The 10 Most Surprising Facts About The South Of France

The French Riviera. Cote d’Azur. That Mediterranean Coast With The Croissants. No matter what you call it, there’s one image that comes to mind: wealth, in the form of private, pebble beaches; yachts with their own Wikipedia page that are worth $210 million and owned by Saudi billionaires; and bronzed French men, too. And while that’s all there – oh, is it there – you’ll also find a lot more that you wouldn’t expect. Having just returned from my mother-daughter bonding trip to the French coast, here are the top 10 surprising facts about the south of France.

1.     Between the hours of 2pm and 7pm, no restaurants serve food, which completely explains how the French stay thin. For Americans (me), this is devastating. Bring trail mix.

2.     But French people really do eat a lot. I saw so many fit women devouring –and finishing – dessert samplers filled with profiteroles and crème brûlée at lunch, which means either it’s probably all genetic, they only eat one meal a day, and/or their ingredients are just a lot fresher and less manufactured than ours so they don’t need to be vegan.

3.     While St. Tropez is as glamorous as you think it is with its $12 cappuccinos from Sénéquier Café and white sand-covered floors in L’Escale, the serene cobblestone village Ramatuelle just 20 minutes away provides the calm you may crave amid the wild nights and opulence.

4.     Five days in, and you realize you might as well be on the island of Manhattan, standing in the middle of the Meatpacking District with a bag of very fresh baguettes, because that’s totally what the coast feels like; the wealth, the rosé, the nightclubs, the fashion, and everyone looking like they’re ready to go out – at 2pm.

5.     The cappuccinos really aren’t better than at NYC places like Bee’s Knee’s, and they’re a lot less strong. I missed that spot.

6.     If you’re an American, you will feel both incandescently happy to be there and devastatingly insecure because no matter how many suede black heels, pastel blazers, and satin scarves you wear, you will fall short of looking like “them.” The French folks look both effortless and effortful, since they’re naturally good looking and, on top of it, impeccably put together.

7.     Elton John bought a massive house in Nice that overlooks the entire city, can be seen from the main port, and is next door to a castle.

8.     Nice feels like a mixture of Barcelona cosmopolitan and St. Tropez charm. And the building in Cannes where the film festival takes place – the Palais des Festivals – looks like a convention center in Kansas.

9.     Monaco is its own country, and the language and food of choice: Italian. Want the best? Head to Le Pinocchio, right by the Prince’s Palace.

10.   Leave your sneakers at home. You’re in French country now, suga.

Follow Bonnie on Twitter here

A Mother-Daughter Cote d’Azur Adventure On Azamara Club Cruises

Last week I embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure: a seven-day mother-daughter trip to Europe. While variations on The Family Bonding Trip exist­­—father-son, grandparents-grandkids—the mother-daughter voyage is a special breed. It’s a time when diets are broken, shoes are bought, and the Oh-my-gosh-I’ve-become-my-mother realization hits around day five. But what made my mother-daughter trip special was its setting: we were aboard the small, luxury cruise line Azamara, en route to some of the greatest cities of the Côte d’Azur: Saint Tropez, Monte Carlo, Nice, and Cannes. And they’re all they’re cracked up to be.

Being that Azamara was a "maiden voyage" for both my Mom and me, we anticipated the typical cruise crowd of bridge players, buffet enthusiasts, and shuffleboard champions. And while we did meet gaggles of bridge players at breakfast (overheard: “Playing bridge overlooking Monte Carlo. Does it get any classier than this, girls?”), we also discovered one surprising fact: Azamara loves its nightlife – both on the ship (if you’re into really good ABBA and Beatles nights), and especially at the destinations you boarded the ship to see.

Instead of leaving cities at the usual 5pm or 8pm cruise curfew, Azamara keeps the night young in all of its destinations, like Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo, giving time to explore until 10pm and even all night long, since it frequently stays in the more cosmopolitan spots like Monte Carlo and Nice overnight. And thanks to its uniquely small size, it can venture to ports other big cruises can’t—such as Seville in Spain, Langkawi Geopark in Malaysia, and the island-village Vila do Abraão of Brazil.

During our voyage, Mom and I stayed out late every night, feasting on fresh sea bass and cantaloupe grappa at L’Auberge de Maures in Saint Tropez, peeking into the private Monte Carlo Casino rooms with their mermaid-inspired mosaic bars, spreading foie gras on baguettes at Café de Paris, and sipping rosé at Le Statu,co in Nice. Mom surprised me with her wine consumption, I surprised her with my thrice-daily croissant cravings. Our relationship blossomed under the Mediterranean sun.

And the adventures of our nights trickled into our days. Azamara arranged trips to the sun-drenched, golden town of Aix-en-Provence to see the greenery and shops that inspired artists like Van Gogh and Cezanne, the Domaine de La Croix Winery near Saint Tropez for an afternoon rosé tasting, and to Saint Tropez’ serene cobblestone village Ramatuelle, which I suspect is the "small provincial town" Belle from Beauty and the Beast sings about. With 500 inhabitants year-round, and a Sunday morning flea market full of sheer-white blouses and pottery, it’s the small-town respite from the nearby Saint Tropez glam.

Every night of our seven-day trip, we hit our pillows gleefully exhausted, our outfits—attempts at blending in with the effortlessly fashionable French—stained with gnocchi cream sauce and dirt from places like Nice’s hilltop medieval village St. Paul de Vence, and Cezanne’s rustic Provence studio, where his paint-splattered smocks still hang from their wall hooks.

To relax, I wrote some music at the piano in the Cabaret Room and hit Azamara Quest’s spa, where a masseuse named Amber dug into my back like a miner with some really hot stones, and nearly sold me on purchasing the warming Elemis oil. Mom was tempted to take a dip in the ship’s outdoor hot tubs and pool overlooking the Mediterranean, but the breakfast buffet and flea market excursions took priority.

While our mother-daughter trip was certainly peppered with Mom’s usual classics—"Bonnie, you should learn a language," "Cover your mouth when you yawn," and "How do I log onto the wi-fi"—it was also flush with the trip’s number one question: "What city are we waking up in today?" And what a way to get up and go.

Over the course of seven days, I discovered both the beauty of the French coast and how great of a traveling companion a parent can be. Sure, you both nag, frustrate, argue—but they still wake up your parent and you their kid—and let’s be frank: the same can’t be said of friends on a seven-day voyage across six cities with limited wi-fi and occasional bouts of indigestion.

This trip on Azamara will be something Mom and I talk about for years—at Thanksgivings, birthdays, get-togethers—all to the utmost irritation of our family members who can’t relate. But who cares. It will be our adventure, memories between just the two of us. And that’s what I call bonding.

Read more about Azamara Club Cruises, BlackBook’s Côte d’Azur Guide, & follow Bonnie on Twitter here.