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Explore French Riviera in and out of Nice by car

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Plan to travel by car around the French Riviera with Nice as our base. What are the best sights? What are good budget hotels to choose from? Plan to have one hotel for the duration of travel.

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    If you want to travel by car Nice is probably not the best base. It is an excellent base to explore the Riviera by train and bus, but with a car you would have to deal with parking, and with getting in and out of town. Someone else can no doubt suggest somewhere, I don't drve in Europe. WRT your other questions click on my name for my Nice to Paris TR.

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    I had been about two dozen times on the Côte d'Azur and always had a car. There are incredibly scenic drives along the coastal roads and there is so much to see in the area.

    My personal highlights of the Côte d’Azur. I will rate them with zero to three stars:
    *** Nice – the biggest city in the region, but quite charming with boulevards and parks. The main reason to visit Nice are the art museums, especially the Chagall Museum of the Biblical Message and the picturesque old town – however the beach is ugly (large grey pebbles)
    ** Cannes – an underrated town with a spectacular promenade, the famous grand hotels (make sure to have a glass of champagne the bar of the Majestic), the yacht harbour and a pretty, sandy beach
    * Cap Ferrat - Villa Ephrussi Rothschild is an imposing pile of kitsch, but there are a few most beautiful beaches on the peninsula
    *** Monaco - many attractions on a small piece of land and the drive to and from on the world-famous corniches is also ***, do not miss *** La Turbie, a most impressive Roman monument with fantastic vistas,
    * Menton - not really necessary,
    * Ste. Agnes - nice village, but a bit out-of-way, you will find alternatives which are more accessible
    * Roquebrune Cap Martin - also not a priority,
    ** Eze – a perched village, however very touristy; it is a must to spend ten minutes to walk to the lookout, because it is right on the Moyenne Corniche,
    * Haut Cagnes - the olive museum is the main attraction, certainly not a must,
    ** Biot, because of the Leger Museum a must for lovers of modern art,
    * Antibes - a good place to make a base, otherwise a decent Picasso Museum,
    * Juan les Pins - a wide sandy beach but nothing else,
    Vallauris - not on my priority list,
    Mougins - a square with a few restaurants,
    * Grasse - if you like perfume,
    * Gourdon - one of the nicer perched villages,
    * Tourettes Sur Loup - another nice village,
    * Vence - the Matisse Chapel is the main attraction (a quick visit),
    ** St. Paul de Vence - stroll throught the village after visiting Fondation Maeght,
    *** Fondation Maeght - a must for modern art with a breathtaking sculpture garden designed by Joan Miro,
    *** Corniche de l'Esterel (the coastal road between Saint Raphael and Cannes) - one of the world's most spectacular coastal roads and breathtaking calanques (rocky coves),
    * Saint Tropez – used to be a picturesque village, now overrun by tourists, watch the people on their yachts, nearby spectacular sandy beaches (Pampelonne, Tahiti).

    Thursday is right that Nice might not be the best base if you have a car. Trafficwise, a base in the area around Antibes, Mougins, Cannes, Juan-les-Pins would be perfect for daytrips into all directions. Hotels in the hinterland are always less expensive than those with sea view.

    We always stayed on campgrounds (you can rent bungalows there!) in Agay. There is a huge hotel that spreads over several hills: http://www.pierreetvacances.com/fr-fr/fp_CEL_location-cap-esterel

    Or the charming little hotel France Soleil right on the beach (I think they don't even have a website).

    You may also check this one: www.hotel-cote-azur.com

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    We've vacationed for 20 weeks on the Cote d'Azur - staying in either Nice or St Tropez (with a few exceptions). Last year we stayed in Nice at a Pebbles Apt (near the Negresco hotel) for 2 weeks. We traveled by bus or train the first week and then rented a car for the next week. We obtained a weekly parking at a local covered/guarded garage for about 90E.

    By bus, we visited places east of Nice - Menton (one of our favorites), Villa Ephrussi Rothschild, Villa Grecque Kerlos. Getting to Menton we rode through Monaco on the bus. We had visited it before and really didn't like all the concrete, congestion, glitz. Just riding through on the bus was good enough for this tip. We also visited Villefranche by train. We took a train west to Antibes for the day. We had visited Cannes several times before - and it was not one of our favorites.

    The folloing is from my 32 page itinerary for the Cote d'Azur & Provence. If you would like the full copy - e-mail me at StuDudley@aol.com & I'll attach one to the reply e-mail. I've sent it to over 3,500 people on Fodors.

    Do all this by car.
    Nice Hinterland 3-4 days Stay in St Paul/Vence area

    Small coastal villages 3/4 day
    See “Corniches de la RIVIERA” in the Green Guide (under R not C) and take route #1 (Grande Corniche) from Nice to La Turbie*. Stop in La Turbie if you want to see the Roman “Trophie des Alps”* - but be careful driving – this is where Grace Kelly drove off the road & was killed. Then continue on to Roquebrune Cap Martin - Perched Village** NOT Cap Martin. If the weather is clear, the view of Monte Carlo from the castle is stunning along the way (castle itself is less interesting, but the views from the castle are fantastic). Roquebrune is a cute village with great views – walk through the town.

    Retrace your route a bit back to La Turbie, and then take D50 inland to Gorbio* . Walk through Gorbio. There are two cafes/restaurants at the entrance to Gorbio.

    Retrace your route towards Roquebrune, but take the D223 left/north to the D22, then the D22 north to Ste Agnes*. Ste Agnes is a very interesting village. There are a few artisan shops in town and a very large/popular restaurant in the village.

    From St Agnes, take the D22 west towards Peille and then the D53 north to Peille.. Explore Peille*. There are several cafes in town for lunch. From Peille, take the D53 south to the D21 to Peillon**. This is one of the most spectacular perched villages on the Riviera – have your camera ready. There is no commerce in the village, but explore the rabbit warren of streets & passageways.

    Take the D21 then D2204 back toward Nice & then get on the A8 freeway west toward Cannes. Exit the A8 at #48 – I think it’s marked as either St Paul or Vence. Follow the signs & D536 to St Paul.

    St Paul de Vence & the surrounding area ½ day
    Explore the perched medieval village of St Paul**. It’s probably the most popular small village on the Cote. Shops are always open (although we’ve never been there on a Monday). I advise people to get there by 9:00 and leave by 11:30 to avoid the crowds. It is especially crowded on Sunday in the summer season. We’ve stayed just outside of St Paul at Hotel Le Hameau several times & it’s quite nice – nothing fancy.

    Head north of St Paul on the D2 toward Vence. The “old section” of Vence* is quaint. Look at the map in the Green Guide under VENCE to locate the old section at the east end of town. There is a walking tour described in the Green Guide. There’s an underground parking garage under the large open space on your right, just before you get to the old section. There are several stores in Vence where you can buy Provence fabric (see write up about Provence Fabric)

    After Vence, follow the signs to Tourrettes-sur-Loup (D2210), which is west of Vence.

    Explore Tourrettes-sur-Loup*. There’s a parking lot on your left, just off the road - except on market day (Wed) when the market uses this lot. If it's market day, park in the lot east of town and take the shuttle from there to the old section of Tourrettes (available on non-market days also). The shuttle departs every 10 mins. Tourrettes is a real cute town. It is much more "spruced up" than it was 20 years ago when we first visited it. Many people may prefer Tourrettes over St Paul. There is an excellent view of Tourrettes from the D2210 west of town.

    Continue on the D2210 west & enjoy the Gorge du Loup** (see the Michelin Green Guide). Drive in the clockwise direction – D2210 through le Bar, then D3 to Gourdon. Explore Gourdon*. Like St Paul de Vence, it will be crowded & shops will be open on a Sunday & Monday. It is quite touristy. Continue north on the D3. From Gourdon clockwise to Pont du Loup, the terrain is very interesting - more so than the southern section of this loop. When you hit the D6, take it south back to Pont-du-Loup (this section is very scenic) & then retrace your route through le Bar and return to St Paul or Nice.

    Villages overlooking the Var River ½ day
    This route is difficult to follow if you are using the #527 map. Try to get the #115 map to make things easier for yourself.

    Some of the villages on this route are described in the Green guide under Vence – Excursions.

    The N202 follows the Var River inland from Nice. Several years ago the N202 was re-named the D6202 - but they are the same road and sometimes that's confusing.

    If you are basing in St Paul, head north & go to Vence. When you get to the intersection where the “old” village is to the right & Tourrettes/Grasse to the left, go straight to St Jeannet (follow the signs). It’s marked as exit # 3 on the Michelin green & red guides. There is a grocery store on your right just after you go straight through the intersection. Follow this route to St Jeannet. This is a pretty drive. St Jeannet is a perched village, and you will have to turn left to get up to the village. There is a restaurant, hotel, and grocery at the intersection where you turn left. Follow the road uphill – there are a couple of switchbacks. When you get to St Jeannet, park your car in the large lot & walk into town & explore. There are some good vistas. Just as you enter the older section of town (the first 100 yds from the parking lot aren’t attractive) there is a simple restaurant with outdoor tables & nice views – a good lunch location.

    All of the following villages are not "dressed up" for the tourists - just functional medieval hilltop villages which have changed little over the centuries. If you do not have a half-day to devote to exploring all of these villages on foot, my wife & I have put "ratings" on each village - the higher the number, the more we liked the village.

    Return down the hill from St Jeannet, & take the D2 to Gattieres 5. Park in the large lot just north of the main entrance into the village. - on the east side of the road. Walk into town, passing the Post Office and Mairie on an asphalt (in '14) road which soon becomes cobblestones. Find the fountain in a pleasant square & wander about 20 minutes in the village.

    Take the D2209 to Carros Village 7 – not the horrible modern town of Carros, unless you want to pick up a McDonalds hamburger (at the other end of Carros before you go over the Var bridge). When you get to Carros Village, access & parking is on the "other" side of the village from the main access road. Follow the sign just past the village on the D1. There is a great view of the Alps on a clear day. We saw snow in early June.

    Continue on the D2209 to le Broc 4 & explore this village.

    Continue north on the D2209. Just before the D2209 reaches the Var River & connects with the N202, go straight on the D17 toward Gilette & Bonson. Take the loop to Bonson 6 (D27). Make sure you walk up to the clock tower - great views. Drive through Bonson & continue on for a couple of kilometers until you reach the small road that goes to Gilette 8 (D227) & take it to Gilette, where it merges with the D17. This was our favorite village in the area. There are a few cafes in town. Take the D17 back to where you started the loop at the Var river/N202/D6202 intersection & then take the N202/D6202 north. To actually go "north", you'll have to drive over the bridge on the Var River, and turn right (south) and then drive a short distance to a roundabout where you can then head north on the N202/D6202

    Go north on the N202/D6202. You will see the town of Bonson perched high up on your left. Notice on your map that there is a road on the east (N202) and on the west side of the Var River. Continue north to where the two roads intersect, and then go back south on the road on the west side of the Var.

    Stay on the N202/D6202 south. As you follow the Var south, look to your right & see the villages of Carros Village & Gattieres that you visited. The best way back to St Paul is to follow the N202 & get on the A8. Get off the A8 near Cagnes, at the exit #48 that says either St Paul or Vence and follow the signs back to St Paul.

    I’ve driven through Cagnes dozens & dozens of times & I still get lost. If you want to visit the Haute de Cagnes*, take the D336 to Vence, and then when it joins up with the D36, head south to Haute Cagnes. Look for a parking garage on your left. It’s an “automated” garage where you park your car on a ramp & a door opens & then your car is sucked inside (without you) & parked on some kind of revolving track. After your car is parked, walk up the stairs & find the old section of Cagnes. There are some decent restaurants in Cagnes. We’ve eaten at Josy-Jo* (a Michelin 1 star) but didn’t like it. Cagnard seems too “upscale” for us, so we never tried it. We have dined at Restaurant les Peintres several times & have enjoyed it – the view is nice. This restaurant is on Montee de la Bourgade, where Haut Cagnes descends into Cagnes. There are several other “good looking” restaurants on this street. At the Place du Chateau there are several “pizza” restaurants, & it’s a good place to sit outside.

    Return to St Paul

    Deeper into the Nice Hinterland allow a full day
    There are dozens of cute perched villages in the area behind Nice. This gets you up into the “serious” Alps and driving to these villages is the best part - fantastic gorges and breathtaking views galore. Sometimes the perched villages offer a more interesting eyeful from the “outside” rather than from the “inside” maze of passages & steps.

    Get on the N202/D6202 (same road - re-named several years ago) following the signs to Digne . If you’re departing from the St Paul area, follow the route described in the Villages overlooking the Var section of this itinerary.

    When you reach the D2565, turn right and head up through the Gorge de Vesubuie** toward Lantosque. This entire drive is beautiful – you will want to get out of the car several times to “take in” the scenery. Explore Lantosque a bit. If my memory is correct, the best view of this town is from the north, a few kilometers past the village. Continue on the D2565 to St Martin-Vesubie.

    Explore St Martin-Vesubie* This is a very attractive town. It’s a good spot for lunch and there are several shops for browsing. It has a very interesting river that runs down the middle of the main street in town.

    You might notice that your green guide says that le Boreon is a ** attraction. It’s actually a starting point for many hikes into the higher mountains in this area and not really a “place” to visit.

    Re-trace your route back the way you came, toward Lantosque. Just before Lantosque, where the D70 hits the D2565 (that you are on) turn left on the D70 & drive to la Bollene-Vesubie. I have this town circled on my map, but I don’t recall if it’s a “get out & explore” town.

    Continue on the D70 & then turn right (south) on the D2566. Pass Peira-Cava (don’t stop). Continue on to where the D21 intersects with the D2566 & take the D21 east.

    If you don’t know the meaning of the French word “Lacets”, you will soon find out. There are 16 of them on this road. Take the D21 to Luceram.

    Explore Luceram*. This is one of our favorite towns in the area. Wander around as much as possible. This village is in a remarkable setting. If you think that you are in a deserted village, notice the number of satellite dishes perched on buildings. Be sure to walk up to the church for expansive views

    When you finish exploring Luceram, take the D2566 which heads west of the village – not the D2566 heading south. You may pass a parking lot close to town with an OK view of Luceram - but this isn't the view. Continue past this lot and also past the sign indicating that you are leaving Luceram. Drive on some switchbacks for about another 1/2 K. The town will disappear and then appear again. On the 115 map there is a "view" icon to designate the location of the view. After you experience this great view of Luceram, turn the car around & return to Luceram and then head south on the D2566 to L’Escarene.

    Explore L’Escarene then take the D2204 northeast toward Sospel.

    Explore Sospel*. This is another very cute town. There’s a little more commerce here ( good, not ugly commerce). The last time we were here, they were filming a movie & everyone was dressed in Medieval clothes. Oddly, they didn’t look out of place (which gave us a chuckle). Notice the buildings on the riverfront. Take time to explore this town thoroughly.

    Return to Nice. The best way is to retrace your route through L’Escarene, and then take the D2204 to Nice where you pass under the A8 and then loop to the right to get on the A8 toward Cannes. Get off at exit # 48 – St Paul/Vence.

    Villages we have visited that didn’t appeal to us, are Coaraze and Contes. A village we liked but did not include on this itinerary is Levens.

    Stu Dudley

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