Marseille has historically been known as a somewhat scruffy port city notorious for drugs and violence, but now it’s becoming something like a Mediterranean hotspot like Barcelona. It was even named the European Capital of Culture in 2013.
Start by exploring the old port. Once you get tired of admiring the yachts in the marina, stop by the numerous cafes along the Quai de Rive Neuve or the New Bank. Behind it, take a walk in the sunlit square called the Cours Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, the largest pedestrian space in the city centre with plenty of café-terraces. It also hosts different celebrations, and the vast open space has made it a popular attraction.
One key attraction is old town, or Le Panier, a labyrinthine ethnic quarter that sprawls across a hill high above this intriguing city. The city has been restoring the area to its former glory since 1983. Take in the historic houses: the court (Palais de Justice) was built in the mid 18th century; Marseille’s oldest townhouse (the Hôtel de Cabre) was built in the 16th century; and the little Accoules church was built in the 6th century.
One particularly fine building is La Vieille Charité, an 18th century hospital for the poor with an ovoid dome, the epitome of Italian baroque architecture. Now it’s a historic monument and a centre for science and culture, housing museums, a cinema, and exhibition halls.
Now you should definitely try bouillabaisse, the iconic Marseille fish stew with several types of fish and shellfish. Harry Potter fans may remember it as the French dish that Hermione introduces Ron to during the Triwizard Tournament. It’s not a cheap dish. Two Michelin-starred restaurants worth paying for: Chez Michel, which you should dress up for and where the Michelin guide calls bouillabaisse “a religion”; or L’Epuisette, which is perched on rocks with a great sea view.
Cannes is now famous for the film festival, and there are more than a dozen professional salons and festivals a year. The most prominent part of Cannes is the Promenade de la Croisette, the curved waterfront trip where all the expensive shops, restaurants, and hotels are. Don’t go there first.
It’s much better to start your visit at Le Suquet, or the old town. The narrow sloping streets, cramped by friendly restaurants, represent a more authentic experience. You can visit local butchers, fishmongers, bakers, wine merchants, and admire the spectacular view of the city and the port. You’ll get much better pictures, and spend less money.
Head to the Old Port for lunch; try the sea bream at L’Assiette Provençale, and since you’re on holiday, wash it down with rosé.
After lunch, take a short ferry ride out to the islands. It’ll only take around 15 minutes. The largest, the Île Sainte-Marguerite, is full of eucalyptus and pine trees. It’s famous for holding the mysterious Man in the Iron Mast captive in a fortress for 11 years.
When you get back, there’s probably time to shop for espadrilles and vintage film festival posters along the rue d’Antibes. By dinner time, head to the place de l’Etang, at the end of the Croisette, where you’ll find the highly recommended fish restaurant Fred l’Ecailler. Unlike the bouillabaisse, this won’t cost you.
Nice is closer to Milan than it is to Paris, and the sugar-icing buildings and garrulous taxi drivers make that clear. Its most symbolic structure is undoubtedly the decadent Hotel Negresco, which looks like a softly melting ice cream sundae. Fodors says the drapes and antiques means it’s like staying at a museum, one with the best bar on the Riviera.
Start your visit at the Place Masséna, a spacious square that has the most stunning Neoclassical statutes in the city, surrounded by buildings with impressive red facades. That’s a nice backdrop for shopping: both the avenue de Verdun and the appropriately-named rue du Paradis are lined with plenty of luxury shops.
If you fancy something cheaper, check out the flower market at Cours Saleya. It’s where you can take in colourful bouquets of exotic flowers and displays. There are also plenty of local fruits, vegetables, sweets, preserves, cheese, fish, and other produce, along with plenty of lively cafés.
One shop to check out is the charming Papeterie Rontani, a time-locked place selling paper, maps, crayons and paint. In days gone by, even Queen Victoria was a customer.
The English made Nice a popular winter destination, thus the iconic beachfront promenade called La Promenade des Anglais. Relax with a good book on one of many chairs, or walk to the far end and explore the Quartier des Antiquaires.
For Dinner, try Le Local, a well-reviewed Italian restaurant with good pasta and seafood.
Afterwards, check out a beloved music bar called Le Jam, where you can find everything from jazz and funk music to slam poetry, along with an art deco interior and great cocktails.
Key Survival Tips
The south of France often runs at a more relaxed pace than the rest of the country. Here are a few handy hints to make the most of its charms:
People take things slow here, including waiters and servers, so don’t expect them to dash around like Parisiens. Sometimes people are late. Just relax.
Try avoiding touristy areas
Cannes is now a famous tourist spot, but try to explore places that aren’t as glamourous but give you a better idea of what local life is really like.
Drink like a Southerner
Pastis is the national drink, and it’s also a great drink for the summer. It’s flavoured with star-anise and all you need to add are water and ice.
Keep an eye on your valuables
Marseille may not be as crime-infested as it once was, but you should still keep an eye on your wallet and phone at all times. Don’t just leave them on café tables.
Sunday is an actual day of rest
Grocery stores, and some other stores too, are closed on Sundays. If you really need to shop for something, you may want to do it during the week.