Vacation à la Française: 10 Days on the French Riviera

If there is one French stereotype that rings true, I’d say it is that the French are very serious about their vacations. They are so serious, in fact, that there are two words in the French language to describe the two types of holiday makers (vacationers) in France: les juilletistes (“July-ers”, or those who vacation in July), and les aoûtiens (“August-ers”, or those who vacation in August). Some people can go back and forth or are flexible between July and August, and others are very much (rightfully) stuck in their ways. Regardless, as soon as the 14th of July  (Bastille Day) comes around, France officially shuts down until the end of August. Businesses close up, families load up their cars, and the entire country seems to migrate south towards the mountains or the sea. Lille, and northern France in particular, becomes a kind of ghost town during the summer months (with the exception of certain towns on the English Channel).

This year, I was determined to partake in the French vacation tradition– I joined forces with my fellow juilletistes, and took 11 days of vacation from mid to late July (largely due to the fact that it is much, much cheaper to vacation in July than August, with equally sunny weather and about half the usual holiday crowds, as August remains the most popular holiday month.)

We left on the 14th of July from Lille-Lesquin airport for the city of Marseille. From there, we took the train to the city of Toulon, where I was an assistante during the 2013-2014 school year. It was the first time I had been back in Le Var since I left over two years ago. We were graciously welcomed by my good friend Julia, whom still lives in the Mourillon neighborhood. We spent the weekend stomping around my old turf– exploring the markets, strolling along the port, riding bikes on the island of Porquerolles, and lounging on the beach. I also got to spend an afternoon swimming at my former colleague Julie’s parents’ house; it was wonderful to see her again as well!


A view of Marseille from the plane

A few highlights from Toulon, including a night out with my friends Julia and Jeff

I had gone to Porquerolles Island once in November 2013, but I very much enjoyed biking around and lounging on the beach in July. It is approximately one hour by boat from Toulon, and there are no cars on the island. 

After three days in Toulon, Jeff and I got a Blablacar to Gap, a town located in the mountains. Only two hours from Toulon, our roommate Paul comes from there and had invited us to spend a few days with his family. This was the first time I had ever been to Gap, and it was just beautiful. We spent our days reading and swimming at Lac Serre-Ponçon, barbecuing, and hiking.

I’ve never seen lake water so blue: Lac Serre-Ponçon


A view from our morning hike / run

Swimming at Trois Lacs

After a nice couple of days, Paul’s parents graciously lent us their spare car; from there we headed down to Gorges du Verdon— France’s version of the Grand Canyon. I needed motion sickness medicine because the roads were very narrow and windy, but it sure was worth the trip. The views were stunning, and we even got to spend a few hours picnicking and sun bathing at the lake.

Of course, we then had to make a quick pit stop in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. I had been once before and was excited to explore a familiar place!

Our final destination was Nice (most unfortunately, just a few days after the attacks). We were able to park our car out in the suburbs for free and then take the city tram into the centre. Overall, the ambiance of Nice was somber, but people were still out trying their best to enjoy the beach and the sun. The three of us rented an apartment right smack dab in Vieux Nice. We went to the beach, ate gelato, hiked to the top of the chateau, went to the markets, traveled to Monaco, biked up and down the promenade, cooked our own food, and read about three books each. It was absolutely the best kind of vacation- relaxed, slow-paced, and fun.

Beach for days- the water is actually that blue

Some great views of Nice

Cheeky day trip to Monaco

The most moving part of my trip was seeing the fresh memorial to the horrible tragedy that had taken place in Nice only a week before. This was the first memorial I had actually cried at apart from Auschwitz. People were plentiful but respectfully silent, especially as the sun set at dusk.

Tribute to the victims of the Nice Attacks

There is a lot to be said about a French-style vacation. For the first time in a long time, I was able to read, wind down, cut back, put away my phone, and just be. I think the rest of the world can truly learn something from the French and the importance of holidays. I know this trip certainly won’t be my last.


8 thoughts on “Vacation à la Française: 10 Days on the French Riviera

  1. Living close to the coast here in SW France we see how everything changes in July and August, the amount of cars multiply and so do the people. Those that don’t flock to the south head to the South West, the Parisiens in particular to the Ile de Ré, just half an hour away from us. But I love the summer vibe and I do agree we can learn a lot from the French and their holidays

  2. So nice! I’ve only been to one place you mentioned, Gorges du Verdon and LOVED IT. Such beautiful water. We rented a kayak and had a great afternoon. I know what you mean about the roads. At one point I remember a really narrow U and if you have a lead-foot driver, it can be really nauseating with all the shifting, even if you aren’t prone to motion sickness. It’s 10x worse in Corsica.
    Looks like you had a great time!

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