The South of France: Coastal Towns
A visit to the French Riviera isn’t complete without seeing some of its coastal towns (especially outside of the larger ones like Nice and Cannes). Hanging out by the coast in a lazy village is the best way to balance visits to the area’s many hill towns as outlined in the previous post (here and here).
Menton (40-minute drive from Nice, 20-minute drive from the hill town of Gorbio which is where we came from) is a beautiful town just a 10-minute drive from the border with Italy famous for lemons and its collection of lemon-colored buildings. From its shore on the Mediterranean and ritzy harbor, the town quickly climbs up a hill which is topped by an attractively-landscaped cemetery with panoramic views. After a leisurely lunch at Le Martina (for a classic light Italian meal of ham and melon) we walked along Quai Napoléon III which offers the best sea-level views of the old town core.
From there we went upward, first to Basilique Saint Michel (with a quiet square perfect for resting your legs and cooling off in the shade) and eventually to the Vieux-Château cemetery where Britt ran into an old friend—it truly is a small world! After catching up, we continued on and eventually came to a rest at the very top of the cemetery where we took a long break with Rico’s parents to admire the setting and appreciate the little gifts and surprises that travel so often offers. On our way back down we stopped at a covered market and grabbed freshly-squeezed lemonade—the perfect end to our visit!
Our last full day on the Riviera started with a visit to Villefranche-sur-Mer (20-minute drive from Nice) which reminded us of a mini-Menton. The small harbor is picturesque, with the dots of white sailboats in the water against the backdrop of the yellow, orange and peach houses lining the waterfront. We stumbled on Église Saint-Michel after wandering through the tiny, crooked lanes and, just as we did in Menton, took the opportunity to relax and shield ourselves from the late-summer sun. We took a different path back down to the water and then hopped in the car to make our way to neighboring Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (30-minute drive from Nice, 10-minute drive from Villefranche-sur-Mer).
Saint-Jean is a wealthy slice of land jutting into the Mediterranean that offers, in addition to a cute town center, a non-strenuous hike around the whole of the peninsula. The hike takes about 90 minutes and was easily one of our favorite parts of our whole trip; there are times when you don’t see other people for quite a bit and it’s just you, a rocky path and crystal clear azure water as far as the eye can see. We went clockwise so we were greeted at the end of our hike with Plage de Passable which offered a much-needed opportunity to relax and cool off! This beach had much smaller pebbles and a shallower incline than the one in Nice which meant that it was much easier to get in and out of the water. And of course we grabbed ice cream at the snack hut!
Whether you’re looking for glamourous Riviera cities, picturesque hill towns with amazing views or sleepy seaside towns with a lethargically slow pace of life, the South of France has it all. We left knowing we’d be back someday—especially to see the lavender and sunflowers of Provence to the west—and also reminded of the immense variety that France has to offer. No wonder it’s the most visited country in the world!