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3 Night Stays / Europe / France

Discover The French Riviera in 3-Nights: The Best Travel Guide

The French Riviera is also known as the Cote D’Azur is located in the South of France, and this was my first visit to this Mediterranean gem. Only a 2-hour flight from the UK with pleasant weather and with offers of plenty do, this ticked all the boxes. My choice was to stay in Nice as it was central to the places I wanted to visit, and with the transport system being cheap and reliable I could get to Monaco, Villefranche and Eze on the train in just under 30 minutes.

If you would prefer to be collected from your hotel in Nice and join an escorted tour then A Half-Day Trip to Monaco, Monte Carlo and Eze may suit your requirements.

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Decorative SeparatorDay One – Monaco

Monaco Castle View Point

Catching the train from Nice, we arrived in Monaco to witness the guard’s changing at 11.55 am. 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.

The view from Monaco castle looking out over the harbour in the French Riviera

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.

Sitting on cannonballs outside the Palace of Monaco in the French Riviera

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 to the palace and head to the Jardin St. Martin. Laid out in a series of pathways on the south-west face of the Rock of Monaco, we found a bench overlooking the harbour and ate our lunch there. What a view!

The views across Monaco Harbour from the palace gardens in the French Riviera

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.

Monaco Cathedral in the French Riviera. Resting place of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace

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.

monaco

We carried on along the coastline as it took us back down to the town. It’s a long walk down so if you can’t face it then can jump on a 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.

A Grand Prix racing car monument located on the Grand Prix circuit in Monaco, 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, minimum bet a euro, or the more private ‘tables” area which demand a higher stake.

We bet on the slots just for fun and came out only a few euro 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 in Monaco.

The art deco interior of the Monte Carlo Casino, Monaco 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.

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Day Two – Nice

Stroll along La Promenade des Anglais

In the 18th century, the English aristocracy spent their winters in Nice. The English proposed that beggars arriving in town should work on the construction of a seafront walkway. 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.

view of the promenade Anglais

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 “I LOVE NICE” sign before your climb up to Castle Hill. Take a photo and enjoy the view out to sea.

The I Love Nice sign on La Promenade des Anglais in Nice, French Riviera

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.

Looking down from Castle Hill across the rooftops of Nice in the French Riviera

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 grab 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.

The view from Castle Hill of Nice Marina with a super yacht anchored in the middle of it, The French Riviera

Nice Cemetery

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 as 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.

The Cimetière du Château in Nice on the French Riviera

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 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.

The old town of Nice showing a building painted bright yellow on the French Riviera

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 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.

We agreed that Nice had so much to offer the day visitor. Its monuments and architecture were beautiful, and its parks and beaches were a joy to discover

The Opera Hall in Nice on the French Riviera

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Day Three – Eze, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and Villefranche

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 was waiting to be discovered.

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 such grand expectations? I would have to find out.

a narrow cobbled street in Eze

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 charm and tiny wooden doors leave you wondering just who lives inside. Courtyards offer the serenity to sit, gather your thoughts and to absorb your surroundings.

Table and chairs beneath a tree

Experience the Natural Beauty of Le Jardin Exotique

Le Jardin Exotique is at the top of the village with views over the coastline and across to Cap de Ferrat and is one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe. 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.

Le Jardin Exotique cacti plants

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!

Chateau Eza in the village Eze on The French Riviera
Balconies in the Eza Hotel

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. At 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.

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Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

It 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 to 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.

Woman standing by a pond surrounded by trees

Views from the gardens to the ocean

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.

Dancing Fountains

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.

view of the gardens at Villa Ephrussi
view of the garden at Villa Ephrussi

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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.

Last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.

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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 Eze then a taxi would be advisable as the route is difficult by public transport.

Villefranche Harbour

From Villa Ephrussi, we called an Uber which dropped us at the working port. Unbeknown to us there 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 on to Monaco is located just above the beach.

Fishing boats in the harbour at Villafranche on the French Riviera

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My honest opinion of The French Riviera

When did I travel? March 2019

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.  Hotel staff were friendly, and our room was a decent size with the all-important comfortable bed.  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 place to visit for a weekend.

 

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Read Next: What to pack for a 3-night break-An essential guide.

About Author

Angela Price

Angie is a full-time travel writer with over 30 years of travel experience. She has always had a passion for travel, and after a 3-month world trip with her 18-year-old son, she created her popular travel blog to share her adventures with a wider audience. When Angie is at home in the UK, she enjoys exploring the English countryside, visiting castles and gardens and planning her next big adventure. Her motto is "Live Life Wandering not Wondering".

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Annalisa Fran
1 year ago

Great itinerary for the French Riviera! It’s a bit out of my budget for now, but I hope to be able to take this road trip from Italy next year!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Annalisa Fran
1 year ago

We got great deals on flights and hotels but the pound against the euro is so weak that eating out proved very expensive.

Fae Celine Ong
1 year ago

Monaco is on my bucketlist. Your photos are really beautiful, I love all the colorful vibes. Your photos makes me want to visit there

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Fae Celine Ong
1 year ago

I hope you get there one day.

Yukti
Yukti
1 year ago

French Rivera is on my wishlist as there are so many colorful and quaint towns. I loved the stunning view from Monaco castle viewpoint. You have taken stunning photos.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Yukti
1 year ago

Thank you Yukti, the view of the harbour from up there was stunning.

Jenn | By land and sea
Jenn | By land and sea
1 year ago

It’s been years since I first visited Monaco and the French Riviera. This is one of the most luxurious places – I love how well you’ve captured the area!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Jenn | By land and sea
1 year ago

Thank you 😊 I loved it there. Going back in March to Cannes and St Tropez to compare the two areas.

Becki
1 year ago

So I’m reading through your article in a bit of a mesmerised daze. The stunning castle in Monaco, the harbour, the pretty lanes in Nice. This is all quintessentially all the best bits of the French riviera. I could quite happily visualise myself sat in all these places sipping a glass of vino.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Becki
1 year ago

It is such a beautiful coastline and yes a cold crisp glass of wine by the harbour is a must 😃

Sarah
Sarah
1 year ago

This looks an amazing break! Would never have thought of visiting Monaco (the cost terrifies me!) but your photos look so lovely. Been to France a million times but never to this part, looks fabulous. Time to start saving 🙂

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sarah
1 year ago

Glad you liked it. We weren’t in Monaco long enough to break the budget even though we went in the casino. Only slots for us 😃 a great area to visit and easy to get around.

Sinjana
Sinjana
1 year ago

It’s so beautiful and looks like you had a warm sunny weather. Great pictures.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sinjana
1 year ago

Yes we went in March and were very fortunate with the weather.

Sharon
1 year ago

The French Riviera looks so luxurious! My friend owns a tiny apartment in Villefranche — looks like I should go visit her!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sharon
1 year ago

You definitely should! I’m sure she would know plenty of hidden spots to show you as well as the better known ones.

Nancy Hann
1 year ago

Oh, this looks like an amazing place! I would love to go. Looking at that one ginormous yacht in the harbor makes the others look like bathtub toys. Wow! Thanks for all the great suggestions.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Nancy Hann
1 year ago

You are welcome, glad you enjoyed the post

Slavka
1 year ago

Ahhh, your article reminded me of my visit to Monaco years ago. It’s time to plan another visit 🙂 I would love to explore other cute places and small towns along the coat. Your photos are totally inspiring. I am bookmarking some of your Cote d’Azur articles for trip planning 🙂

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Slavka
1 year ago

Wonderful ! I’m glad you enjoyed my article. I hope you get to go back.

Carrie Ann | Should Be Cruising
1 year ago

I’ve never made it south of Paris when visiting France, but I’d love to see the French Riviera someday! You captured such beautiful harbor views, and I love that there seems to be greenery everywhere. Thanks for the tip on eating street food in Monaco. I can only imagine how expensive those restaurants must be!

WhereAngieWanders

The restaurants in Monaco made our eyes water so grabbing a snack with great views was a good idea. I’m going back in March to do a bit further along the coast in Cannes.

Natalie
1 year ago

How beautiful would it be to spend a week or two in an apartment overlooking the Monaco Harbour. A book or two and room service! Perfect 🙂

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Natalie
1 year ago

Absolutely! Such a lovely spot.

Wendy Lee
1 year ago

Your photos brought back great memories since my husband and I honeymooned in Nice. What a beautiful part of the world!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Wendy Lee
1 year ago

What a lovely place to honeymoon. Have you been back since then?

Emese
Emese
1 year ago

It’s such a beautiful place; it looks like you can do and see a lot even on a short weekend trip. Thank you for a thorough guide.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Emese
1 year ago

Glad you enjoyed it. It is amazing how much you can do and in just a few days

Jay Artale
1 year ago

We got as far as Montpelier on this trip, and couldn’t decide between Nice or Marseille – so we decided to do neither and come back for a separate trip and do that whole coastline – looks like we made a smart decision.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Jay Artale
1 year ago

I am heading back in March but doing the Cannes, St Tropez part of the Riviera and looking forward to visiting the many hillside villages in that vicinity.

Jan
1 year ago

I have never seen more of France than Paris and Versailles. French Riviera looks very tempting! I love small places like Eze which has some history, old cobblestone streets, cute cafes and beautiful gardens not to omit the stunning coast views! Good tips to explore this region. 🙂

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Jan
1 year ago

Thank you Jan. I’m glad you found my article helpful. If you get the chance I would recommend a visit.

Kristina
1 year ago

Eze looks especially beautiful, and more my speed than Monaco. Plus, I love that view! Thanks for the detailed overview of the area.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Kristina
1 year ago

You are welcome. Eze was a really magical place.

Sharon
1 year ago

If there is a place I look forward to taking a tour is the Grand Prix circuit. I am sure it will not disappoint.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Sharon
1 year ago

It is great to see it in person.

Julien
1 year ago

Such lavish lifestyles in Monaco and beautiful architecture in Nice! I’d love to explore some of the smaller towns along the French Riviera.

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Julien
1 year ago

I am heading back in March to visit Cannes and the many villages that are in the area. A beautiful part of the world.

Ann
1 year ago

I am going to France for the first time in may, to Paris. But I would love to do some more exploring around the country, and yes – the riviera, I would love to see that!

WhereAngieWanders
Reply to  Ann
1 year ago

I love it down there so much I’m going back in March to do Cannes and St Tropez. Can’t wait. Have you got Versailles and Giverney on your day trips to do from Paris. I have blogs on both of you are interested.

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