One of the best things about travelling is that you are constantly in discovery mode. It’s highly likely that you’ll be meeting new people and exploring different places and flavours. And more often than not, the change in routine will give you the opportunity to learn something about yourself.
As it happens, I discovered something interesting about Scotty and I while we were on the road. It turns out that we aren’t particularly great at staying put. I’d guessed this when we were trying – unsuccessfully – to decide how to make the most of our nine weeks in France. We couldn’t choose a single town or village to base ourselves in. And so we chose to skip around all over the country.
But it was our visit to the Côte d’Azur that really confirmed our inability to stay in one place. During our week long stay we did four day trips from Nice. Four, I tell you!! By train! So much for relaxing in the sunshine!
Now in our defence, Nice is the perfect place to base yourself to explore the French Riviera. We realised very quickly that there was so much to see and do, it would be impossible to squeeze everything in. We resigned ourselves to the pleasant thought that we will just have to go back. Still on our must visit list include Antibes, Cannes and Eze. However, while we may have missed those destinations, we can certainly recommend the following day trips from Nice.
Four Easy And Excellent Day Trips From Nice
One: Experience The Mediterranean Coastline (And Stop In Saint-Tropez or Cannes)
If you want to see a snippet of the French Riviera from the water, I’d highly recommend you take a cruise. There are tours available, of course. We however, in our typical fashion, chose a Do-It-Yourself option and booked a return trip with Trans Côte d’Azur.
We could have happily stopped in Cannes. But instead we chose to take the boat for the full three hour cruise, all the way through to Saint-Tropez. That gave us the opportunity to really appreciate the ever-changing views of the coast line. And as far as day trips from Nice go, this was a special one.
Having landed in Saint-Tropez, we had time to do a spot of window shopping in the glamorous boutiques. And to visit the must-see Citadel on the very top of the hill, for some insights into the local maritime history. We also enjoyed a relaxed and delicious lunch. Yes, the time you have available in Saint-Tropez really does allow for a long lunch, as well as sight-seeing and a spot of shopping. On the topic of lunch, avoid the port side restaurants and head up the hill for your choice of lovely restaurants, at more affordable prices.
The Trans Côte d’Azur ferry leaves from Quai Lunel in Nice. It runs daily in the warmer months and on a reduced timetable during June, September and October. I recommend arriving early to choose your preferred seating (whether that be inside or outside) as the boat fills up quickly. You can book online, but note that you have to head to the ticket office to pay for and collect your tickets by 5:00pm on the day before your cruise.
Two: Climb Up To Experience Grasse’s Beautiful Old Town Or Head Down To Make Your Own Perfume
There was no way in the world that a perfume lover like myself could be in this part of the world and not visit Grasse. Generally known as the perfume capital of the world, Grasse is a must visit destination for fans of anything related to fragrance.
The big local fragrance names include Molinard, Fragonard and Galimard. All three offer visitors to Grasse the opportunity to make their own scent. You can also opt for guided tours that take you through the perfume making process, and explore museums that offer insights into the history of fragrance over the centuries.
But even if you’re not into scent, Grasse is still worth a visit. It’s old town with its narrow streets has a lovely feel about it. And the views from the top of the hill to the surrounding countryside are spectacular.
With all that is on offer, it pays to allow as much time as possible in Grasse. Which brings me to my next point…
One Mistake We Made On Our Visit To Grasse
We caught the train to Grasse. In all honesty, trains normally serve us very well while we’re travelling in France. They are regular, efficient and affordable. And they generally speaking, they drop you close to the centre of town. However, for a visit to Grasse, despite the train taking an easy one hour route from Nice, I recommend you visit by car. This is especially true if you wish to make your own perfume at Galimard and you want to maximise your time.
Why to do I say that? Well, the train drops you off in no-man’s land, right in between the old town and the area of Grasse where the perfume making workshops are held. Unfortunately that spot is also on the side of a massive hill. And your two destinations are not particularly close together.
This saw us climbing straight up to take in the beauty of the old town with its gorgeous views. We then crammed in visits to the Fragonard museum and the associated boutiques. We followed this with a trek to the bottom of the hill for the perfume making experience before heading back up the hill to catch the train back to Nice. The walk itself wasn’t necessarily a problem. But I was frustrated about the time I spent walking that I could have devoted to perfume related activities, if I’d had a car to zip around in. I’d also recommend you eat in the old village as the food options lower down on the hill were limited.
I’ll be creating a full post dedicated to our Galimard experience in Grasse soon, so stay tuned for a lot more information.
Three: Spend A Day With The Rich And Famous In Monte Carlo, Monaco
It seemed kind of amazing to me that we could be in the Principality of Monaco less than half an hour after our train pulled out of the Nice station. Having grown up in an era when Princess Grace dominated the covers of the magazines my grandmother read, Monaco had long been on my to-do list.
I can categorically say we are not big gamblers. But first stop on our itinerary was one most famous pieces of gambling related real estate on the planet. The Monte Carlo casino. We passed through security and took ourselves directly to the ticket sellers on the opposite wall. Here we handed over 17 euros each in order to pick up our audio guides and guarantee our entrance to the beautifully decorated salons. The fact that there wasn’t any gambling going on, and that you can take photos of the luxurious salons before 1:00pm were two of our prime motivations for visiting so early in the day.
My best tip if you want to visit the casino but aren’t interested in trying your luck? Get to the casino relatively early in the morning – ideally somewhere between 10:00 am and 11:00am. This will give you ample time to explore the salons almost entirely on your own. It was quite a magical experience. We explored the gorgeous indoor spaces – which simply cannot be compared to the dark and ugly modern casinos. We then headed outside the building to take in views of the Mediterranean Sea, before ducking back inside to grab a bite to eat.
Now, about lunch. Unlike many of the villages we visited on our day trips from Nice, food in Monaco isn’t necessarily budget friendly. I’d seriously considered heading down to the port for our midday meal in order to maximise our travel dollars. This was despite the fact that numerous famous eateries, including the Café de Paris grace the casino complex. However, after a proper read of my ticket, I realised that you could redeem your audio tour entry price on chipped potatoes (or chips of a different sort, if a flutter is more your thing) if you spent over 30 euros in certain casino restaurants. After checking the menu of Le Salon Rose I realised that the tour and lunch redemption combo actually provided very good value. As a result, we had a very elegant meal overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
Regardless of whether you choose to eat at the Casino (and assuming you don’t want to spend some time at the gaming tables), you’ll have plenty of time in the afternoon to take in the rest of Monaco’s attractions. For some that might be a spot of shopping at the high end boutiques that line the path to the casino’s entrance. Alternatively you might choose to go for a spin in a Ferrari. Many tours are offered, including a number that take in some of the Formula One Grand Prix circuit streets. Or fans of royalty might like to visit the Prince’s Palace of Monaco.
There really is something for everyone to do on a day trip from Nice to Monaco.
Four: Catch a Steam Train Through The Mountains
This is absolutely a great option if you have kids. Judging by what I saw when we caught the Train des Pignes kids big and small were having an absolute ball.
Running on Sundays from May until October, you can reach your steam train adventure via a ride on a very cute private railway. Operated by the Railways of Provence on a portion of the line from Nice to Digne-les-Bains, it’s a very scenic way to get to the Train des Pignes. One thing to note. This railway does not leave from the main train station in Nice. It’s station – Gare de Nice CP – is situated a couple of blocks beyond the Place du Général De Gaulle, close to the old Gare du Sud.
Day trippers join the steam train at Puget-Théniers. From there they get to enjoy the Provençal scenery as the train rambles through the pine trees, crossing charming bridges and navigating tunnels. Lunch can be had in the French village of Annot, where the train stops for a couple of hours before making the return journey back. If you are keen for a very different day out, you can find out more information here.
I know many Distant Francophile readers are regular visitors to the French Riviera. What are your favourite day trips from Nice? Be sure to share in the comments section below.
And until next time – au revoir.