Here is another throwback to memorable trips in 2018, this time to the French Riviera. In late March last year, I flew to Nice and went on a 4-day solo trip in South France.
France is quite a big country. In fact, it is the 3rd biggest country in Europe behind Russia and Ukraine. Because of its geographical size, there are climatic differences within France itself. The northern part of France has a continental climate like many countries in Europe. French Riviera is in south-eastern France and has a Mediterranean climate, which includes hot summers, milder winters and less rainfall. Thus, Southern Europe is generally an attractive area to visit during the summer months or to escape the bitter cold during the winter.
Have you also noticed how close Nice is to Italy on the map? Due to its close proximity, there is a big Italian influence in the city. Italian is spoken here and many restaurants sell Italian dishes. You may even forget that you are in France when walking around Nice.
Nice is quite close to the two famous areas Cannes and Monaco. What really attracted me to visit Nice was the seaside and that I could easily visit Monaco from there. I covered all three places within three days. I really feel that you don’t need to join day tours to explore the French Riviera.
Nice is a highly popular French city for people of all social classes and is most famous for its seafront called Promenade des Anglais. 7 kilometres of pebble beach stretching from the Nice Côte d’Azur Airport all the way to the city centre is more than you can ever ask for from a stroll along the beach. You could just laze around all day to enjoy the breeze and admire the pristine sea.
Besides the promenade, Nice also has its fair share of culture, arts, food and shopping; everything you can expect from a touristy place. Most of your time will probably be spent in Vieille Ville (Old Nice) as this is where all the popular eateries, museums and attractions are. Vieille Ville is a 20-minute walk from the Gare de Nice Ville train station.
Open-air markets are one of the main draws in Vieille Ville as it brings about a different atmosphere compared to modern shopping centres. Cours Saleya market is the most popular market and they sell fruits, vegetables, flowers and antiques. It is a very colourful and fragrant market to explore. Do note that all four sections of the market are not always open at the same time. I believe the antiques section is the only section open on Mondays. The fruits and vegetables sections close much earlier at 1.30pm while the flowers section closes at 6.30pm.
To get the best panoramic views of Nice, you have to visit the Parc de la Colline du Château located on Castle Hill. There are many steps to climb to get to the top of the hill, but it is definitely worth your effort. Although the name gives an impression that there is a castle on top of the hill, the attraction is actually a large hilltop park.
Once you reach Port Lympia, there isn’t much else to see beyond that area unless you want to walk to Parc du Mont Boron, which is a bit too far to visit on foot. So stay within Vieille Ville or roam along the promenade. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to do in the area near the train station. Avenue Jean Médecin is where most people like to go for modern shopping. But why not visit the St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral near the train station? I find it to be a pleasant surprise as it looks strikingly similar to the iconic Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood in Saint Petersburg.
You should consider visiting other places in the French Riviera too. A day-trip to Cannes is a relatively simple journey to make. The average train journey between Nice and Cannes takes around 30 minutes. The entire shopping district is conveniently located in front of the train station. The first place you probably like to visit is Le Vieux Port to see the Palais des Festivals, host of the annual Cannes Film Festival every May. At least you can see the red carpet when nothing is going on. Then stroll along the Boulevard de la Croisette and admire the seaside and sandy (not pebbles) beaches. Or head the other direction and visit Le Suquet (Old Town) and go up the hill to get a nice view of Cannes.
How about a lesser known attraction away from the city? There is a medieval town called Saint-Paul de Vence that can be visited by taking bus number 400 from the bus station at Promenade du Paillon park towards Vence. It isn’t a large area, but I really enjoyed walking around the cobbled alleyways and exploring this quaint hilltop town. The scenery around the town is beautiful too.
Monaco deserves a separate section because it is technically a different country. Monaco is a sovereign city-state and the 2nd smallest country in the world. Just like France, French is the main language and euros is the currency accepted.
Monaco is known as a luxurious tax haven because its citizens are not subjected to any income tax. The most well-known and popular quarter of Monaco is obviously Monte Carlo, where the casinos and part of the F1 Circuit de Monaco are located.
The best way to visit Monaco from Nice is to take bus number 100 from the bus stop at Le Port. The 45-minute bus ride comes with views of the picturesque Mediterranean Sea throughout the journey. The very first thing I did in Monaco was to get off the bus outside the tourist office and get my passport stamped. You don’t need a passport to visit Monaco, but I wanted that distinctive stamp to show that I have set foot here before.
The tourist office is also located near the famous Casino Monte-Carlo. Obviously, you need to show your ID to prove that you are over 18 before going in. I don’t think there is a strict dress code, but wearing shorts and slippers clearly means that you are asking for trouble. I didn’t go inside as I felt that admiring the exterior of the building was enough. But from the customer reviews I read online, there is an entrance fee and then an additional fee to pay if you want to see the poker tables.
Monaco is not just about casinos. What attracted me to come here was the F1 street circuit. I spent a lot of time walking around the city to identify as many iconic parts of the circuit. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the iconic Turn 6 (Grand Hotel Hairpin turn). But if you visit Port Hercule, which is one of the most iconic sights of Monaco, then you would also visit a significant portion of the F1 circuit too.
Port Hercule is located close to the Monaco-Ville quarter. There are some popular attractions in this quarter like the Prince’s Palace of Monaco and Saint Nicholas Cathedral. There are also plenty of shops and eateries and you can get a really nice view of Port Hercule from here too.