10 Photos: Monaco, Italy and the South of France

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TPG Points & Miles Editor Sarah Silbert takes you through an amazing off-season trip to Cannes, Provence and Monaco, with a day trip to Italy thrown in.

Not everyone’s lucky enough to visit Cannes during the eponymous Film Festival or enjoy the rest of Southern France during the spring or summer. While the warm weather and beautiful beachside promenades make those seasons ideal times to visit, based on my recent trip to the area, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the winter.

After escaping Winter Storm Jonas and generally frigid New York weather by heading to Cambodia and the Philippines in late January, we slowly made the transition back westward with a stop in France. Stepping off the plane in Nice after enjoying temperatures in the 80s in Palawan, we were quickly reminded that we were no longer in a tropical paradise. The plus side? A posh rental ride to take us to Cannes, where we found lower–than–usual prices and plenty of day trip opportunities.

The BMW 4 Series we rented through Sixt cost us a total of 260 euros (about $288) for three days — not cheap, but we needed an automatic car rather than a manual model, and the Beemer was actually the lowest automatic category for a full-size sedan. (And, yes, it’s a pretty fun car to drive.) The rental cost about 200 euros less than it would have been if we didn’t book through FoundersCard, and we were also able to keep the cost down by passing on the base insurance offered through Sixt, since the Chase Sapphire Preferred card includes primary rental car coverage.

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All the fancy yachts in Cannes were in hibernation, which meant no celebrity sightings, but also a great opportunity to check them out as we strolled along the harbor. We also loved checking out Le Suquet, the hilly Old Town area seen in the photo below.

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We spent three nights at the Grand Hyatt Cannes Hotel Martinez, a Category 6 property that costs 25,000 Hyatt Rewards points per night. Though the rates are hugely inflated during the annual Cannes Film Festival, during our stay they were a very reasonable 140 euros (~$155) per night. We actually booked a four-night stay, since we had an early arrival and the extra night didn’t cost anything thanks to the Citi Prestige card’s 4th Night Free benefit.

The hotel isn’t the most modern or luxurious, but I loved the Art Deco touches and the view of the ocean from our Deluxe View room. And just check out this iconic staircase:

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The weather was pretty bleak during our stay in Cannes, and it rained the entire second day. Still, ever ambitious, we made the hour’s drive to Ventimiglia, just across the border in Italy. It’s always fun to country-hop in Europe, and the colorful buildings and amazing lunch made it worth the trip.

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The aforementioned lunch was so good, just as Italian food in Italy pretty much always is. We ate at a restaurant called Pasta e Pizza, and everything from the margherita pizza to the gnocchi was absolutely delicious. Our meal, including a small pitcher of wine, cost just 25 euros.

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On the way back, we stopped in Monaco. Navigating the windy, narrow streets down to the main town in the rain was a bit of a challenge, but things were more tame once we parked at the Casino Monte-Carlo. The atmosphere inside was maybe a little too tame — the casino was surprisingly tiny (at least the non-private rooms), and there were a grand total of about 10 tourists in the whole establishment. Still, it’s worth seeing, if only to indulge your curiosity.

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It costs 10 euros per person to enter the casino, and while we paid the fee, we ended up staying less than an hour. 50 euros did last surprisingly long at the blackjack table, but the visit felt decidedly off-season and we felt more than a bit out of place in our casual clothes.

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On our final day before flying to Paris, we headed to Avignon, about a 2.5-hour drive away. This Provence city is known for being the seat of the papacy during much of the 14th century, and the huge Palais des Papes is now a national museum. It’s worth visiting, but strolling through the old town you’ll see plenty of other eye-catching buildings, such as the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall).

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After exploring the colossal Palais des Papes (which has a pretty great gift shop, by the way), we strolled out to the Pont d’Avignon. The bridge spans half the Rhône River — it was broken during a flood in the 17th century and never repaired. It’s especially picturesque in summer, but even in winter it makes for a great vantage point on the city and its old buildings.

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Another great meal, this time in France. Before wandering around Avignon, we stopped at the restaurant D’Ici et D’Ailleurs in the city center. My boyfriend chose the lunch special with a huge steak and frites — reportedly quite good and obviously quite filling. Naturally, we also opted for a bottle of Côtes du Rhône.

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Where to Stay

Cannes makes a great base for exploring the South of France, Monaco and northwest Italy. If you’d like to stay in town but aren’t feeling the Grand Hyatt, check out the beautiful InterContinental Carlton Cannes. Award nights go for 60,000 points — it’s definitely pricey, but the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card can at least get you one night free. There’s also the JW Marriott Cannes — like the Grand Hyatt and InterContinental, it’s set right by the water on Boulevard La Croisette. A free night at this Category 9 property will cost you at least 45,000 Marriott points, and with the current 80,000-point sign-up bonus on the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card, two award nights are within reach.

Getting to Cannes

The closet airport is Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport (NCE), and you can use miles from all three US legacy carriers can get you there.

American: One-stop flights from the US start at 40,000 miles round-trip in economy, while you can find business awards for 100,000 and first-class for 125,000. Those prices will increase to 45,000, 115,000 and 170,000 miles starting on March 22, when the 2016 AAdvantage program changes go into effect.

Delta: Round-trip economy flights from the US start at 60,000 miles in economy and 125,000 in business. Notably, you can take a Delta nonstop from JFK to NCE, which ups the convenience factor, but a nonstop award will often cost you substantially more — as much as 102,500 miles round-trip in economy and 295,000 miles in Delta One.

United: Round-trip flights from the US start at 60,000 miles in economy, 115,000 miles in business (140,000 on Star Alliance carriers) and 160,000 (220,000 on Star Alliance carriers) in first. All flights from the US will require at least one stop.

What are your favorite travel tips for visiting Monaco, Italy and the South of France?