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Though the French Riviera is famed for its captivating coast – sweeping cliff lines spilling down to soft-lulling coves – don’t just stay in one spot, but instead sample a more diverse mix of destinations via selected daytrips from Nice along the Côte D’Azur.
You don’t need to be especially intrepid to travel here – trains and buses offer easy, cheap and convenient modes of travel, while car hire is undoubtedly one of the best ways for film-style sojourns into the scenic spoils of South Eastern France’s fantastic, sprawling coastline.
Here’s my top pick of places – all closely linked and accessible from Nice – to sample the French Riviera in style:
Celebrity-spotting aside, Cannes offers an abundance of attractions – most notably: fabulous food, a heady slice of entertainment, and a decent dose of culture courtesy of various museums and markets. Check out the majestic Museum of the Sea situated on the tiny island of Sainte-Marguerite just off the coast, where Cannes’ maritime connections are inspiringly explored; while La Maimaison or the Museum of La Castre are also worth a visit.
Offering quieter stretches of pebbly beaches with sweeping vistas across a Mediterranean bay to Nice and beyond, Antibes is a fortified city on the sea that enjoys a hip and vibrant entertainment scene and a magnificent marina while providing laid back charm of the quaintest character. Fort Carré, the Picasso Museum and St Bernardin Chapel should all be added to your ‘to-do’ list if time allows, and be sure to catch a show at the Court Theatre or Theatre Antibea. Stroll along the new Promenade des Arts to admire its iconic ‘Nomad’ sculpture from Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, and discover the chic and stunning waterside wonderland that is, Cap d’Antibes.
Juan les Pins
The gorgeous town of Juan les Pins is also a must-see, with its private jetties that provide you with your own personal platform for sunbathing and sea swimming as you lazily lap up the area’s über relaxed atmosphere. If visiting in July, be sure to check-out the annual Jazz à Juan festival which presents a plethora of top jazz acts that will provide the perfect chilled-out soundtrack to your stay.
Meanwhile, as you head into the hinterland you’ll enjoy picturesque towns such as Opio or Valbonne village that snugly sit on the tip of the Alpes-Maritimes. Here, you will experience local Provençal flavours such as Servan wine while sampling local cuisine from a host of fine restaurants, markets and cafés scattered throughout the cobbled streets.
Villefrance Sur Mer
Eastward from Nice are a bevy of beautiful bays that continue to boast the Riviera’s signature seaside allure while harnessing their own individual character. Villefranche, for example, rewards visitors with markets, gardens, beaches and its stunning Citadel that fabulously frames the city’s striking, curving coastline. Scattered throughout the city and within the fortress walls are a number of glorious gardens. When planning lunch or dinner, be reminded that locally caught seafood from this historic fishing port awaits at a range of restaurants offering an eclectic and mouth-watering Mediterranean menu.
Beaulieu sur Mer
This neighbouring town extends Villefranche’s easy-living vibe via its tree-lined streets and superb seaside position. Beaulieu boasts a rarity of sandy beaches alongside a promenade that fringes the harbour and lively town centre. From here (or Villefranche), hike or drive your way to St Jean-Cap Ferrat – an adoringly pretty peninsula that is as elegant as it is exclusive. Schedule a visit to the gorgeously grand Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild – an exotic, seaside palazzo that treats guests to everything from fantastic gardens and fountains to a feast of cultural entertainment, food and drinks.
Eze Bord de Mer and Eze Village
In Eze village, the Balsan castle’s ruins showcase an intriguing history, inspiring Nietzsche’s apt lines: “I learned that from the sun, when it goes down, it pours then in the sea, the gold of inexhaustible richnesses.” And it was here that Alfred Hitchcock shot a scene with Grace Kelly and Gary Grant from ‘To Catch a Thief’.
Eze’s exotic gardens are replete with Jean-Philippe Richard’s Earth Goddess sculptures that sit amidst a pretty palette of blooms, fusing nature with art to breathtaking effect. Allow the jasmine and bougainvillea-scented breeze surround you with a sweetness that drifts downward to the beach toward the salty air and eye-pleasing panoramas as you take in Eze Bord de Mer.
Laze, swim and then dine at the ultra inviting al fresco fabulousness of Anjuna Plage Privée and indulge in your every waterside whim as the sun slowly dips out of the sky and into the ocean, sublimely reflecting Nietzsche’s words.
Widely regarded as synonymous with cool, Monaco is a must-see not simply for its moneyed status, but for its stream of popular sights such as the Monte Carlo Casino and Opera House, Prince’s Palace and Monaco Cathedral — the burial place of Prince Rainer and Princess Grace. Walk around the marina and swoon at the super yachts, or take in botanical beauties such as the Casino Gardens, St Martin Gardens, Princess Antoinette Park or the Japanese Gardens as you contemplate this captivating and achingly pretty principality.
Written by and photos by Hannah May for EuropeUpClose.com. Hannah is a freelance writer based in Cornwall, England. Her passion for travel has taken her across the globe to exotic realms such as Fiji, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Ghana as well as throughout Europe, where she ambitiously aims to explore every country. You can find her at www.hmay.co.uk.