Europe Road Trip Day 5: Marseille, St. Tropez, Cannes & Nice

Day 5 of my road trip through Europe was one of those dream days. We started in Marseille and drove east through the French Riviera. It is some of the most beautiful scenery anywhere on the Mediterranean and possibly on Earth.

Marseille, France

Marseille in my mind was one of the most exotic places I could think of in the first world. I had always heard mixed reviews on Marseille and I thought the fact that so many West African immigrants came through there probably scared some people. So I never put much stake in a lot of opinions. I had to see it for myself.

The vibrant and exotic city was just that. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed my time in Marseille. The ‘vieux port’ or old port was a beautiful glimpse into Marseille’s welcoming past and the current construction was a sign of their bright future.

Marseille was recently named Europe’s capital for culture for 2013 and they are trying to live up to the billing. However, I don’t think they need to do much as just walking around gives you a glimpse into all the different cultures in Marseille.

At times I felt like I was in Algiers because there were so many Muslim Algerians on the streets. I didn’t mind because I loved Algiers. There were also a ton of West Africans all over. Again, I expected this but to see it so much was interesting to me.

France is a funny place. It used to control most of West Africa but after De Gaulle essentially gave independence to all the states back in the 1960’s, the immigrants have flooded into France, mostly through Marseille.

There aren’t a ton of sights to see in Marseille except for the excellent Notre Dame Cathedral atop the city; which gives great views over all of Marseille and actually has boats hanging from the ceiling inside the chapel. I guess they are praying to Poseidon and the maritime Gods! It is definitely worth a trip up the steep hill. Check out the view.

Marseille is also famous for its dish called bouillabaisse. It is famous in Marseille and I was very eager to try it. I have to say that I didn’t like it at all. I was very disappointed. The one I had was way too fishy tasting and all the fish had bones in it so I spent the majority of the time picking little bones out of my teeth and trying to breathe through my nose to avoid the fishy stank that came from the bowl.

That aside, the rest of the food I had in Marseille was very good and I would definitely go back at some point. Parking is a nightmare on the little streets of Marseille so be prepared to drive around a while. There are a few parking garages that are a godsend when you actually find them.

St. Tropez, France

This was my second time in St. Tropez and first time since 2000. I remember back in 2000 that I wasn’t too impressed with the beaches or the town of St. Tropez. I thought it was small, full of nice yachts, overpriced, crowded and the beaches weren’t that nice and full of rocks.

Well not much has changed in my opinion except that some beaches don’t have rocks. I was floored by some prices for basic things and the parking situation was a disaster as you might expect.

However, the best part of going to and from St. Tropez itself is the drive in and out. The Mediterranean is still the best place for scenery in my opinion and the views around St. Tropez are nothing short of phenomenal.

I’m not huge into the whole she-she thing and don’t get impressed by glitz and glam easily. St. Tropez is a nice place but I can do without the crowds and without the inflated prices. There are also better beaches up the coast, which I’d rather go to.

Cannes, France

This was also my first time in Cannes since July 2000. Again, Cannes was much as I remembered it and that’s as an OK, she-she kind of compact South Beach. It is very nice along the coast, who can dispute that? However, the city doesn’t do much for me other than to be able to say you’re in Cannes.

Even the site of the famous film festival doesn’t really do anything for me; it’s not that nice. However, I did think it was cool that they are about to host the World Series of Poker Europe!

We didn’t spend a ton of time in Cannes, just a little beach time on the crowded beaches and getting reacquainted with it because we were excited to get to Nice.

Nice, France

Nice is nice: fact. I don’t know a better way to describe how pleasant it is to be in Nice. It was again, my first trip to Nice since July 2000 and I just loved it. Nice is so gorgeous and so fun to be in.

It is laid back and has that Mediterranean chill vibe that I love but also has a city feel and a lot to do. It has a gorgeous seaside walk all up and down the corniche that drives the whole length of the city.

It features awesome Mediterranean architecture and of course ‘Vieux Nice’ or Old Nice which has some of the best restaurants, bars and culture. It is the best part of Nice to hang around in.

The only problem with Old Nice is you don’t know where to eat. Much like the issue on Rue Merciere in Lyon, there are too many choices; they all look good and in fact they are!

We ate pizza, Nicoise style food and gelato like you’re supposed to. We also walked all the little narrow streets and corridors and had a blast doing so.

At night the corniche is packed with people enjoying the night and the rocky beach. That is my only major issue with Nice and the Mediterranean in many spots is the rocky beaches. I don’t know how it doesn’t bother the French.

You literally need a mattress to lie on to not hurt your back and definitely flip flops to walk out on it. That aside, they did import some good sand for some beach volleyball courts they had going. It wasn’t quite Manhattan Beach, California but it wasn’t too shabby!

I would definitely go back to Nice and highly recommend it!

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  1. I am surprised you didn’t like Saint-Tropez more. I have always heard how wonderful it is there. Perhaps it is all media hype though.

  2. How expensive is all the gas on this trip? What kind of car do you have? I know gas in Europe is very expensive with that whole metric system thing.

    • Gas is quite expensive and we have a Chevy Captiva SUV which is a great car for a road trip but seemingly eats gas. I didn’t choose the car, it was given as an upgrade. Paying in Euros by liter is annoying so it’s over $100 each time we fill up.

  3. That is some day Lee! I love France and the south is the best part. I haven’t driven but you are inspiring another trip and I would like to go by car.

  4. Dude, that sounds incredible…good for you.

  5. I went to Nice in 2005 and I loved it. I spent hours walking the beachside road and drove the corniche to Monaco. It was fabulous. Thanks for bringing back some memories.

  6. David Foster says

    Very cool pictures and story, I would love to do that someday. I am a junior in high school and hope to travel like you in college.

  7. I didn’t like Cannes. Too stuffy and crowded.

  8. So Marseille or Nice? Which one should I pick for a day trip?
    I am a first grade teacher planning our family’s vacation for next summer. We are planning on a week in France and a week in Germany. Mainly 4 days in Paris with a day at Versailles, one at Normandy and one at DLP! Then I wanted to see the Mediterranean for a day. Which place should I pick?
    Next I’m planning a week in Munich. Day trips to Stuttgart to the Porsche museum and to neuschwanstein castle.

    • Avoid Aix- en -provence . It is a complete ripoff tourist trap with awful food and nasty people. I love Marseille. especially the beaches and dont miss Les Calanques in Marseille. Its awsome, especially if you’re a hiker, BREATHTAKING. If you want a great bouillabaise in marseiile you have to pay dearly for it.
      The cheaper the bouillabaise the worse the quality. Everything is expensive in france now and most of europe : (

  9. Thanks for the post 🙂 Where did you have the bouillabaisse? I really wanted to have the authentic version so I tried 4 different places! (post on 🙂

  10. Saint Tropez is my fave of all those places! Yes, driving and parking is diabolical there – I’m not brave enough to try. Pampelonne Beach is the most popular beach there but you have to drive 15 minutes from the town centre and it’s absolutely worth it – the most stunning white sand beach in the whole of France in my opinion. Also I think you really need to spend at least one night there to really enjoy it. The town really comes alive at night. I’ve written a guide from my experiences here:

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