11 Top-Rated Day Trips from Nice
At the heart of the French Riviera and bordering the Provence countryside, Nice lies conveniently close to many wonderful tourist attractions. The essence of the dreamy Côte d'Azur is found in the magnificent royal city-state of Monaco and the magnificent villas of Cap-Ferrat and Beaulieu-sur-Mer. The elegant architecture and deep blue seas dazzle visitors. Balmy weather and gorgeous natural scenery create the perfect beach experience in Antibes, where the beau monde comes to sunbathe and enjoy life. Vibrant Mediterranean culture and artistic heritage are found in Cagnes-sur-Mer and Saint-Paul de Vence, which boast outstanding Impressionist art museums. The medieval hilltop villages of Haut-de-Cagnes and Grasse reflect the historic charm of this region and offer a contrast to the posh Riviera resorts. From the charming ancient towns to beautiful gardens and gorgeous beaches, the attractions around Nice make visitors want to extend their stay.
In a beautiful setting by the Mediterranean Sea, the small city-state of Monaco has a special mystique. The Principality of Monaco has many unique characteristics: a royal family of the Grimaldi dynasty, its own language called Monegasque (Munegascu), distinctive culinary specialities, and even its own world-class ballet company. One of Monaco's highlights is the picture-perfect harbor filled with luxurious yachts owned by the rich and famous. Above the harbor is the most monumental sight, the royal palace. Perched atop the "Rock of Monaco," which is the oldest part of the principality, the Palais Princier (royal palace) is open to the public for visits. Must-see rooms include the Throne Room with its grand fireplace and the Blue Room with its harmonious decor. The splendid 17th-century Palatine Chapel is also worth a look. Beyond the "Rock of Monaco," the city-state extends around the coastline. The Fontvieille district has several interesting sites, including a museum housing the HSH The Prince of Monaco's vintage car collection and a rose garden dedicated to Princess Grace. Just a few kilometers outside of Fontvieille are the ancient ruins of Roman Aqueducts located on both sides of the D33 road. These aqueducts once provided water all the way to the city of Arles.
2 Saint-Paul de Vence
Superbly situated on a hilltop overlooking the Provence countryside, Saint-Paul de Vence is a picturesque ancient village, a typical "village perché" (perched village) of Provence. By car, the drive takes about a half hour, yet Saint-Paul de Vence feels a world away. The town has retained its medieval ambience within the well-preserved circle of 16th-century ramparts. In the center of the village stands a 12th-century keep (tower), the only remaining part of the old château. A few steps away from the keep is the village's Collegiate Church, built in the 14th century in the Romanesque style and enhanced in later centuries. The highlight of this church is the Baroque Chapel of Saint Clement that contains relics from Rome catacombs. Another interesting church is the 15th-century Chapelle des Pénitents-Blancs, also known as the Folon Chapel because Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon created the colorful art work adorning the interior, including sculptures, paintings, and stained-glass windows.
The special character of Saint-Paul de Vence is experienced by wandering the narrow cobblestone streets that wind through the village. Delightful fountains, pleasant squares, and colorful art galleries add to the charm. The village's beauty attracted Post-Impressionist, Abstract, and Surrealist artists, who discovered Saint-Paul de Vence in the 1920s and created exceptional art works. Tourists can admire examples of this art at the Fondation Maeght on the Chemin des Gardettes, one kilometer outside the walls of the medieval village.This contemporary museum displays mosaics by Chagall, ceramic sculptures of Mirò, bronze figures of Giacometti, a chapel by Braque as well as paintings by Bonnard, Chagall, Giacometti, Kandinsky, and Miró. The Fondation Maeght also hosts temporary exhibitions.
Another breathtaking medieval hilltop village, Eze epitomizes a "village perché" as it is clings the edge of a steep conical rock. The locals call it the "nid d'aigle," which means "eagle's nest" because of the village's dramatic location, 427 meters above the Mediterranean Sea. Accessible from Nice by a mountainous coastal road, the village offers a dramatic first impression, with the tower of its church belfry and the ruins of the ancient fortress visible from a great distance. Strolling through the charming cobblestone streets is a delightful experience. The alleyways are filled with little boutiques and small courtyards where children play and local artists display pieces for sale. From almost everywhere in the village, visitors are awestruck by magnificent sea views. The best outlook is found at the Jardin Exotique (Exotic Gardens) at the highest point in Eze. From this location, there is a sweeping panorama of the coastline around the Cap-Ferrat peninsula from Nice to Monaco. Other interesting sites include the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs with modern frescoes by J. M. Poulin, Chevre d'Or Hotel that boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant, and the Fragonard Perfume Museum that offers tours of the perfume factory.
4 Villa Ephrussi (in Cap-Ferrat)
The Côte d'Azur is famous for its elegant seaside villas reflecting the area's wealth and sophistication. On the beautiful Cap-Ferrat peninsula, the Ephrussi de Rothschild Villa and Gardens offers a peek into the lifestyle of the Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, the daughter of the wealthy banker Baron Alphonse de Rothschild. After inheriting her father's vast fortune, Béatrice created a spectacular villa in the style of an Italian palazzo. Béatrice had impeccable taste and her flair for decorating is seen throughout the villa. Examples of her delicate style include her own bedroom with a pastel floral motif and the Small Salon with its exquisite tapestries. The villa has preserved the original furnishings for visitors to admire. Exquisite gardens surround the villa and feature magnificent sea views and varied styles of landscaping, including Spanish, French, and Japanese. There is even a garden featuring Roman archaeological relics.
5 Villa Grecque Kérylos (in Beaulieu-sur-Mer)
Just a five-minute drive away from the Ephrussi Villa is the village of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a typical French Riviera village with a lovely marina. Located right by the sea and protected from the winds by the hills, Beaulieu-sur-Mer is an idyllic vacation resort year-round because of its especially mild climate. The picturesque city also boasts lush vegetation and gorgeous flowers. In this beautiful setting, the stately Villa Grecque Kérylos is an interesting tourist attraction. The villa was constructed entirely in the style of a 2nd-century BC Greek palace, based on the design of noble houses from the Island of Delos. The furnishings and decoration replicate those found in ancient archaeological collections. A tour of the villa allows visitors to step back in time a few millennia to a lavish scene of ancient Greece.
A few kilometers away from Beaulieu-sur-Mer, beyond Mont Boron, lies the village of Villefranche, with a picturesque natural harbor developed in the 14th century. The waterfront is lined with cheerful Italianate buildings, and the dock is filled with neat rows of little sailboats. Rolling hills planted with olive groves surround the village, and the microclimate is so mild here that tropical fruits such as bananas grow abundantly. The village has a quaint historic center with a citadel built in 1580 and an impressive church. The Eglise Saint-Michel was built in the town's characteristic Italian Baroque style. By the harbor is the Palais de la Marine and the Chapelle de Saint Pierre des Pecheurs. This charming fisherman's chapel has an interior decorated by Jean Cocteau, who often stayed at both Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. A scene from his film "Le Testament d'Orphée" was set on the atmospheric street, the rue Obscure of Villefranche-sur-Mer.
In a typical French Riviera setting, Cagnes-sur-Mer has a harbor by the sea and a historic village up on a hill. Cagnes-sur-Mer lies about 12 kilometers west of Nice, at the point where the River Var flows into the Mediterranean Sea. This pleasant seaside village was the retreat of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir towards the end of his life, when he moved here to find relief for his arthritis. His estate, the Maison Les Colettes, a lovely example of Provençal architecture, is surrounded by olive trees. A popular tourist attraction, the property includes the Musée Renoir that displays many of Renoir's works.
The attractive old part of the village, called Haut-de-Cagnes because of its hilltop location, has narrow little streets and houses built close together. The entire historic town is surrounded by medieval walls. Overlooking the historic town center is the imposing 14th-century Château Grimaldi. The château was rebuilt at the beginning of the 17th century and since 1939 has housed a museum. The Château-Musée Grimaldi features works by Chagall, Matisse, and Renoir. Visitors can also ascend the castle's tower to take in sweeping views of the landscape and coastline. Another highlight of Haut-de-Cagnes is the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Protection. This exquisite chapel is adorned with fine 16th-century frescoes.
8 Gorges des Alpes-Maritimes Driving Tour
Traveling by car along the Gorges des Alpes-Maritimes route offers a chance to take in the gorgeous scenery of the Mediterranean coast. One interesting driving itinerary begins where the D2565 branches off near Plan-du-Var into the impressive ravines of the Gorges de la Vésubie. The drive goes through the valley for ten kilometers before reaching the village of St-Jean-la-Rivière. From here, a narrow, winding road continues to the village of Utelle to the Pilgrimage Church of Notre-Dame-des Miracles, which was founded in the ninth century. From the church, visitors can enjoy an exceptional view that extends over the mountains to the Mediterranean Sea.
Another suggested scenic drive begins where the River Tinée flows through the Gorges de la Mescla. These gorges are a scenic highlight of this magnificent stretch. The valley is quite wide as far as Bancairon, and then the road dramatically hugs the side of the cliffs. The villages of Clans and Marie, built high up on outcrops, are worth making the detour along the very narrow, winding streets.
Those who want to commune with nature should take a drive to the Grottes des Audides in Saint-Vallier de Thiey. This series of caves follows the course of a subterranean stream. Running water has produced chandelier-like stalactites, stalagmites, and even a coral reef. There is evidence that prehistoric man inhabited the caves, and they are part of the Prehistoric Park, an open-air museum, which includes reconstructed scenes from prehistoric life as well as numerous geological displays.
9 Antibes Beaches
For those who prefer sandy beaches to the pebbly ones found in Nice, it is easy to take a day trip to nearby Antibes, about a 30-minute drive away. Antibes is famous for its beaches, which are popular with sun-worshipping French vacationers. There are beaches on Cap d'Antibes peninsula and along the Juan-les-Pins coastline. In a pristine natural setting, this extensive two-part seaside area includes 13 public beaches ranging in size and facilities. Many beaches have showers, toilet facilities, and parasol rentals. Some of the beaches even have snack bars, cafés, or restaurants with outdoor terraces by the sea.
For those who appreciate beauty and fragrances, Grasse is a must-see stop on the itinerary. This beautiful medieval village lies in the foothills of the Maritime Alps near the Loup Valley. The village is surrounded by fields of lavender, mimosa, rose, and jasmine flowers that are used to make perfume. Grasse has several famous perfume factories, including Fragonard and Galimard, which are open to the public for tours. For those who appreciate historic charm, the old town delights with its quaint, narrow streets and lovely terraces. In addition, Grasse has several public parks with gorgeous landscaping that inspires leisurely strolls. Some of the gardens feature amazing views of the surrounding landscape.
This delightful fortified village is an easy excursion from Nice less than 20 kilometers away. In the Valley of Paillon, the village is nestled like an eagle's nest (nid d'aigle) on a hillside above a sheer cliff. With its medieval cobblestone lanes and lovely historic buildings, Peillon is a typical village perché full of Old World charm. Visitors should be sure to see the olive mill and the tiny chapel adorned with delicate fresco paintings. The Auberge de la Madone offers accommodations and authentic regional cuisine.