENCE, stop into this little shop.
LE PETIT VERDOT – This restaurant came highly recommend on all of the typical restaurant review websites, so we thought we’d give it a go. This little spot turned out to be a great choice. The only thing I’d note is that the building across the lane was under construction so the ambiance while sitting outside wasn’t as majestic as we would have liked.
AU VERRE LEVE – this little wine bar specialized in natural (also referred to biodynamic) wines. This turned out to be our favourite place in AIX-EN-PROVENCE. Filled with locals, inside and outside sharing bottles of wine with friends and family, this place had an awesome vibe. They carry a vast selection of local biodynamic wines and delicious charcuterie. The fantastic wine quality and atmosphere made us return a few times during our stay in AIX-EN-PROVENCE.
CASSIS NATIONAL PARK
CASSIS consists of three clanaques (bays) that are surrounded by limestone cliffs that hover over the mediterranean coast of FRANCE. The terrain is rocky with steep incline and decline throughout. This national park was created by natural events and shaped by the wind, sea and rain over many years.
One of the reasons we stayed in AIX-EN-PROVENCE was its proximity CASSIS NATIONAL PARK. We could easily do a day trip to CASSIS and we did just that.
We originally booked kayaks in advance and planned to spend the day kayaking throughout the national park. The night before, we got an email saying the booking was cancelled due to poor weather conditions. The water was too wavy to kayak that day. Our hearts broke a little. The company we booked through was Cassis Sport Loisirs Nautiques. They were really easy to deal with and experienced no issues receiving our money back.
After some last minute, and I mean last minute research – we decided to do some hiking within the national park instead. Maybe the cancellation was a blessing in disguise because the hike + beaches were breath taking! It didn’t feel like you were in EUROPE, rather somewhere in SOUTH EAST ASIA.
I am not going to explain the hikes to you, since that isn’t my information to share. The blog we used was Le Long Weekend to navigate our way through the national park. We briefly walked by Port Pin in order to get to our final destination which was Calanque d’En-Vau. This place is arguably the most stunning beach in the national park, but also the hardest to get to. I read a quote the morning before we did this hike that said, “the best views you have to work for.” That quote couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. It was a 1.5- 2 hour trek to the final destination, but was worth every second.
The pictures really do speak for themselves – towering limestone cliffs around a turquoise Mediterranean bay. This was my highlight on our FRANCE trip. A must do.
Some timbits of information, bring sunscreen, lots of water, hiking shoes and snacks/food. It’s a decent hike to get to the beach and there are no restaurants/stores that you can buy anything at. Come prepared to spend the day there.
Also, the town CASSIS looked really cute as we drove through to get to the national park. I would recommend checking that spot out to stay as well.
I’m not going to be helpful here – but we stopped at a random beach on the coast of BORME LES MIMOSAS. There are plenty of them to choose from, and during busy season – they are all packed. Needless to say, it was still an enjoyable experience.
BORME LES MIMOSAS
I came across BORMES LES MIMOSAS and didn’t see too much information on it – which, could be good or bad. We wanted to stay close to HYERES, (where our boat tour was located) & somewhere less known to the public. This place offered just that, so we took a chance and decided to stay here rather than the more famous destinations – SAINT TROPEZ, NICE, etc. Oh, am I happy we did.
This little town is a secret gem. I was debating whether or not to include it for selfish reasons (haha, just kidding). I think we were the only tourists in this quaint city. Pastel coloured buildings, larks singing in the background, tropical plants EVERYWHERE – my oasis for sure. This city did offer an authentic SOUTHERN FRANCE experience.
Literally – plants everywhere.
LES 3 ILES – This is the company we booked a full day boat tour along the FRENCH RIVIERA. I read a blog from a girl who lives in FRANCE and just writes about experiences/places in FRANCE. She raved about this boat tour, so we decided to try it out.
I want to be authentic with you guys, I wasn’t blown away with this tour company. This company caters more to local/french people – they spoke in french the entire time, without translation, even though they could speak english. The places we visited were breath taking and beautiful. Dan and I have just had exceptional experiences with boat tours that nothing stood out from this company.
Another reason why we booked this boat tour was that it visited PORT CROS, which is an island off of the coast of FRANCE. It’s only accessible by boat and I read that the beaches are pristine and filled with fish that just come up to you while your submerged in the sea. This boat tour dropped us off at PORT CROS with only 1.5 hours “down time” to explore the island. When you get there, its lunch time, so you get food at one of the touristy restaurants off the port. Only realizing after the fact that the beach is a half an hour walk from the port. Thus, you don’t actually have time to get to and back from the beach. You end up waiting at the port to continue on with the boat tour. I was disappointed with this.
Needless to say, we did have a good time on the boat tour. We visited a few different beaches that were beautiful. We spent most of the day in the water swimming, so in reality – it really wasn’t a bad day by any means. We also snorkelled an area in the middle of the sea. We saw some fish, nothing too crazy. Wish I could tell you more about it, but he spoke french the entire time so…. We finished off the day at a beach were it was full of boats + yachts. We quickly realized that the thing to do in the SOUTH OF FRANCE was to have a boat, park it in a bay and spend the day there – it’s the thing to do.
LE JARDIN – This little gem of a restaurant is nestled in the narrow, cobblestoned streets of the old town of BORMES LES MIMOSAS. It was on our radar before we visited but thought that our chances of scoring reservations were slim since it is featured in the 2018 Michelin Guide (Simple standing). While out exploring the town, the boys ended up trying their luck and trying to make reservations in person, and to their surprise, they found a slot the next evening for an early dinner.
The perfectly executed 3-course dinner and top-notch service will go in our books as one of our favourite meals and travelling experience we’ve experienced while travelling with friends.
LE JARDIN (The garden) delivers exactly what it promises, a beautiful, peaceful oasis that makes time feel like its standing still paired with an unforgettable meal. Spend the money on this one, it’s worth it.
We originally rented a car in PARIS, drove all the way down to the south of FRANCE and dropped off our car in NICE before we flew home. See my PARIS- FRANCE post regarding details on our rental car.