Hi France Travel Planners! France Travel Planning Facebook group member and Nice resident, Eric Schwartz, is back with his top tips for day trips from Nice. Nice makes an excellent base for exploring the Côte d’Azur and there are so many fantastic Nice day trips to consider. You can catch up on Eric’s detailed guide to visiting Nice here >>
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Nice is perfectly situated on the Mediterranean coastline, making it a great base from which to visit other popular French Riviera villages, cities and sites in the surrounding area. Most places to visit near Nice are quite easy to reach by public transport. Any place on the coast south of Saint Raphaël is more challenging, as the TER (Transport Express Régional) train turns inland from the coast at that point. Specifically, Saint Tropez, which is on many people’s lists of places to see, can be quite an extensive journey.
If you’re searching for a slower pace, you also might consider making any of these places your ‘home base’ in the South of France. Each offers a more relaxed vibe than Nice and would allow you to experience small-town coastal life. Villages such as Menton, Beaulieu or Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat are quiet and very easy to navigate. Other places to stay on the French Riviera are Antibes, Villefranche-sur-Mer or Cannes (Saint-Tropez is alluring but is not easy to get to without a car). Each village has its own appeal. A little advanced research can help you choose the one best suited to you.
The following can easily be reached by the TER from any of the three main stations in Nice with the longest journey being just about an hour one-way:
How to use the train for day trips from Nice
It is standard practice to buy TER tickets on the day of travel and I often don’t buy them until I’m at the station. There are ticket kiosks at every station, or you can download the SNCF app on your mobile device and purchase them on your phone and then store the tickets in your mobile wallet. You can purchase either a one-way or round-trip ticket if you know your return time, but I’ve never seen a price reduction for buying the roundtrip tickets. Your ticket is valid on any train for the day of travel between your two designated departure and destination points.
Trains normally run about every half hour in each direction in this region, except in early morning and after the evening rush hour. On some of your journeys, you might see conductors walk through the coaches to scan your QR code tickets and at the main Nice station you’ll have to scan the QR code at the barrier to proceed to the departure platform. The SNCF does offer multiple-day and family passes, usually from May to September. They can be found under the category Produits Touristiques at the kiosks.
The TER are comfortable double-decker, climate-controlled trains with bathrooms. There is no assigned seating and food service is not offered onboard.
If you’re heading east toward Ventimiglia, sit on the right side of the train for the best sea views. If you’re headed west, choose the left side for sea viewing.France Travel Planning Travel Tip
It will be most convenient to select the station that is closest to where you’re staying, but if you need assistance, the main station in Nice, Gare Thiers, has SNCF personnel there to help. The other two stations, Riquier, located on the east side of Nice and north of the port, is unmanned, as is Saint-Augustin, which is to the west and closer to the airport.
If you prefer to purchase your train tickets online or in advance you can purchase them here >>
Best day trips from Nice
The following is a list of places I’ve visited and enjoyed on the Côte d’Azur. I am confident that you will find them to be as interesting, diverse and fun to explore as I did.
Day trip to Antibes from Nice
Antibes has a slower pace than Nice and is a great place to just relax and unwind. It is on a direct line from Nice by TER train, which is the easiest way to get there (about a 25-minute ride).
The Ramparts, which have protected the city since the 10th century, surround a stunning harbor and port area, where multi-million-euro yachts are moored. If you take a stroll along the walls, you can get a good view of the foreboding Le Fort Carré. At the end of the port near the sea wall, you can actually see fisherman selling the day’s catch and working on their nets and gear.
Antibes feels authentically French with fewer English-speakers and less commercialism than Nice.
The old city offers medieval and Renaissance fortifications and a Picasso museum, operating in Château Grimaldi since 1966, housing almost 250 of his works plus those by other artists.
The city’s old town is a great focal point for foodies and art lovers as there is an abundance of restaurants in all price ranges and loads of galleries and ateliers. Place de la Republique hosts a street market which alternates between antiques, fresh produce and household goods, depending on the day of the week. Place de Gaulle features a great water fountain in the summer where you’ll see children splashing about. The pristine sandy beaches are located on the Cap d’Antibes and also near Juan-Les-Pins.
The Marché Provencal is an impressive iron-clad indoor market where vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, meats and spices. On either side of the market are tiny restaurants tucked away almost out of sight, but well worth investigating. Parc de la Pinède is a great spot for a picnic (after buying lunch at the market). The park is located closer to Juan-Les-Pins. If you don’t want to go that far, continue on the Ramparts past the Picasso museum where there are benches for sitting, eating and soaking up the sun.
In Antibes, there are some of the best restaurants for a town of its size. Here is a list of some of my favorites:
La Storia, a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in the old city center that offers very tasty and imaginative dishes as well pizzas. It is located at 1 Boulevard Dugommier, 06600.
Le Pimm’s is a traditional French brasserie, and you won’t find a menu in English there. There is a regular menu, a daily prix-fixe menu, daily plates and you hardly hear anything other than French being spoken. It is at 3 Rue de la République, 06600.
Bistrot du Coin will also give you an authentically French dining experience, but be warned, they don’t accept cards. They are at 7 Rue de la Pompe, 06600.
Others worth mentioning include Casamici at 24 Rue Lacan; Crêperie du Port at 22 Rue Thuret, the longest running family business in Antibes; and Chez Marguerite, at 33 Rue Sade.
If you crave French bread and pastries like I do, one of the best bakeries in Antibes is Boulangerie Veziano, which supplies many of the high-end hotels in Cap d’Antibes with their delicacies.
If you decide to make Antibes your base for visiting the French Riviera, and your budget is limitless, then plan to stay at the five-star Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc. It is beyond luxurious.
If your budget is more moderate like mine, then a couple of hotels in Antibes’ center are worth considering if you want to stay overnight:
Hotel Le Relais du Postillon, 8 Rue Championnet, 06600. Very well-run three-star hotel that has an excellent bar and breakfast;
La Place Boutique Hotel, at 1 Av. 24 Août, 06600 is my other three star choice
There is an artist in Antibes by the name of Lui Ho, who places plaster reliefs of faces or people, or drawings and paintings, in the most unexpected places around Antibes. Keep your eyes peeled for them, as you just never know when you’ll find one!France Travel Planning Travel Tip
Visit Eze Village from Nice
Eze Village is one of the must do day trips from Nice – the medieval, walled, mountaintop village, is not to be confused with Eze-sur-Mer, the small seaside former fishing village. Both sites are within close proximity to one another, but one is perched on a mountaintop and the other is at the seaside. Eze Village is filled with unique artisan shops tempting day-trippers with clothes, jewelry, art and craftworks.
The walkways in Eze Village are composed of uneven cobblestones and are challenging to navigate. There are a lot of steep inclines and declines and stairs to negotiate, so strollers could be a challenge. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes.France Travel Planning Travel Tip
How to travel to Eze Village from Nice by public transportation
To get to Eze Village, you can use almost any mode of transport including bus, taxi, Uber, or the TER regional train, or a combination thereof. For buses departing from Nice you can take either the #82 Plateau de la Justice or #112 Monte Carlo. You can catch either of them from the gare routier (bus station) Vauban. Take Tram #1 toward Hôpital Pasteur to Vauban. Get off at the Vauban tram stop and walk to the backside of the Lidl through the arched stone rail bridge passage to find your bus. The #112 does not run on Sundays. The #82 runs hourly. Go in the early morning and queue up as buses to Eze Village can get very full. Either ride will take approximately 30 minutes. When Eze Village comes into view, you’ll get off the bus at the bottom of the new part of the village by a small convenience store. The return stop back to Nice is across the street and downhill by the gas station.
You can also take Tram #2 to Port Lympia and then walk to the back of the church and follow that street (Bavastro) three blocks until you get to Rue Barla, which is where you will find the Bavastro bus stop. You can get the #82 from that stop as well. Finally, you can take the TER to Eze-sur-Mer (toward Ventimiglia or Menton). Just outside of the train station is a bus stop where you can get bus #83 toward Plateau de la Justice, (eastbound) which takes about another 15 minutes and follows the winding road around the walking path. The walking path takes about an hour to hike and is almost a straight uphill climb to the village. It is fairly strenuous and not for the faint of heart.
During summer months, (June-September) it can extremely hot and dry during the day, so if you’re hiking, make sure to bring water from Nice if you’re planning to walk the path.France Travel Planning Travel Tip
Michelin star restaurants in Eze Village
If you plan your trip far enough in advance and would like to eat at one of the Michelin star restaurants like La Chèvre d’Or Gourmet Restaurant or Château Eza, make your reservations well in advance. I made mine three months in advance, as they booked up quickly. It’s easier to get a lunch reservation. Be sure to ask for a table with a sea view.
Château Eza also has a lounge bar with terraces overlooking the stunning Mediterranean Sea and walk-ins are welcome, but space is limited, so plan accordingly and either arrive right at the opening for lunch or go later. The menu is much more limited than the full-fare restaurant, but you’ll find a selection of pizzas, salads, sandwiches and appetizers as well as a bevy of adult beverages including non-alcoholic ones.
Best things to do in Eze Village
Climb all the way to the top of the village for commanding views from Le Jardin Exotique d’Eze. The entrance fee ranges from 5-7€ per person depending on when you visit. There is also a small church and cemetery in Eze that are worth seeing. If you’d like a quick bite of lunch or an afternoon drink, my favorite spot is Creperie Le Cactus, squeezed onto the edge of the walking path, just past the fortified entrance gate. The kitchen and indoor tables are located in a grotto across the walking path.
Just down another hill at the bottom a winding driveway of the village is the Fragonard Perfume factory, which makes mostly soaps and lotions. The tour in English is remarkably interesting, giving insights into the history and how the perfume industry got started. All the Fragonard fragrances are for sale in the boutique. However, not all are available to purchase outside of France so you may want to make your purchases on-site. I purchased several trial boxes, each having an assortment of fragrances, and are available for both men and women.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence: a must see on the French Riviera
A small, walled, artisan community nestled in the pre-Alps inland, with views of the sea from high points Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a must visit from Nice. It is one of the oldest medieval villages in the French Riviera and has breathtaking views of the valley below. While it has some stairs and streets with inclines and declines, it is much easier to navigate than Eze Village.
The village attracted artists like Marc Chagall, who is actually buried in the cemetery there. It offers something for everyone including modern and contemporary art museums, antique stores, specialty local food stores, art galleries and an abundance of restaurants to choose from. There are also a few hotels within the village, but I have not personally stayed at any of them. There are several sections of the medieval wall you can walk atop of for an only-in-Europe type of experience.
Plan to spend the day there to get the most out of your visit. Leave Nice after breakfast, plan to have lunch in Saint-Paul-de-Vence (SPdV) and return before the rush hour mid-to-late afternoon, to avoid the crush of travelers and commuters.France Travel Planning Travel Tip
Once you arrive at the SPdV bus stop, you will wind your way down a gradual inclined street where you will find a pétanque field. There, you’ll almost always see locals playing under the shady trees in the courtyard, which is conveniently situated next to a small restaurant serving up several types of refreshing beverages. The village has a tourism office just after the main fortified gate up the street on the right. There are also public restrooms located throughout the village.
How to travel to Saint-Paul-de-Vence from Nice
The village is situated inland, west of Nice, and is reachable by bus or TER and bus. To get to SPdV by bus from Nice, take bus #400 Vence (par St-Paul) from Parc Phoenix. You can easily reach this gare routier (bus station) by taking Tram #2 toward either Airport or Cadam and departing at Parc Phoenix. The bus station runs alongside the tram stop. The bus takes about 45 minutes to get there and departs about every 45 minutes. You may use your Lignes d’Azur ticket traveling toward SPdV, but for the return bus trip, you will have to purchase a ticket from the driver. Be sure to have some small bills or exact fare for the return trip, as the driver can’t break anything over a 5€ note normally.
If you prefer, you can go by TER from one of three Nice train stations and depart at Cagnes-sur-Mer and take the #400 from there. It is a bit more expensive, but also a little quicker.
Where to eat in Saint-Paul-de-Vence
One of my favorite spots for lunch in SPdV is the restaurant La Colombe d’Or. There, artists such as Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, the Spanish artist Miro, French film star Yves Montand, and the American sculptor Alexander Calder exchanged their works of art for overnight stays or meals. Their original pieces still adorn the walls of the hotel/restaurant. Reservations are necessary and should be made at least three months in advance.
Another one of my favorite dining spots is La Terrasse Panoramique – simple cuisine and breathtaking views. You can normally walk in and get served but you might have to wait a bit for a table on the terrace, especially around lunchtime.
The old city center of Vence is often overlooked by visitors and takes about another 15 minutes by bus to get there from Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The Matisse Chapel of the Rosary, (Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence) is a exquisite chapel that Henri Matisse designed and personally funded to build. His designs adorn the stained-glass windows inside. The chapel is not located near the old center but is an easy uphill walk from the bus station. Explore the old city center (cité médiévale) and wander around the narrow streets and shop all the galleries and goods offered by the local craftsmen. La Cathedrale Notre-Dame de la Nativite de Vence is the smallest church in France but from inside feels surprisingly expansive.
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Monaco is worth a visit on your tour of the French Riviera if you have time. If you want to see glitz and glamour, the Monegasques will not disappoint.
Take the TER regional train from Nice to Monaco. Navigating your way down into the city from the train station can be challenging, but I’ve walked it before without issue. Note that you might not have cell-service in Monaco as the Monegasques’ provider doesn’t seem to play well with others. To get an overview of the principality, I’ve taken the hop-on/off bus. Sites to see include the Palace (check to see if it is open the day you’re going), Le Palais du Prince, The Car Collection of H.S.H. the Prince of Monaco, Prince Rainer III, the aquarium, Le Musée Oceanographique, the casino and the lobby of the Hotel de Paris.
There are plenty of charming parks in town, and you can also walk around the Jardin Exotique, the Jardin Japonais, and the Princess Grace Rose garden in Monte-Carlo, dedicated in 1984 to memorialize Grace Kelly, wife of Prince Rainier III. You can visit their graves inside the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, also known as Saint Nicholas Cathedral. The church is open daily, free of charge, from 8:15 a.m.-6 p.m. and can be visited except during mass services.
One of my favorite eateries in Monaco is the unassuming Marche de la Condamine. It is a food hall and fresh produce market that offers an upbeat atmosphere and is frequented by locals and those who commute to work in the city. It is open daily for breakfast and lunch.
Trains to and from Monaco can get quite crowded and if you’re planning to spend the day in Monaco, try to return to Nice before 4 p.m., as once the commuters start home it can be very difficult to get on the train at all. This problem is heightened during the Monaco Grand Prix. Unless you’re specifically going to Monaco for the Grand Prix, I would avoid that timeframe – roughly from late May/early June.France Travel Planning Travel Tip
Day trip to Italy from Nice
If you take the TER all the way to the French Italian border (terminus eastward), you’ll end up in the small seaside Italian village of Ventimiglia. Ventimiglia has an expansive covered market, which is open every day (closed on Sundays) until about 1 p.m. It is located at Via della Repubblica, 7, 18039 Ventimiglia. Tuesdays through Fridays there are more vendors, and one in particular, just in front of the faux-flower stand, sells hand-made mountain cheeses that are especially delicious. She has a large, white or small counter-top black refrigerator (depending on the season) in a simple stand off the main street leading from the train station, Via della Repubblica. The produce is amazingly fresh.
There are also fresh pasta stands, a fish market, butchers, fruit stands and specialty food vendors, as well as flowers, luggage and some other assorted odds and ends.
On Fridays there is also a street market worth meandering through that runs 8 a.m.-3 p.m. The market was started in 1920 as a cattle market. Today it has booths running from the train station all the way down the river to the beaches. You can find made-in-Italy products, food and lots of items at outlet prices, including shoes, leather bags, perfumes, homegoods and much more. This Ventimiglia market feels more like a flea market than prestigious goods, with a lot of knockoffs and imposter fragrances. It is charming but be sure to barter with the vendors – they are expecting it.
There is now an elevator to the top of the hilled old village center or you can walk up the ramps and stairs from the front or back side of the village near the port and see several old churches, including the Oratorio della Confraternita dei Neri Mortis et Orationis or the ‘church of the dead.’ It is decorated with skulls and bones and is small but interesting.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta is also very impressive with its stone walls.
One of my favorite places to eat in Ventimiglia is the restaurant on stilts overlooking the bay – Ristorante Margunaira at 3 Passeggiata G Marconi, 18039. They have incredibly fresh and varied seafood dishes. When I first visited there in 2015, no one spoke English, but more recently, the wait staff mostly does. Il Vesuvio Ristorante Pizzeria, 14A Via Trossarelli 18039 is another excellent choice for Italian meals. The small and unassuming Bookaffé, was one of my most favorite meals in this city, at Via Sir Thomas Hanbury, 2C, 18039 Ventimiglia. It has a handwritten menu that changes weekly and is run by just two people. The food is all hand-crafted and fresh.
There is not typically any border control to verify your documents, but to be on the safe side, I always travel with my passport when going to Italy from France. When returning from Ventimiglia toward Nice headed west, the train might be detained momentarily at the first station back in France or in between two stations while border control agents patrol the train compartments. This is perfectly normal and will only take a short time.
If you go to Italy and you’re in need of wine or spirits, it is substantially less expensive to buy in Italy than in France. You can bring five bottles of wine back to France and up to 1.5 liters of hard alcohol or three liters of liqueurs per person.France Travel Planning Travel Tip
You might consider combining your day trip to Ventimiglia with a stop in Menton. Menton is known among the French as the retirement capitol of France, so the sidewalks tend to roll up at about 9 p.m. and the town is not known for its nightlife. But it has a picturesque old town with the Basilica de Michael Archangel, a beautiful port area and a nice pedestrian-only street.
You will find a mixture of both sandy and pebbly beaches there. It has some unusual seaside cafés where the wait staff play ‘Frogger’ to get across the street with your order.
While near the sea, you could visit the Jean Cocteau museum. We loved the Jardin Botanique Val-Rahmeh and the shaded jungle-like environs offer a cool break from the coastal sun.
Menton also boasts a fantastic covered market. Be sure to get there well before noon, as vendors start closing around then.
One of my favorite restaurants in Menton features incredible Italian cuisine, La Trattoria, and can be found just off the Jardins Biovès.
One of my favorite fragrance stores is also in Menton – Prestige de Menton. The store opened in 1947 and has original citrus-based scents. I find that it is better to purchase the eau de parfum because the scent fades away rather quickly for both the eau de cologne and the eau de toilette.
If you’re visiting Menton in February during the La Fête du Citron (Citrus Festival), expect heavy crowds and over-stuffed trains, but the exhibits are fun, playful and very imaginative.
I’ve stayed at the Hôtel Vacances Bleues Royal Westminster and found it to be a very nice three-star hotel situated in the heart of the city and not a far walk from the train station. It offers a very hearty breakfast and rooms to fit almost every budget. The sea-view rooms, while more costly, have amazing views.
Cannes: a popular day trip from Nice
You can’t talk about day trips from Nice unless you include Cannes. Surprisingly, while Cannes has a refined atmosphere, when the film festival is not attracting actors and actresses with their throngs of fans, it is rather quiet.
Arriving in Cannes at the main train station, you are just 450m from the Croisette, or Cannes’ equivalent to the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Cannes does have some of the most pristine sandy beaches as well as a vast selection of beach clubs to choose from if sunning is your goal.
If you’re planning a trip to Cannes, you should definitely stop in the Carlton Hotel to gasp at their 350-million-euro renovation – the décor is over the top. While perusing you could also make a reservation for high tea at the Camélia Tea Lounge or stop into Bar°58 for a refreshing adult beverage. We also had appetizers and drinks out on the terrace next to the bar and it was quite enjoyable.
As you’d expect, Cannes is home to some of the most prestigious luxury goods retailers in all of the south of France and you can easily leave your hard-earned euros behind in a number of places on Rue d’Antibes. For a more local approach to shopping, which will take less of a toll on your wallet, take a stroll down Rue Meynadier. It is lined on either side with houses from the 18th century and is also filled with souvenir shops, candy stores and other temptations.
Cannes has a farmers market called Marché Forville – an enormous indoor fresh market, which is open every day (except Mondays) in the mornings.
In the old part of Cannes, which includes both Rue Meynadier and the Forville market, it’s worth climbing to the top of the hill to discover the Museum and the Church of Notre Dame de l’Espérance. There you can not only enjoy both sights, but also admire the breathtaking view over Cannes.
At the end of the Croisette, at Pointe Croisette, you’ll find a pleasant park called Port Pierre Canto with “La Roserie” garden. There you can take a break during your sightseeing day at one of the benches and gaze at the jaw-dropping moored yachts.
If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and would like to venture off the beaten path, take a boat to Île Sainte-Marguerite. There you can find Le fort Royal, a fortress with prison cells and Roman relics at the Museum of the Iron Mask.
On another island a bit further out, L’île Sainte Honora, is the Monastère Fortifié de L’abbaye de Lérins, which is also an interesting place. It still functions as a place of worship for monks, and you can go for services or a wine tasting. On this island be sure to make reservations at La Tonnelle, a restaurant known for its local wine selections.
Here are some of my favorites in Cannes, from most to least expensive:
Astoux et Brun, (Seafood), 27 Rue Félix Faure, 06400 Cannes
Le Caveau 30, (French) 45 Rue Felix Faure, 06400 Cannes
Aux Bons Enfants, (French) 80 Rue Meynadier, 06400 Cannes
The Duck’s Pub, (Gastro Pub) Félix Faure, 06400 Cannes
Best towns and sites to visit near Nice
If you still haven’t had your fill of beauty, charm and southern French hospitality, you could also visit some of the surrounding villages and sites.
I recommend the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, built by Beatrice Rothschild from the fortunes made by the family’s banking interest. It’s a delightful mansion housing an extensive art collection and expansive gardens in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. You can get there from Nice on bus #15 from Promenade des Arts – or the closest stop near you for line 15 to Passable/Rothschild. The bus stop is situated just a short uphill walk to the villa.
The villa has a lovely tearoom, which also serves lunch and/or coffee – great for a short break or an afternoon happy hour on your sightseeing day. One of my favorite restaurants at the port in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is Léo Léa Assiette au Bœuf. They serve amazing burgers and some of the best steak I’ve had in France, called La Beouf Paradis, which is served with a delicious sauce. Unlimited fries accompany every dish–wow! We also typically get the Café Gourmand, which includes an espresso and three small desserts. Ordering a Café Gourmand is the only way to get your coffee served with your dessert – in France it will otherwise be served afterwards.
If you’re not into the thick and strong espresso coffee the French drink, ask for a Noisette, which literally translates to “hazelnut,” but is espresso with a small dollop of steamed milk, as the French will find it very odd if you try to order a cappuccino, latté or café au lait after breakfast time.France Travel Planning Travel Tip
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat offers some of the best coastal walking trails around. You can explore the peninsula, trekking to Beaulieu-sur-Mer by way of the Promenade Maurice Rouvieror or by finding your own slice of heaven on a secluded beach. You can get to these by taking either the Pointe Saint-Hospice headland to Paloma beach or Tour of Cap-Ferrat, ending at Passable beach.
While in that area, you could also explore Beaulieu-sur-Mer, another beautiful village on the coast and only about a 10-minute TER train ride from Nice or the #15 bus.
I enjoy going to the Sunday Italian market any first Sunday of the month, year-round, held in the main plaza – Place Marinoni. The market opens and 9 a.m. and normally starts shutting down by late afternoon. It has a variety of fruits, vegetables and Italian-made goods like clothing and handcrafts, as well as wines, olive oil, foccacia, cakes and cookies. It also has a small selection of cheese and meats.
Year-round there is a Provencal market every Saturday. There is a fresh market there every other day of the week as well, but it is much smaller in scale and just in the morning.
Also in Beaulieu, which I haven’t had a chance to visit yet, is Greek Villa Kerylos – a house in Ancient Greek Revival style built by archaeologist Theodore Reinach in the early 1900s. It still contains all the original contents of the home and is apparently worth seeing. Beaulieu does have a nice but small sandy beach called Plage des Fourmis.
One of my favorite places to eat in Beaulieu-sur-Mer is Café Le Beaulieu. It has live entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings – definitely make reservations.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a very small, peaceful village with sandy beaches. It is a nice place to visit or stay. There are not a lot of activities to do there other than renting an electric tricycle/car to bop around in or watching the cruise ships come in and out. It has some really good restaurants and is a great place to hide away if rest and relaxation is your goal.
Cagnes-sur-Mer/Juan-les-Pins are both coastal towns and very quaint, offering visitors everything they need for either a “get-away from it all” type of experience or nice beaches and activities for a day trip.
Cagnes is a small but interesting town on the French Riviera. It has a great shopping center called Polygone Riviera, boasting over 70 shops, 119 Av. des Alpes, Cagnes-sur-Mer. It is an open-air concept mall, which includes all types of boutiques, restaurants and a movie theater.
Cagnes also has a Renoir museum, which was actually the home of the artist until his death in 1919. It has some of his works on display but primarily takes you on a journey of how he lived, showing his bedroom, living area, drawing room and workshop.
If you’re still yearning to explore more medieval villages, le Haut-de-Cagnes, located on castle hill, is only about a 20-minute walk from the downtown area or from the main gare routier in Cagnes. There is a free shuttle (#44) operating every 15 minutes, seven days a week. Among the pebbled streets you’ll find churches, galleries, workshops, Chateau Grimaldi (now a museum), fountains and plenty of restaurants to choose from. In addition to Renoir, artists including Matisse, Modigliani, Soutine, Villeri, and Derain, were also drawn to Haut-de-Cagnes. The charming village has also drawn many celebrities including the likes of Josephine Baker, Suzy Solidor, Georges Simenon and Brigitte Bardot.
Juan-les-Pins also has some of the most beautiful sandy beaches in the area and has plenty of dining options but feels very residential in nature. Surprisingly, and contradictorily, it also has a thriving nightclub scene, with many clubs staying open until early morning. It has adequate grocery stores and is a great place to visit or stay, but really, other than a water park, Aquasplash and Marineland, doesn’t offer much in the way of activities or sites. Park tickets are pricey; 25€ for adults and 22€ for children. A combined entrance to both parks for adults is 43€ and children 33€. It is typically open from the beginning of June to the first week of September.
Nice day trips: exploring Beyond the Shore
If you’ve been to Nice multiple times and had the good fortune to be able to do a number of the best Nice day trips, then perhaps consider looking beyond the shoreline and into the pre-Alps to expand your knowledge of the area. There are two easy trips to quaint mountain villages:
On the Train des Merveilles (meaning “Train of Wonders/Marvels”) – there are actually two routes leaving Nice from the main Gare Thiers station: one going through Ventimiglia and the other skirting its way along the Vallée des Merveilles and the Mercantour National Park. The more direct ride is spectacular, and it will be difficult to decide which mountain village you should stop at, but most people will opt for either of the medieval towns of Breil-Sur-Roya or Tende. Some but not all of the trains actually go all the way to the rail terminus in Cuneo, Italy.
Two of the outbound train trips per day feature a bilingual French and English-speaking guide, provided by the SNCF between the months of June and September, and weekends during May and October, so be sure to book one of those excursions. The route traverses stunning scenery and the line follows the Peillon River into the Roya Valley, crisscrossing the Alps between France and Italy. There are 11 stops between Nice and Tende and the journey takes about two hours.
The medieval town of Tende features beautiful Italianate architecture, is a great starting point for hikes, and has awe-inspiring churches and castles. The town was built on a steep hillside and is terraced with many steps.
Many use Tende as a base for hiking and exploring the region as you are within close proximity to several mountain ranges and national parks. For those visiting in winter, Val Castérino offers a variety of winter sports including cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Just 20 km north of Tende, you’ll find Limone-col de Tende ski resort for downhill skiing. For summer hiking, you’ll find the Via Ferrata close by Saint-Sauveur Chapel, which offers hikers two breathtaking trails.
When in Tende, be sure to visit the Musée des Merveilles. It provides a great history of the area from stone-age man and has many artifacts from the surrounding mountains. Museum entrance is free, and a guided tour can be had for just 20€ for up to a group of 10 people. The village has an interesting history with many of the buildings containing murals, some of which bear an IHS crest above doorways, meaning Iesus (Jesus) Hominum (of humankind) Salvator (Savior). The crest was a protection or blessing for the home.
There is also a substantial church for the size of village with a tall bell tower – the Collégiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption with its Baroque trompe-l’oeil motifs painted exterior, dating from the 12th century. It can be visited almost any time during the day other than when mass is being given.
My favorite restaurant in Tende is La Margueria – a family-run establishment with a charming rustic interior. It has a wood-fired pizza oven and offers a seasonal menu that changes almost daily. 19 Avenue du 16 Septembre 1947, 06430.
Le Train des Pignes is a narrow-gauge railway running from Nice to Dignes-les-Bains. It is operated by the Chemins de Fer de Provence railway and departs from a small station tucked away behind the now de-commissioned Gare de Sud, called Gare de Nice CP (Chemins Provence) station. The train stops in outlying suburbs of Nice, including the Centre Commercial Nice Lingostière, another massive but good mall, with one of the largest Carrefour hypermarkets I’ve ever seen. The railway then climbs up the steep terrain toward its destination – about 150 km from Nice, taking about three-and one-half hours, one-way.
If you really want to make your journey interesting, take the train to Puget-Theniers where you can get on board a steam-powered locomotive. This train will make a brief stop in the medieval hillside village of Entrevaux before proceeding to Annot and terminating in Le Fugeret. This special locomotive typically only runs on Sundays with an occasional Thursday or Friday thrown in between, May to November.
Digne-les-Bains is a great place to visit, and while there are no longer any Roman baths from when the city was at its height of commerce, there are modern thermal baths and spa services to be visited. If you want to make a mini-trip out of it, there are plenty of hotels, campsites, bed and breakfasts and apartments-for-rent by owners. The town is filled with activities and interests for most everyone.
Wherever you end up spending your time in the Côte d’Azur, with it alluring azure blue water, friendly and helpful people, sunny skies and amazing sights, you can’t really go wrong. The descriptions and places listed in this article are just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more to see and do, so come to the south of France as you’ll surely make some fantastic discoveries of your own.