The global capital of perfume, a botanical garden perched 400m above sea level, a tourist railway deep in the backcountry, even a quirky micronation – these are just some of the quickfire adventures you can take from Nice. Here are the best spots to set your sights on.
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For some, Monaco is an aspirational playground; for others, it's little more than a concrete jungle. You have to visit at least once to make up your own mind. To soak up the glamour, head to Casino Square and the American Bar inside the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo. To experience Monaco’s more down-to-earth side (yes, there is such a thing), take a stroll through the narrow streets of the Rock – as Monaco’s Old Town is commonly known – before pausing for coffee or lunch in the busy Marché de la Condamine on Place d’Armes.
30 mins by car
An eagle’s nest wedged between Nice and Monaco and positioned more than 400m above the Mediterranean Sea, Eze is a medieval marvel. The cobblestone alleyways inside the walled village wind past trinket shops, cafes, restaurants and two five-star boutique hotels (Château d’Eza and La Chèvre d’Or). All paths, however, lead to the Exotic Garden, a serene botanical wonderland and the perfect spot to take advantage of town's high perch, where powerhouse vistas stretch to Cannes and beyond.
25 mins by car
Entrevaux and the Train des Pignes
You don't have to be a rail enthusiast to appreciate the rickety charm of the Train des Pignes, a tourist steam train with four daily departures from the Chemins de Fer de Provence station in Nice’s Liberation neighbourhood. As the track winds northwest, the glitz of the coast gives way to a hinterland of traditional, old-way-best-way farmland. Dignes-les-Bains marks the end of the journey, but about halfway along the line, the village of Entrevaux, with its centuries-old houses and imposing medieval citadel, makes for an excellent stop-off.
1hr 30 mins by train
Follow your nose to Grasse, a busy town high in the hills behind Cannes. While the much-snapped umbrella-lined streets of its historic centre are practically Instagram celebrities, its status as the perfume capital of the world long predates any photo-sharing app. Perfumeries such as Molinard and Fragonard offer behind-the-scenes tours, but if you really want to sniff things out, head the rose- and jasmine-filled gardens of Le Domaine du Mas de l’Olivine and Dior’s supplier of choice, Le Domaine de Manon, both in Grasse's countryside.
55 mins by car
Iles de Lérins (Lerins Islands)
For a taste of the nautical lifestyle at a fraction of the superyacht price tag, Trans Côte d’Azur’s ferry service will transport you directly from Nice port to the Ile Sainte-Marguerite, the larger of the two Lérins islands off the Cannes coast. The timetable leaves ample time to stroll along the pine-scented coastal paths and swim in clear turquoise waters which have made these islands a jetset favourite. There’s no public service connecting it with neighbouring Ile Saint-Honorat, however, so if you’d prefer to visit the monastery and vineyard located there, you’ll have to take the direct ferry from Cannes.
1hr 40 mins by ferry
Villefranche Sur Mer
Around the headland from Nice port (so close you can walk it if you’re in a sporty mood), the pretty harbour of Villefranche-sur-Mer is a classic Côte d’Azur scene: an explosion of colourful buildings cascading down to a boat-and-restaurant-lined port. On a summer’s day, the sunloungers at the very hip Les Bains Déli Bo private beach are hot property, as is the rooftop bar at Achill’s at sunset. Overlooking the bay, the impressive 16th-century citadel houses some lightbulb-moment museums and a shady, peaceful garden.
25 mins by car
Saint-Paul de Vence
The poppy colours of the French Riviera have inspired countless artists and writers, and to visit the beautiful walled village of St Paul de Vence is to walk in their footsteps. Follow their footsteps at the Fondation Maeght museum, which houses a splendid collection of 20th-century art, or La Colombe d’Or Hôtel and Restaurant, where the likes of Chagall and Miro often paid for their stay with paintings. Today, many of the originals that were traded as currency hang proudly on the walls, making the hotel one of the most unlikely fine art galleries in the world.
35 mins by car
Seborga is your quintessential Ligurian hilltop village with a twist: its 300 or so residents claim that it never became part of Italy in the country’s 19th-century reunification. Its German-born princess, Nina Menegatto, is leading the charge for independence – you might even spot her in Piazza Martiri Patrioti, the pretty square at the heart of the village. Once you've had your fill of diplomatic oddities (Seborga has its own flag, stamps and passport), have a debrief at one of the cosy bars and restaurants dotted around the city – the cosy Osteria del Coniglio is the best.
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