Ventimiglia: Friday Market
Friday morning's must-do excursion is the bustling market of Ventimiglia, a few kilometres the other side of the Italian border. Here you can stock up with cheapest parmesan, alcohol and cigarettes, designer label clothes ( - or remarkably similar copies!) Fake luxury branded goods like handbags and scarves, silk ties, lookalike rolexes, bags and pens are often on offer - but be aware the French Police are waging a war on "Contrefaction" - counterfeit goods, and confiscation and heavy fines can be levied, and cars are targetted att the border crossing.
This is one trip where you need the train, from Nice Gare SNCF direct to Ventimiglia. Be sure to get a seat on the right side facing the engine for fine views of coast as the train winds its way along past Villefranche towards Monaco and beyond past Menton and finally total 50 minutes journey time to Italy.
If you can't make Friday, the market moves on Saturday to San Remo further around the Italian Riviera coast. This is accessible in main season by a round boat trip from the port
If you are in Ventimiglia for lunch, cross over from the commercial side to the old town and head around the corner of the beachfront. There are some good and cheap restaurants along the seafront running in the direction towards San Remo.
Nice gives you access to everything Riviera
Once you have made the right choice of Nice, you have a wealth of attractions both in, and around Nice.
Within an hour you can be in Cannes, Monaco or Italy. You can be up in the perched villages of the arriere pays (back country), or wandering the cobbled narrow streets of the Medieval villages of St Paul, Vence or Entrevaux. You can be marvelling at the super yachts in Antibes, or lounging on the beach at Villefranche, shopping for fashion bargains in Ventimiglia, or celebrity-spotting in St Tropez. If you are up for a hike, the Grande Corniche from La Turbie offers peerless views over mountain and sea. Even further afield just manageable as a day excursion are Marseilles, Aix en Provence and Genoa. Corsica is just possible, but an overnight stay makes more sense.
What to see?
If you have only one day, most people's excursion of choice is a trip to Monaco. If you have time for more excursions, Antibes is a good second destination. To contrast those, a trip inland to one of the medieval villages is recommended - Haut de Cagnes, St Paul de Vence, Eze Village or Grasse, in order of preference.
If you're a "glitz" person, put Cannes on your list, or be prepared for lengthy travel to St Tropez, both at their best in high season.
If its a Friday, that's market day in Ventimiglia
If you are a "gardens and plants" person, head for Menton or better still the stupendous Hanbury Botanical Gardens at Mortola just across the Italian border. Closer to hand is Jardin Thuret at Cap d'Antibes or the Jardin Exotique high above Monaco. For the best of Spring roses the gardens of the monastery at Cimiez, or open midweek (not July or August) the vast gardens of Villa Eilen Roc on Cap'd'Antibes
If you do adventure sports the gorges of Gourdon are waiting for you. More sedate water fun for the family at Marineland, Biot near Antibes
Want perfect tranquility instead? The isle of St Honnorat, a short boat trip from Cannes.
Or the most stunning views on the Med? Put on your walking shoes and trek up the Grande Corniche to Fort Revere.
If you enjoy wasting money, want to spend the day staring at the exhaust of the car in front of you, and driving in ever increasing circles searching for parking, you're in luck. You can rent a car here too. However bus and train will also take you almost everywhere worth going at a fraction of the cost, and whole lot more fun.
The choice is yours. Off the beaten path has a lot to offer.
Perched village of Eze
A short bus excursion from Nice ( routes 82 or 112 from Nice Gare Routiere) high up the hills is the village of Eze, probably the most accessible of the so called "perched villages"
It features an interesting maze of narrow medieval streets and alleys, artists ateliers, tourist gift shops, and a large mediterranean cactus and tropical plant garden at the summit (charges) from which the view up the coast is astounding. Eze Village boasts two very luxe five star hotels - Château Eza and Le Chevre d'Or. The village is popular with coach excursions from cruise-boats that stop in Villefranche, Monaco and even Cannes, so don't expect to have it all to yourself.
The daily flow of tourists has attracted the two major perfume houses - Gallimard and Fragonard, who manufacture scents for all the top marques - to set up retail outlets at Eze.
The philosopher Nietchze apparently came here to think great thoughts, and there is a long and winding footpath attributed to him which leads down to the sea at Eze bord de Mer, which is also home to the large beachfront villa Eze les Roses owned by Bono, frontman of the Irish band U2. Don't be tempted by the signpost - if you are thinking to walk from the sea up to Eze the Sentier Nietchze a gruelling uphill hour and a half, and not for the faint-hearted. The reward is some fantastic views en route.
Nice Toponymy: Boulevard Général Louis Delfino
General Delfino wasn’t always a general.
In 1944 he was a fighter pilot at the Russian-German front, to become the head of a French Air Force fighter squadron later the same year. He was lucky to survive - less than half of them did, had a brilliant career and is buried at Caucade in his native Nice.
Other people may claim the French surrendered their capital without fighting and waited for the Allies to give it back to them. This is not the France we Russians know. For us France at war is mainly Normandie-Niemen, and we are proud to have them with us.
- Budget Travel
- Historical Travel
- School Holidays
The easygoing beach resort of Juan le Pins
Famous for its annual jazz festival, Juan le Pins offers an easy-going day at the seaside without the frenetic posing and pouting of Cannes or St Tropez. The beach is purest sand, and the venue has a wide open vista over the Golfe Juan. The town has been favoured by American visitors over the years, and within its small tourist area are lots of nightclubs and cocktail bars.
The beach restaurants have taken over large swathes of the area, and you will pay through the nose for sunlounger and shade, and the right to have grossly overpriced drinks served to you at your sunlounger. Still for some people thats their holiday treat.
Nevertheless there are still sizeable areas of public beach, where you can sit with a knotted hanky on your head for shade, and wriggle your toes in the same warm waters of the Med as the wealthy diners next door.
A simple thirty minute journey by train from Nice Ville (around eight euro return), or the hour and fifteen minute bus no. 200 - warning: sometimes a journey from hell - for only one euro.
Some 70 km away from Nice on the Route Napoleon followed by the Chemin de Fer de Provence narrow guage railway is the medieval village of Entrevaux. Three or four trains a day leave on the Nice-Digne route and Entrevaux is about an hour and a half journey, cost around 12 euro for the round trip. There are "age-discounts" which I found beneficial if not hard to face up to.
Entrevaux was a key regional access point in the middle ages and has a rich and interesting history. There is easily enough to keep you occupied for an hour and a half stopover, including a steep climb up to the fortification on the hiltop above, with fine views of the Var valley, a cathedral, a moto-museum, and mercifully few souvenir and T-shirt shops or coach parties.
Most visitors find the full three hours trip each way to Digne too much, and Entrevaux is an ideal compromise
Close to the airport is Parc Phoenix -whose large glass pyramid - the largest of its kind in Europe - holds fabulous displays of tropical palms and plants. From orchids to rainforest beauties. And in the grounds is an artificial lake, with terrapins and many varieties of waterfowl. The gardens are colourful and it is something a bit different, if you have had enough of shopping.
The highlight however is the indoor animal sections, with a reptile house where the "dragons " roam free within the enclosure, a section of creepy crawlies - spiders, scorpions and a slow moving chameleon, and a pool in which there are flat fish whose party piece is to float up and allow you to stroke their tummies.
For only two euros its a great half day out.
- Theme Park Trips
Church of Sainte Jeane d'Arc, Nice
Update April 2009: The church is currently covered in scaffolding whilst its exterior is renovated probably at the snails pace of French "work-schedules" ( arrive ten o'clock, kiss all workmates on the cheek, exchange pleasantaries make a few personal phone calls, by then its 12:00 time for two hour lunchbreak, put in a few token hours before knocking off for the day) - probably for the next year.
Seen from the Avenue Borriglione, this curiously shaped church is dedicated to Joan of Arc.
The design is controversial among local residents. It's called dismissively "the Meringue", reference to its white-ish color and puffy shape
The church was built in the late 1920's out of a relatively new material at the time - reinforced concrete. This allowed a multi--domed construction, creating a voluminous interior. The bell tower resembles a minaret calling the faithful to prayer.
Inside the church are paintings of Eugene Klementief - influenced by Russian Cubism and Orthodox icons.
It stands strangely at odds with the solid bourgeois and belle epoche styles around it, but entirely in keeping with Nice's tradition of eclectic eccentric architecture.
People are simply dying to get in here
Close to the Chateau are the Nice Cimitieres - one Jewish, one Protestant and one Catholic, though it's never been clear to me why the dead can't just get a long better and need their own separate plots. High above the city and commanding fine views you will find the curious grandeur of the baroque mausoleums and monuments of the illustrious old families of Nice.
As is customary in France, the history of the city is written in its streets named after its most prominent citizens, and you will find their tombs up here - Malusenna, Pastorelli, Gambetta, Garribaldi, as well as that of Jellinek-Mercedes, founder of Daimler Benz. (I know what youre thinking and his mausoleum is not in the shape of a car. This is not Beverley Hills)
As a general rule, the more powerful and wealthy, the higher and more grand the monument. You will also discover the Italian links from Nice's past from the names carved here. Most notably absent are the Medecin clan - Alexandre, Jaques and Jean, the latter two former mayors of Nice, and the origin of the name of the main street av Jean Medecin. Perhaps due to the reputation for dodgy dealings, they are buried elsewhere, in a little churchyard high above Nice at Gairault.
- Budget Travel
- Historical Travel
The French flag stands proud atop the fortification of the medieval village of Roquebrunne. For hundreds of years flags of a various hues waved here, as the political history of the Cote d'Azur evolved. Variously under the kingdoms of Sadinia, Savoy, and the Count of Provence, the borders of Italy periodically extended to the river Var beyond Nice, whilst the Count of Ventimiglia and powerful Grimaldi dynasty wrestled for mastery.
Now a densely packed mass of narrow winding streets and proudly restored ancient dwellings. To be reached by a fierce climb up a kilometre of steps from the main Monaco - Menton road, enough to leave you breathless but enjoying a fantastic view down the coast to Monaco and Monte Carlo.
Below the village at sea level is the large forested area of Cap Martin, dotted with exclusive luxury villas and estates. Famous for the little wooded cabanon of the architect Le Corbusier, who one day went off for a swim, never to return.
Also below in Cap Martin in the former Fairmont Hotel, now "Europe Village", is the headquarters of the Supreme Mistress Ching Hai, who heads a meditation cult under the corporate name SCI Skylove. The self-named "Celeste d'Amour", Ching Hai is a Vietnamese-born British petite blonde who figured there are enough rich and gullible people to support a luxury lifestyle here. To the disgust of other wealthy residents, the cult is passing home to hundreds of devotees from all around the globe.
Cap 3000, St Laurent du Var
A thirty minute bus ride from Nice just past the airport is the retail park Cap 3000, home to a shopping mall with a giant Galleries Lafayette, and more importantly, Galleries Lafayette Gourmande. A rival to Londons Harrods and Selfridges food halls but infinitely more reasonably priced. If you fancy a little continental shelf browsing and beautiful gourmet things to take home, this is a great little excursion, especially if you are let down by the weather one day.
Around the store are little eating spots so you can do lunch in style in the aisle. The selection of French wines is huge, especially rose de Provence. And there is a little corner for "produits Anglais" if you hanker for Heinzbaked beans or PG Tips teabags. The floor above holds a vast floor of fashion goods.
Next door are the many restaurants of the little resort of St Laurent itself. You can watch the planes landing at Nice airport in the near distance, and watch the kite-surfing for which this open and breezy spot is perfect.
Catch any of the TAM buses direction Cannes (200, 400, 410, 500) and hop off at the bus stop opposite the Cap 3000 (La Passarelle). Alternatively the Bus 52 from the Nice Gare Routiere goes direct to St Laurent de Var stopping at "Cap trois mille". In any case, fare only a miserly 1 euro each way.
Not open on Sundays!
Take a trip to lovely Moustiers
Only one and a half hours away is lovely Moustiers, nestled below rocky mountains that border west of the Gorges du Verdon - the 'Grand Canyon of Europe' nearby (also a lovely day trip or make a 2 day circuit to include that lovely drive and a visit to Moustiers and back to Nice).
I was there in February - the weather was nice and the spring flowers were out - and it was a lovely enough time of year to drive around and visit. In the summer is when the place shows its enormous popularity deluged with hordes of tourists - flocking to see the picturesque village with its quaint buildings with old stone bridges with waterfall and creek running down through the place.
Theres also the challenge of the 45 degree hike up to the little church of Notre Dame de Beauvoir above and a sight of a gold star that has been hanging over the town strung between two rocky outcrops.
And many go to shop for the pastel and pretty but expensive Moustiers faience (hand painted ceramics)
- Arts and Culture
- Historical Travel
- Road Trip
Le Train des Pignes to Annot
Most people come to Nice for La Cote D'Azur, or to go skiing in the Alps....but the mountains behind the coasts contain some magnificent areas for hiking/ bushwalking/ randonee. If you've the time we highly recommend it. At least, it's off the beaten path outside of July and August.
Take a picnic and lots of water. Take a map and follow it! Have a chat to the Tourist Office in Nice and in Annot.
Avoid in the summer months as it would probably be too hot up there then.
You can take the little train from Nice (Chemins de Fer de Provence) into the mountains right through to Digne Les Bains. Our favourite stop (so far) is Annot and Les Gres d'Annot.
A two hour train ride gets you there. Aim for an early one as the short walk is a good 3 hrs.
As you leave the station take the VERY first right hand turn under the bridge and voila, you are on the track. After the escalade sign the track takes a sharp left turn and you start your climb.
Take note of the yellow markers on various rocks and trees, following the few signs that there are to la Chambre du Roi and le Jardin du Roi. Magnificent sandstone/granite boulders amidst pine, chestnut, and birch trees (at least that's what they looked like to those of us used to eucalypts).
There is a little detour - well worth it - to Les Oubliettes. A "passageway" made from enormous boulders. This "exit" is replete with a large boulder balanced over your head. Following the track you then literally walk along the edge of cliffs overlooking from great heights, the valleys of the rivers Vaire and Coulomp. At other points you can see way off across the Alps.
Continue around, crossing little streams as you go. Eventually you'll coime to another forest and an opportunity for another detour- to your right. This will have you walking up a granite rocky face to a ridge top which provides you extraordinary views.
Follow the track through more boulders and forests and remember to take the path to Les Portettes....otherwise you'll be on an aditional four hour hike. Trust us, we did this (-;
Well worth it for the magnificent views.
- National/State Park
- Mountain Climbing
- Hiking and Walking
Cité de La Buffa
I gently called it "Cité de La Bouffe" ("City of the Food". Bouffe is an informal way of saying "food").
Cité de La Buffa is a covered market selling mostly food, from vegetables and fruit to fish and meat (prices are usually higher than the supermarket). Not many tourists here, because it's not mentioned in most tourist guides.
Unfortunately a lot of stands closed and the place looks dirty and shady. :(
The market has 3 entrances:
- On Boulevard Gambetta (two blocks away from Promenade des Anglais), almost hidden beside the supermarket Casino (behind the bus stop), If you see flowers outside that's the entrance).
- On Rue du Maréchal Joffre (beside the Casino Supermarket Fish Stall, almost on the corner of Boulevard Gambetta).
- On Rue de la Buffa, 54
Open hours: Everyday from 7 AM to 1 PM.
Notice: By midday, you will hardly find any fresh pasta left (at least where we usually buy our raviollis).
If you need any advice on where buying the best products in this market, don't hesitate to send me an e-mail.
- Food and Dining
take a bus to monte carlo
go to the bus station and pay for a rt ticket to monte carlo. it's cheap, buses arrive every 30 minutes or so, and it only takes 25-30 minutes to get there. if not just to see the spectacular homes along the way, the view is also stunning because the bus takes a coastal route and winds through the town of eze.
i hear eze is worth stopping for along the way...but i have never been.
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