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I visited France for the first time back in October. I traveled to Paris, then took the train down to Nice. While in South of France, I visited Cannes (not much there except the beaches and shopping/eating on one long strip of street, Monaco (very modern and rich but no character or culture) and several old villages (Tourettes, St. Paul, St. Paul de Vence, Eze) up in the mountains. My favorite part of France was definitely in South of France. There were beaches, the beautiful Mediterranean sea, sun, warmth and a much more relaxing lifestyle than urban Paris.
It was fall, so Paris was very cold and rainy. I only stayed for 2.5 days and wanted to do/see a lot in those days. It was tiring and hectic, not to mention I was already so jet lagged and sick from the flight there. The Paris I saw and experienced was cold and wet, unlike the movies I've see--but perhaps I should give the city another chance in the future. When it is much warmer and drier, of course, and with more days to explore at a leisure pace. I did really like the expansive restaurant options, super trendy boutiques (that I can't afford) and the huge, old-style buildings dominating every block of the city. It was old and romantic in a way, but still breathes tourism and urban life.
When I got to Nice, it was about 20 degrees warmer and my mood lifted right away. I was so happy to see beaches/water again. Nice is small city with less things compared to Paris, but it was just what I needed after Paris. I rented a car and drove to other places outside the city. Did I mention I LOVED my Airbnb place in Nice? It had a great view of the city and the sea, all white space with so much room, clean and included all the amenities we wanted. I was very sad to leave the place because I knew all of our other places would not come close (and I was right).
The tiny old villages I visited up in the mountains in South of France were so charming and beautiful. Every turn was a photographer's dream. I could get lost in a maze of cobblestone paths and tiny alleyways. My favorite village was St. Paul de Vence. These villages had so many art galleries and art boutiques. More than anywhere in the big cities..! I was pleasantly surprised. Everything was artsy and charming.
Some tips I learned while traveling in France:
- Stay in Le Marais--it's a cool/trendy neighborhood (my favorite area in Paris!)
- Always ask specifically for 'tap' water at restaurants (unless they don't have it) because it's free, otherwise they will bring mineral bottled water and it's VERY expensive
- Almost everything is closed on Sundays in South of France, except a few big chain shops
- Free street parking from 8PM-9AM, and all day Sundays in Nice
- Free parking at ParcAzur with the purchase of RT tram/bus tickets from 5AM-1:30AM in Nice
- Monoprix is a good supermarket for almost everything you need
- No credit cards under 10 euros
- Tram tickets can be purchased at ticket machines at some tram stops or at Lignes Azure in front of Nice Ville Gare (Nice Train Station) and rides are based on the honor system (no one checks on the trams)