Côte d'Azur, France: A month in Nice and beyond
Updated: Nov 5
There's a reason they call the southern coast of France the Côte d'Azur - there is blue everywhere! When we arrived for our month in Nice, we were ready to leave the reds, oranges, and yellows of Tuscany and embrace the brilliant shades of blue that are everywhere... the cloudless daytime skies, the crystal-clear waters that sparkle in every shade of blue possible, and the velvety evenings.
When we booked our apartment, we knew we wanted to have a view of the sea. And that photo here? That was our view every morning we woke up and every night we went to sleep. We stayed in the Port Lympia area, a U-shaped port surrounded by colorful buildings with mountains in the distance. From our balcony we watched the super-yachts come and go every day and made good use of our binoculars as we read boat names and looked them up to find out all their details. It was built-in, non-stop entertainment watching these beautiful boats. We also got to: See the christening ceremony of a new tug-boat, complete with French officials and a swinging Champagne bottle smashing into the hull; view a memorial ceremony for a storied French aviator from 1914, complete with marching band, military salutes and heavily armed security forces; watch in awe every day as 200-foot yachts flawlessly spun around and backed up into the tightest parking arrangements imaginable.
We could have stayed there all day, enjoying our apartment view and some French wine and cheese, but there was so much to do! We strolled the Promenade des Anglais every day (the sidewalk that spans the coast and beach of Nice for 7 kilometers), went swimming in the Mediterranean right outside our door, sometimes parking ourselves on the rocky beach and other times getting a lounge chair at one of the many beach clubs along the beach, and explored the towns that were a short train ride away.
It wasn't all sun and fun, though, we also visited the Matisse Museum, which had an amazing exhibit that included David Hockney's work, attended a match between Nice and Monaco to experience the insane football culture of the area, explored the small twisting stone alleys of Old Town, and enjoyed sunset picnics on the rocks. Heading to Nice? All of these things are absolutely worth doing!! Never been to a football game?
Don't be surprised by the fiery flares being tossed onto the field, the smoke bombs, the constant singing of taunting songs that (we think) mean "We will kill you and snack on your hearts, you are our sworn enemy and we want you to die!" in French, and the shirtless fans going crazy. It's so much fun! (even if Nice lost).
Nice has an incredibly vibrant nightlife. Outdoor dining at countless restaurants goes on every night, with after dinner strolls of the promenade until well after 1am. The beach volleyball courts hold matches every night under lights until 11pm through mid-September. The beach, only steps away from the bars and restaurants, is filled with friends and couples sharing wine and beer well into the night. And if you want to party until sunrise, there are more than enough clubs and pubs that are open until 5am.
One wonderful thing about Nice is the ability to enjoy lots of day trips to wonderful towns, and so we did just that.
Ville Franche sur Mer. Our first side trip was just up the road to the small beach town of Ville Franche sur Mer. And what better way to get there than to rent a scooter and ride along the coast the whole way! The thing about being in a country in which you only understand about 15% of what they're saying is that sometimes you miss a few words. For instance, when someone you're renting a scooter from says, "When you get to the tunnel, don't take it," you could hear, "When you get to the tunnel, take it!" Which is how we found ourselves not on the lovely seaside road but on the highway traveling beside large tractor trailer trucks...just us on our little scooter with massive trucks flying by. After about 20 hair-raising minutes of this we finally made our way off the highway and wound our way up, up, up into the mountains and then down, down, down to Ville Franche sur Mer. Was it worth it? The town was cute, but we preferred our next visit to a neighboring town even more - Cap Ferrat.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Just a few minutes past Ville Franche sur Mer, and jutting out into the water, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat had gorgeous sandy beaches, translucent warm water, and...a car show! Turns out, the Prestige Concourse d'Elegance was taking place so we got to view beautiful old classic cars and share in some free cocktails at the event's opening. Then it was on to the gorgeous beach (Nice's beach is covered in smooth river rocks, no sand to be found) and warm waters of the Mediterranean topped off by an amazing lunch. We really loved this small town and would definitely recommend spending a day here!
Eze. Next up: Eze, a medieval village that clings to a mountainside above the sea, just between Cap Ferrat and Monaco. No cars are allowed up there, unless you're staying at one of the hotels nestled among the stone, which we were. Our hotel, La Chevre d'Or, was like nowhere we'd stayed before, not only because it's built into the side of the mountain so rooms are scattered about the property where the mountain allows, but because it's comprised of multiple tiers of gardens and pools and terraces.
Also... there are the sculptures of animals in a park-like setting. Giraffes, lions, massive turtles, horses... it's quite amazing and surreal, and you can't help but feel you are in a sort of magical place. Just outside the stone walls and gates of the hotel was the town, with art galleries, small shops and a few restaurants to enjoy - and there's even a beautiful botanical garden at the top!
We also found this place a little magical because this was where we renewed our wedding vows on our eighth anniversary. For our wedding dinner, though, we turned the tables and went from stone and medieval history at the top of Eze down to the sea. We dined at Cap Estel, a stunning modern hotel, all white and blue and secluded on a peninsula beside the sea. The quiet location and dinner by the water were amazing and, if you didn't count the challenge of finding a ride back up to the top of Eze at midnight, we had a beautiful day. Definitely visit Eze, its just a short cab ride from Nice (or take the bus or train, but don't get off at the bottom of Eze, it's quite the crazy, long hike to get up to the top!).
Cannes. On to Cannes! We had high expectations for this town, and it delivered. The beach was the best we'd found so far, all pure white sand and water that begs you to dive in.
All along the Cote d'Azur the beaches have private beach clubs where you can rent lounges and umbrellas. The clubs also have restaurants so you can get service right to your lounge or eat/drink at a table. Once you arrive, there is no reason to leave except when you've had enough of the sun, sand, and water (and can you really ever have enough?). We picked a beach club with private showers so we could clean up before wandering the town after our beach day. Cannes was much larger than the small towns we'd visited so far, and it felt a little more congested. That said, it has great shopping and we still enjoyed exploring the restaurants and history of this place. We probably prefer the quaintness of a smaller town, but there was absolutely no better beach than this. Our day ended on a rooftop deck for sunset before grabbing a pizza and heading back to Nice on the train.
St. Tropez. We took a boat to St. Tropez (and couldn't get the song from the old Bain de Soleil ads out of our heads). St. Tropez is difficult to get to and can require a train and bus if you go by land, which is why we decided to spend our time on the water instead of on the rails and roads.
It was a great choice, because the two-hour boat ride was beautiful. While we'd hoped to experience the beach, they are pretty far from the town, so we just explored and had a leisurely lunch that day. We climbed to the Old Citadel, which includes the 17th century fortified walls that were intended to protect the town from attack. Then we wandered the streets...St. Tropez has pretty wonderful shopping.
After a gelato it was almost time to head back to the boat. Our thoughts on St. Tropez? Very cute town. Was it worth the travel time? Probably not for one day if your time is limited. If there was more time to spend, we are sure that the true flavor of St. Tropez would have been revealed and we could have lived the life promised in those Bain de Soleil ads!
Antibes. The last town we wanted to fit in before leaving Nice was Antibes. This small town is only about 20 minutes from Nice by train. We really wanted to see the Picasso museum in Grimaldi Castle, where Picasso set up a studio in 1946 before heading back to Paris (not sure why he left, the view from the castle is stunning!). Must say, we thought that the Matisse museum was much more interesting, but it was still worth it to see the master's works. Antibes was smaller than Cannes, not as much shopping or dining, but really cute and quaint. We would recommend visiting, especially since it's a quick train ride from Nice.
All in all, we loved our month on the Cote d'Azur. We went out for one last dinner to celebrate the end of our time here, and revisit all of our amazing memories while dining on a pillar of rock hovering above the sea. The day trips were wonderful and easy but we really enjoyed the little things... walking along the water, almond croissants from our local boulangerie, listening to live music at the Irish bar across the port, sitting on our balcony, and grabbing panini and some wine for a picnic on the rocks to watch the sunset. With so much beauty everywhere you look, it's easy for the really simple things to actually be the best and memorable parts of your time here.