Cote d'Azur (French Riviera) excursions for when you've seen enough of Nice!
(Your second week, maybe?)
We have selected nine of the most popular day excursions from Nice to the Cote d'Azur to whet your appetite.
Details are given of trips to Antibes, Cannes, Digne-les-Bains, Grasse, Menton, Monaco & Monte Carlo, St. Paul de Vence, Saint-Tropez and Villefranche-sur-Mer.
The list is by no means exhaustive; we could add Cap Ferrat, Eze, Gourdon, Tourettes-sur-Loup, Vence....not to mention Ventimiglia in Italy.
All are accessible by car and by public transport, whether train, bus or boat. If you prefer a guided tour Cityrama have half day coach tours from May to October with English commentary to Monaco, Cannes, St. Paul-de-Vence, Grasse, Antibes, Vallaurais, Eze and the Villa Ephrussi at Cap Ferrat.
You can find many more details at the Nice Tourist Bureau, conveniently located a few steps from the apartment at 5, Promenade des Anglais. One thing we can promise you - you won't be bored!
Thanks are due to Russ Collins of Provence - Beyond the French Riviera (www.ProvenceBeyond.com) for permission to use some of his evocative descriptions of local towns and villages.
Antibes was a Greek fortified town named Antipolis in the 5th century BC, and later a Roman town, and always an active port for trading along the Mediterranean. Today it's an attractive and active town, popular with "foreigners" from Paris and the north of France, with non-French, and with the local population.
The natural beauty remains in the vieille ville (old town), with the ramparts along the sea and the long, arched protective wall along the port. There are plenty of little streets for exploring, restaurants of all types and prices, and lots of shops, from authentic little hardware/general-stores to tourist gift shops.
Film producers (yeah, sure!) and starlets for the festival in May. Tourists year-round and crowds of tourists in the summer. Exotic people and real people, and plenty of poodles (it is France, after all). The yachts and cruise ships float in the blue water, and you can't always tell which is which by the size.
Exotic cars abound: white-haired ladies drive Maseratis for shopping trips, Porsches blow through the streets like pollen, and only the very latest models of Lamborghini and Ferrari attract serious attention.
If you are into long train journeys and beautiful mountain scenery, then Digne-les-Bains is the place for you. The Chemins de Fer de la Provence run one of France's most scenic and fun rail routes from the station on Nice's Rue Alfred Binet, ten minutes' walk north of the Gare SNCF (or buses #4 or #5). The Train des Pignes runs up the valley of the Var between Nice and Digne-les-Bains , climbing through some spectacular scenery as it goes. Four trains run daily, year-round, and the whole journey takes 3hr 10min (each way!), although the less hardy can stop at Entrevaux (1hr 30min).
The hot springs of Digne-les-Bains have been used since Antiquity, but not continuously, the baths losing their popularity after the Romans departed. The modern baths, rebuilt by the municipality and opened in 1982, are still on the aptly-named Eaux-Chaudes river 3 km southeast of the town. There are actually 8 hot springs (and one cold), flowing from the St Pancarace cliffs. The water, starting at 42Â°C (107Â°F), contain sulfur, calcic (lime and calcium), strong minerals and are lightly radioactive. The baths are supposed to be good for respiratory problems and rheumatism.
Digne is the center of one of the principle lavender regions of Provence, the Pays de Digne.
Train from Gare CP ca. 3hr 10min; depart 06.42 or 09.00; return 13.58 or 17.25
The vieille ville (old town) is large, old, and extremely interesting. Tiny streets wind forever between the 17th and 18th century buildings, up and down ancient steps, passing through arched tunnels and sometimes opening out onto large squares. Many of the streets aren't as clean as they should be, but still worth a wander.
The principal square near the top of the old town is the Place aux Aires. A pretty, three-tiered fountain splashes in the center and arcades line one long side. Until recently (2004) this was the site of the daily market of flowers and regional foods, now sadly gone. The nearby shops (butchers, bakers, etc.) are still in business.
If you get tired of wandering the streets or general sightseeing, there are tons of things to do in Menton, including museums, gardens, frequent special events (such as the February Lemon Festival), not to mention the seaside and beach activities. And when the sun is well down, there's a rather grand casino along the seaside near the center of Menton. Perhaps not as grand as the one in Monaco, but we suspect you could lose your money just as fast here as there.
Beaches line the seaside on both sides of the town. The majority are to the west, towards Cap Martin. The handiest is probably the Plage des Sablettes at the feet of the old town.
There are nearly a dozen private beaches in Menton, where you rent deck lounges and have bar service and a handy restaurant for lunch. In spite of the many private beach areas, there are many free beaches (such as the Plage des Sablettes), and the entire beach front along the water is open to public access.
Bus Route 84 from Gambetta to Airport Terminal 2 ca 15min; Bus Route 110 from Airport Terminal 2 (every hour on the hour) ca. 1hr 15min.
Train from Gare SNCF ca. 30min
Monaco & Monte Carlo
Situated on the Cote d'Azur between Cap d'Ail and Menton, just a few kilometers from the Italian Riviera, Monaco is one of those magic glamorous places that has a world wide reputation. Monaco is a sovereign state, independent and prosperous. It has its own government and the head of state since 1949 was His Highness Prince Rainier III, recently succeeded by his son, Albert.
There is no doubt that Monaco has a privileged location. This tiny capital (1,95km. with a soaring economy, is built against the mountains (Monaco is nicknamed "The Rock"), and spreads down to the shores of the Riviera. 31 hectares have been added to Monaco's surface by building several sky scrapers right on the water.
There is sun here almost all the time, and fabulous parks and gardens have been laid out throughout the city. There are sumptuous boutiques with the latest fashions, palatial luxury hotels, and very chic restaurants. The cultural and sports centers are fitted out to perfection. Everywhere you look there are long limousines gliding, or little Porsches zipping around the famous curves of Monte Carlo. This is Monaco.
This perfect little Paradise is one of the "IN" places for the international jet set and the very famous. It is also, understandably, a favorite hunting ground for the notorious paparazzi.
Bus Route 84 from Gambetta to Airport Terminal 2 ca 15min; Bus Route 110 from Airport Terminal 2 (every hour on the hour) ca. 45min
Train from Gare SNCF ca. 30min
Boat from the port, mid-June to mid-September; Saturday 9.15 am return 5.15 pm; Tuesday, Thursday 10.00 am, return 6.00 pm. Advance booking recommended.
St. Paul de Vence
Also known as St. Paul-de-Vence, which is handy, since there are nine other "St. Paul"s in France and a slew of St. Paul-de-somewhere's.
St. Paul is a beautiful medieval fortified village perched on a narrow spur between two deep valleys. Its location gives you a great view of the village from the La Colle road to the east or the Cagnes-Vence road to the west.
Although the village itself is one of the most intact medieval examples of the region, with much of the ramparts still there, it's hard to see anything inside the village except other tourists. "Off season", the village is full of tourists. During the summer and holidays, the village is so packed with tourists that they walk shoulder-to-shoulder through the narrow streets. Except for the ramparts and the typical old houses, the most predominant things to see in the village are the scores of art galleries, tourist shops, pseudo "artisanal" shops; all very expensive.
Movie stars and other famous pretty people do pass through, 'though not so frequently as yesteryear. The most famous, of course, are ensconced in the fabulous private estates set along the coast, protected from the curious eyes of all but those with the means to rent helicopters and light aircraft. The late Princess Diana, for example, did spend the night in a local discotheque in August 1997, but it was closed to all but her private party.
The town's Office de Tourisme, located along the center of the main drag, is very active. The multilingual staff is friendly and helpful, and they have their own Internet web site. Excellent maps and informational brochures are available 7 days a week.
The drive there in summer is horrific, but an interesting alternative is the boat service from Nice - at three hours it's probably quicker than driving!
Boat from the port, mid-June to mid-September, 9.00 am, return 7.00 pm. Advance booking recommended.
The most extreme example we've seen anywhere of a vaulted passage is the Rue Obscura, a street about a block in from the seafront that's completely covered for about half its length. Lighted only by white, wire-gridded lamps in the roof, the "obscure" street reminds you of the days when the town's population sheltered here from bombardments. Cross streets open out onto the sunny upper village or the even brighter seafront below.
Bus Route 117 from Gare Routiere or Le Port, ca. 15min
Train from Gare SNCF ca. 10min
Use this search engine to find 10,000 vacation rentals worldwide.
All the rentals listed here can be booked online and paid for by credit card.