France and Switzerland truly come alive when the weather gets warm. People take to the streets, they eat long lunches in the sunlight, they relax in parks or at the waterfront among friends and family. We travelled to these countries and are now here to share our itinerary with you. Keep reading to learn their hidden gems and get our tips for how to make your journey one that lasts a lifetime!
The jewel of southern France shines like no other city, and for us, it pulsed with energy and life. We zipped around Marseille on e-scooters, which was ideal because it let us enjoy the gorgeous weather and made it easy to stop frequently whenever we fancied. One of our first stops was the Mucem—the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Located in an old port terminal, the museum’s building in and of itself is worth visiting—it’s a post-modern masterpiece! The exhibitions inside are fascinating. We especially enjoyed learning how cross-fertilization and trade in the Mediterranean basin has influenced the region for centuries. It made us think how interconnected the region truly is!
One of our most cherished memories of Marseille was our visit to the Frioul Islands, which lie just off the coast. A quick ferry ride over the crystal Mediterranean waters will get you there. Make sure to bring your sunglasses—the southern sun burns bright! Once on the island, we explored Château d’If, a 16th century fortress on the main island that gained worldwide fame as the setting of French writer Alexandre Dumas’ book, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” Back in town, we followed a guided street art tour—and highly recommend you do the same! Street art is everywhere in Marseille, and though you can certainly explore it on your own, it helps to have a local with deep knowledge to point out the most interesting works and highlight young creative artists whose future is as bright as the city itself.
Here’s what to eat in Marseille: Bouillabaisse, the wonderful fish stew. Panisse, a popular street food made from chickpea flour. Fougasse, a traditional and local flatbread.
Reaching Nîmes from Marseille is as simple as boarding a TGV train and relaxing. We loved sitting at the window, watching the gorgeous countryside pass outside. Nîmes is a remarkable place that is often left off itineraries—but not for us! We love its connection to ancient Rome and the ruins that are seemingly everywhere. The way we embraced this history was to attend “Vercingetorix,” a roaringly fun and active event in which 500 actors reenact Roman circus games from 2000 years ago. Seeing acrobatics, hand-to-hand combat, and full-scale battles really got our blood pumping and made it feel like we had entered a time machine. Beyond the reenactment, we loved wandering the streets of Nîmes to experience sites like the Arena, the Maison Carrée, and the Pont du Gard aqueduct.
Here’s what to eat in Nîmes: local Picholine olives, salted cod with cream in the form of brandade de Nîmes, and gardianne de taureau, a wonderful Provençal stew made of bull and local vegetables.
Geneva, Lausanne, and Montreux, Switzerland
After another lovely train ride, this time through the lush hills and mountains that connect France and Switzerland, we arrived in Geneva, a town of tradition, horology, and world-class cuisine. Our first stop? The lovely old town and a dinner at a restaurant renowned for its exquisite cheeses. We ate the most indulgent fondue, drank crisp white wine, and watched the sunset over the lake—an experience we will never forget. Afterwards, we took a nightcap at a rooftop bar to watch the iconic Jet d’Eau shoot into the air.
The great thing about Geneva is that it’s the ideal homebase from which you can explore nearby places. On our second day, we hopped on a train that would be one of the most breathtaking journeys through villages and majestic mountains. After an hour and twenty minutes, we arrived in Montreux—yes, the Montreux of Jazz festival fame! It’s no surprise that so many wonderful musicians assemble here each year. The town is a surprising cultural hub of art and music nestled in the tranquil atmosphere of the Alps. From Montreux you can take a tram to Rochers de Naye, which is the highest point of the mountains nearby and offers an incredible view. Trams run back to Montreux hourly, so make sure you plan your return!
On our final day in Switzerland, we ventured to Lausanne, a beautiful city just an hour away from Geneva. Our fondest memory there was of the Lavaux Vineyards, a UNESCO World Heritage site that makes up 32 square kilometers (12 square miles) and produces wonderful white wines, mostly from the Chasselas grape. Do a tasting, explore the cellars, and above all, drink a glass while admiring the rolling hills covered in grapevines.
Here’s what to eat: Lake Geneva perch, Swiss pastries like tartelette aux abricots, or Longeole, a Geneva sausage dish.
Our insider tips for amazing experiences
- Make use of the small trains that run from the Old Port to various parts of the city. We also loved exploring on scooters and bikes—it makes you feel like you’re one with the place!
- After Mucem, check out the Fort Saint Jean next door. There’s a panoramic view that’s lovely at sunset.
- Don’t forget hiking! Marseille might not be known for its hikes, but there are many just beyond the city limits, especially on the hills overlooking the sea.
- In addition to the day Vercingetorix show, there are also night shows, which give a totally different vibe. Think about which option is most interesting to you!
- If the planning works, try to come during the Grand Spectacle de Reconstitutions Historiques, an amazing opportunity to immerse yourself in history and witness exciting performances.
Geneva, Lausanne, and Montreux
- A scenic stroll along Lake Geneva is a must. Make sure to get lots of lakefront time!
- The United Nations has a big office in Geneva. You can take a tour of the building, which is fascinating.
- Consider buying a 2-day interregional pass that gives you transport access in areas around Geneva. This includes buses, trains, trams, and ferries.
- The Montreux promenade is legendary—it really is worth seeing.
- Do you love the Olympics? The Olympic Museum in Lausanne is for you.