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.
Chemin de Fer de Provence - the Train des Pignes
An interesting excursion from Nice is to catch the narrow guage railway train that runs the Route Napoleon from Nice to Digne. The starting station is a few streets north of the Gare SNCF. The full journey to Digne is over three hours each way, threading through magnificent gorges cut by the river Var, ultimately through the lavander fields high up in true Provence.
In high summer the diesel train swaps over to a real steam train for the second half of the journey to Digne itself. The name Train des Pignes means Train of the Pinecones.
Many visitors settle for half the trip, to the medieval village of Entrevaux, where an hour and a half stopover allows time to wander this fascinating historical little place, not unlike St Paul de Vence but without the tourists.
Catch the 9.00 train out of Nice and the around 12.00 train running back.- cost around 12 Euro. But leave plenty of time to buy your ticket - everyone in the queue will be quizzing the exasperated desk clerk in English about "can we do this" and "can we do that" and "do you take American Express"?
Villa Ephrussi, Cap Ferat
Another bus trip, Route 81 from Nice Gare Routiere (not Sundays) , will take you twenty minutes to the magnificent Villa Ile de France of the Baroness Ephrussi de Rothschild, on the Cap Ferrat. Open to the public (charges) here you can wander through one of the most beautiful villas in the world, set in seven themed gardens, located in the centre of the peninsula that is home to the most exlusive and private addresses in all Europe.
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.
Love to walk in the sky? :Grande Corniche
Nice offers access to more than just the usual Riviera towns. The Cotes d'Azur is host to six Parcs Naturelle, the most spectacular of which is the Grande Corniche. Soaring to 700m above the sea, twice the height of the perched village of Eze which it overlooks, the wildness of terrain and the breath-taking views to the Mercantour and Italian Alps are a world apart from the hustle and mass tourism of the Cotes d'Azur. Running from La Turbie above Monaco to Col d'Eze and below, it encompasses the quirky Astrorama - more stars to spot than footballers WaGs at Ramatuelle, and the worst people-watching opportunity of the Riviera ever. I saw one person in five hours. And they weren't worth watching.
La Turbie is the main point of access, a pretty town famed for the giant Trophee des Alpes - forty minutes via the 116 bus from Nice (new Gare Routiere St Jean d'Angeley/ Tram Stop Vauban) two crossings a day - 10:45 and 14:15) . The La Turbie tourist office is delightful and a helpful French conversation lesson thrown in for free if you ask ( Alternatively pay Villefranche Total Immersion Language School a fortune) They have free walking guides - "Randonnees"- that will take you east around Mont Agel to Roquebrunne and Gorbio, downhill to Beausoliel and Monaco, or west to Fort Reverie and Eze Village. Any choice gives you a two to three hour walk ending in regular transport to return you home.
This stuff is not for the faint hearted, but its not so hard you need to be Ironman. Just a healthy enjoyment of a little physical effort repayed in spades. Your own Carte de Randonnee (No 3752 OT -www.ign.fr scale 1:25,000 Nice/Menton ) is a good investment.
Note to photographers - these high altitudes give bleached skies - shoot RAW, adjust white balance to daylight and reduce exposure 1-2 stops post processing . A Polarising Filter is helpful too.
Note to motorists: its never too late to park the car and experience to pleasures of actually being here, and walking.
Queen Victoria's favourite destination: Cimiez
Take the Bus No 22 from Place Massena to Cimiez. See the monastery with its fine views over Nice, and then walk back towards Nice (downhill - thats why you take the bus up!) through the area of Nice that was the favourite of Queen Victoria and British royalty at the turn of the century - Cimiez. La Regina is now upmarket apartments.
All around are streets named after the Victorian royal family - Rue de Prince des Galles, for example - populated with grand villas. Also there are the ruins and antiquities where the Nice Jazz Festival is held each year.
A short walk brings you to the impressive Musee Matisse, and a grove of olive trees, where you can sit a while
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Day trip to Cannes
A day trip to Cannes is something easily undertaken from Nice. The fast train westbound takes only around 20 minutes. Once in Cannes you can visit the Old Town, Port, stroll along the Croisette, do some shopping. The beaches here, unlike Nice, are sandy. You can also take a great boat trip out to Ile Ste Marguerite, one of the Isles de Lerins, where you can visit Fort Vauban where the mysterious man in the iron mask was held.
To get there - take the train westbound, takes between 20-30 minutes.
A circular trip from Nice, on a budget, part 1...
...to Eze Village and Eze Bord de Mer in the same afternoon. This is a great trip out from Nice and easy to do on public transport. Eze Village is not really 'off the beaten path' - more a well-trod tourist hot spot but still pretty.
Eze Village is a tiny perched village 400 metres above sea level not to be confused with Eze Bord de Mer by the sea.
Following our expensive meal out on Friday, we were on an economy drive today. In the morning I bought provisions for a picnic from our wonderful local patisserie, M. Martinez on rue Cassini, by the Port.
There are only 3 buses to Eze Village on a Sunday and, laden with picnic, we caught the 112 leaving the Gare Routiere at 12 noon, from Place Garibaldi. It's about a 20 minute ride climbing eastwards and upwards on the middle (Moyenne) Corniche.
The bus can not go into the walled and pedestrianised Eze Village with its narrow mediaeval roads, so you are decanted onto a car park. Head up the road but nip right to get a free map and guide from the friendly tourist office and use loo. Continue back up to the village. Just before you pass the walls, you will see the huge wrought iron gates of Chateau Eza - Easter lunch today only 160 euros per person! The path home is to the left of these gates. (This was a circular trip out remember)
Wend your way through the village and explore and marvel at all its photogenic nooks, crannies, chapels and touristy shops. If you are broke, treat it all like an attractive (free!) open air museum. It IS very pretty - it would be hard to take a duff photo here unless a coach load of tourists got in the shot. There are a few places to eat, drink have an ice cream or coffee, that are not too expensive plus another pricy-looking place - La Chevre d'Or - Easter lunch here is 160 euros per person too. We were starting to feel hungry! At the highest point of the village, is the Exotic Garden, le Jardin Exotique. You can picnic here, there's plenty of space at the top, the views are wonderful - complete panorama. continued in Part 2...
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A circular trip from Nice, on a budget, part 2...
Eze Village - Eze Bord de Mer
continued from part 1
...Picnic was good; we were eyed somewhat enviously by other visitors, especially when I got the thermos flask out - a great British institution! The sun shone and we could have basked here all day. Entrance to the gardens is 3 euros each but free for children, small price to pay for uninterrupted views and a good picnic spec. The gardens themselves are neat and terraced, mostly cacti and succulents. According to my guide book, a 'must see' is the 14th century Chapel of the Penitents - not the large blue and yellow church dominating the view (tip - loos by the entrance to this church) but a tiny cream building.
To complete the circular tour, return to the gates (see part 1) and walk down the marked path - Sentier Frederic Nietzsche, named after the German philosopher used this pathway in the 1880s. The path is clearly signposted with yellow 'flashes' painted at intervals in case you wander off. It is steep in parts and steps, when present, are quite deep. The estimated time is 45 minutes down to Eze Bord de Mer. It is a pleasant walk but I wouldn't like to do it in the heat of summer. Several gasping groups passed us on the way up! We felt we had made the better decision, to start at the top and walk down!
When you reach the bottom you are in Eze Bord de Mer. Cross over to the beach or do as we did, turn right and walk a few metres up to the bus stop to catch the number 100 (every half hour) for Nice. If you walk past the bus stop, there is a road side cafe for a recuperative ice-cream while you wait for the bus.
This bus route uses the lower (Basse) Corniche road to return to Nice passing through Beaulieu and Villefranche before dropping us off at the Port.
The bus fare is 2,50 euros each per trip, the garden entrance fee was 6 euros, plus a picnic made for a cheap afternoon out with a lovely village to explore, a good walk to work off lunch and two scenic bus journeys. Most enjoyable.
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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.
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The Fort du Mont Alban
Not to be confused with The Chateau, the ruined Fort dating back to the 16th Century sits up on the top of Mont Boron, a short walk from the No 14 bus end of the line.
The Castle is derelict and to be visited mainly for its spectacular view Southwest over Nice and Northeast over the deep water harbour of Villefranche and the "fingers" of the Cap Ferrat reaching out into the Mediteranean. It shares the view with a telecommunications station, and Sir Elton a little way along the hill.
(It may be worth mentioning Eltons villa is wholly inaccessible and invisible from any public areas)
Lit up at night, the fort provides a familiar reference point on the skyline to both Nice and Villefranche.
- Castles and Palaces
Known as the Church of Saint Rita, this place has become a pilgrimage for single women. I read about in a guide book, which referred to Saint Rita as the patron saint of miserable, middle-aged women, and decided this was a must-do on my itinerary!
The church features archaelogical ruins on the exterior of the building, behind imposing wrought iron fences, with beautiful frescoes and sculpture adorning the interior. Enter on rue Benoit Bunico.
The shrine to Saint Rita is the first on the left as you enter the chapel. Go beyond it and walk through the doors on the left to reach the gift shop and buy a candle. Then go back out and light your way to happiness! Let's hope it works!
Walk the Cap de Nice to Villefranche
Choose a nice day (shouldn't be difficult) and comfortable shoes! Journey time two to three hours. Walk around the harbour and exit up back onto the lower road that follows the coast around Mont Boron ultimately to Villefranche via the Cap des Nice. Around Mont Boron you will see the frilly pink Chateau Anglais (now apartments) and other eccentric Victorian follies.
As you follow the Maeterlink road you pass more villas with astounding views out to sea and of the now shrinking harbour and The Chateau. If you are game for it, keep going full stretch around the coastal road untill you reach Villefranche. Along the way you will pass a roadside monument to Princess Grace of Monaco, actress Grace Kelly, who met her untimely end in a road accident above Monaco.
As you descend towards the charming village of Villefranche, you will be rewarded by fine views over the Cap Ferat.
Stop and enjoy a well-earned beer or coffee in Villefranche itself. Then to return to Nice, the TAM 100 bus (every 15 minutes) will whisk you back to the Gare Routiere in central Nice in fifteen minutes. Alternatively find your way to Villefranche railway station and (after an interminable wait) take the train two stops back to the Gare SNCF.
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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.
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Marineland for children
A nice place for children to visit, take the train to Biot from Nice and walk. Our son who was 4 at the time really enjoyed this place. Marineland is full of dolphins, killer whales, seals etc. At le Petite Ferme du Far West you can have pony rides etc. There’s also mini golf, water park and birds section. You can pay for each part separately, although when looking to go this year it was really expensive to visit each attraction! Park opens from 10am. Check their website as closing times varies through the year, as do prices.
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