As my regular readers know, I’m a big fan and regular visitor of the South of France. Now, the South of France incorporates a large area but I want to talk about a particular stretch of the The Côte d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera. I will cover the stretch between Cannes and Menton.
I thought it might be helpful to summarise my findings over years into a 72 hours trip to this beautiful spot in Europe with some tried and tested recommendations. You ready? Let’s go.
If you travel from London, it’s best to take Easyjet or British Airways early in the morning. I usually go from Heathrow Terminal 5 and book my car with Valet Parking (really economical for 3 days).
Arriving in Nice 90 minutes later I always, without fail, rent a car. Here’s a tip. If you arrive in Terminal 1 (International Airlines except Easyjet) you will have to take a courtesy bus to Terminal 2 where you will find ALL car rental companies. This always takes far to long in my books so I exclusively rent my car from Truche, a car rental company that has it’s outlet in the Park Inn hotel, 5 minutes walk from Terminal 1. You basically follow some red lines across the car park to the hotel. It’s easy, their prices are competitive and you’ll have great service (rather a welcoming surprise in France).
Once I’ve picked up my little car I find myself within 10 minutes on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. My whole body has started relaxing while I take in the beauty along the seaside, the weather, the palm-lined walkway and the architecture. One of the most iconic buildings is the Le Negresco hotel, a 1912 belle époque stunner with an iconic pink dome.
I choose, more often than not to have accommodation in Nice as it forms the base for my travelling around.
It’s impossible to list everywhere I’ve been and all the things I’ve done over the years. So for these purposes here, if you were to visit this part of the world for 72 hours, this is what I would recommend.
Every day, except on Monday, there is a colorful food and flower market at Cours Saleya, the famous promenade in de South-West part of Vieux Nice. There are incredible museums in Nice so get yourself a cultural guide and visit one of two.
Get hold of a Nice Riviera Pass. This gains you access to Nice museums or cultural sites which aren’t already free. I recommend Museé Matisse and Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall but here are plenty more to explore.
The New Town is worth a visit if you want to do some shopping.
Here are my tried and tested top picks:
Family owned, art rooms, great wild garden, spa, very central. Reasonable prices.
I stayed here last week. Beautiful Beaux Arts building and recently renovated. Stupendous courtyard. Reasonable prices.
Spity Hotel (formerly known as Hi Hotel)
An urban and concept hotel in Nice designed by Matali Crasset. Much frequented by the gay scene. On the more expensive side. Great attention to detail. Love the roof terrace and swimming pool.
A quaint little hotel with character I’ve often stayed in. It’s an acquired taste and not for everyone. If you’re on a budget this is great.
True luxury and heritage
Where to eat:
My absolutely favourite place to eat in Nice. Can’t say enough good things about it. Make sure you book!
Le Bistro du Port
For great fish.
Very limited choice of food but excellent Nicoise style of cooking. To experienced at least once when in Nice. You cannot phone, can’t book and they don’t take credit cards. Be prepared to queue or not get in at all. Part of the charm.
Just reliable great fish and seafood.
Healthy ‘mix your own salad bar’ for lunch. Bit pricey but super fresh big bowled salads.
Some of my favourite shops:
Knitting supplies, haberdashery – a must on my every visit! No photographs allowed.
A delightful old-style shop of all your pen needs!
La Maison de Plantes
If you love herbs, tisanes and an old fashioned apothecary, this is the place to come!
For great olives, olive oil and associated sundries. Established in 1868, the place has the only olive-press left in town.
Department store for everything.
I like to drive along the coastal road in both directions. Starting with Grasse, ( about 30 km from Nice) a must for any perfume or scent lover! You have to go at least once. The views of the coast from Grasse and the hills above are breathtaking. The most famous parfumerie in Grasse is Fragonard and well worth a visit! Try and have a tour of the Fragonard Perfumerie.
Next stop is Antibes, one of my favourite places to visit on the Riviera. Antibes is a perfect, picture-postcard seaside resort with a great old town and a magnificent habour. Just walk anywhere there and you will be charmed. I do highly recommend the Picasso Museum. Why not also visit the adjacent Juan-les-Pins and the charming St. Paul de Vence.
A must is the famous Hotel du Cap Eden Roc which is only open 6 months of the year. The vista is stunning and if you like luxury, you’re in for a treat.
One of my favourite private beaches is Plage Keller in Cap D’Antibes.
Next stop is Cannes. Famous Cannes which hosts the annual Cannes Film Festival. I’m not the greatest fan of this city but it’s definitely a must if you visit the French Riviera. Cannes is great for shopping, night life, has fabulous restaurants and hotels. I’ve stayed at the Carlton and the Martinez so can recommend those. The private beaches are great and if you like star spotting, this is the place for you.
Back in Nice and going into the opposite direction, towards the italian border, there are various ways to get to Monte Carlo and Menton. I tend to drive so have the choice between the bas (coastal road), moyenne (the middle road) and grand corniche (great coast road). I always prefer the bas corniche and stop off in various places.
First up is Villefrance sur mer, one of my favourite stops. Here I go and eat by the harbour. I often come here straight from the airport and just sit and unwind. It’s the best tonic.
The old town is magnificent. Just have a stroll around.
Cap Ferrat is one of the three major capes of the French Riviera and in my opinion probably the most beautiful. Nearly always I will visit the Villa Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild. I cannot think of a more wonderful way to pass a couple of hours. I’ve blogged about it here (in the rain) and here (in glorious sunshine). A truly unique experience.
I love stopping at the harbour in Beaulieu sur Mer, another must for me. I particularly like it towards sunset but it’s great for taking a walk or having a delicious ice cream.
Eze Village is definitely worth visiting. It can get a little touristy and there isn’t that much to see. The views, however, are worth making a trip there.
Next I stop is Cap d’Ail. You’ll find some amazing Belle Epoque architecture and very expensive villas. The main attraction is the almost 4 km long coastal path from to the splendid Plage de la Mala to Plage Marquet (just outside Monte Carlo). It takes a little over an hour.
Monaco has to be seen if you’ve never been and are in the area anyway. If you’ve ever watched Grace Kelly or Cary Grant drive those windy mountain roads then you’ll want to visit Monaco. I only recently discovered the difference between Monaco and Monte Carlo. Monaco is the name of the principality, of the country. Monte Carlo is the name of one of its five districts.
You are now heading towards the border of Italy and the last town is Menton. The town has a distinct subtropical microclimate that keeps it warm and sunny most of the year. Visit and walk around the old town. The Cocteau museum is also worth exploring. That’s pretty much it and my next stop would be the border to Italy.
As you can see its difficult to choose what to do and see in such a short time. If you’ve got a week or more then you can easily do it all.
There is so much more to see but it’s impossible for me to list everything without writing a definitive guide to this part of the world. As mentioned, I hire a car but you can do all of my suggestions by train or bus. The connections are good and it’s not very pricey. Most importantly, please only see my recommendations as suggestions. There are lots of reviews of everything so do your research and carve out your own little trip.
All I know is that you won’t be disappointed. The weather is mostly good. Try to avoid November to January. Foremost have lots of fun and enjoy this jewel part of the world.