The French Riviera or Côte d’Azur rather, is a destination one could only dream existed, except that it actually does. From charming hillside towns to bustling coastal cities, you can find high-end glamour next to laid-back seaside villages. The drive along the coast itself will literally take your breath away, as picturesque views of the Mediterranean Sea captivate you. And the food, oh the food! Don’t even get me started on the Provençal cuisine that will delight your palate. With sun, sea, food, wine, and views for days, the South of France is not to be missed.
Nice makes a great base to begin your exploration of the French Riviera. It’s close to a major airport, has many affordable accommodation options and is a bustling city with much to offer.
Must Sees include:
Marché du Cours Saleya– This market takes place in Old Town Nice every Tuesday through Saturday from 6:00am to 5:30pm and Sunday 6:30am to 1:30pm. Fresh fruit, flowers, and local produce will delight your senses as you stroll through the market stalls. It’s a great spot to get mementos such as artisanal soap or handmade baskets and sample regional goodies. I’d recommend getting there early, as it does tend to get crowded and is more enjoyable when not fighting the crowd to pick out the best baguette.
Insider tip: Purchase some local food you’d like to try and have your own beach picnic, as the beach is located right across the street.
Promenade des Anglais– Framing the stunning blue water of the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels), the Promenade hugs the beach for about 7km. This famous stretch is perfect for jogging, walking or even biking, with plenty of rental options located on the strip. It overlooks Nice’s pebbled beach and you can find your perfect spot to sunbathe, swim or people watch. There are private and public access points with beach clubs and daybed rentals available. Be on the lookout for the “I Love Nice” sign, as it makes for a fun photo-op.
Insider Tip: The promenade stretches from the city-center to the airport. The beach near the center is livelier and tends to be more touristy. The further west you go, you can find quiet spots more populated with locals.
Castle Hill– This infamous hill overlooking Nice was once used as a strategic military citadel but now serves as a panoramic vista point. You can reach the top by stairs or elevator lift, but I’d recommend getting the exercise, especially after all those croissants!! A couple important stops include the Catholic and Jewish cemeteries, the artificial waterfall and the observation deck.
Insider Tip: Every day at noon you can hear a loud rumble from Castle Hill. The story goes, Sir Thomas Coventry-More, a Scottish lord vacationing in Nice with his wife, began to fire a cannon at noon each day to notify his wife to come home for lunch, as he had grown tired of her tardiness. Today the tradition continues on as many Niçoise have grown accustom to this as their own lunch signal.
Boating– When in Nice, one must cruise the coast. And what better way than in an environmentally-conscious boat. Get Your Guide offers affordable tours at 23.00 dollars per person for a one hour tour of the coast on a solar powered boat. It was pure relaxation to absorb the stunning views while quietly sailing the sea.
Insider Tip: If it’s swimming weather, reserve at least 2 hours to best enjoy the boat.
Favorite Streets to Wander:
When in Nice, I’d recommend:
Rue Bonaparte To Place Giuseppe Garibaldi– This area, popular amongst the locals, is perfect for exploring boutiques, bars, and trendy restaurants in Nice. If you want to experience life as a young Niçoise, head here.
Rue Pairoliere– This tiny street tucked off the main avenue is lined with the best artisanal products. With competing aromas and fresh products to sample, it’s a feast for your senses. You could spend all morning smelling, tasting, and spending as you slowly meander down the street.
The Old Port of Nice– With more locals than tourists, this area offers stunning harbor views and is lined with terraces perfect to enjoy the sunset with an aperitif in hand. From here you can walk to Castle Hill and along the way stop at one of the many antique shops.
Where to dine in Nice
Quintessentially French, this bistro offers seasonal dishes in an intimate dining atmosphere. The menu is scrawled on a tiny chalkboard each day; the chefs are in berets, and the food is flavored just the right way. Let’s just say, we all walked away quite satisfied that night.
Located in the trendy Garibaldi neighborhood, this is the perfect brunch spot to start your day the right way; for me, that means truffled eggs with crusty bread and crispy bacon on the side. As an added bonus, this restaurant is open on Sunday, when many other hot spots are closed.
Popular with locals, this is the place to try the famed Socca, a chickpea pancake typical to this area. This restaurant is ideal for happy hour, as it serves small plates of traditional dishes. Since it’s a popular spot, come early to try some local beer and bites.
As you begin to explore the eastern part of the French Riviera from Nice to Monaco, there are some hidden gems worthy of a morning or afternoon visit. Nestled between Nice and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur Mer is a picturesque fishing village with colorful houses and a stunning harbor. It makes for an afternoon well spent exploring the tiny alleyways, sunbathing on the beach, or dining at one of the many harbourfront restaurants. If you don’t have a car, fear not, the village can be reached on foot via a scenic coastal path, and the less ambitious can arrive by bus or train.
Eze will be your next stop on the road to Monaco. This tiny hillside town tucked into the French Riviera with stone streets and ivy laden doorways is about as charming as it gets. Take your time to slowly wander, browsing the boutiques and art galleries along the way. Once you reach the top, you will be rewarded with dramatic views of the Mediterranean Sea.
Golden Goat – The best place to savor this view is the Golden Goat, a hotel and restaurant with a stunning terrace. Be sure to make a reservation and plan for a leisurely lunch, as this is an experience you won’t want to rush.
Botanical Garden- Perched on top of Eze is an exotic botanical garden filled with cacti, succulents and numerous panoramic points. Dotted along the walkways will you find information about the plant species, as well as Eze’s historical past, making it more than just a scenic experience. The entrance cost is 6 euro per person and children under 12 are free.
Home to the Formula 1 Grand Prix and the Monte Carlo Casino, glitz and glamour make up this tiny country located within France’s border. Monaco, an attractive destination for high rollers due to the lack of income tax, boasts a population comprised of 1 in 3 millionaires. Making it an ideal spot to get taste of the life of luxury and Lamborghinis.
Monte Carlo Casino – This world famous casino featured in multiple James Bond movies, is considered the most iconic building in Monaco. As you walk through Casino Square, notice the array of luxury vehicles peacocking out front and as you enter the casino, you will be struck by the opulence and grandeur of just the foyer. If you only want a glimpse, it’s free to enter the atrium and casual attire is allowed. For the gaming rooms, however, you must be 18+ and pay a 17 euro entrance fee. Proper attire is required, meaning no shorts, flip flops or athletic wear.
Cafe de Paris– Located next to the Monte Carlo Casino, this famous cafe is the place to see and be seen. Grab a table on the terrace and attempt to spot a Kardashian.
Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Monaco– Any Grace Kelly fans out there? This stunning Cathedral is where Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace were married, as well as buried. On your visit, you can pay respect to the former royalty, admire the Roman-Byzantine architecture, and bask in the views of the Mediterranean.
Palais du Prince– Located on Monaco Rock in the heart of Old Town is the official residence of the current Prince of Monaco. Parts of the palace are open to the public with an admission fee of 8 euro/adult and 6 euro/child, including an audio guide. To note, every day at 11.55am the Changing of the Guards takes place in front of the Palace.
Gorges du Verdon
For those looking for something different, venture inland, and I’ve got just the place for you. Located in the heart of the Provence region, two hours north of Nice, is the Grand Canyon of Europe, Les Gorges du Verdon. A breathtaking natural wonder, it’s a must for anyone visiting the French Riviera with a passion for the outdoors.
Be warned, the drive from Nice to the Gorge is not for the faint-hearted. Come prepared for a winding but scenic drive where the road hugs the cliffside and one-lane tunnels make you forget to breathe. Once you’ve reached the Gorge, it’s all worth it as you hike the limestone cliffs that jut over icy blue water and sunbathe on the beaches of the deep blue Lac de Sainte Croix. From relaxing to water sports, this area has got the adventurer in you covered.
I hope you enjoy this gorgeous region and give the French Riviera the attention it deserves!
Until next time,