Côte d'Azur: Family Style
By Kimberley Lovato
There is no shortage of places to visit on the Côte d'Azur - a stretch of coast in southern France that extends from Menton, near the Italian border, to Toulon, though some argue it may even stretch further to encompass Cassis, near Marseille. Either way you stretch it, this world famous coast is a paradise for sun seekers and culture chasers, and there are innumerous ways to thrill and chill an entire family.
When you tire of the sandy beaches of Ste. Maxime and St. Tropez, head to this water park located near Ste. Maxime, France. There is something for everyone: Waterslides for all ages, a kiddy pool for youngsters, sun bathing chairs for moms, a wave pool and a restaurant all designed to make this a fun day out for the entire family. A two-day pass allows entry into the larger and more thrilling park in nearby Frejus. Open from June through September. Adults: 24€. Children ages 3-12: 17.50€.
Ile De Pourquerolles
Porquerolles is the biggest of the three islands of Or in the Hyères gulf. Located between Marseille and St. Tropez, this 7km long and 3km wide island is the most popular. It enjoys year-round sunshine (more than 300 sunny days a year), with mild winters and hot summers. The island is completely car-free making it a family destination that's perfect for hiking, walking and bike riding. Bike rental shops are found in the village and there are long stretches of beaches and quaint cafes and inns not far from the port. On the other side of the island are beautiful cliffs, turquoise calanques, and a lighthouse. There is even a Michelin-star gourmet restaurant at Le Mas de Langoustier, a hotel that welcomes families. Access to the island is by 20-minute ferry ride from La Tour Fondue where you can leave your car. Or, take a longer 2.5 hour journey from the port of Ste Maxime.
Zoo Cap Ferrat
Once the domain of King Leopold II of Belgium, Cap Ferrat, located near Nice between Villefranche and Beaulieu, is now graced with a number of magnificent villas and vistas that rival any on the Cote d'Azur. Among the high-end hotels is the Zoo Cap Ferrat - this activity is sure to please your youngsters. The zoo is small, (3 hectares) neat, green and shady. With 500 animals of different species, children will love that most of the animals could be hand-fed and there are clear signs when it is forbidden. There is even a gated in petting zoo (though the goats are smart enough to get out). Nothing says family fun like trying to herd goats back into their pen! Open year-round. Adults: 15€, Children ages 3-9: 11€.
Grasse Perfume Factories
If you are looking for a reprieve from the heat and crowds of the coast, head towards the hills. Just 20 minutes drive from Cannes, 30 minutes from Nice and only 30 minutes drive from Ciao Bambino's stunning featured property in the hills, Le Mas de Pierre, the medieval village of Grasse is considered the perfume capital of the world, and rightfully so. Perfume has been created here for four centuries. There is a perfume museum here where you can see perfume bottles dating back to the Romans. Be sure to check out the local perfumeries where tours in English demonstrate the art of creating scent. Perfume is also for sale. The three most popular are Fragonard, Molinard and Galimard. Two major festivals throughout the year pay tribute to Grasse's most important commodity - flowers. The Fête du Jasmin is held in August while the International Rose Festival takes place in May. Perhaps Grasse's most famous export is Chanel No.5, the best-selling perfume in the world whose principal ingredients are the May rose, jasmine, and a synthetic musk. A few years ago jasmine production in Grasse was damaged by bad weather and Chanel bought their own farm in the area as a precaution. It now produces 20 tons of jasmine and 50 tons of May rose annually, exclusively for Chanel.
Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium of Monaco
Inaugurated in 1910 by its founder, Prince Albert I, this stunning museum of marine sciences is a monumental architectural masterpiece that rises majestically above the sea to a height of 279 feet. It took 11 years to build, using 100,000 tons of stone from nearby La Turbie. With 4,000 species of fish and over 200 families of invertebrates, the aquarium is now an authority on the Mediterranean and tropical marine ecosystem. Its latest addition, the "Shark Lagoon", shows off the colors of the coral reef and its inhabitants. The 1st floor has hundreds of preserved specimens and reassembled skeletons including that of a baleen whale. Open year-round. Adults: 12.50€. Children ages 6-18: 6€.
Larvotto Beach, Monaco
Monaco may be reputed for its "Grace"-ful Hollywood-turned-royal princess and its James Bond casino, but families are more than welcome in this small, jewelry box-esque principality. Just head to Larvotto beach and see for yourself. Families can easily spend a whole day soaking up the sun on one of the private beaches and restaurants. La Note Bleue has drawing tables and a play area for the younger children, and ping-pong and foosball for those a little older. In the evening, they often have live music. Neptune Plage has a small play area and La Spiaggia has foosball and climbing frames. Along the same stretch of beach, there is also a kids' club, called Mini-Club, where children ages 3-12 will be watched and entertained for half or full days while parents enjoy some couple time in Monaco. The mini-club is open only on weekdays throughout July and August. Enrollment is directly at the club but they require vaccination information so plan accordingly. Plage du Larvotto, Avenue Princesse Grace, Monaco.
For accommodations in the Côte d'Azur, check out Ciao Bambino's list of family-approved vacation properties.