An Insider’s Guide to the South Of France by Elise Marie
I’m a half Frenchie; my family is from a small town in the South of France called La Croix Valmer. I’ve spent 2-3 months there a year for most of my life so here is a small, but authentic insider’s guide to The French Riviera. (You’ve probably heard of St Tropez which is a seven minute drive from La Croix Valmer and is included in this review).
Since most people fly into Paris before heading South, here is a very basic and quick guide to Paris:
IT’S VERY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER IN MOST OF FRANCE, EVERYTHING IS CLOSED FOR MIDDAY AND EVERYTHING IS CLOSED AFTER 1 PM ON SUNDAYS. This can really fuck up your day if you plan to leisurely go buy a bottle of wine on a Sunday for the park. You will not be able to and you will weep into yesterday’s bread and cheese so prepare yourself.
Now let’s talk hotels: the most well-known and classically French hotel is Hotel L’Amour. You’ve probably been there so let’s move on (although it is great for drinks on the terrace). Mama Shelter is not centrally located but the rooms are funny and people like to go have drinks there. The best hotel IMO for a drink is called L’Hotel Particulier. It is NOT easy to find. When you map it in the St. George district (a very cool neighborhood), you will be super confused, as the entire block appears to be residential. You enter a black gate and walk down an alley and voila, there is a lovely little hotel with a lush garden terrace, amazing wine and cheese and French waiters waiting to ignore you! This is the French way! (If you speak French you get ignored 5x less so try to have a French speaking person in your group). I also recently stayed at Nell Hotel. It is adorable and the neighborhood is walkable and cobble stoned.
If you plan to Airbnb (which is a good option), St George is a great neighborhood as well as the Marais. St George is essentially the new cooler Marais and there are tons of great restaurants there. If you love Italian food, great cocktails and libraries, check out Le Professore. You don’t need a reservation to eat at the back bar and it’s made up of walls of books and hidden doorways. For a fun fake Brooklyn vibe, but way better food, go to Homies.
Le Richer is walkable from Hotel Nell and is part of Le Fooding. They serve very interesting and unique dishes and they custom made vegetarian items for my vegetarian dudefriend. Candelaria is a taqueria with a speakeasy in the back. The drinks are amazing and it’s very cute and the food is pretty good too. Mexican food in Paris = not weird at all.
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE
The best time to visit is Spring/Summer. I recently went as late as September and it was lovely, but a little too cold for the ocean. If you fly into the airport in Toulon-Hyeres, you will be very close to a baby island called Île de Porquerolles. I HIGHLY recommend catching the ferry and going to this island for the day. This place is one of my favorite place I’ve ever visited. You can rent bicycles when you get off the ferry and ride them to all of the various beaches on the coast. We found an amazing jumping hole and brought a bottle of rose and spent the afternoon in the bluest most beautiful waters there. For lunch there is a main square and ALL the restaurants are highly regarded and amazing and they mostly serve French small plates and great wine. At the end the day ride over to one of the various gelato spots and get some brown butter gelato. When you get back on the mainland the drive to La Croix is about 40 minutes.
Once in the South, here are some restaurants you need to visit:
Coulours Jardins: This is a restaurant right on Gigaro beach. It has a tree growing inside and is absolutely beautiful. You will need a reservation.
Verdoyante: This is a restaurant in Gassin that is on a vineyard. It is SO beautiful.
Creperie Bretonne: This is in St. Tropez right in the middle of all the shops and yachts. It’s a classic galete style creperie where you should drink French cider and walk through the cobblestone streets.
Grand Marnier: This is a crepe stand in St. Tropez which is AMAZING.
Pizza House: It’s a well-kept secret in the French Riviera (unless you’ve seen the Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown about the region where he recently said what I’ve been saying for YEARS), the South of France has AMAZING brick oven pizza EVERYWHERE. The Pizza House is an energetic partially outdoor/indoor hut with amazing pizza and funny beers.
As a child my favorite beach was this tiny nudist beach that took HOURS to hike to. Luckily for you, this once-secluded locals only tiny beach has been found out by quite a few people and now you can drive almost up to the sand here. The beach is called L’escalet and is about four beaches down once you park and walk along the pathway. You will know it by the small patch of sand nestled between two large rock formations, protecting it from the wind. When you park, there’s a few stands where you can buy some sandwiches, bottles of wine and ice cream. Go early–French people CAMP OUT when they get there and you want a good spot. More popular beaches worth a visit are Gigaro and Heraclee. Both offer beach chairs and drinks on the beach and are within walking distance from restaurants, but are very busy and energetic.
Follow Elise-Marie’s travels on Instagram @tiny_bones.