As our flight descended onto Nice the little boy looking out the window next to me asked his dad if our plane was going to land on the water. His dad responded with a chuckle and quipped “I sure hope not.” Peering out the window over the boy’s shoulder I completely understood his innocent question. Nice is located along the blue Mediterranean waters of the south coast of France also known as the Côte d’Azur (the Blue Coast) or the French Riviera. Even the airport has waterfront access and the landing strip is just feet from the sea. By the way, this airport is also where Prince Albert of Monaco parks his private luxury jet and where Hollywood stars and the elite fly into for the Cannes Film Festival.
Nice is the poster boy for the French Riviera and an ideal starting point to dip your toes in the waters of the Côte d’Azur. But don’t spend your entire trip here. Trains will transport you to the nearby coastal towns with fewer tourists and less chaos to enjoy a more relaxing and authentic experience. My friend Shirley and I set up camp at the Nice Mercure Notre Dame and took advantage of the coastal train routes to explore a different destination daily.
Day 1 – Nice
We arrived in the afternoon and immediately unloaded our bags and headed for the sea. The Bay of Angels is stunning with its crystal blue water. A promenade hugs the entire coastline from one end of the bay to the other and is packed with cyclists, beachgoers, roller bladers, and runners all day long.
We wandered along the promenade until we reached Parc de la Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill), a former citadel that was torn down in 1706. We hiked up the winding stairs for this spectacular view of Nice and the bay:
Walk back down the hill and into the city opposite the bay and you’re in Old Town with its narrow, winding streets and colorful buildings.
There we tasted a Nice specialty called socca made simply with chickpea flour, olive oil, salt and pepper. My mouth waters just reminiscing about it. So delish.
Day 2 – Villefranche-sur-Mer & Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
Originally we’d planned to spend day two at the beach in Nice but after seeing the rocky shore overflowing with crowds we decided a day trip was in order. Prior to this trip, my French coworker had told me about Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a peninsula to the east of Nice that has a walking path around the perimeter. We took the train a short 20 minute distance to Villefranche-sur-Mer and walked to the start of the hike to see if it lived up to the hype.
As evidenced by these images, Villefranche-sur-Mer is a gorgeous beach if you’re not up for the entire peninsula walk, and it’s just down the stairs from the train stop.
The hike took us 3-4 hours because we stopped to enjoy the beaches and views along the way. I was so grateful we’d packed snacks and water because there weren’t many options to buy food or drink along the way.
Thumbs up to the map after completing our journey!
And this view nicely sums up the wealth of Cap Ferrat residents in case there was any question.
Day 3 – Monaco
For our third day in paradise, we bought train tickets to one of the world’s smallest yet most infamous countries, Monaco. The train ride takes approximately one hour from Nice and in my opinion half a day was plenty to see the highlights. These included the Monte Carlo Casino, the Hotel du Paris, and lots and lots of yachts and fancy cars.
Day 4 – Cannes & Antibes
For my final day we took yet another train journey, this time to Cannes. On the ride back to Nice we stopped off at the town of Antibes for one final dose of beach time before I headed back to London.
In Cannes of course we had to pose on the red carpet at the location of the Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately George Clooney and Ryan Gosling were long gone but a gal can pretend. Cannes also surprised me with its beautiful sandy beaches and quaint old town. I would have stayed for a night in Cannes if I’d known how much it had to offer.
To Do Next Time:
I have no regrets about our itinerary for the Côte d’Azur. Given four days I think I got a good overview of all that it has to offer. But like any fabulous trip, I always leave wanting more. Next time I happen to be in the south coast of France I’ll be taking a ferry to Saint-Tropez, making friends with a yacht owner, and taking the 7 minute helicopter ride between Nice and Monaco instead of the train.
Know Before You Go:
- Train strikes aren’t uncommon in France, arrive early to the train station to avoid lines and reserve a ticket for your daily excursions. You can purchase tickets in advance if you know your destinations for the week.
- You can stop off at any city along your train journey as long as your ticket is valid for that day. For example, you can use your ticket to Monaco to stop at Villefranche-sur-mer on the way there or back at no extra cost, just check train schedules so you don’t get stranded.
- Google Maps isn’t as helpful in this region, don’t rely on it to give you the best route. Ask the staff at the train station, your hotel, or any tourist info center.
- France’s currency is Euro
- A taxi ride from the Nice Airport to the center of town will run you around €40 for the short 10 minute ride. For a more affordable alternative consider airport bus #99 which only cost €6 at the time of this post.