Updated May 2022
The French Riviera, also known as the Cote D’Azur is a glamorous location in the South of France. And being only a 2-hour flight from the UK with pleasant weather and plenty of things to do and see, this iconic coastline, a favourite with the international jet set, was a perfect choice for a 3-night stay in France.
I booked to stay at the Hotel Victor Hugo in Nice as it was central to the other places I wanted to visit. With the transport system in the French Riviera being cheap and reliable I could travel to the millionaire’s playground of Monaco, the beachside town of Villefranche and the hilltop village of Eze on the train in just under 30 minutes.
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This 3-day itinerary for a stay on the French Riviera is based on using public transport to travel around. An alternative option is to book a guided tour which will include the locations mentioned in this article.
You may also be interested in some of the other day tours from Nice that you could add to your travel itinerary.
Day One – Monaco
Monaco Castle View Point
For our first morning’s activities on the French Riviera, we decided to catch the train from Nice and visit Monaco. We made sure to time our arrival in Monaco to witness the royal guards changing at 11.55 am.
Once out of Monaco train station make your way up to the Prince’s Palace and watch this ceremony which takes place every day, a great tradition to experience. We had witnessed changing of the guards outside Buckingham Palace in London and thought it would be a good idea to see it in Monaco, after all, who doesn’t love a bit of pomp and ceremony.
Our ascent up to the Palace was on foot, but you can also take the hop-on-hop-off bus or the cute tourist train that takes you around Monaco. Panoramic views of Monaco during the walk were sensational with plenty of places to stop and take photographs.
Watch Changing of the Guards at the Prince’s Palace
The ceremony began in the Palace square, a ritual that has remained the same for several centuries. The Palace has been the home to Monaco’s rulers for 700 years, and on each side, you can see cannons dating back to the 17th century.
Tours of the palace’s interior are available, though if on a day trip it will eat into your time. Nearby, narrow alleyways and pastel-coloured buildings invite you to explore them as you wander through the town.
How to lunch like a local in Monaco
If the prices at the restaurants in Monaco make your eyes water then take my tip: buy a flan or baguette from one of the food stalls near the palace and head to the Jardin St. Martin.
The garden is laid out in a series of pathways on the southwest face of the Rock of Monaco, we found a bench overlooking the harbour and ate our lunch there. What a view!
Visit Monaco Cathedral
Monaco Cathedral also known as St Nicholas Cathedral is right by the gardens and is beautiful both inside and out. It is the final resting place of the Grimaldi Royal family, most recently Grace Kelly and Rainier III, erected in 1875 on the first parish church site in Monaco, which dated back to 1252.
Entry is free to all with donations accepted.
We wandered through the gardens admiring the flowers, views of the sea and the many statues and artworks that were placed within the foliage. A peaceful place to take a moment for yourself, read a book, and escape from the city’s hustle and bustle below.
We carried on along the coastline past Monaco’s famous Oceanographic Museum and back to the town. It’s a long walk down, so if you can’t face it, you can use Monaco’s hop-on-hop-off bus or choose one of the previously mentioned options.
Visiting the Grand Prix Circuit
A statue marking the five-time Grand Prix champion, Juan Manuel Fangio is watched over by the Prince’s Palace. It sits on an intersection used during the Grand Prix when Monaco’s streets become one massive racecourse.
Watching it on the television will be even more exciting now that I’ve been here. The main promenade winds itself around the harbour with all the luxury yachts, but then Monaco has the most millionaires per head in Europe, so you can understand why there are so many on display here in the French Riviera.
Discover the glitz and glamour of Monte Carlo Casino
Constructed in 1863, the Monte Carlo casino architecture is in the Art-Nouveau style with stained glass, sculptures, and a gold and marble atrium. Gamble either in the slot machine area, a minimum bet of a euro, or in the more private ‘tables” area which demands a higher stake.
We bet on the slots just for fun and came out only a few euros out of pocket. With supercars parading around outside the casino, the luxury brands of Rolls Royce, Ferrari and Lamborghini all caught our eye and we half expected to come face-to-face with James Bond! If you fancy a spin behind a Ferrari wheel, book a driving experience and fulfil your dreams while on the French Riviera.
Monaco had been a fantastic country to visit and had shown us its wealth as well as its charm. It is small enough to get around in one day without feeling rushed, and we saw everything we wanted.
Day Two – Nice
Waking up to blue skies and sunshine on the French Riviera was the perfect way to start our day in Nice and we decided that today was all about exploring the town. Nice is a compact walking town and it is easy to see the most popular sights in one day. However, if you are short on time and want to have some time for sunbathing (because let’s face it that is one of the reasons people come to the South of France) there are several guided walking tours you could book.
Stroll along La Promenade des Anglais
Nice is one of the most beautiful towns in the South of France and in the 18th century, the English aristocracy spent their winters in this seaside location. Over time the English proposed that any beggars arriving in town should be made to work on the construction of a seafront walkway.
On completion, it was named “Le Promenade des Anglais” translated as “English Walk” and stretches as far as the eye can see with the ocean on one side and hotels and restaurants lining the other.
Discover the markets in Nice
If you enjoy markets, then one runs every day selling flowers and local produce and is located in Cours Selaya. On Mondays, it becomes an antique market, and in summer evenings, there is an arts and crafts market.
Stop by the iconic Nice sign
Stop by the “I LOVE NICE” sign before your climb up to Castle Hill. Take a photo and enjoy the view out to sea.
Head up Castle Hill
As we looked up at the number of stairs, we had to climb; we felt slightly deflated. It was a hot day, and we could see people stopping for breath on the way up.
We then spotted what looked like a door shutter in the rock’s corner, near the Hotel Suisse. On inspection, we found it was a free elevator that took you to the top and with spirits raised, we boarded and in minutes were on Castle Hill admiring the views over the town.
The Views from Castle Hill
Colline du Chateau, (Castle Hill) was the original site of the city, but there is no castle at the top, the citadel was entirely dismantled by the soldiers of the French King Louis XIV in 1706. Even without it, the hill offers unparalleled views across the city to the sea and is a quiet place to spend a few hours. Enjoy wandering along the pathways and stop for a snack at the café during high season.
Views over the harbour are impressive. The French Riviera is the epitome of wealth and glamour, and you can spot luxury yachts all around. I imagined what it must be like to own one and vowed to buy a lottery ticket once I got home.
Not everyone’s choice of somewhere to visit while on the French Riviera but I love the solace of a cemetery. To wander around, read the epitaphs and see how far back they date is so interesting, so when I found out that Cimetière du Château was on the hill, I just had to go. In 1783 a Christian cemetery was created after new laws prohibited burials inside churches. It stands in place of Nice’s old citadel.
The Most Beautiful Cemetery in France
From the 19th century, the oldest tombs feature some of the finest funerary monuments in Europe and are spectacular to view.
A Jewish cemetery was erected next to the Christian one, replacing the one used since the Middle Ages in central Nice. There is also an area for non-Catholics, created in 1845. Named one of the most beautiful cemeteries in France, in my opinion, it is a serene place to wander around and pay your respects to those that have passed.
Nice Old Town
Leave the cemetery and follow the pathway that leads down to the old town where you will find colourful houses lining cobbled streets, restaurants and lots of ice-cream shops!
Place Rosetti, the central square, is overlooked by Nice Cathedral known as Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate and was completed in 1699. Constructed in a Baroque style, it has a high altar and many side chapels dedicated to different saints. It is an impressive building and well worth a visit.
Eating out in Nice
A host of pizza and pasta restaurants line the streets, but we wanted something more traditional. However, it was a struggle to find anything not aimed at mass tourism, even with the assistance of Google!
We finally found a tapas bar in one of the converted fishermen’s buildings that line the area by Cours Saleya. Our desert was a giant macaroon filled with ice cream from Angea, which was both unusual and delicious.
Opera de Nice
At the end of our day in Nice, we passed by to admire the Opera House. It is a magnificent building dating back to 1885 and hosts operas, ballets and classical concerts.
In 1776 a privately owned wooden theatre occupied this site, but in 1826 the city of Nice bought it and set about rebuilding a brand new theatre. A fire raised it to the ground in 1881, claiming 200 lives after which the present Opera House took its place. A monument to those that were lost is in the Cimetière du Château.
Back in the newer part of Nice, you will find Place Messena, which is like the city’s focal point, and its centrepiece is a beautiful water fountain sculpture, Fontaine du Soleil (Fountain of the Sun).
Close by is the largest green urban space in the city, Promenade du Paillon. It is filled with fountains, a children’s play area, sculptures, and pretty informal garden spaces for Nice’s residents and visitors to enjoy.
Finish your day with dinner at one of the many restaurants in Nice or book a Nice evening sunset cruise on a solar-powered boat!
Day Three – Eze, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Villefranche
Discover the Enchanting Village of Eze
When researching for my French Riviera itinerary, the enchanting village of Eze was the place that excited me the most. Sounding almost ethereal, this 12th-century medieval village perched on top of a rocky outcrop looked like something from a fairytale.
The Romans and Moors had built it in this strategic location for detecting pirates who raided the country. For me, the mere mention of swashbuckling vagabonds turned it into something out of a fantasy and romance novel. Of course, the pirates are no more and over the centuries, it has become a quaint and attractive place to live and work. But could it live up to my grand expectations?
My plan to arrive early in the morning had worked as I had the place to myself rather than having to share it with other visitors. Arriving at 10.30 am, I wandered up the steep ramparts and entered the labyrinth of cobbled alleyways, only accessible by foot.
Wrought-iron street lamps, pastel shutters and flowering trees made everywhere feel magical, and I could imagine what living here must have been like all those centuries ago.
The church of Eze, built in the 18th century, stands proudly amongst the narrow pathways and although a relatively new structure, compared to others in the village, it is a focal point for the community.
Artisan Crafts and Cafes
It has a calm feeling to it and has lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Turn a corner, and you will find one of the many small galleries displaying original artworks. Enter through an archway and find an artisan shop selling unique creations.
Head up steep stone steps and arrive at a cafe covered with rambling bougainvillaea. There is no end to its beauty, and the charm and tiny wooden doors leave you wondering just who lives inside. Courtyards offer the serenity to sit, gather your thoughts and absorb your surroundings.
Experience the Natural Beauty of Le Jardin Exotique
A nominal entrance to the gardens rewards you with Mediterranean cacti, fruit trees and other tropical plants, as well as a variety of local species. Sculptures located around the pathways take your eye away from the glorious views for just long enough to appreciate them before returning your gaze to the mesmerising panorama.
Views and Refreshments at the Chateau Eza Hotel
Before I left Eze I stopped for a drink at the five* hotel Chateau Eza; I had been given a tip that the French Riviera’s view from the balcony was spectacular and how right that advice had been. I relaxed with a glass of chilled wine while and absorbed all the history around us, and if the walls could talk, they would have a story to tell.
Of course, to enjoy a setting like that does not come cheaply but guess what, I didn’t care because it was an experience worth the expense. I would love to stay at the Chateau Eza Hotel one day, with its unbeatable view of the French Riviera from its balconies and magnificent restaurant and have it on my bucket list. One can dream!
When it was time for me to leave Eze I was genuinely sad and I could have happily wandered around the village again as I am sure I would have seen something that I had missed the first time. Everything I had read about the uniqueness of Eze was true, and on a sunny day in March, I couldn’t have imagined being anywhere else.
How to get to Eze and other useful stuff
I caught a train from Nice to the station at Eze-sur-Mer station, which is a 15-minute journey. When I came out of the station, the bus stop was steps away, and I hopped on the no. 82 bus that whisked me up to the village.
Another option is to take the numbers 82 or 112 bus from Nice to the village. Remember that while the views will be breathtaking, it will take longer than the train. On public holidays and weekends, the number 82 runs on a reduced schedule.
There are restaurants and a tourist information centre at the base of the village, and a visit to the Fragonard Perfume Shop was delightful. I returned home with a bottle of “Pivoine” peony scent as a memory of my visit to Eze.
The sloped walk from the car park is quite uneven and slippery, as is much of Eze, so be sure to wear flat shoes with a grip to prevent accidents.
If you are interested in visiting Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, then the easiest option is to call an Uber from Eze.
Combined tickets are available for the Jardin Exotique and Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild from either property.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
This beautiful villa was constructed between 1905 and 1912 for Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild following her divorce in 1904 from Baron Maurice Ephrussi. It took seven years to complete due to Beatrice’s ever-changing demands on how she wanted it to look.
Maurice Ephrussi, 15 years her senior, gambled away his wealth and passed an illness on to the Baroness. This illness resulted in her being unable to conceive a child, and in 1904, a year before the construction of the villa, they divorced. When her father, of the Rothschild banking dynasty, died in 1905 he left her his fortune which enabled her to start constructing the villa.
Beatrice went on to create a private zoo within the gardens containing exotic animals from around the world. She continued to use the villa until the 1930s after which she bequeathed it to the Institute of France as a fine art museum.
Today the villa emits a happy and carefree vibe with its pink and white facade, ponds, fountains and well-kept gardens. Pathways meander around the property allowing 360-degree views of the coastline. Nine different gardens, inspired by Beatrice’s travels, give the garden colour and interest from flowers to cacti and palm trees to grasses there is a diverse range of planting all around.
Dancing Fountains and Gardens
A highlight of the visit is to see the magical water fountains in the French garden come alive. Every twenty minutes they dance to the sound of classical music, and with the backdrop of the pastel pink villa, it almost makes you want to twirl your way around the gardens.
It is such a pretty and photogenic place to visit that you won’t want to leave. If you head to the classical temple at the top of the French garden, it makes an enchanting point to view the Villa Ephrussi.
Before you look around the villa, you can enjoy lunch and refreshments in Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild’s dining room. The food is delicious, and the unrestricted view of the Bay of Villefranche is fabulous. If you are lucky enough to get an inside window seat, you will be the envy of all and in the summer months, enjoy refreshments on the terrace underneath the orange trees.
Inside the villa, you can admire artwork including furniture, tapestries and porcelain that the Baroness had collected over her lifetime. Wander through her private quarters and imagine what it would have been like to live there. Head to the upstairs balcony and look out over the gardens and water features and take away memories of your visit to the beautiful Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Opening hours of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
Gardens are open 365 days a year.
The daily opening times are from 10 a.m to 6 p.m apart from the long summer months of July and August when they shut at 7 p.m.
In the winter months of November through to January, it opens for the shorter hours of 2 p.m until 6 p.m and the tea rooms are open 2 p.m to 6 p.m from Monday to Friday and from 11 a.m to 5.30 p.m on weekends and bank holidays.
The last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.
How to reach Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
It is located 10 kilometres from Nice and Monaco.
By Train: The nearest station is Beaulieu-Sur-Mer after which a taxi would be the easiest option.
By Car: A car park is available at the property, and road access is by the lower cliff road.
If arriving from the hillside village of Eze then a taxi would be advisable as the route is difficult by public transport.
From Villa Ephrussi, we called an Uber which dropped us at the working port. Unbeknown to us there are two ports, and they are near to each other. Being dropped off at the wrong port didn’t cause a problem as a short walk around the edge of the sea, and we were at Villefranche, with its waterside and restaurants and colourful buildings.
We sat by the sea and ordered crepes and coffee while watching the small fishing boats bobbing up and down on the water. Villefranche has a beach, but as we travelled in March, the weather wasn’t warm enough for us to use it. The summer months are very different with locals and tourists spilling onto the beaches in the French Riviera. The train station that takes you back to Nice or continues to Monaco is located just above the beach.
My honest opinion of The French Riviera
What month did I travel? March
How was the weather? It was sunny and pleasantly warm.
Would I recommend the hotel? Yes. La Villa Victor Hugo was a perfect base in Nice to visit everywhere we wanted to go. It was a boutique hotel with a quirky interior. The hotel staff were friendly, and our room was a decent size with an all-important comfortable bed. The breakfast was good.
Would I recommend three nights in the French Riviera? Most definitely. I loved the architecture, colours of the buildings, coastline, views and the ease of using the train to get around. The flight is under 2 hours from the UK and so an easy European city to visit for a weekend.