Imagine, one month on the Côte d’Azur!
One of my most memorable visits to France was in 2013, when I experienced one whole month of full French-language immersion training at the Institut de Français in one of the most fabulous locations on the French Riviera.
I studied at the school in Villefranche-sur-Mer. A true bucket-list dream. I had started a savings plan because I‘d actually been envisioning this for 3 years. My 53rd birthday gift to myself, a 4-week, total immersion, French language course, on the fabulous Côte d’Azur, 20 minutes from Nice International airport.
Four weeks of Francophile bliss on the French Riviera.
I’ve been at least once every year since then. And now I run Tours.
Before I went, I dug up and polished off my high school French, practiced my best accent (which I always try to do anyway), watched even more French movies on DVD’s (that’s how it was back then) and then set off on a trip of a lifetime.
Whenever I think about why I am so obsessed with France, when there are so many other beautiful places in the world, I realise that a very large part of it is my love of this language.
To me, French is the most beautiful language in the world.
Of course, it has been romanticised by Hollywood to represent passion, love, and mystique, but I just love the way that I feel when I utter the words, when I form the sentences, when I *sound* French. And when I hear it.
I distinctly remember my 15-year-old self having an short – but definitely flirtatious! - conversation with a young French man in Paris on my first visit there. I clearly remember that I didn’t need to translate what he was saying into English in my head, or for my response from English back into French. It was seamless. It’s was a truly marvellous feeling!
I would recommend the Institut de Français to anyone.
The Institut de Français is situated high upon the hill above Villefranche with panoramic views over the Mediterranean Sea. The quality of teaching is superb, the food surprisingly good, the staff fabulous, and the accommodation – should you book it through the school - is lovely, and very affordable for the area.
So, what is it like?
On arrival day, you'll be welcomed, your questions will be seamlessly addressed, then you will partake in various short tests. Don't be alarmed. They are relaxed and exist to assess your level only. Then, a short interview with one of the lecturers where you’ll feel supported. Incredible views and a tasty lunch will help you to feel encouraged.
I remember being so anxious. I don’t recall being good at any of the tests. I'm an over-achiever. I remember that I fumbled badly over the aural test.
I felt so lost for words. It was a cartoon. I was so grateful that there were things I could talk about in every frame. A bed, a boy doing something, and a clock. My recollection of high-school French went seriously blank.
Before the end of the day, you’ll be assigned a class. Somehow, they got me into a perfect class for *me - just right for my level.
You can relax. The team at the Institut de Français are experts.
You truly begin the next day. NOTE: from the moment the introduction begins, not one word of English is spoken on school grounds, ever, not even during breaks.
Each day you'll have breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and classes throughout the day. From memory, a couple of dinners and a day tour to St Paul de Vence and beautiful Tourrettes-sur-Loup is included. You'll have one teacher and regular mixed classes on various topics of interest. Most lessons occur in classroom, plus EVERY day in the audio lab (just like high school!). Jump in here and exercise you brain. Just do it!
Plus, there’s a gathering every morning before breakfast, in the main Lounge, French news. I tried a few, but the presenters speak very fast. I suppose they are useful but I don't do news at home, so I didn't want to do it on the holiday of my lifetime! It’s not compulsory. Yay!
The meals are really quite good, so dinner was often very simple at home. Hallelujah, there is a shop called Picard’s on the Moyenne Corniche (you'll pass by it on the way down to the village) that sells the *most extraordinary* range of frozen foods ... Truly. Fine for me because, although I’m a good cook, I don’t spend a lot of time doing it, and hopefully less time cleaning up after it. There's also a supermarché, patisserie, and various speciality shops nearby.
Dining out is a real pleasure, bien sûr, because there many restaurants in Villefranche-sur-Mer which offer endless chances to eat remarkably well and also to socialise with the locals. There are several fine dining restaurants down by the harbour, but plenty of less-expensive, and equally wonderful, choices in the village itself.
For the school, you don't need any special gear. From memory they give you an exercise book but bring your favourite pen you like. I took my iPad and that came in very handy for the short presentation you will be required to do at the end of the month.
Consider booking your accommodation through the school if you can - it's much more affordable that way. It's likely to be fairly simple, but perfectly adequate. If you prefer something more upmarket, check out other accommodation options.
Bring some lightweight cardigans and comfortable walking shoes. It's hill country, whichever way you look at it. But the French aren't keen on runners in restaurants - something more chic in a shoe - but still casual - is fine. If you are interested, check out my post about Travelling Around the World with an Onboard Bag.
On evenings and weekends, you'll want meet up with new friends to explore the sights. Visit Villa Rothschild or Villa Kerylos, both within walking distance of Villefranche. I went for dinner in Italy one night (bring your passport!) and there will be heaps of other adventurous things to do.
Perhaps just relax on the beach ...
I recommend a day trip to Eze for SURE, possibly Antibes in the morning and Juan les Pins in the afternoon (next to each other), and of course, Nice if you're a shopper...a bit crowded for me!
And seriously, be prepared to walk up and down the hill. Every day. Or have lots of money, *and be able to charm a Taxi Driver into a €7 fare and to give up his position in the queue.
Seriously. Up and down hills. Every day.
If you are thinking of going, good luck on your adventures, you're going to LOVE this for the rest of your life! I'm going to try and go again in the very near future. It’s already been 5 years. Too long ...
I’m proud to say that I graduated with the Certificat Mention Très Bien, the highest award.
One day, I pledge, I will return. XX
10-day Tours to the French Riviera
Small-group Tours for Women staying at Villefranche sûr Mer on the Côte d'Azur
Stay in the *heart* of Villefranche sûr Mer. Discover the Côte d'Azur: the hilltop village of Èze, over-the-top Monaco, gentle Antibes, vieux Nice, artsy St Paul de Vence, and more. Lunch at Beaulieu sur Mer, visit Villa et Jardins de Rothschild and the divine Villa Kerylos, explore medieval Italy, and dine in any of the fabulous restaurants in Villefranche.
Go touring and experience those fabulous Mediterranean views, and have lunch in Italy. Breakfast at the celebrated Welcome Hotel, dine by the harbour, and relax in a beautiful apartment in the old town.