This is a suggested South of France trip itinerary when you only have around three days in the South of France and want to thoroughly explore as many villages on the riviera as you can.
Nice is the perfect place to base yourself in the South of France as it is beautiful, central to everything, and the trains make it well connected. I stayed at Hotel Saint Gothard as they offered modernised, comfortable hotel rooms designed for solo travellers. It was close to the train station, within a 1km walk of the beach and I appreciated that the person on reception entertained my efforts to communicate in high school French rather than just switching to English!
Day 1: Nice
Visit Place Masséna
Walk to the end of the main shopping street and before you hit the azure sea you will find Place Massena with it’s checkered tiles, colourful buildings, famous Fontaine du Soleil and lamp sculptures.
Take a walk along the promenade
Whether you’re walking, biking, or pushing a stroller, the 7km long Promenade des Anglais along the coast of the Mediterranean is fantastic for people watching and admiring buildings. It runs all the way to the airport and there are interesting sculptures and seating areas along the way.
Swim at the beach
Nice’s beach is stony rather than sandy. There are a few beach clubs where you can pay for the comfort of a deck chair and umbrella however I found the public beaches to be fine. The water was delightfully warm and a good depth for a casual dip during the hot Summer evenings.
Climb Castle Hill
You can reach Castle Hill from the promenade. As well as amazing views over the port and Nice from the top there’s a children’s playground and an impressive man-made waterfall which I later realised was visible from the water quite a way down the beach.
A free elevator is available for those less able to climb however it was closed when I visited.
Explore the old town and markets
Nice’s old town is also accessible from Promenade des Anglais. It is made up of tall houses with shops and restaurants at the bottom and there are churches and squares. On six mornings each week Cours Saleya is an open-air market formed of stalls selling fresh produce, backed goods, spices and flowers. On Monday’s this is replaced with a flea market.
Day 2: Villefranch-sur-Mer and Èze
Villefranch-sur-Mer sits between Nice and Monoco, two stations on from Nice Ville by train. The beach at Villefranch-sur-Mer is idilic and elicited audible sighs from passengers on the train each time we passed by. I later learnt it is reputed to be one of the top five most beautiful bays in the world.
The village of Villfranch-sur-Mer is perched on the hillside and well worth exploring. As I walked around the narrow steep streets I was intrigued by the completely normal sounds of hairdryers being used and lunch being served and cleaned up from the medieval buildings.
I completed a loop walking back down to the port and along to the beach.
If you’ve still got the energy to walk further, you can continue on via train or bus to Èze and hike up to the hilltop medieval village for more stunning views from every street corner. Explore the Exotic Garden of Èze (Jardin Exotic d’Èze), visit the neo-classical church of Notre Dam de L’Assomption, wander the charming narrow streets and perhaps check out some of the art galleries.
Day 2: Monaco
Monaco is a must on any South of France trip itinerary and your first stop should be the famous Monte-Carlo Casino. If having a flutter is not your thing you can still check out the fashion, and the luxury car collection parked outside.
The Princes’ Palace
Hiking up the hill to the Princes’ Palace was a highlight of my time in Monaco. You can explore the streets of the old town, get stunning views down to the super yachts in the port.
The Princes’ Palace is a private residence which is open to the public certain months of the year however no photographs or photography are allowed inside. At 11:55am daily a changing of the guard ceremony is performed outside so you want to plan your timing to be there then.
Les Jardins Saint-Martin and Cathédrale de Monaco
The perfect climate for green trees, gorgeous flowers and members of the cactus family. The paved gardens wrap around the clifftop. Nearby, the Cathédrale de Monaco is also worth admiring and the two can be done in a loop, walking the gardens in one direction and the pavements the other.
Day 3: Antibes and Cannes
Heading in the opposite direction on the train, stop first in Antibes.
From the train station I walked down the port area, through the old town. Stopping at Antibes’ Marché Provençal is a must, I got there shortly after it’s 10am opening time and it wasn’t crowded. I also stopped for an espresso before following the sea wall to Plage du Ponteil for a swim.
Unlike many of the beaches along the riviera, the beaches at Antibes are sandy. I just grabbed a spare spot on the free beach but you could also visit a beach club.
The artist Jaume Plensa created Le Nomade, as well as the lamp sculptures in Nice’s Place Massena. It sits on a restored waterfront fort. Access to it is closed on Monday’s however this meant I was able to take a photo of it from a distance without the crowds.
If you’re an art lover or would prefer an indoor activity a former castle now houses a Picasso museum with 245 works by the artist as well as works by other artists.
If you’ve not been to Cannes then you must visit for all the glitz and glam of the French Riviera, you can reach it easily on the train from Antibes.
Having previously visited Cannes and Marseille on day trips from cruise ships, and Montpellier on a train journey through southern France, they dropped off my South of France trip itinerary as there were other villages I prioritised to visit.