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!
For a lovely easy day trip from Nice go to Villefranche. A pretty little place by the sea. Villefranche has a small old town with passageways and narrow streets to explore, a 16th century citadel and a Chapelle with frescos by Jean Cocteau. Cafes and restaurants line the sea front and there is a strip of shingle beach, which makes a change from the pebbles of Nice!
Easy to reach by bus on either the 81 or TAM 100 bus from Nice Gare Routiere. The 100 runs every 20 minutes during the day, so there isn't usually long to wait before the next one comes along. The jounrye takes around 15 minutes. The train also runs from Nice to Villefranche, but the timetables can be somewhat haphasard with hour or so waits between trains.
Would like to meet the wonderful medieval splendour of Eze or St Paul de Vence but without fifty squillion tour coaches darkening the sky?
Be my guest - Haut-de-Cagnes. Its beautiful.
From Nice Gare Routiere take the 200 or 400 bus direction airport/ St Laurent du var, and alight at Cagnes Ville Gare Routiere. From here every fifteen minutes a free minibus service will whisk you up the two kilometres to the Chateau Grimaldi and the uncommercial medieval fortified village of Haut-de-Cagnes. Here your adventure begins . Donation Suzy Solidor, stunning panoramas from the Chateau, twisting winding streets worthy of the Hobbit.
For more sights see my Cagnes-sur-Mer pages.
Take the train from the main station at Nice west bound along the coast to Antibes, about 15 minutes away. Here you can visit the marina full of beautiful expensive yachts. There is also a pretty old town to wander through. They also have a regular provencal market in the town selling local produce. You can also walk around the ramparts of the old town which run along the sea. Lastly perhaps a visit to the Picasso Museum.
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.
With the Italian border only a kilometre away, this is the Riviera's most Italian town. And with the Mediterranean's most favourable climate all year round, Menton has been a magnet for grand Victorian garden designers. Lemon trees and exotic palms grace the many public parks, whilst more formal laid out classical gardens are hidden away in private - some of which are accessible to visitors by arrangement with the tourist office, though often only in the months of June and July. Watch out for the "Jours de Patrimonie" in late September which gets you in to places normally closed to the public.
Just across the border is the magnificent Giardini Bottanici Hanbury set around the superbly located Villa Hanbury, whilst on the Menton-Garavan hillside there is the awe-inspiring Jardin Les Colombiers. Other delights include the Jean Cocteau' decorated Salle de Marriages and Cocteau museum. The cemeteries are a treasure trove of the last century history.
For more, see myMenton pages
Vence is a fortified busy market town with a medieval old town centre, some 45 minutes away from Nice via the 400/410 TAM bus from Gare Routiere.
Its perfect for those who like to wander through narrow winding streets of a different age, and a morning market suggests making an early start.
But Vence's most outstanding feature is Matisse's wonderous Chapel Rosaire, about a kilometre walk north west of the town. Here Matisse designed everything, from the priests vestments, to the awe-inspiring patterned stained glass windows. A uniquely moving experience, and its location allows you to take in fine views of Vence set in the valley.
A wonderful day out from Nice and really a 'must see', Eze is a lovely medieval perched village about 30 minutes from Nice. Full of little winding streets, smalls shops and resturants, and from the Jardin Exotique (you have to pay to get in) you get fabulous views over the coast and down to Eze bord de la mer.
Take the 82 / TAM 112 bus from the Gare Routiere in Nice. Website link for bus timetable: http://www.lignedazur.com/ftp/lignes/82.pdf
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
Another short bus ride, Route 100 from Nice JC Bermond (next to the old Bus Station in Jean Jaures) , will drop you off at the next town along the Riviera direction Monaco, of Villefranche.
Here is a restful and attractive little town with harbour, popular sandy beach, cafes and restaurants and a few historic sights such as Cocteaus inspired frescos in the Chapel St Pierre, the Citadellle St Elme, and the medieval rue Obscure
Visit Villefranche virtually
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.
Access from Nice to the principality of Monaco couldn't be easier - TAM 100 or 100X bus (1 euro), or train from Gare Nice Ville (around 5 euro), will have you in Monaco in less than a half hour.
Only 2sq km in size, population 3,000 Monegasques, 27,000 tax exiles (zero rate of personal income tax) home to the wealthiest individuals in Europe. The streets are spotless - litter-free - as it has the world's highest rate of policemen per thousand population.
In Monte Carlo you can marvel at the Casino, take pictures of people taking pictures of the casino to confuse them - or go inside, if you are appropriately dressed. The free public area of the Casino is limited to slot machines, but for a charge around ten euro you can enter the gaming rooms, though real high rollers only ever play behind closed doors. The luxury cars parked outside the casino are for effect, a permanent feature to add a touch of glamour to the casino.
If you are feeling fit for the climb, fantastic views can be had from the exotic gardens (charges, but worth it) and their collection of Cactii, high up on the side of the hill above Monte Carlo looking down over the castle and the harbour.
At Prince Ranier's palace you can see his amazing classic car collection (charges). Fabulous classics, only 6 euro entry
Dont miss the fabulous Musee Oceanographique, what should be one of the wonders of the world with its three story coral reef and shark tank. And there is a guided tour deep down into the underground caverns.
In the harbour you will often see some of the worlds most impressive luxury yatchs, like the Lady Moura - said to be the most expensive in the world at $100m. Very big boys toys these.
Walk around the town and count the Porsches, Mercedes, Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Lambourghinis, and the odd Reliant Robin .
If you hanker after Formula One and Grand Prix week the third week of May each year, bear in mind that everything by way of accommodation everywhere goes up 30 - 50% in price, that you can't see a thing anywhere on the route without paying for a ticket, the best of which come in at 300 euro for the day.
Join me to read the lowdown on the Monaco royal family, those wild child daughters, and the real Monaco
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.
However much every town tries, no-one acheives the celebrity magnet pull of St Tropez.
Hang around the harbour-front cafes, lurk around Hotel Le Byblos, if you can stay overnight the clubs are chocka with stars, everything around you screams glamour. Bear in mind the famous beaches like Pamplone and Ramatuelle are some distance away from the town - a fair taxi ride.
Hard to get to, exclusive, truly glamorous and ferociously expensive, a day in St Tropez is yours for the princely sum of 50-odd euros return and an early start from Nice Port. But make sure you book in advance, and arrive a half hour earlier than you are told if you want a good seat on the two and a half hour boat ride to St Tropez.
Travel sickness pills are recommended if you don't do boats. This is no wallflower cruise liner, it zips along at great speed and bounces over the crest of waves.
The only other convenient way to access St Tropez from Nice is by train to St Raphael, and a ten minute walk to the Batteaux St Raphael ferry services from the Port to St Tropez. There are a limited number of crossings each day and it is essential to pre-plan your train and boat connections.
(I know what youre thinking: why not just hire a car and drive there? Well in season, if you want to spend six hours in one long traffic jam, this is your big chance. Everybody who has tried that has come away with the words "Never again!" on their lips.)
In high season there are several boat trips worth considering - the best are probably the short trip to Monaco, and of course in the other direction, to the glamorous but not easily accessible St Tropez. There are also frequent cruises along the coast, for the less adventurous...
The Boats and ticket office are at Quai Lunel along the port. Expect to pay around 60 euro for the daytrip St Tropez. Its not cheap, but its a great experience, and you can't get easily get to St Tropez any other way as there are no direct buses from Nice and the famous town has no rail connection (The only other practical way is by train to St Raphael and then a direct ferry from the port)
The all-important daytrip boats tend to fill up quickly, so book tickets in advance. They start to leave around nine o'clock, but unless you want to stand for two hours, arrive a lot earlier! In both directions you will be regailed with the captain's commentary on the fabulous history and coastal villas of the rich and famous, and the view from the sea gives you unique access.