The French Riviera is notoriously expensive, but it doesn’t mean travelling here is prohibitive if you’re on a budget. Dancing ‘til dawn at one of Europe’s top festivals and kayaking through the Gorges du Verdon are among a handful of reasonably priced bucket list activities you need to tick off if you’re in your twenties in France. Read on to discover the rest.
Every summer just before the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence begins, there is a spectacular night of opera on the famous Cours Mirabeau. Distinguished companies arrive to put on a performance on the street, under the plane trees. Anyone can turn up for free – it’s all organised by the local council and is one of the most popular annual events in Aix.
The shoreline along the Côte d’Azur changes while moving east, but in Marseille, there are lots of great rocky patches where the locals dare each other to jump from. It can be thrilling, but be sure to know how deep the water is – a good rule of thumb is to make sure that others are jumping there safely, particularly parents with kids. Watching can be fun, too, for those who decide against taking the plunge.
Saint-Tropez has a reputation for being very expensive and very chic. Visiting the local restaurants and bars can drain your wallet, but the scenery is beautiful and free to admire. Buy a picnic and head to Pampelonne Beach to enjoy it; make sure you grab a slice of tarte tropézienne (a cross between a cake and a brioche) from its namesake shop on the Place de Lices where it was originally invented.
Every May, A-list celebrities from all over the globe gather in Cannes for the star-studded annual film festival. While the main premieres are mostly reserved for the rich and famous, you can attend screenings at Grand Théâtre Lumière with a festival pass. Alternatively, there’s an open-air cinema on Macé beach with free screenings every evening for anyone to enjoy. During the day, keep your eyes peeled for the likes of Angelina Jolie and Lady Gaga wandering around the city.
There are few better places to watch the sky turn crimson pink than along the Mediterranean coast. If you’re in Marseille, head to La Friche Belle de Mai, an old tobacco factory with an enormous 8,000sqm (86,111sqft) roof terrace, dotted with outdoor bars. Alternatively, if you’re looking for one of the best rooftop bars in Nice, you should make a beeline for La Terrasse at Le Méridien Nice for a signature cocktail on their waterfront deck.
Summer festivals are great, but they’re even better when they’re held in the Provençale sunshine – and the French Riviera boasts a number of top events. For contemporary tunes, book tickets to Festival Yeah!, held in the grounds of Château de Lourmarin, a 12th-century fortress. If electronic is more your scene, Marsatac in Marseille headlines all the big names, or head to Delta, which takes place on the beach.
Aix-en-Provence is home to its own world-renowned ballet company, Ballet Preljocaj. Founded by Angelin Preljocaj in 1984, it’s known for its dramatic, modern choreography, pioneered by Preljocaj himself. The company offers shows year-round – from Swan Lake to Romeo and Juliet – with cheap tickets available, making the performances widely accessible. It’s a great way to see some ballet for the first time without breaking the bank.
The French Riviera has a strong association with jazz. American soldiers brought it over when they were stationed in France during World War I – and during the 1920s, Americans in France fuelled their hedonistic parties with jazz music. Famous figures like author F Scott Fitzgerald tried to forget the horrors of war, camped out near Nice, and invited lots of jazz greats to play. The first international jazz festival was held in Nice in 1948 when Louis Armstrong played, and it’s still going strong today.
Every year in June, major cities across France participate in the Fête de la Musique, one night of street parties and music from across the globe. Head to one of the larger French Riviera cities, like Marseille or Nice, for a wild night out. Stick to the smaller towns, like Aix-en-Provence, for a more family vibe.
The Gorges du Verdon is Europe’s largest canyon, and a must-see for anyone who likes the outdoors. Kayak down it and stop to camp along the way. If that sounds too energetic, hire a pedalo where the river meets the Lake of Sainte-Croix. Potter up through the canyon and admire the views – plus take a few photos along the way, just don’t drop your phone in.
Topless sunbathing is commonplace along beaches across France. However, you can go the full hog by visiting one of their nudist beaches. Saint-Tropez has quite a few – head to Tahiti Beach, which is the most well known, or follow the trail along the coast to Pampelonne Beach, which is busier but still offers crystal clear waters for swimming.
Marseille is a vibrant, multicultural city that blends French and African cultures. There are Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian restaurants all over, but the cheapest are near the St Charles train station. Head to Black Friday Restaurant for top West African dishes, while Chez Yassine is the place to try Tunisian dishes like ojja stew, served with merguez sausage.
Provence is a huge exporter of rosé wine because the climate and soil make for ideal growing conditions. Local table wine is better than expensive wine sourced from overseas, and a glass is normally cheaper than a soft drink. It’s a good time to discover wines and how they’re grown without having to fork out a ton of cash.
France has some amazing spots to go wild swimming. The enormous Lake of Sainte-Croix is very popular – it’s so large, you can easily find a spot to yourself away from the crowds. Alternatively, north of Cannes is Clue de Haute, a series of gorges. One of the most popular swimming spots is Clue d’Aiglun, filled with crystal clear water that flows down from the mountains.
Explore the French Riviera from water by hiring a yacht for the day through SamBoat – no experience necessary. Alternatively, book a week-long sailing adventure with Dream Yacht Charter.
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