The French Riviera or the Cote d’Azur, has been captivating the minds and hearts of people for centuries. Perhaps one of its greatest charms for Americans in particular is the true story of American Actress Grace Kelly. Oscar Award winner Grace Kelly became the Royal, Grace of Monaco, when she married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco in 1956. She died tragically in a car accident at the age of 52 in 1982. But Grace Kelly isn’t the only American to have fallen in love with this part of the world. The French Riviera was always just a place in my dreams as a little girl, nothing more than a fantasy. Never did I dream that one day I would be visiting this famed area at the bequest of my middle daughter Halle for her high school senior trip. I am glad I said yes.
Nice was a perfectly situated place to lodge for first time visitors to the Riviera. It is centrally located between Monaco on the border of Italy, and St. Tropaz which rests on the western edge of the Riviera. This is the smallest, innermost boundary of the French Riviera. The broadest boundary stretches from Monaco to west of Toulon. But for most of us when we think of the French Riviera, it is the smaller stretch of coastline between Monaco and St. Tropaz that we conjure up in our minds. The farthest west Halle and I traveled was Antibes. We squeezed in as much as we could in 7 days without being so overtaxed that we missed the magic of any one location. So for that reason, if you are a first timer, again, I think Nice is a great jumping off point. I also found that a rental car was not necessary. Not for us anyway. We used the bus system which worked great and was easy to navigate. There are also regional trains. We utilized Uber here and there where necessary. So enjoy Nice’s Old Town, Castle Hill and walking along the beautiful Mediterranean on the famous Promenade des Anglais. The food is fantastic and the rest of the Riviera is right at your fingertips.
Castle Hill is the most famous public park space in Nice. It overlooks the city and provides tourists with a good workout on the way to the top. The views are well worth the climb. From the 11th to the 18th century it was a military citadel, besieged of course on multiple occasions. Indeed in the 12th century, an entire village lived on the hill until it became overcrowded. Sometime in the medieval age, Nice was born below Castle Hill. Nice lost her last Chateau in 1706 thanks to the Monarch Louis XIV whose attack was awash with luck when his crew lobbed a cannon ball over the walls and it literally landed in a munitions storage which caused a huge explosion that allowed his army to invade. Today you can still see beautiful waterfalls on Castle Hill that flow from natural fresh water springs.
Antibes was Halle’s favorite of all the places we visited, or at least it tied for first. It is well known for its beautiful beaches and we took full advantage of that, getting lots of “lazy relaxing in the sun beach time” here. But it also boasts a huge market, a quaint old town and guess what else? The Picasso Museum is located in Château Grimaldi, home to the famed Picasso for 6 months in 1946 and boasting over 250 of his works which are on display in a very up close and personal way.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence sits atop a big hill as well. How’s that for eloquent language? It sits atop a big hill… But it does. And a fine hill and village it is. It was my favorite Riviera village we visited on this trip.It is located 12 kilometers west of Nice. Satin-Paul-de-Vence is still surrounded by its 16th century ramparts and all around the village are stone facades from the XVIth and XVIIIth centuries. It is a swirling sea of charming streets lined with artisan craft shops and cafes. I love alleyways, fountains, and gateways in the old villages I visit, and there are many here. This is such a unique village and still not too overly crowded in the middle of the summer as we were there in June. I loved this place.
Eze Village also sits atop of Nice. It is about 1400 feet above sea level if that helps with the picture in your head. It is indeed located between Monaco and Nice. So we had taken the bus to Monaco and after spending the morning there, we took the bus back to Eze, before returning to Nice. Eze’s architecture reflects the medieval period since it was in this era that it was fortified as a stronghold. Militarily speaking of course. Eze is the most tourist populated location of all the villages we visited, and this held true for us in June, 2017. It was packed with people. It is truly a lovely place, but I still liked Saint-Paul-de-Vence more! We did pay a fee to enter Le Jardin Exotique d’Eze, which boasts lots of gigantic cacti and beautiful Mediterranean plants.
Monaco, situated on the border of Italy, is the Eastern most edge of the French Riviera. Monaco is its own country. It is a constitutional monarchy surrounded on three sides by France and occupies just under two square kilometres (0.75 sq mile) of the Cote d’Azur, where the Alps Maritimes meet the Mediterranean. Most people when they hear Monaco, think of one of two things, Grace of Monaco, or gambling. Both are true. We did not gamble. I’d rather return home with money in the bank myself. And I am pretty sure my husband appreciates that.
Villefranche-sur-Mer The Bay of Villefranche, is a gorgeous bay embraced by the Cap of Nice on the right and Cap Ferrat on the left. We split our day, visiting Villefrance-sur-Mer in the morning, and back to do more sights and sounds in Nice in the afternoon. We took the train easily to and from Villefrance-sur-Mer.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Paloma Beach
We made a reservation way ahead of time for a spot on Paloma Beach. Paloma beach sits in the center of the stunning Cap Ferrat peninsula. It was probably the priciest thing we paid for our entire trip, but it was a wonderful relaxing time with waiters attending to your beverage needs. A sun bed and parasol is 23e per person good for a couple of hours, with food and drinks on top of that. It was one of our very favorite days that week. We also took a walk part way around the island, soaking in the silence of the uncrowded walk along the coast, the water lapping at the edges coaxing us along. Paloma Beach: Reservations highly recommended by telephone +33 4 93 01 64 71 But note: if like us, you’d like to make Cap Ferrat your “beach day” in the Riviera, then know there are other beaches besides Paloma that are equally accessible and maybe more affordable. Just look online well ahead of time for necessary reservations if you are going to visit in the summer.
There are loads of fun historical things to see and do on the peninsula as well, but this was a designated beach day for us as requested by the high school graduate guest of honor. But you might be interested in those other sites beyond the beach: Villa & Jardines Ephrussi De Rothschild or Villa Santo Sospir.
That about wraps up my first (and so far only) trip to the French Riviera. It is still calling me back, and one day when I return, I’ll be sure to expand my journey to encompass even more of this lovely stretch of real estate.