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Discovering Nice & the French Riviera: One Day Trip at a Time

Sunny, sweet success! After carefully planning a Côte d’Azur getaway in 2010 and being thwarted by an angry Eyjafjallajökull, I finally managed to reach Nice on a fresh attempt nearly a year and a half later. And oh là là, was it ever worth the wait.

I’d been to the French Riviera before — Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Villefranche, Monte Carlo — but not to Nice and never for long enough to really dig in, explore, and feel at home. So this was my glorious two-week opportunity and I intended to make the most of it from a home base in the charming, tangled streets of the colorful Old Town (known locally as Vieille Ville or Vieux Nice).

Nice is nice. Really nice. Really.

Old Nice was just as lovely as all the pictures and write-ups lead you to believe, only more so. The painterly churches and architecture of all kinds, featuring shuttered windows and trompe-l’oeil surprises are more than mere eye candy — it’s guilt-free dessert for the soul! Which is pretty handy given all the ice cream, gelato, and tempting local treats on hand around every corner. And as corners go, one street was sweeter or more brilliant than the next. But after 12 days I whittled down my favorite flavors to a short stretch near the top of the Old Town where a seemingly single building melted effortlessly from lemon yellow into burnt orange, then a rusty red, and finally a pale peach with celadon shutters, door, and matching mailbox. Truly a Technicolor work of art, Vieux Nice.

When I wasn’t snacking on socca, salted caramel crêpes, Niçoise salads, Fenocchio ice cream, or the most amazing variety of vegetables and other delights seasoned to perfection à la Provençale, I was trekking up to the top of Castle Hill (Colline du Château), tucking into the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC), shopping for local art and other items you can only find in Nice, or soaking up the sun and people-watching à la plage. And beyond that, I was taking the most enchanting day trips to nearby towns, both inland and along the coast.

Day tripping along the Côte d’Azur is easy.

I chose not to rent a car and relied instead on public transportation for all of my day trips. Connecting via tram, train, and/or bus from Nice made exploring the region an easy, affordable pleasure. The public buses in particular are cheap and clean and offer extensive routes. From Nice’s main bus depot (the Gare Routière) I whisked away to Vence, St. Paul de Vence, Grasse, Villefranche, Èze, Antibes, Menton, and even nearby Monaco. For farther flung destinations like Entrevaux or Cassis I took the train.

It’s hard to pinpoint the highlight from such an exceptional collection of day trips; I’d recommend each enthusiastically and without hesitation. But my top three would have to be Grasse, Èze, and Cassis, if pressed. The perfumed shops and Fragonard museum in Grasse blew my mind. I’m not much into perfume, but I found myself snapping up scented soaps and other goodies by the bagful at Fragonard. The exotic garden at Èze overlooking the sea was unspeakably beautiful and moving. You must go. I beseech you. There’s no way to understand how amazing the village and the garden are without visiting yourself. And finally, the coup de grâce: a stroll through Cassis and a three-hour boat tour of the Calanques — a picturesque limestone range of coastal nooks, crannies, and dramatic, soaring cliffs that stretches from Cassis to Marseille, dotted with cheerful pine trees. I can’t wait to go back and wander around on foot. À bientôt Calanques de Cassis, j’espère!

Related Links:

  • Want more? Check out the rest of Marisa’s gorgeous Nice & Cote d’Azur shots here
  • For some daily Nice inspiration, check out the Nice Daily Photo blog
  • Pret à Voyager elaborates on Nice’s specialty: Socca

Written by Marisa Williams for the HiP Paris Blog. All images by Marisa Williams. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Marisa Williams

Marisa WilliamsA self-taught photographer, Marisa was born in the San Francisco Bay Area where she continues to live, work, and plan annual escapes from. Her travel images have appeared in advertising, print and online publications, and grace the walls of high-end hotels and private homes around the world.

Website: Marisa Williams

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Posted in Travel | 15 Comments »

15 Responses to “Discovering Nice & the French Riviera: One Day Trip at a Time”

  • […] Discovering Nice & the French Riviera […]

  • Anila says:

    ps I have written a little guide to how tpo get to Nice by train which I think is a great way to go: http://loco2.com/blog/2012/08/cheap-train-tickets-london-to-nice-by-train/

  • Anila says:

    Your photos make me want to go back to the south of France, they look like a dream.

  • Risamay says:

    Absolutely, Holiday Rentals Nice. If the public transportation in a place is known for being affordable and efficient, I will often choose it over renting a car. I feel like this gives me a much better sense of place, local life, and more. Public transportation also offers interesting routes, views, and people watching! Think, for example, how much of Paris you’d miss by avoiding the metro. Or all the nooks and crannies you might never see if you never gave the bus (in Paris) a go. That said, in some places a car *is* the only way to get around, out, and about. Thankfully the French Riviera is not such a place.

  • Thanks for the post, and it is especially interesting that you didn’t hire a car but instead travelled on public transport. You must have got more of a feel for the place by doing that. I am looking to book my holiday there this year.

  • Gorgeous! I will have to make a point of visiting this beautiful city.

  • Edna says:

    Way to inspire wanderlust! I love those colors on the buildings – such beautiful and warm colors.

  • Risamay says:

    Kudos, Roger! I think anyone who gets to that garden in Eze will soon have the same designs on making France their home one day. I certainly do!

    Merci, Liz :)

    Glad you had a lovely trip, Lily!

  • Liz says:

    These are gorgeous pictures! Thank you for sharing!

  • I remember visiting the gardens in Eze whilst on holiday with my parents in the 1950’s. They so impressed me that I decided then and there that one day I would live in France, which I do.

  • Lily Kay says:

    I just recently returned home from a trip to Nice and ahhh it was just as you said in your post. Lovely!

  • Risamay says:

    Met the sweetest cats on the little rooftop terrace there, where I was staying. Delightful amenity! Glad you appreciate the standout beauty of Cassis too, Christine. Isn’t it just breathtaking? A pinch-yourself kind of perfect place. And thank you for your kind words, Lindsey. I think you and Mr. Cheeseland should definitely take a break down south soon …

  • Stephanie says:

    Brings back memories of when I used to live there! Love the colors, and that cat looks just like mine back home in the states! I’m happy in Paris for now…. but a vacation over the summer to the South might be nice :)

  • Christine says:

    Ahhh so glad you enjoyed it!!! This made me want to go back to Nice ASAP–thank goodness I have a trip planned in June! I haven’t been to Cassis since I was 16, but I still carry around a photo I took on a disposable camera there when I deemed it the most beautiful place I’d ever been. Ah jeez…I need a France fix!

  • Lindsey says:

    remember that spring funk I mentioned? this would be the perfect cure. Thanks for such a fantastic journey – those photos are absolutely stunning!

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