The South of France: Hill Towns
There are a wide array of hill towns peppered among the inland portion of the French Riviera. In most cases it’s possible to see two per day as half-day trips which is what we ended up doing from our home base in Nice (you read more about our time in Nice here).
Peillon (30-minute drive from Nice) is a sleepy town perched on the peak of a rocky hill. There’s not much to do but wander its few cobbled lanes and enjoy the views from the main square at the top (and its beautiful, unassuming church). Further inland, Lucéram (35-minute drive from Nice, 30-minute drive from Peillon) has a bit more life to it—we even spotted a couple of children running through the streets playing war (a game we suspect is played by children of all backgrounds around the world)!
If you want incredible views of the French countryside, Gourdon (50-minute drive from Nice) will give them to you. The town is very small, but take your time walking through it in order to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of the stonework against the backdrop of deep blue skies and rolling hills. Grab some lemonade at La Taverne Provençale while you’re at it! Tourrettes-sur-Loop (40-minute drive from Nice, 30-minute drive from Gourdon) quickly found its way in our hearts with its multitude of flowers and plants and a playful kitty we dubbed Isabella. The village is renowned for its crafts and you won’t have to look hard for vendors selling little trinkets or works of art—keep your eyes out if you’re looking for a souvenir!
If you want incredible views of the Mediterranean from high above, Èze (25-minute drive from Nice) will give them to you. The town is not only beautiful in setting and construction but also very historical, having been inhabited for the last 4,000 years. The best way to appreciate its beauty and the views is to pay the small entrance fee (6€) to Le Jardin Exotique, set amongst ruins of an old chateau and home to a variety of cacti and other funky plants. Also worth a visit is Èze’s church and its quiet, relaxing cobblestoned square. La Turbie (25-minute drive from Nice, 10-minute drive from Èze) is a town most noteworthy for the Trophee d’Auguste—a monument built by the Romans 2,000 years ago to celebrate emperor Augustus’ victory over the area’s native tribes. We were surprised to learn that we could climb to the the top of the monument and even more surprised by the views at the top. From this vantage point you can see three countries in one panoramic view: France, Monaco and Italy. We headed to Fort de la Revère (35-minute drive from Nice, 20-minute drive from La Turbie) in search of even better views and we were handsomely rewarded!
Saint Paul de Vence (30-minute drive from Nice) quickly became another favorite of ours as it struck an ideal balance between charm and bustle. We enjoyed walking through the streets (L’Eglise Collégiale is a must) and also around the edge of the town (as it is with most of these hill towns, the views are breathtaking). Sitting above the seaside resort town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, Haut de Cagnes (25-minute drive from Nice, 10-minute drive from Saint Paul de Vence) is an attractive, small village with a cute church (Traverse de l'Eglise) that, in our opinion, paled in comparison to some of our favorites (or maybe by then we had seen a few too many hill towns!). That said, we had one of our best lunches of the trip here at Le Village (chicken wok and linguine with ham) which made the visit worthwhile.
The last hill town visit of our trip was to Gorbio (45-minute drive from Nice) and was paired with a visit to the Italian-flavored seaside town of Menton which will be covered, along with the other seaside towns, in the next post. The views of the mountains from the town were spectacular (you could almost taste the alps from farther north) and Eglise Saint Barthélemy was the perfect place to take a seat and reflect (and be sure to check out the unique tiling and clock on the top of the steeple).
While everyone loves a good hill town, we especially enjoyed the time we spent along the water. Coming up are chronicles of our visits to Menton, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat!