Nice, Côte d’Azur and Monaco

After six weeks of traveling typically cooler places, with the exception of Barcelona, the next part of my trip began with a group tour with a company called Contiki. The specific trip I selected was Mediterranean Quest, which took us from Barcelona, through the south of France and throughout Italy.

Nice was our first stop on this tour. I had heard it was beautiful, but I really didn’t know what to expect. It was a beautiful smaller french city, with lovely architecture, a great tram system and stunning views of the coast and the ocean.

Views from outside of Nice:

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In Nice, we visited a french perfumery, and then had an afternoon to explore. We went off to find possibly the most beautiful beach I have seen in Villefranche-sur-mer. It was a stunning coastal town, complete with shops and restaurants, all on a large hill leading down to the ocean. The water was perfectly blue and the perfect temperature to swim. Many of the beaches in the area are rock beaches, not sand like we’re used to in North America, but this one had small pebbles.

Beach at Villefranche-sur-mer:

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Villefranche-sur-mer:

This area was absolutely a highlight of my trip! Next time before booking a trip to the Caribbean, I would definitely consider the French coast.

Our evening just continued the wonderful day we were having with an excursion to Monaco. Our tour group was lucky enough to be there during the Monaco Grand Prix weekend. Our evening was a dinner, with free time to explore Monaco and the Monte Carlo casino. Think tons of fancy Ferraris and Lamborghinis and people dressed in outfits you thought only existed on runways. Yachts + rich people = Monaco.

Princess Palace in Monaco:

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Monte Carlo Casino and the yachts at night:

Overall, seeing this region was absolutely amazing. I would absolutely go back and could happily spend a week or two, enjoying the beaches, seeing the sights and pretending to be rich and famous!

Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those places you always hear about, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to finally see what it was all about. From sangria to beaches and stunning architecture, there was a lot to see and do in just a couple of days.

Gaudi:

Antoni Gaudí is a famous architect, very well known for what he designed and built in Barcelona. He was a practitioner of Catalan Modernism. While he is probably most well known for the amazing feat that is La Sagrada Familia, we also visited Park Güell and Casa Battlo. All of his works are very intriguing, especially because even though they were designed in the 1800s and early 1900s, they are some of the most modern designs in Barcelona.

Gaudi’s Casa Battlo:

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Park Güell:

Park Güell was probably my favourite spot to visit in Barcelona. As an urban planner, it was amazing to learn about a planned space that started to be built in 1900.

The site was originally designed as a housing site that was financially unsuccessful. It then transformed to be a public park space. It is also a UNESCO heritage site.

The architecture was very unique and modern and full of detail. From the beautiful columns and stunning mosaic tiles, it is definitely something worth seeing, just be sure to buy tickets online in advance!

Park Güell:

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La Sagrada Familia:

La Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing architectural stories. Another Gaudi feat, the massive church started being constructed in 1882 and is still not finished! The anticipated date to finish completion is 2026 at the earliest. It is estimated to be about 70-75% complete, depending on various sources. The Basilica is absolutely massive in size and visible from many parts of the city. It dominates the City’s skyline.

While we did not choose to go in, if you do go it costs about 15 euros and be sure to buy your tickets in advance!

La Sagrada Familia:

Montjuic:

Montjuic was another interesting spot to visit. It is a prominent hill with a historic castle. It is essentially the “top” of Barcelona, overlooking the City’s harbour. It historically served as both a castle and a prison. From Montjuic, you get breath taking views of the entire City and the harbour. You can travel to Montjuic by public bus or also by Funicular.

View from the Funicular from Montjuic:

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Probably one of the most touristy areas, the Gothic Quarter offers stunning architecture and history. There are nearby markets, La Boqueria, being the most prominent, is a great spot to check out to see how locals live and also get some fresh fruit and seafood for lunch. La Rambla is a massive pedestrian street offering a lot of restaurants and shopping. It is definitely a tourist hotspot but still a great place that eventually leads right to the Port.

Food:

The food was definitely one of the highlights of Barcelona. We had amazing Tapas – think patatas bravas and seafood croquettes, which was one of my favourite meals of my trip. A must try is definitely the Paella (choose the seafood if you like it!). And of course, the sangria is available everywhere and is wonderful. I don’t know how they make it differently, but it’s the best!

Beaches:

One of the reasons I was most excited for Barcelona was the beaches. What I quickly learned is that they are very touristy, and you should always seek out the smaller, more local beaches. But be warned, they are packed with vendors and people trying to sell you everything from mojitos to massages and it can make for an annoying and not so relaxing experience. But, if you stick to the smaller spots, it is better.

Overall, Barcelona was one of the most unique places I visited in Europe and it had a very distinct, Spanish feeling to it. The city is loaded with history, unique architecture and great food. Next time, I would definitely take advantage of doing some day trips outside of the City to smaller coastal towns.