Many visitors to south of France find themselves based in Nice or Cannes, both of which are wonderful! (For more on Cannes, see: https://travally.net/2016/07/26/cannes-and-beyond-good-food-good-wine-lets-dine/Cannes)
Cannes and Nice are fabulous and have plenty to occupy visitors but there is no shortage of day trips along the Cote d’Azur, as you can hop on and off the train service (SNCF) which takes you along the coast to stunning locations, often just 20-40 minutes from Nice or Cannes. Buses are really cheap at 1.50 per journey and often the routes themselves take you along breathtaking, unforgettable scenery ( like no. 81 on the way to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild). With so much to see and experience, it can be very difficult to make a choice but I’ve narrowed it down to some experiences which I found outstanding.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Villa Ephrussi is the wondrous creation of the eccentric heiress and art collector, Beatrice de Rothschild.
Completed in 1912 during the Belle Epoque, it was one of Beatrice’s homes and it housed her collections of fine art, antiques, monkeys, dogs and national treasures. Here you will find renaissance art, silks, chinoiserie, porcelain collections, vatican tapestries, salon des singes (a room dedicated to monkeys) and an exquisite little bureau which once belonged to Marie Antoinette.
The main garden (there are nine themed gardens) is a delight – every 20 minutes it comes alive with fountains and classical music. People’s gleeful reactions to this little spectacle are just as charming and heart-warming as the event itself.
While the villa is palatial and arguably decadent, it never exceeds the bounds of good taste (it’s not a Gatsby-style mansion). The audio guides give valuable insights into Beatrice’s world and her vision for her stunning holiday home. Equally stunning are the views which surround it.
Take the 81 bus from Promenade des Arts in Nice, departing every 20 minutes, and get off the bus at Passable. Ticket to the villa with audio guide is 14 Euro. While there, you should also take the time to stroll around St Jean Cap Ferrat and marvel at the views which are breathtaking.
Eze is a medieval, hill-top village with stunning views of the coast. You take the train to Eze sur Mer, followed by a short bus ride to Eze village.
You could walk from the station (ca. 2 KM) but you’re going to do a ton of walking when you get to the village itself so save your energy and your feet for the best part! Wear comfy footwear.
Like so much of this region, it’s a visual feast. There are lots of cafes and restaurants in the old stone buildings so you can dine and shop here if your budget stretches that far and you fancy a glass of wine atop this medieval village, overlooking the most incredible views of the aptly-named Cote d’Azur (Azure Coast). Yes, it is a commercial enterprise as well as a heritage site but it is tastefully done so that the site retains its character.
Provence wine tour
A real highlight of my second visit to the Riviera was my day trip with VidiVino, Provence. At 100 Euro for the day, this turned out to be excellent value for money in terms of time, the expertise and personal attention of our guide, the vineyards and wineries we visited, the (very generous) wine tastings and group size. Our guide, Erwan, shared both his knowledge and passion for wines with humour and ease. As a small group, we got to ask endless questions which were never dismissed, no matter how basic. He runs the tours with two partners and they take a maximum of six guests on the tour. Lunch is not included but you are dropped at off at a village restaurant where you can spend 20-25 Euro on lunch. (I had a main and a cup of coffee for 20, including tip.)
I’ve done wine tours and tastings before (e.g. Napa Valley, California; Maipo in Chile) but this was a far superior experience. From a traditional winery owned by a countess, to a maverick producer of natural wines in a charmingly ramshackle, quirky little winery where we tasted wines from the barrels, we gained unique and fascinating insights into the traditions and culture of wine in Provence. There is so much more to say about this tour but I don’t want to give any spoilers! https://vidivino.fr/
Monaco, with its casinos, yachts, fast cars, palaces, and royal family is, as might be expected, a tribute to wealth and its associated pleasures. Social conscience aside, if you are on the Riviera, Monaco/Monte Carlo has to be seen, even if just for half a day. While there is an ostentatious display of wealth around the casino and the marina, the old town villas are remarkably elegant and a pleasure to behold – rub your muzzle against the window and dream. The palatial Casino at Monte Carlo is open to visitors should you wish to take a look around – it’s free and well worth a look. Monte Carlo gets crammed with tourists during the day but – I am told – it empties out in the evening as no-one can afford to stay there. From Nice or Cannes, you can easily visit Eze and Monaco in one day by train.
Visiting St Paul de Vence was a priority for me but, sadly, I didn’t make it as I was ill. I missed it but I bet it’s unmissable too! Yet another reason to return to the Cote d’Azur.