I’m pretty sure my heart is still in the French Riviera. I’ve been back just over a month and I am still wistfully dreaming of the aqua-blue Mediterranean Sea and the quaint towns dotted along the coast. Visiting in the shoulder season of October was perfect as the days are sunny and long, but the hordes of tourists have gone home at the end of the summer leaving the towns with a bit of breathing room.
I took my mum with me, which was a bit of a departure from my normal solo travelling routine, but the trip ended up being the perfect way to spend some quality time with her whilst exploring. We based ourselves in Nice for the week at the Mercure Marche Aux Fleurs – right on the famous Promenade des Anglais and backing onto the famous Cours Saleya market in the old town.
Nice is so much more than just nice. I chose Nice as our base for the trip to avoid having to keep moving from hotel to hotel and it meant Mum and I were able to do lots of day trips along the coast and up into the mountains whilst still having a home base in a bustling, open-late city. There’s so much to love about Nice, but it is hard to go beyond the glittering water of the Mediterranean along the huge stretch of the coastline.
The saying goes “the best things in life are free” and in the case of Nice, it’s absolutely true. Walking along the Promenade des Anglais when the weather is sunny and warm is one of the real joys of visiting this part of the world and it costs absolutely nothing.
The old town of Nice is wonderful, too. Full of twisty, winding alleys where amazing food awaits hidden in the maze, I definitely think that this area is the best spot to stay when in town. My hotel, the Mercure Marche Aux Fleurs, was pretty much in the perfect position (and was totally adorable).
In fact, it was so good, that I think I’d probably book it again without hesitation. Transport runs really regularly from Nice to every other place I visited in the French Riviera, either via bus or train or both, so it really is the logical spot to base yourself if you don’t want to be changing hotels every day.
This delightful old town sits on the Cote D’Azur between Cannes and Nice and is full of Roman ruins and historical goodness. I especially enjoyed wandering through the narrow streets and along the city walls on high, spying the giant yachts and sailing boats floating in the harbour.
Antibes is accessible from Nice via train or bus, but for the budget conscious I’d recommend the bus which takes a little longer but costs a mere 1.5 Euro. If you’re an art lover and can look past the fact that he was a bit of a trash can liner of a human being, Antibes is home to a large Picasso museum and if you’re more keen on some beach time, the good news is that Antibes and Juan Les Pins has some nice sandy beaches – unlike the hard underfoot pebbly beaches of Nice.
This little town makes for a perfect day trip from Nice in the French Riviera.
Cannes is so much more than the glitzy home to the most famous film festival in the world. There’s lots to like about this seaside town with a real mix of glamour and old town charm. This little pocket of the French Riviera has come a long way from its humble origins as a fishing village and opened the harbour to luxury yachts instead.
Wander around the cinema complex where the Cannes Film Festival is held every year to see celebrity handprints immortalised in pavement and admire how the other half live with a stroll along the waterfront taking in the mega-yachts moored along the edge.
On a warm day, take a moment to stroll the beachfront and enjoy the white sandy strip of beach leading down to the Mediterranean before taking a walk up towards the church that sits atop the old town.
There’s not many places in the world where you can hop on a bus for 1.50 Euro, drive for 45 mins and be in another country, but on the French Riviera this is absolutely possible. The Principality of Monaco sits on the French Riviera, just a short scenic drive from Nice and it’s one of the most popular day trips to take along the Cote D’Azur. Monaco is one of the smallest states in the world, second only to the Vatican, but don’t let that fool you because it’s pretty densely populated for a tiny region.
Any trip to Monaco has to include the famous Casino Monte-Carlo, which is one of the areas most beautiful buildings. For anyone who read my posts on Las Vegas, you’d be well aware that gambling is not my thing at all, but there’s no harm in taking a little look especially when the architecture is this spectacular. Be warned, though, it is only free to enter the entrance hall.
A look inside the casino floor where the gambling takes place will set you back 17 Euro and there’s no cameras allowed inside. I satisfied myself with a little whip around the entrance hall and a walk around the exterior of the casino and saved myself the entrance fee.
After the casino, a trip across the harbour and up the hill to see Monaco-Ville is in order. Here, the residences of the Grimaldi royal family remain, as well as a beautiful old town to explore. The views from Monaco-Ville are worth the trek alone. From up high, the full Monaco harbour on the French Riviera is visible, lined with rows and rows of yachts and sailing boats. It’s a lovely spot to stop and watch the world pass by, or to go crazy with the camera and get the perfect shot for Instagram.
When you’re in this area, don’t miss stopping by the Saint Nicholas Cathedral where Princess Grace was buried, and more recently her husband Prince Rainier III. When you’re finished in Monaco and take the bus back to Nice, I’d recommend timing the ride back with sunset, so as the bus drives along the French Riviera cliff face, the sky changes and bathes the Cote D’Azur in a pinky hue.
Awaiting on a mountaintop a mere 13km from Nice, is the breathtaking medieval village of Èze. With a history that dates back even further than medieval days – we’re talking around 2000BC – this spectacular day trip from Nice is high on the list for most tourists who know about the village.
As soon as I arrive here and begin the walk up the hillside over cobbled streets, I know I’m seeing something special. The buildings are covered in vines, starting to turn from green to auburn in the Autumn air, the laneways are twisting and turning and tiny boutique shops are nestled in amongst the walkways.
As I make my way up the mountain, losing myself in the corridors and alleys, I find myself at the hillside peak where the Jardin Exotique d’Èze is located. Normally, I’d baulk a little at the price of 6 Euro to enter a garden, but this particular garden has incredible French Riviera views and wonderful panoramas all the way round the coast and behind the village towards the mountains.
What is also beautiful about this garden is the sculptures dotted around the peak featuring Jean-Philippe Richard’s Earth Goddesses, looking over the French Riviera to nurture and protect this beautiful part of the world. I found these sculptures and their depiction of the strength, gentility and power of women to be a really beautiful way to see the views before me.
The final day trip I managed to squeeze in was to the home of French Perfume – Grasse. Located in the mountains behind Cannes, this town has real old-world charm about it and is an especially interesting day trip for those who want to buy local perfume or tour the factories where these perfumes are made.
The area is full of natural flowers and aromas used in perfume or foods around France, and though small, this area brings in a lot of money each year! I didn’t have a whole heap of time to spend in Grasse as I stopped in on my way back from Cannes, but what I saw was beautiful.
Of course, Grasse has everything you’d expect from a French village, the usual cobbled streets and adorable window shutters above market stalls, but with the additional layer of floral arrangements and flowers all round, with beautiful parfumeries on every corner. When I next come back to the Riviera, I’ll be popping back to Grasse to spend some more time there.
Just a word of warning, too. Grasse train station is nowhere near the town centre and it’s a long, arduous walk with overgrown and hidden pathways. I’d definitely recommend taking the bus as it stops in the town centre and it’s cheaper.
Summing Up The French Riviera
Well, that’s about all I was able to cram in during my busy week in the French Riviera. There’s still a lot more to see and explore, though so it won’t be the last time I visit the Cote D’Azur nestled on the Mediterranean Sea.