Taking a road trip through southern France comes with its challenges. The roads are narrow and windy. You have to pay for the rental car, which is astronomically more expensive if you’re under age 25. You have to figure out paying for parking or finding free options — way harder than it sounds. But as much stress as the rental car brought Mal and I on our French Riviera trip, we still say it was worth it. So many places on our itinerary cannot be reached by train. And having a car made it easier to go by our schedule, too. There are an abundance of beautiful day trips in southern France, and today I’m sharing the best day trips from Nice, France.
This darling coastal town promises sea views and an escape from the hustle and bustle. And out of our entire trip through the Riviera from St. Tropez to Cannes and beyond, this village takes the cake for best meal. By far. Hands down. No ifs, ands or buts.
Mal and I stopped here for lunch on our way from Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild to Nice. We dined at Lou Bantry just two feet from the waterfront. I mean, we threw our leftover baguette to the ducks from our table. You cannot beat this location or views. And it wasn’t too ridiculously priced either.
I ordered the Niçoise Burger, which included basil, coppa, mozzarella and tapenade. Good lands! Rich flavor, exquisite taste. My mouth is still watering as I think about this meal. The restaurant also had the Nissarde Cuisine logo, which means it’s authentic Niçoise cuisine. (I explain what this means in more detail here.)
Distance: 4 miles, or 7 kilometers
It’s about a 20-minute drive. And there are 3-minute trains from Nice to Villefranche-sur-Mer.
Menton and Roquebrune Cap Martin
Mal and I really only had time to drive through Menton and Roquebrune Cap Martin, but they were both stunning as ever. In Menton, we walked along the beach and watched the windsurfers in this quaint town.
This spot is known for its lemons as is commemorated every February by Fête du Citron, or Lemon Festival. This event attracted more than 200,000 attendees and boasts 180 tons of citrus fruits.
We drove through Roquebrune Cap Martin and only stopped the car to take a photo along the road. But wow. It was absolutely stunning. Both Menton and Roquebrune Cap Martin offer delightful views.
Distance: 12 miles, or 20 kilometers
Driving from Nice to Menton takes about 30 minutes. The train from Nice to Menton takes about 36 minutes. Taking the train from Nice directly to Roquebrune Cap Martin takes about 30 minutes. It takes about 7 minutes to take the train or drive from Menton to Roquebrune Cap Martin. However, because Roquebrune Cap Martin is a peninsula, I’d recommend driving over trains. But you certainly could walk along the coast, too.
If you’re in Nice, you simply cannot forego a trip to nearby Monaco, which is technically another country. Whether you’re looking to soak up the sun or roll the dice, Monte Carlo’s glitz and glam is unbelievably close. Here’s a post with everything to do in Monte Carlo.
Distance: 8 miles, or 13 kilometers
It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Nice to Monte Carlo. And the trains from Nice to Monte Carlo are about 20 minutes.
This medieval village enchanted me so much so I almost teared up as we left because I just didn’t want to go. If there are castles, sea views and charm, I’m so there. And Èze checks all these boxes. When we arrived at this darling village, we parked our Peugeot and started walking up toward the castle ruins.
This medieval village is a labyrinth of cobblestone and windy paths, but the steps are worth it. There are shops and restaurants along the way to the top where you get sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea. Once you make it to the top, you have to pay to enter the Jardin Exotique d’Èze. Be sure to ask about the deal that includes both the garden in Èze and the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild nearby.
The castle ruins and exotic gardens transport you back to an idyllic, ancient France. Inhabitants first reached the area around 220 B.C., but the fortress wasn’t built until the 1100s. All that to say, this place is packed with history and views that will give you butterflies. I will 100% make it back to Èze for its charm and history. If you have to pick one of the best day trips from Nice, this one should be at the top of your list.
Distance: about 8 miles, or 12 kilometers
It’s about a 30-minute drive from Nice to Èze. The train from Nice to Èze take about 15 minutes.
Ever wondered about the history of perfume? And what makes France such a holy grail for perfume makers? Mal and I thoroughly enjoyed our time at Musée International de la Parfumerie. This museum walks you through the history of scent from thousands of years ago with the Egyptians all the way to today. It’s filled with perfume bottles, old and new, along with advertisements and even gardens. After reading a book about Coco Chanel, I found this museum even more fascinating as I knew the story and major success behind Chanel No. 5.
While the International Parfumerie Museum has an entrance fee, Fragonard does not. (I still wholeheartedly recommend the former as it’s much more in depth.) But when in Grasse, definitely take a stroll through Fragonard’s store and small museum nearby.
Mal and I chuckled when we arrived. Because the moment we got out of our car in a parking garage blocks away, we could smell perfume. Even with masks on. If you’re headed to Grasse, get ready to experience the world’s perfume capital in the truest sense.
And having the sweet tooth that I do, naturally, gelato was in order. I ordered some flavorful raspberry gelato from a recently opened tea room called Camélia.
Distance: 28 miles, or 45 kilometers
Both the drive and the train from Nice to Grasse take about an hour.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
French history fascinates me, and one major name to know is the Rothschilds. This Jewish family established a successful bank, enduring hundreds of years. And Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was created in the early 1900s and belonged to Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild. This woman loved gardens, and you could spend hours wandering through her many gardens with ocean views and flora from all over the world.
Béatrice collected a bounty of art including one of Marie Antionette’s tables and a rug of Louis XIV. After she received a large sum of inheritance following her father’s death, Béatrice began building her villa in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. She also casually beat out Léopold II, king of Belgium, for buying this land, according to the website.
And yes, she had a room for her pet monkeys, if you were wondering. And that room was nicer than any room of mine: past, present or future. The craziest part is that this was her winter home. She had other lavish abodes in Paris, Monaco and Deauville.
All that to say, you could easily spend a day here wandering the many rooms and gardens. Be sure to stop by the salon de thé, or the tea room, for a bite. Mal and I had a delightful spot of ice cream with even better views and the utmost class. As for best day trips from Nice, this was one of my favorites.
Distance: 6 miles, or 9 kilometers
It’s about a 30-minute drive from Nice to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Getting to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild by public transportation is a bit more complicated. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s tourism website recommends taking the Lignes d’Azur bus to Port de Saint-Jean. From Nice, it also recommends taking the TER train to Monaco-Menton and stopping at Beaulieu-sur-Mer. Then you’d need to take a bus to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. This would take about 35 to 40 minutes.
Southeastern France, especially near Nice, is teeming with idyllic day trips. As fabulous as the big French cities, do not miss the quaint villages and medieval fortresses with these best day trips from Nice.