Kid-Friendly French Riviera: Spring Break Road Trip Rules

Spring Break Road Trip to the French Riviera

How to Get Your Kids to Appreciate Sophistication

Spring breaks are a great time to travel around Europe. The weather is cool. But the crowds are tepid. I opted for a week-long Kid-Friendly French Riviera road trip we couldn’t experience in the United States. So we skipped the Euro Disneys, the zoos, and the obvious kid stuff for the French Riviera’s sophistication, food, and culture. But don’t get it twisted. Just because it ain’t obvious doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of kid stuff there, too.

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Kid-Friendly French Riviera Road Trip

It’s Off-Season on the Cote Dazur

There are a lot of activities that are closed after the season begins. It took a little extra effort to make sure we had fun, kid-friendly activities and the stuff the French Riviera is known for. This Aint Kid Stuff. I spent months researching kid-friendly activities that would allow us to take in the sights, the history, and the ambiance and have a little fun, too. In hindsight, I am glad I did.

Where we Went

We spent the first spring break on the French Riviera tooling around Monaco, Villefranche, Eze, Juan Les Pins, Antibes, & Cannes and Nice, our home base. The local transportation is great. So we took the local train to everywhere except Eze, which in hindsight was a huge mistake.

Where we stayed on spring break on the French Riviera

Hipark Résidence Nice, Nice. since we went off-season, we saved a significant amount of money. But because it was the offseason, the rooftop pool was closed, some of the other amenities operated at reduced hours and there was some minor construction planned for the following week. That’s why its important to call ahead outside of the high season.

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Driving vs Public Transportation

I rented a car on-post before leaving Germany, making sure to let them know I was taking it across the border into France. The car was a diesel, the first one I had ever rented and I instantly fell in love with the gas mileage I was able to get. It was also a 5 speed. Normally I would be completely comfortable driving a manual transmission, I drove one in Poland and I often drove my husband’s BMW on road trips all over Germany, but I would find out later that I wasn’t as skilled as I thought.

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The Route We Took

The route I mapped out took us from Germany, east through Switzerland where we would end up spending the night in a hostel midway between Zurich and Bern, then south through Italy passing by Milan and to the Italian coastal city of Genoa, heading west to the French Riviera— more than 900 miles on one tank of gas. You can do that in a high-speed diesel.

I had to pull to the side of the road an hour earlier than expected. I was tired and realized I wouldn’t last much longer because we got off to a late start. The road started to jump up to meet me. The entire trip took 10 hours, which I did not mind because I had great music, the kids had their electronic gadgets, and the scenery through the mountains is stunning. I decided to forgo the toll hell that is France— not wanting to stop every few miles to feed the French monster.

Please read all about Finding Our Temporary Home on the Croatian Coast with kids.

Switzerland is Expensive

It’s the Nicest Hostel

Driving through France appeared to be a shorter journey. In addition, sometimes, just like the French people, the tolls decide they don’t like you and refuse to accept your American credit cards. It’s a crapshoot, so cash rules when traveling on the French highways. Ultimately, the driving time on paper was the same thing down to the minute.

I turned on my cell phone, the bright blue light lit up the inside of the car. Roaming charges are expensive. So I rarely used my German cell phone outside of Germany except as a navigation or research tool. I received a 500 Euro bill after my purse was stolen in Mallorca because I had to spend a few hours on the phone canceling all our credit cards, re-booking our flights, and informing Steven’s command that we wouldn’t be back on time. I searched for a nearby hotel within my Swiss budget. Switzerland has got my vote for the most expensive country in Europe behind the United Kingdom of course.

I have no affinity for hostels and would have preferred to stay elsewhere, but the hostel that popped up first was highly ranked and fit my budget. Surprisingly the hostel we stayed in was pretty nice. The kids liked the bunk beds and neither Malik nor I had to sleep with Kamren who still wet the bed from time to time. It offered a free continental breakfast in the morning as well as free Wi-Fi. It costs $155 per night… yup, not your average hostel prices.

Where we Stayed 

We stayed at the Ibis Budget Hotel. However, I didn’t know it was a hostel until we arrived.Nice is Nice

We arrived in Nice mid-afternoon on a chilly, but sunny day. We checked into the Hipark Residence Nice, located opposite a huge shopping mall and the train station. And that is where the driving got tricky. The parking garage was under the hotel and involved some of the tightest, steepest turns I’d ever encountered. It was then that I decided to get a train schedule. Since it was April, the ocean and the rooftop pool weren’t options. So on the second day, we found an indoor pool that was within walking distance from the hotel. Most of the pools are members only, but offer public hours at a nominal fee.

We rotated activities between what I wanted to see and what the kids were willing to tolerate. The inclusion of ice cream drastically improved my odds. We walked the Promenade des Anglais and got ice cream, toured Monaco and watched the changing of the guard, then went on a submarine ride and ate more ice cream.

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Cannes

We rode the train to Cannes where I knew the red carpet would be my chance to walk in the footsteps of all the great actresses before me. I climbed the stairs of the Palais des Festivals et des Congres of Cannes, turned for the camera, and smiled. Later, I found out I had been photobombed by a little old lady in mom jeans from Omaha.

We strolled along the Boulevard de la Croisette, lined with Belle Epoque hotels on either side. People watched on the little patch of beach near a park and the entrance to the market. The Boulevard de la Croisette ends at a yacht harbor, where the pirate ship Neptune from Roman Pulaski’s film the Pirates is docked.

After Denzel Washington failed to show up, we got an ice cream cone at McDonald’s across the street. Ah, the good life.

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Monaco

Oh, I was born in the wrong place. I should have been born in Monaco. Monaco is a tiny country known for Grace Kelly’s fairytale marriage to a prince. And the movie she made with Cary Grant called to Catch a Thief. And for her eventual death on the Grand Corniche high above the monarchy. It is also stunning. Packed full of expensive apartments and expensive shops. The people are called Monoganst and they are proud of their little kingdom that not long ago was just the Casino. We watched the changing of the guard which takes place around noon. We toured the famous Jacques Cousteau Aquarium and I sat and visited with the woman famous for dancing topless with a bunch of bananas strung around her hips. Josephine Baker is buried at the Cimetière de Monaco.

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Monte Carlo

Anyone can enter the lobby where there are a few slot machines in an adjacent room. But for 10 Euro you can pretend to be a baller. Shuffling past the lobby of the Casino Monte Carlo and into its interior. It was about 3:00 pm and not much was going on. So I walked around the main lounge, as my kids stood outside sulking. Overwhelmed by all the tacky gold embellished light fixtures, chandeliers, cherubs fabrics, fringe, and massive paintings. I am not a gambler. I can go into any casino with a $20 and come out without spending a penny more. Unfortunately, my kids weren’t old enough to even enter the lobby.

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Villefranche and the Villa d’Ephrussi

Spring Break– the Perfect Time to Enjoy the French Riviera

Wednesday we visited the lovely gardens and villa at Ephrussi de Rothschild. That place had something for us all to enjoy. Explore the exquisite gardens and villa at Ephrussi de Rothschild on the French Riviera. Kids love the musical fountain, while gardens offer postcard views. Enjoy Villefranche’s pretty port and tea in the solarium. The kids loved dodging the multiple sprays of the massive musical fountain, conducting an invisible orchestra, and showing their familiarity with the classical music. I loved the various gardens. Rose, English, Spanish, cactus, French formal, and Japanese gardens all offered a postcard view of the Mediterranean Sea. And the pretty port city of Villefranche, where small sailboats bobbed in the water and massive cruise unloaded its camera-toting cargo. After touring the grounds, the boys and I sat down for tea and cakes in the lovely solarium.

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Frogs and Other French Foods

Southern France has great food. Most of it is influenced by other cultures. We tried and didn’t love soccer, a chickpea flatbread served on just about every corner. But my kids did, however, fall in love with frogs legs and caviar. We walked into a restaurant named “Frogs”, just thinking it was a name. Well, in fact, their specialty was frog legs. We saw platter after platter being served all around us. So we ordered a platter. Played it safe even though both boys said they wanted their own. Those garlicky, pesto drowned legs came and they went nuts. My youngest grabbing for the last leg with one hanging out his mouth. They basically did the same thing when I ordered lamb chops and caviar on subsequent trips. So it shouldn’t surprise me that they prefer good food over junk, my bad.

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Eze isn’t Easy

After consulting my hit lists of possible attractions, I decided to visit the hilltop city of Eze. Samantha Brown from the Travel Channel said it was a must-see. Unfortunately, the train wasn’t going to be a convenient option for me. I’d have to drive. The drive up the Grand Corniche was memorable due to the lack of American style safety railings. From what I could see, without really looking, the drop was near vertical. I stopped at the tourist center in Eze for a map.

It was there that I realized the compact car I was driving had little more horsepower than a golf cart and I had to work pretty hard to keep it from stalling out on me on the steep streets. And then it stalled out. And I began to roll backward. I slammed on the breaks before bumping into the fender of the car behind me. however, nothing I did from that point forward moved the car forward.

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Rolling Down the Street

I was stuck; frustration had taken hold of me. I could feel the irritation of the drivers trapped behind me. A few minutes later, a gentleman rapped lightly on the driver’s side window, startling me all the same. He offered to move the car up the hill for me and I gladly accepted. I followed behind on the busy sidewalk, cognizant that I just handed over everything I held dear to a perfect stranger. Once he parked the car and handed back the keys with a slight bow and a warm smile, I relaxed and tried to ignore the endless taunts of you can’t drive from my kids. It was a great way to end our spring break on the French Riviera adventure.

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Comments

  1. Ryanair Vlucht Volgen

    I always absolutely love the photography and photos in every single blog post. You all look like you had an absolutely fabulous time <3 and it's definitely giving me some holiday blues but I love living vicariously through these posts.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks for your comment and the compliment. I loved traveling with my kids– we had a blast on the French Riviera and every trip we took.

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