Electric City Insider: Nice and MarseilleJun 1, 2023
Road trips around the South of France is an immensely popular summer itinerary for Europeans, with Nice and Marseille being their favourite first and last stops. France’s charging network has improved by leaps and bounds in the past few years so with a bit of advance planning, it’s now perfectly possible to make this trip in an electric car.
Nice: the seaside gem
The Mediterranean climate coupled with its picturesque seaside, Nice enjoys the reputation of being the quintessential European bourgeois playground. There is of course the famous Promenade des Anglais, where you can comfortably while away an afternoon with a book or even head straight for the azure waters. The Old Town is just a stone’s throw away, and its narrow lanes - dating back to the 18th century - are best explored on foot or in a small car.
If you prefer something slightly more off the beaten path, do as the locals do and make your way to Rue Bonaparte, one of the coolest areas in town. This is essentially Nice’s waterhole for party animals, with trendy bars, restaurants and cafes that provide an alternative to the beachside touristy establishments.
Because of its geographical location, Nice enjoys the best of French and Italian influence. In many ways, this attracted scores of famous artists, including Matisse, Chagall, Picasso and Renoir to make their homes here, thus blessing Nice with some of the most important museum heavyweights in the country – the Musées Matisse, Chagall and d’Art Moderne.
In summer, the beaches along the Nice coastlines can be infested with tourists from other parts of the Continental. But locals do have their secret spots - Coco Beach is a mere five-minute walk away from the packed main beaches and is a great spot for a swim and even snorkelling to see the local marine life. For a mid-day respite, head to the nearby Coco Beach Restaurant which offers a great view of the Nice’s coastline away from the crowds.
20 minutes out of Nice is a small wine region that produces braquet, folle noire and rolle. For those who are not familiar with these three wine varieties, visit Château de Bellet for an eye-opening experience. You can book ahead to organise a tour around the vineyard and the wine cellar - perhaps even get a few bottles of their unique wines after you've tasted the rich flavours of French Riviera.
Marseille: true grit
Two and a half hours away from Nice is the second largest city in France. Setting foot in Marseille, you will feel a world away from the glamour of the French Riviera - the port city celebrates their multicultural background with unabashed grit, and was named the European City of Culture back in 2013.
Let’s face it: Marseille is not famous for its beauty. But what it has to offer is a unique identity other French cities sometimes lack. Expect to find an ever expanding street art scene, plenty of new museums and art galleries as well as cuisines from around the world. To get a taste of the real Marseille (literally), head over to Marché de Noailles Market. There is nothing neat about this place, but if you’re willing to look beyond the colourful chaos, a plethora of flavours from every continent will assault your palate and senses.
The vibrant Vieux Port (Old Port) is where Greek settlers first set up their trading post in the 7th century. A stroll along the quays will offer a view of yachts berthed at the docks, which is spectacular in late afternoons. You can even get on a small boat which has scheduled service throughout the day to transport passengers from one side of the Old Port to the other. Feel free to pack your own food when you visit to avoid the touristy crowds (and the hefty price tag) in nearby restaurants.
If you are looking to the city’s landmark Palais Longchamp, don’t forget to make a detour to tunnel Benédit-Jobin, an underground viaduct that connects the palace to la Friche de la Belle de Mai, the old Seita tobacco factory that has turned into the city’s creative hub.
Travelling from Paris
The French Riviera is served by multiple airports including Nice, Toulon and Cannes. But if your first stop is Paris, you can travel to South of France in a novel way – by the Autotrain, which transports your car to one of the South of France destinations it serves.
At the Paris Bercy station, leave your car with the Autotrain staff and be on your way to take any regular scheduled passenger train to Nice or other French Riviera destinations. Your vehicle will arrive at the Autotrain terminal ready to be picked up the next day. It provides an excellent option for those who prefer to take a break between long drives but with the Autotrain decommissioning in December, 2019 may well be your last chance to travel to South of France in this way.