This blog’s title is a result of a film blooper we liked so much we decided to coin a new word. I’d been saying the word “Riviera” so many times, my subconscious was about to slip into a coma from boredom, so it must have decided to add an extra syllable and jazz the word up a little. Thus: “Rivi(area).”
We like calling it the Secret Rivi(area) because it seems so vastly different from what most people think of as the Riviera, which brings to mind gargantuan billionaire yachts (we’ve gagged at many); topless gorgeous gazzelle-women with perfect tans (my husband will need a neckbrace soon) super-fast ferraris (ok, maybe we’d like one of those) and people dropping thousands or millions at casinos (just plain stupid)!
But not our Riviera! Our preferred segment of the gorgeous, rocky, rugged
Mediterranean starts AFTER Cannes, St. Tropez, Nice and Monaco. Just east of Monaco are the towns of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton, France, the latter of which actually had already been dubbed “The Secret Riviera.” But we’d include Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in that category as well, since both of those towns have about 1/8th as many tourists and are infinitely more peaceful and relaxed.
Town Square in the Medieval town of Roquebrune overlooking Mediterranean
The beaches are not at all crowed, and most of them feel like your own private portion of the coastline. There are very few hotels, especially true of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, which is another indication that these towns fall just below the average tourist’s radar.
Swimming in a Secluded Cove along the Mediterranean :
This summer, my husband and I made the rookie mistake of going to the town where every other ill-informed tourist plops themselves down on the Riviera just because we recognized the name. “Yes, Nice. We’ll go there. That’s where everybody goes. It must be awesome. Oh yeah, and the water is this really amazing turquoise color.” And that was where our very collectively stunted thought process ended.
Nice does have stunningly beautiful water but it’s crowded and noisy–with constant pedestrian, Vespa, and vehicular traffic. The old town, Vielle Ville, and its daily market are adorable and quintessentially old-world, but the prices are about three times as much as local, but just-as-impressive markets, like the one we ultimately ended up frequenting in Ventimiglia, Italy, (along with a tabac that sold dirt cheap pasta and limoncello) just across the border from Menton.
Beach in Menton with Baroque-Ligurian Church Steeple and Mountains in Background:
View of the Sea from Menton’s Old Town:
In hindsight, I can summarize this summer as fundamentally a reconnaissance tour for next year so we can actually stay somewhere beautiful and habitable and not dread coming back to our apartment, the way we did our shabby studio in Nice, which we referred to as “le petit boîte” or, the little box.
And boy has our research paid off! After scouring our favorite website and trekking out to see numerous properties around Menton and Roquebrune, we’ve found our dream rental that works out to $28 per night, and is so cheap we will be staying two months next summer. It’s very high up in the cliffs and has killer views of the Mediterranean from every window. Below us, on the coast, is Coco Channel’s former Mansion, so we figure, if the town was good enough for her, it’s good enough for two extreme telecommuters.
Coco Channel’s Mansion on the Coast of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin:
We’ve posted pictures of our rental in Roquebrune below, along with three tips for finding
luxury lodging for $50 a night or less.
1. Do Not Stay in Hotels. Book vacation rentals through private owners online.
The trick to finding affordable luxury lodging is to avoid staying in hotels or resorts or commercial properties of any kind. Hotels cost upwards of $100 per night unless you want to stay in a place with bedbugs or filthy bathrooms. If you’re staying somewhere for a night or two, a hotel may be the only option, but if you have at least a week, you can find incredible deals by spending some time online and scouring vacation rental websites like homeaway.com or VRBO (vacation rental by owner). Many wealthy people own second homes, often very luxurious and spacious homes, and will rent them out when they’re not staying there for a good price, particularly for a month at a time.
Unlike hotels, they don’t have a full staff to turn over the property on a regular basis, so it suits them to offer better deals for longer stays. Many properties are offered for a week minimum so you will have to commit to vacationing for at least a week, but the best deals are by the month. Beware, it takes time and patience to find these online and you may have to scour a hundred listings before you find the most luxurious place for the best value. Often, an owner will have several homes they didn’t list because they are selective about tenants. It pays to call an owner if you see a property you like but cant afford and see if they have anything less expensive.
Unlike hotels, private owners are very negotiable and we’ve often been able to haggle a price down considerably from the listing.
2. Book at least six months to a year ahead.
The best deals seem too good to be true and there’s usually only one or two flukes posted by an owner who doesnt need much money, or maybe just wants to be a good person, or simply doesn’t have a clue how much their property is worth? Well who knows what their motive is, but deals don’t last. Be the early bird and get the worm, or rather the luxury rental for youth hostel prices. (remember to use the Homeaway sort button and select “sort by price: from low to high”)
A small deposit is often required, usually anywhere from 10-30 percent, so you can book as far in advance as you want and put down a minimal chunk of cash. If anything happens and you can’t go on your trip, you won’t be losing much at all.
3. Visit exotic locations where you can stretch the dollar much further, like Thailand,
where you can find a studio apt a few blocks from the beach with a pool and free maid service thrown in for $200 a month!
Below is a sample of the types of incredible deals you can find on these sites. The pictures are of the house we’ve rented for next summer 2013 in Roquebrune, France, on the French Riviera which we found on Homeaway.com for $860 a month in high season which works out to roughly $28 a night. It’s a one bedroom one-story house with a full living room, very large kitchen and bath. It’s perched up about 800 feet over the Mediterranean, and the views are spectacular. The view below can be seen from every window, the kitchen, living room and even the huge luxurious private bathhouse, separate from the house (but still equipped with modern plumbing and even a washing machine). There’s also a private terrace overlooking the views of the Mediterranean for having candlelit meals.
Here are the pictures of the Roquebrune house:
View from Kitchen:
View from Terrace of Cap Martin:
Separate bathhouse with same view right below the highest restaurant on the Riviera (Vista Palace):
Montage of photos of interior
Why not leave a comment? It keeps us motivated to write more!
Or tell us what’s the best deal on lodging you’ve ever swindled?
Video produced, edited, and directed by Robin Scott