Seven unmissable day trips...
The capital of the Riviera is the main entrance point to the region and is an ideal base, with easy access to regional transport, a beautiful Old Town and excellent museums. Start off by getting your bearings with a walk and then either spend your time exploring the baroque paradise that is Old Town, wandering down the Promenade and the Castle Hill or ambling up to the picturesque Roman town and discover the delights of the Matisse Museum. If you can’t face the steep climb to take in the panoramic views over the harbour to Corsica, then there is a lift that takes you most of the way up or the tourist mini train loops around.
The stunning Principality of Monaco is just a short 20km hop east of Nice: walk along the Grand Prix circuit and the luxurious superyachts bobbing around in the world-famous harbour, walk up the Rock to visit the Old Town and the Oceanographic, have a flutter at the Monte-Carlo casino – some people might call it a land of excess or a concrete jungle, but Monaco has to be seen to be believed and only by seeing it can you make your mind up – believe me, it’s a very special place so don’t miss out.
10 minutes by car from Cap Sud and you can reach the film star glitz of Cannes or in the opposite direction, the more Provençal atmosphere of Antibes. Even outside of May when the Film Festival isn’t on, Cannes is still pretty stunning – just wander along the Croisette waterfront, head up to the Old Town of Le Suquet or even take a boat to the Iles de Lérins. Designer shops are all along the waterfront, or the main street runs parallel with an abundance of shops for all.
The lovely town of Antibes presents a stark contrast with its pretty Provençal medieval village, the massive Vauban-style Fort Carré that marked the border between Provence/France and Italy before Nice became part of France in the 19thcentury and also the Picasso Museum in the former Chateau Grimaldi, where the artist lived and worked from 1946 onwards.
Take a stunning coastal train back east across the border into Italy for a bit of culture shock as you visit Ventimiglia at the mouth of the Roya river: it’s hardly Rome or Florence but it’s great to sample the Ligurian atmosphere and wander around the fruit, vegetable and fish markets. Don’t bother going to Ventimiglia on a Friday unless you want to traipse through the crowded clothes market that spoils the peaceful atmosphere alongside the banks of the Roya.
On the way back, make a stop on the French side of the border in beautiful Menton, a town that has welcomed old world nobility since the 19th century and to a certain extent seems to have remained in the Belle Epoque. Enjoy the baroque Old Town with its colourful houses and the melancholy atmosphere of the Cocteau museum whilst sipping some fresh lemonade or walk up the hill at the back of the Old Town for gorgeous views over the Med.
After 4 action packed days in the coastline, you will have deserved to breathe a bit of fresh air, so rent a car and head up one of the numerous valleys and into the wonderful hinterlands of the French Riviera. The Vesubie valley for example is located just behind Nice and within an hour, you can be in the middle of nowhere
at 1000m altitude with just a pack of hungry wolves for company in the Alpha Loup wolf park. If you fancy going a bit further afield, head east to Ventimiglia and head inland back across the French border to discover the splendid Roya valley and the gems of Breil sur Roya, Saorge, La Brigue, Tende and the Vallée des Merveilles, along the Route du Sel (Salt Road) that heads up to Piemonte. If you fancy some physical activity, bring your heavy duty walking boots and make the most of the amazing hiking trails of the Riviera, but make sure you bring plenty of water in the summer and try to hike as high up as possible as it gets pretty hot!
The perfume industry on the French Riviera dates from the 18th century, when Grasse, an inland town in the western part of the Alpes-Maritimes, became known as the perfume capital of the world. This was due to the splendid micro-climate that encouraged the culture of the flowers and aromatic plants like lavender and jasmine, among others, enabling the creation of top quality perfumes.
Nowadays, the industry is still thriving, and is a great draw for visitors to the Riviera – for example, there are almost 14.000 hectares of aromatic plants in the region. The main perfume producers, Galimard, Fragonard and Molinard, have large plants in Grasse which organise tours, giving the expression “smelling like a perfume factory” a new meaning when the tourists emerge from there!
The legendary ancient Provençal village of Saint Paul de Vence is an ideal destination for a day trip away from the coastline of the French Riviera, especially if you are feeling in an arty mood and want to discover a different side of the area without having to travel too far - old men playing pétanque, beautiful views over the hills, manicured gardens, communal laundry troughs, squares with brown stone fountains, small alleyways and expensive art galleries
For your penultimate day, stay close to Nice and hop on the number 100 bus line or the train to enjoy probably the most spectacular part of coastline of the French Riviera, located just east of the capital. Explore the medieval fishing village of Villefranche sur Mer located within a splendid deep water bay, the luxurious peninsula of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat with the doll’s house-like Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and the classy Belle Epoque resort of Beaulieu sur Mer with the Greek-style Villa Kérylos.
If you still have energy and it’s not too hot, don’t miss the spectacular walk in the footsteps of Friedrich Nietzsche up to the perched eagle’s nest that is Eze Village and you will be rewarded with some stunning views of the Cap Ferrat peninsula and of Nice. A bus takes you up a switch back road if you don’t fancy the walk.
Take a full day trip to the legendary provençal resort of Saint Tropez and witness the glitz and glamour, especially in the summer – I would definitely advise taking the boat from Nice, even though it’s pretty expensive as the road turns into a car park even outwith high season.
So as you can see, there are plenty of options of things to see and do on the French Riviera and the ideas I’ve listed above are only scratching the surface of the charm of this stunning part of the world.