The French Riviera city of Nice is a nice place to visit. But there comes a time in any holiday when it’s time for a change of scenery, to escape to the environs for a change of pace. The French Riviera is a good place to do this. With just a few day trips from Nice you can go celebrity-spotting in Cannes and Monaco, playgrounds for the rich and famous; visit a medieval castle; learn how perfume is made, and take a stroll along the Mediterranean into neighboring Italy.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is a small town that lies between the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains. It has one of the deepest natural harbors on the Mediterranean coast, so you might see large ships and yachts anchored in the bay. Villefranche-sur-Mer is a good place to go deep sea diving and sailing. If you get tired of water activities, you can see St. Peter’s Chapel, a 16th century church that was later used to store fishermen’s supplies, and was restored in the mid-20th century. The historic old harbor is now the home of several research institutes. A 17th century fortress houses the city hall.
Once upon a time, St Tropez was a military stronghold, the first French Riviera town to be liberated after World War II and fishing village. Today, it’s a ritzy resort that attracts jet-setters of the world. Like its sister cities on the coast, St Tropez is extremely scenic, both on and off the beach. It became a haven for topless sunbathers with the invention of the monokini in the 1960s. Its Tahiti beach was immortalized in Bridget Bardot’s 1955 film, And God Created Woman. At the old harbor, you’ll find morning farm and fish markets; nearby is Old Town and the citadel.
If you like smelling nice, Grasse is a good place to buy perfumes: It’s considered the perfume capital of the world, and makes more than two-thirds of perfumes made in France. You can tour a perfume factory to see how fragrances are made. August sees a festival dedicated to jasmine, one of the flowers used in perfume here; the fire department even sprays jasmine-scented water over the crowds. Perfume aside, Grasse’s most famous attraction is an 11th century cathedral, dedicated to Notre Dame de Puy and home to three Rubens’ paintings. Famous French cabaret singer Edith Piaf died here in 1963.
St Paul de Vence is one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera. It is a retreat for many famous people, including French actor Yves Montand, French artist Marc Chagall and American author James Baldwin, who died here in 1987. The walled city is a popular tourist destination any time of the year, which can sometimes make seeing the medieval sights a little difficult. Many people come here to see the fine art galleries and museums the town is famous for. It’s a good place to buy Provencal handcrafts or go walking in the French countryside.
Menton is located along the Mediterranean Sea between Nice and the Italian border. Inhabited since Paleolithic times, Menton is not as hectic as Nice. If you go to the harbor and head east, you can stroll across into Italy in a short while. You’ll walk by gracious old villas that are now hotels. Menton is famous for its gardens, including an exotic garden, and St. Michael the Archangel, a 17th century baroque basilica. Mention also has some nice beaches, an historic covered market, and a town hall wedding room pained by Jean Cocteau, who also decorated the Bastion Museum. Menton is just 30 km (20 miles) east of Nice, making it a convenient and quick day trip.
Founded by the Greeks 2,000 years ago, Antibes has been a playground for the wealthy since the 19th century. Antibes has a charming old town that hosts a daily (except Mondays) covered market where you can buy fixin’s for a picnic on the beach or a walk around the scenic cape. The old town in enclosed with 16th century ramparts and Fort Carre. If you get tired of the beach, watching yachts at Port Vauban or scuba diving, you can take in the Picasso Museum housed in his former home, visit a botanical garden with an olive grove or browse through shops and art galleries.
If you’re looking to capture stunning views for your memory scrapbook, Eze is the place to make them. Eze is a medieval village perched on a hill high above the Mediterranean. Reached by a winding road about 30 minutes from Nice, this charming medieval village is definitely a treat. You’ll need comfortable walking shoes for this, as the cobblestone walkways up the hill aren’t always even. Boutiques and art galleries fill the old stone buildings along the way. Expect the unexpected at the top: a botanical garden complete with cactus and succulents. Oh, and, of course, stunning views of the sea and Nice below.
From Nice, a half-hour journey west by train will take you to Cannes, a playground for the rich and famous who seek luxury in this seaside resort. It’s a good place to go celebrity-spotting any time of the year, but especially during the annual Cannes Film Festival. While looking for the famous, you can stroll the Promenade de la Croisette, a tree-lined waterfront avenue; check out Le Suguet, its old town, or the landmark Russian Orthodox Church. Cannes has many fine museums and art galleries, such as the Musee de la Castre. You’ll also find grand 19th century villas to ooh and aah over.
Monaco is a tiny principality where fairy tales du come true, such as when American actress Grace Kelly became a princess by marrying Monaco’s ruler, Prince Rainier. Monaco is a glamorous place, with some pretty awesome yachts filling the harbor. It’s known for fast cars, i.e., the Formula One; casinos and expensive shopping. But the second smallest country in the world does have other sights which are worth the visit during a day trip from Nice. The list includes Japanese and exotic gardens plus one dedicated to Princess Grace, the Oceanographic Museum, St. Nicholas Cathedral with its neoclassical exterior and baroque interior, antique cars owned by Prince Rainier, and the Prince’s Palace.