While the beautiful old city of Nice is a jewel of the Côte d'Azur, many other gems are just a stone’s throw away. The French Riviera has a long history, and it is home to a number of historic sites, beautiful beaches, and glamorous cities. Within an hour’s drive of Nice, you can reach several interesting places that offer a taste of different cultures and lifestyles. Head east and ride along the 3 corniches (a clifftop or mountainside road), or follow the Côte d'Azur further west. Here are some ideas for you if you’re planning on traveling out of Nice:
East of Nice
First on the list is the picturesque seaside village of Villefranche-sur-Mer. A mere 22-minute drive away from Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer is the nearest recommended day-trip idea. It is even possible to walk there from Nice! The hike takes about an hour and is perfect for a slow day. Although most would usually drive there, it’s not uncommon to find some people taking the stroll. Within Villefranche-sur-Mer, you can admire the 16th-century Citadelle Saint-Elme. Its architecture alone makes it worthy of a visit. Another noteworthy structure is Fort du Mont Alban. Hike up to the fort and take a picnic basket along with some wine. You’ll find places to have a picnic along the way and the medieval military fortress offers spectacular views. Many residents from Nice also visit Villefranche-sur-Mer for its pebble beach; the pebbles here are smoother and more comfortable to lie on than Nice’s rocks.
Duration: 9 hours
The village of Èze is a 29-minute drive from Nice, taking you on a scenic drive along the Moyenne Corniche. Èze is one of those places to appreciate by wandering the streets with no particular agenda in mind. Take a stroll along the streets with an ice cream in hand and just watch as people go about their daily lives. Alleyways that meander through the village are filled with little boutiques and small courtyards. Listen to the children play as you browse through pieces of art on sale by local artists. Towards the end of your trip, head for the highest point of Èze where the best views can be found. Le Jardin exotique d'Eze, which means “exotic gardens”, offers a great panorama of the coastline.
Duration: 9 hours
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After a 43-minute drive along the shore-hugging Basse Corniche, the lowest of the 3 sister roads, you’ll find yourself in the second-smallest country in the world: Monaco. The city-state has a world-class view of the Mediterranean Sea and plays host to unbelievably luxurious yachts. Try your luck at their grand casinos and you might just rub shoulders with some of the celebrities residing in Monaco. Formula 1 fans should schedule their trip during the Monaco Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious automobile races in the motorsports world. Even if you miss the Formula 1 season, fans of automobiles can still visit the Fontvieille district, where you can find a museum housing the vintage car collection of H.S.H. The Prince of Monaco.
Duration: 9 hours
West of Nice
A 38-minute drive away from Nice sits the charming Saint-Paul de Vence, a typical village perché, meaning “perched village”, of Provence. The medieval ambiance of the town has been preserved within its circular walls. A 12th-century keep stands proudly at the center of the village, the sole surviving part of the old château. Just a few steps from the keep is the village’s Collegiate Church. The 14th-century church was originally built in a Romanesque style, but changes to its appearance were made throughout the centuries. The Saint-Paul de Vence of today exudes an arty feel, with its presence of high-end galleries and sculptures placed along the cobbled streets.
Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes
Famous for its numerous beaches, the resort town of Antibes is located 44 minutes away by road from Nice. Any fan of Pablo Picasso’s work has to pay a visit to one of greatest Picasso collections in the world; the collection totals 245 of Picasso’s works! the museum is set in Castle Grimaldi and was the first museum in the world dedicated to the Spanish painter. Apart from works of art, the castle provides gorgeous views of the bay and is close to the Marche provencal. The Marche provencal is a lovely French market that sells local produce. The smell of spices and herbs fills the market with glorious scents while flowers, fruits, and macaroons color the interiors. Another point of interest would be an archaeological museum housed in a 17th-century fortress.
Located inland of the Côte d'Azur, Grasse is a 53-minute drive from Nice. Nestled in the foothills of the Maritime Alps near the Loup Valley, Grasse is a place for those with a fond appreciation of beauty and fragrances. The village is surrounded by evergreen fields dotted with the bright petals of lavender, mimosa, rose, and jasmine flowers that are used to make perfumes. Here, you can learn about the fascinating art of perfume making. Famous perfume factories, such as Fragonard and Galimard, hold tours that are open to the public. There are also several public parks with gorgeous landscaping, which are perfect for a leisurely afternoon.
Famed for its annual Cannes Film Festival, the flashy city of Cannes can be reached with a 53-minute drive along the coast. The drive alone is enough to warrant a visit to this city. Although the area around Cannes is developing into a high-tech cluster, the city still offers a welcoming ambiance. Visit Le Suquet, the old town perched on a hill above the city, where you will find stunning views of the azure Mediterranean. For a pleasant stroll, meander through the labyrinth of small winding streets in the city or down the waterfront avenue lined with palm trees. The annual Cannes Film Festival is great if you’re a film buff, but that’s when Cannes turns crowded and chaotic. So avoid the legendary film festival if you’re looking to have a relaxing trip.
Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes
Hit the road!
As long as you are along the Côte d'Azur, you’re guaranteed to enjoy the breathtaking views and amazing scenery. Visit the destinations above, or discover a wealth of other treasures along the French Riviera. Take a coastal drive west or head east along one of the 3 corniches, you’re bound to find something that will capture your heart.
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