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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Bates

The beautiful coastline of the French & Italian Riviera.

On the south-eastern coastline of France and the adjoining coastline of north-western Italy, is the famous French and Italian Riviera. This beautiful part of the world stretches from Toulon in the west (near Marseilles) and La Spezia in the east with the towns of Hyeres, St Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Eze, Monaco (which is a country surrounded by France), Menton, Ventimiglia, San Remo, Imperia, Savona, Genoa and, of course, the incredibly popular Cinque Terre. 

Cape Martin, French Riviera
A view of Menton from Cape Martin on the Cote d'Azur

There are crystal blue seas, cloudless skies, beautiful rugged coastline, and mountains with fantastic hiking routes. Every summer hoards of visitors come to this area to soak up the sun and to detox from the stressful lives from the workplace. Olga and I are regular to this part of France and Italy and we are always checking out something new when we go back. Let me take you to the top places which have to be explored (as a regular visitor to this part of the world, I will update it on new places and sites Olga and I have explored, if it isn’t listed on this post, its because I haven’t been there yet!). 

Danik and Olga in Hyères, French Riviera.
Here we are! French Riviera baby!

Hyères: Out of all the towns I have visited on the French Riviera, this has a very laid back feel to the place. Not as touristy as places like Monaco and Nice, its quieter, life moves at a slower pace, people still watch from their seats outside restaurants and cafes as the world goes by along the seafront and the beaches are not so packed. There is more of a market here as well selling quality fruit and vegetables amongst other things. Some of the buildings here are from the medieval times, however I wouldn’t have known that as they are so colourful and look more recently built. Just offshore and can be visited by boat which only takes about fifteen minutes are the islands of Porquerolles, Le Levant and Port Cros which makes a wonderful morning or afternoon trip out. Hyères is a perfect place to be based in the western part of the Riviera and is not too far from Toulon and Marseilles which lies to the west.

St Tropez is known for its glamour and glitz by the sea. Technically not on the French Riviera but had to include this in this blog post. Yes, it is over touristy but believe me, it’s still worth a visit. There may not be many beaches in St Tropez itself (visitors would have to go to the resorts further up the rugged coastline) but the boat trips into the sea is top of the list. Just to get some breeze off the sea during a hot summer’s day to cool down is worth paying the money for but also the boat tours take visitors along the coastline to the buildings where famous people and companies own (and use as their summer houses). Whilst doing this the boat was passing many expensive yachts and seeing men and women soaking up the sun rays whilst on deck. 


St Tropez was known for its fishing and a strategic location to defend France from their neighbours to the south-west, Spain, who love to bring their boats up along the coastline and look for a battle. After a while, once life quietened down, the village drew lots of writers and painters to the area. Well, why not, this secluded surrounding is one of the best places in France to get inspiration.

The village is probably now known for its most famous resident, Brigitte Bardot (and yes, she is still alive at the time of writing!) who was a famous singer, actress, model and dancer back in the 1960s who then turned into an animal rights activist. She does still have a home here and is sometimes seen walking along the beautiful streets of St Tropez. She came here in the period when St Tropez was turned from a sleeping fishing village into a ‘rich jet-set’ destination to take on other famous ‘must-see’ places on the coastline like Monte-Carlo and Cannes. These were the places where rich Parisian people would come down and soak up the sun rays and drink a lot of wine (or maybe some champagne).

Danik & Olga in St Tropez, French Riviera
A view of Saint-Maxime across the bay from St Tropez

Walking around the village, the highlight has to be eating a meal or having a drink in the old port. This is where all the yachts are moored and regularly see people dressed in their best clothes. However when eating here, make sure you have lots of money, it's more expensive than places like Nice, but if looking for a cheaper meal, just go a few streets back away from the seafront.

Cannes: Can you guess the main reason I came here? Of course, to see the building which hosts the annual Cannes film festival which takes place here every May (and that is a time of year where accommodation can be hard to get in the town). Palais des Festivals is where it happens but the building looks ancient and dated now, but that doesn’t take away the gloss. Olga and I did the Walk of Fame, however the red carpet wasn’t down. Standing here, I think of past winners who have walked the walk of fame and won the Palme d'Or, the top prize at the festival, the directors, the actors and actresses, and all the media with their flash photography lining up the walk either side. This was the closest I was going to get to be with the stars.


The seafront does have its glitz and glamour about the place with its four and five star hotels dotted about everywhere. However, away from the glitz and the razz, the sandy public beach here in the centre is one of my favourite places to be at. This is one of my favourite beaches on the Riviera despite it being in the middle of the town and it can be crowded here in August (the time of year Olga and I went), this is because the other beaches in the area are private and exclusive to the hotels along the seafront.

Walking around the harbour was one of the top ‘free’ things to do and see if coming to Cannes on a budget, and seeing all those yachts out to sea. From the harbour there is a boat tour visitors can take and sail across to the island of Sainte-Marguerite, one of the islands which belongs to the tiny group of islands which lies offshore from Cannes, the Îles de Lérins. Saint-Marguerite is the largest of the islands and is very popular during the summer season, attracting visitors to its natural bays and rugged coastline. This is the perfect place to go for a swim during the afternoon in the blue waters. However if swimming isn’t your thing, then hit up the ‘Fort Royal’ (small admission to go inside), which used to be a prison. The journey to the island takes about twenty minutes and once on the island, everything can be done in one afternoon. There is no public transport or cars on the island, so everything has to be done by foot. 


Nice, Nice, Nice, where do I start? Olga and I usually hit up Nice, the main city of the region, as part of every trip, even if it is for a day or two. Nice just has to be hit up for anyone as it has a bit of everything before moving on elsewhere in the region. A quick intro to why I fell in love with Nice. The first time I came here back in my mid 20’s (and I still remember the weekend like yesterday), I came here to see a concert with Lorie Pester (French female solo artist) and before I flew into the nearby airport, the concert was cancelled. Not sure why till this day but as I had flights and hotel booked up already, I still came to the city with my best friend. That weekend we checked the beauty of the city as well as a quick day trip to Monaco by train (to which we walked the whole length of the country!). I just fell in love with the area very quickly. I love the warm welcome by the locals, the fresh food from the sea, the charm, the architecture and those beautiful views from nearby hills and mountains. Ever since then I checked out new things in the area and even made new friends along the way. Even though I hate shopping and markets here, I actually do like doing those in Nice. I buy a lot of summer wear from the local clothes shops here as I prefer the style here to back home (that being the UK), and the flea markets are worth checking out. Nice, it just has it all. 

Vieille Ville, Nice, French Riviera
Vieille Ville - the old part of Nice

A bit of history. Yes, I love a bit of history when I go traveling but as a Francophone, I always love going even deeper into France’s history. Nice and the region is a little bit different compared to the rest of the country due to its location. Known to the locals as Nissa (or Italian, Nizza), the city since its founding in 350BC by the Greeks. They named the settlement Nikaia in honour of a victory over the neighbouring Ligurians (in present day north-west Italy). The city then became an important trading post along the coastline for the Greeks however there was a rival trader in the area, the Romans had a port in Cemenelum (which is located in the district of the city known as Cimiez, just north of the modern city and the old town of Nice). If you are looking for Roman history here, head to Cimiez as there are a few ruins. Afterwards the Romans, the Lombards (which had most of present day mainland Italy) conquered the city and claimed Nice to be part of the union. Seventh century came along and the city joined the Genoaians. Most of the history at this point puts Nice towards Italy, it became an ally of Pisa which at the same time pissed off the folk from Genoa. Eventually Nice then fell in the hands of Counts of Provence (which had the Pope living in Avignon) from the 13th century but eventually the city got cheesed off with them and became independent again (despite kissassing with Genoa again in the background).

I love Nice, on the French Riviera
The photo says it all.

Eventually the area gave up its independence and joined the Counts of Savoy (an area which had Turin and most of the very north-western tip of modern-day Italy) around the 14th Century. In the process, the Counts of Savoy told Nice to give up their local language and speak Italian instead. Eventually in 1543, the city was attacked by Franco-Ottoman forces (France and the Ottomans from Turkey joined forces), won the battle, took 2500 hostages and stole a lot of goods from buildings. Nice was on its knees. In 1600, the Guise family came to town (a very important family in France) and started to rebuild the city again. They opened up the port to allow all countries to trade through here to take goods northwards into mainland France and at the same time, brought in lots and lots of money. However this didn’t last long as the Counts of Savoy got cheesed off that one of their cities was making money and captured it again but this lasted for ten years before the French came in and besieged the city.

Monument aux Morts de Rauba-Capeù, French Riviera
Monument to the Dead of Rauba-Capeu - Monument aux Morts de Rauba-Capeù - Memorial in the old quarry cliffs of the castle hill, honouring Nice citizens killed during WWI.

It got all messy for the next 200 years, it was back in French hands, then Spain somehow got involved, then Savoy had it again, then the Kingdom of Sardinia, it was a little bit confusing when I was studying history. However during this part, parts of the town (which can be seen around the Old Town area of Nice) was being built. Peace was finally restored in 1860 as the Treaty of Turin was signed between Napoleon III (Leader of France) and the Sardinian king. This was the reward from Sardinia as the people in this region assist them in the Battle of Second Italian Independence against the Austrians (which also at the same time saw the Lombards unite with the Sardinian Kingdom which saw the first signs of regional unions uniting leading to the formation of present day Italy). At this time, the Italians living in Nice were not happy so they buggered off down the road and lived in stylish Italian Riviera towns like Ventimiglia and  Sanremo. Nice was now in the French Republic (modern-day France).

Vieille Ville - the old town of Nice, French Riviera
Vieille Ville - the old town of Nice

Walking around the Vielle Ville (Old Town) and along the coastline, there are a lot of buildings which were built in this period and can be seen. There is definitely an Italian feel to the air (not quite sure why, must be the history). Whilst walking around I noticed some of the signage in the local dialect Niçard. After finding out, this language was used in the city until France gained the city and has nearly died out. A lot of people in Nice do not speak this language and if there are people who speak it, it is very few. However recently the language has done a bit of a revival, as well as signs around the Old Town, one of the local television stations which presents the news in the Niçard language with French subtitles.

I mentioned the Vielle Ville, or course, and this is where I recommend a lot of visitors to the city to come and check out. The architecture of the buildings around here is stunning but the first place a lot of people hit up is the Promenade des Anglais (Promenade of the English). Not just because the English built it in the early 1900s (as there was a lot of English down in this part of France either working or just having a holiday and it was just the very wealthy people coming here like Queen Victoria) but for a city, it is one of the best promenades on the Mediterranean Sea. I love walking along on the shingle beach and listening to the sound of the water crashing against the pebbles. I also love taking walks on the pavement or cycling along the cycle track here. I tend to lose myself in thoughts whilst the sun shines on me. I have also walked from the Old Town along the promenade to the airport if I got the time to do it. Saves money and it is such a pleasant walk.

Along the promenade is the famous Hotel Negresco. I only mention this not because of the actual hotel but because I love the architecture. The red domes on top makes the building stand out from the rest. Built in 1912 it is now on the list of historic buildings of France. However, one day, I hope to stay here. I hear the five star hotel is amazing inside and has a huge crystal chandelier.

Hotel Negresco, French Riviera
Hotel Negresco, one of the most ironic buildings located on the Cote d'Azur

At the eastern end of the promenade is Parc de la Colline du Château which is situated on top of a hill overlooking the city (you can’t miss it!). From the promenade there is an elevator at the bottom of the hill which will take visitors up to the top and it’s free (well, last time I was there it was free). The park is situated ninety-two meters above sea level and this is the place to get magnificent views over the city and the Baie des Anges (Bay of the Angels). I love coming up here and just taking it all in. The park itself is a quiet place (unless it's August where thousands of Parisians as well as hordes of Europeans descend into the region...tourist season), and has plenty of shade whilst walking around. However the ruins of the Castle Colline are here and have stood ruined since the 18th century when King Louis XIV army destroyed it when the French wanted Nice.

Back down on the ground in the Vielle Ville, one experience I recommend is to have dinner on a warm summer's evening. There are plenty of restaurants and bars but my favourite places to hit up are around the street called ‘Cours Saleya’ (literally one block in from the promenade). This area is one of the best to find authentic French cuisine in the city. Also whilst wandering around, try some of the local ice cream. Seriously, I love ice cream from this region, it is so yummy.


Whilst walking around the streets of the Old Town, seeing the beautiful buildings whilst taking in the atmosphere (as well as doing some souvenir shopping), there is also the cathedral to see. The cathedral dates back to 1685 and is Roman Catholic. Go inside, it’s so beautiful however be respectful when there is a service on. Another place of worship to check out is the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church just on the outskirts of the centre. This was built in the early 20th century and is dedicated to the son of Tsar Alexandr II who died in the city after contracting tuberculosis. The building has green domes on top of the roof which are topped with silver crosses, you can’t miss it. Remember, no photos inside.

To the east of the Old Town is the area known as ‘Quartier du Port’, the ‘Port Area’, which is basically on the other side of Castle Hill and is located on the seafront. Can’t miss it, there are a lot of yachts moored here. In this area there is nightlife, restaurants and bars which the locals tend to hang out in and is not really known for having tourists coming here. To get a good feel of Nice nightlife, this is the area to come.


In the modern part of the city where it’s mostly shops and all the junk-food outlets, this area is still a good one to wander through. The main boulevard which goes through this area is Avenue Jean Medecin which goes from the Old Town to the train station. At the southern end (beach end) of the boulevard is Place Masséna which is a beautiful square dotted with small monuments, surrounded by beautiful buildings and has the Jardin Albert 1er to one side (worth a walk through). At nighttime, there is usually a lot of street entertainment going on here. I love the vibrant atmosphere at this time of day after a nice calm stroll along the promenade nearby.

Further north (you could get the tram which goes along this road but as Nice is a compact city, everywhere is in walking distance), there is the Notre-Dame Basilica half way down which is like the mini-version of that one in Paris (well, the front facade does). Worth going inside and checking out, it is such a beautiful building. Built in the 1860s in the typical French Gothic style, the Basilica is the largest church in the city, however, it is not the cathedral that is located in the Old Town (as mentioned earlier). 

Notre-Dame Basilica, Nice, French Riviera
Notre-Dame Basilica

Tips on Nice


  1. It can get a bit pricey especially during the summer months. If you are on a budget, spend your cash on the side streets away from the main touristy places like the squares in the new/old town or along the seafront.

  2. There are around 300 sunny days a year. Unless going in the winter months, a need for a coat isn’t really necessary.

  3. Nice is located near Italy so when it comes to cuisine, there is plenty of Italian food here, mixed in with the French cuisine. However there is a lot of traditional Provençal and Niçoise cuisine here such as the Salade Niçoise (salad stuffed in a light pastry with lots of olive oil used, it's very filling and tasty), Les Petits Farcis (which is a Niçoise specialty with vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini and stuffs them with ground meat, garlic and bread crumbs) and last of the Ratatouille, yes, it comes from Nice! 

  4. Apart from the museums, art galleries and other touristy sites, most of the top places in the city are free to see, like the promenade, beach, castle hill etc. Nice for sightseeing can actually be budget friendly. 

  5. If you plan to save money eating out, then I would say eat out at lunchtime and have the set menu. These are usually a lot cheaper than eating out at night time where the food can be nearly double the price. (Then at night check out the street food or snack food to keep yourselves going).

  6. Nice is an all-year round destination (again due to the sunshine) however for the real summer vibes, anytime between May and September is the best time. However the drawback of this is that most of Paris comes to this area in August and so do a lot of Europeans, so it will be crowded and hotel prices do go up. Then a lot of the hotels don’t even have air conditioning, so be warned!

  7.  If visitors are looking to do the museums, art galleries etc, then I would recommend purchasing the French Riviera Pass. This includes around sixty places like the local aquarium or a tour of the football stadium here, all for a reasonable price.


Overlooking the bay at Villefranche-sur-mer

Villefranche-sur-mer: One of the most colourful small towns we have come across is located here. A very short train ride from nearby Nice, the main beach of Plage des Marinieres is one of our all time favourites in France, it's a lot sandier than the pebble beaches found elsewhere in the region and has crystal blue clear water which makes this ideal for swimming. The bay curves around and has great views of the colourful houses of the old town which overlooks. I noticed a lot of yachts in the bay and this is because Villefranche-sur-mer has one of the deepest harbours on the coast.  

La Turbie. A lot of people will have never heard of this place unless they know their Cote d’Azur knowledge. La Turbie (Turbia in Italian) has a lot of Roman history with its famous monument ‘The Tropaeum Alpium’ or in English: 'The Trophy of the Alps’. However we didn’t come here to go for the history (maybe another day as time was short) but after finding a car parking space near the fire station (this village gets really busy during the summer months), we took in the view towards the sea nearby. La Turbie is located on the mountain side so it is quite high up and the views overlooking Monaco are just totally amazing. We spent quite a bit of time in the end up here just taking it all in. It’s probably one of the only places in the world where visitors can get a view and overlook a whole country (and we mean, ‘the WHOLE country!’). With its surrounding mountains and sea views, this is one of the best views we have come across in France.

Down below is Monaco, which is one of those countries which is visited for the glamour, the nightlife, the boats, chilling out by the sea whilst sipping a glass of the local bubbly but for me it was a chance to walk the whole length of a country and check out the local sights at the same time. What’s that you say? A whole length of a country? Yes, with all the stops etc, I walked the whole length in about five hours but if I did it non-stop, the walk would have taken me about one hour and thirty minutes. You see, the principality of Monaco is the second smallest independent state in the world (the smallest being the Vatican City) and is surrounded by France on the Cote d’Azur (Italy lies a few kilometers to the east). The following is about my first trip to Monaco and how I walked the whole length of the coastline. 

Welcome to Monaco, French Riviera

Arriving in Monaco by train (which has great connections to nearby Menton, Nice and Cannes along the French Riviera buy train and car), I made my way to the Stade Louis II, a football stadium on the Western border of the country in a small area called Fontvieille. To understand Monaco better, the country is divided up into four quarters, Fontvieille in the west (which is mostly light industry and recreational area), Monaco-Ville (the old city and also the capital), Monte-Carlo (mostly business but where the famous port is), and Condamine (another area on the hill side which is very urban but for this walk, I didn’t touch the area). Just another fact before I write the walk, Monaco is six times larger than the Vatican City (which is the world’s smallest state) and is the world’s most densely populated country. There are apartment blocks everywhere (as well as yachts of course).

Monaco, French Riviera
Getting my bearings in the world's second smallest country

The football stadium is home to Monaco Football Club who play in the French league. They are a club side and do not have an international side (they did for about six years recently but didn’t play at any international tournaments like the European Championships or the FIFA World Cup, however playing friendly games against sides like Tibet, Vatican City and Kosovo. From here the walk took me eastwards passing the port of Fontvieille where I checked out yachts of all different shapes and sizes and of course, from the cheap tacky ones to the right upmarket expensive floaters.

Monaco v LOSC - August 2018, French Riviera
Watching my team Lille (LOSC) play at Monaco in Ligue 1

Following the coastline and walking along the Boulevard Charles II until arriving at a roundabout, there is a cobbled path which goes up a hill (called the Ramp de la Major). Now it’s not really ideal for those who can’t walk right or have wheelchairs etc but nearby there is an elevator to take visitors to the top (just ask a local to find it, I never did find it and have been here many times!). The walk is a steep climb with many passing places and viewpoints along the way and this will take visitors to the old city of Monaco.

Monaco, French Riviera
Found a huge picture frame on Ramp de la Major

At the top the first view is of the amazing Royal Palace (Le Palais des Princes de Monaco) where if visitors are lucky can go around the palace on a guided tour. The Royal Family still do live here but most of the time are likely to be getting drunk on their yachts on the sea down below (or making rare public appearances when the Formula One Grand Prix comes to town every May). The current reigning head of Monaco is Prince Albert II of the Royal Grimaldi Family which makes this country a principality. This means it is ruled over by a prince rather than a Queen or King. However, every day at 11.55 a.m, on the Place du Palais (which is the main square in front of the palace), visitors can watch the changing of the guard. The palace has been home to Monaco’s rulers for over seven hundred years and this ritual of the changing of the guard has remained the same during all that time. If you look closely when walking around the square, cannons can be spotted which dates back to the seventeenth century. Also from here the views overlooking Monte-Carlo (to the east) and Fontvieille (to the west) are totally amazing. 


Heading away from the palace (towards the sea), is a mass of small streets with lots of many side streets casting on them. Here around the old town is the place to get budget food and drinks as well as the gifts to take home. However on the southern side of the old town is the Cathedral of Monaco, a modern cathedral comparing this to the rest of Europe as it was built in 1875 and in the style of a Romanesque-Byzantine church. As well as being dedicated to Saint Nicolas, what I found fascinating is that the Cathedral houses the remains of the former Princes of Monaco and Princess Grace (check the internet to find out about their story but they were very famous).

As well as checking out the expensive restaurants on the Church Square, just off it is the Garden of Saint-Martin, a nice peaceful place to walk around with its many different kinds of trees and plants whilst grasping the views overlooking the Mediterranean. From here, head eastwards (passing the huge aquarium - ocean museum) and find the path which leads back down the clifftop to the port of Monte Carlo down below.

A view of the Mediterranean sea from Monaco, French Riviera
A beautiful view over the Mediterranean from Monaco

At the bottom of the steps, don’t forget to check out the statue which is dedicated to the five time Grand Prix champion Juan Manuel Fangio before heading towards the direction of the sea on Quai Antoine 1er, there are some bars here which are worth checking out and probably just that little bit more cheaper than the rest of Monte-Carlo but still more expensive than that of the bars in Old Monaco. Still, a few of the bars may have a celebrity or two who are just happening to be passing by. Around the port (follow the road around the water - it’s called Route de la Piscine), and if anyone is into their Formula One Grand Prix race cars and circuits will know by now they are walking along the famous route. Carry on further and the famous tunnel (which goes underneath Monte-Carlo Casino) can be seen (and if time is not of importance, a walk can be done through it).

Monte-Carlo, Monaco on the French Riviera
The harbour-of Monte-Carlo
Monaco, French Riviera
Inside the tunnel which is used on the Formula 1 grand prix

However, I backtracked and took the main road up the hill known as ‘Avenue d’Ostende’, a pleasant steep walk to the upper part of Monte-Carlo. Here are the famous hotels and the Monte-Carlo Casino. The casino itself has amazing architecture, in a Art-Nouveau style with sculptures, stained glass and marble atrium. My own personal advice here is that visitors should only enter if they have the cash if they want to gamble otherwise visitors will be coming out of the building suffering from ‘open wallet surgery’, (however later on, I did go inside and managed to have a small bottle of coke and a small piece of cake at the cafe in the lobby for around €24). Outside on the road, on numerous occasions I was looking at expensive cars parked up, Lamborghini’s, Bentley’s, Rolls Royce and Ferrari’s to name a few. I so wanted a ride in one of these instead of just standing there, staring at them. Just north of here is where visitors can pick up the expensive suits and Rolex watches but that wasn’t for me (or my bank balance) and carried on walking eastwards.

Just off the ‘Place du Casino’ is a road named ‘Avenue des Spelugues’ which goes down the hill. At the bottom looking to the right is the other end of the famous tunnel. However, I walked across the road to where the sea is (following signs for the beach ‘Plage’) and this took me around a huge garden before arriving in the area of Larvotto and has the best (and probably the only) beach in Monaco on the Avenue Princess Grace. It is the end of the perfect walk as a few meters further on (next to the Monte-Carlo bay Hotel) is the border with France. The beach itself (which is free to enter as it is a public beach), is only four hundred meters long with two coves and like most beaches on the French Riviera, it is a pebble beach. This is a great place to have some downtime, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, however it can be quite crowded here during the summer months. As well as the beach, there are some restaurants, beach clubs and a Handiplage which is an area for those with limited mobility. 

That ladies and gentlemen is the best way to walk west to east in this beautiful urban country and a great way to combine the sights as well. I (and also Olga of course), totally recommend at least visiting Monaco once in your lifetime, (I think as off 2023, we have been here about five times but we have lost count due to our numerous amount of trips to the Cote d’Azur), and it doesn’t matter what time of the year visitors come, the weather is always good and makes a perfect city stroll. There are plenty of green spaces and the country is so clean. A lot of people I know always say ‘oh, you went to Monaco, oh, it’s full of money and so expensive to go, and the people there do not want to know you!’ Well, yes, it is full of money but the people we spoke to are welcoming, warm, kind and went out of there to help us if we had a question or a problem that needed to be resolved. Monaco can be done on a budget and our top advice is, just enjoy and soak up the history, views and sunshine. 

Back in the car we headed eastwards and through the famous ‘Tunnel Larvotto’ which is one of the landmarks of the Formula One Grand Prix Circuit. We were back in France within minutes and decided to drive the coastline of Cape Martin. It was late afternoon by this point so a dip in the sea when the waves were over six foot high was not ideal. There are hardly any beaches along this point but we did sit on the rocks taking in the sun which was now lowering down to the horizon.

Cape Martin, French Riviera
Cape Martin

Before evening (and still very warm), we drove eastwards furthermore and landed up on the beach, to the west of the main centre of Menton. Now this is a place where we wished we could have spent more time. We only stopped here briefly for the beach but we got a taste for this place and thought it was still worth mentioning. The beach here is fantastic and probably one of the best we have seen but the town itself looks charming, historic and we were told the restaurants here are worth checking out. Well, we are coming back here that’s for sure. Driving along the seafront before dark, the restaurants were busy, a lot of locals taking walks along the harbourfront and there is a beautiful fort to check out. Next time, next time……

Menton is the first and last town of France before entering Italy (and the border is about 2km east of the centre) and after driving through the tunnels, the French Riviera turns into the Italian Riviera and the first major town is Ventimiglia which makes a great base for exploring the coastline.

Ventimiglia, Italian Riviera
Ventimiglia

However, a short drive from the French and Italian Rivieras is the stunning Nervia Valley. Following the SP-64 from Ventimiglia by car (or bicycle if riders are up for a challenge along this road which just goes up higher and higher into the mountains), this beautiful drive goes right into the heart of the Italian Hinterlands. The road passes through some beautiful villages and amazing scenery which can not be missed. I would totally recommend hiring a car for this trip as the public transport is not really ideal and takes forever to complete the journey). 


My drive was from Ventimiglia to Castel Vittorio, a 26.2km (16 mile) drive. Starting in the coastal town, I found Ventimiglia to be a main shopping centre with a beach. In fact, the beach was the highlight for me, nice, long and sandy with a good view along the coastline to the south. When looking to the west from the beach, this is the perfect spot to go sunset watching on a perfect warm summer’s evening.

Following the road northwards (and underneath the main autostrada bridge), the landscape changes from a groggy industrialised landscape to mountains overlooking the road and villages. After a few kilometers passing through the village of Camporosso, the first stop, which is MUST, is the beautiful village of Dolceacqua. The setting is simply stunning for the largest village in the valley. Walking along the western side of the river Nervia, (which is mostly dried up in the summer months), the impressive sight of the ruins of the Doria castle dominates the landscape as it is perched on a small hill. The Ponte Romano, a beautiful stone built bridge, completed in the 15th century is also another landmark and is worth a walk across to the ‘older’ part of the village. An interesting fact about Dolceacqua is that the painter Monet used the view of the bridge and castle in one of his paintings during the 19th century.

Dolceacqua, Italian Riviera
Dolceacqua - what a beautiful village, one of my favourites in Italy

My experience of Dolceacqua was a hit and miss. The hits were of course the views and taking in the lovely views. The locals are very welcoming as this village gets very crowded and not just in the summer months. This is the miss, as there is a limited number of restaurants with the view looking out towards the castle and bridge, reservations are a must. I didn’t make a reservation as I was passing through the area and one of the most popular restaurants in the main square told me (being a sunday evening), to wait at least two hours. Of course I didn’t want to wait until midnight and unfortunately as I was staying nearby, I still couldn’t get a reservation for the reminder of my stay. My top tip: reserve well in advance! Another problem I noticed (well, not a problem really), the car parking is horrible. Its street parking to the north of the village and a long walk down the hill back to the market square but there are several car parks to the south but it is a distance to walk. However, if you like riverside walks then this isn’t a problem and if you’re lucky enough to get a meal in town, then the walk back to the car would be good to burn off a few calories.

Leaving the village and heading north, there is the beautiful village of Isolabona which is also built along the riverbank. Not as beautiful as Dolceacqua but the scenery is still beautiful. There are also a few places to eat in the centre if visitors can’t get a meal in Dolceacqua (hint!).


The drive north is stunning. I couldn’t stop saying this word as I drove up and down the valley several times on the drive. The summits of mountains are getting higher and higher and there is a lot of vegetation everywhere. The landscape isn’t bone dry and rocky but quite green with lots of trees and huge leaves overhanging the road.

I managed to book a stay in the beautiful village of Pigna which is located on the side of a hill and this was one of the best stays I have been on my travels so far. Staying in an apartment overlooking the river, I had excellent views of the surrounding area and the other part of Pigna located on top of the hill. I was quite fortunate to be staying near the main road where there was a restaurant and a bar, a little bit busy but luckily I didn’t need to reserve and the wait wasn’t too long.

One day, I managed to explore the rest of Pigna by doing a run through the side streets and alleyways, all going up and up, running on cobbled streets. By the time I got to the top I was dripping sweat and it wasn’t a long hill to run up. However the view from up here was stunning and the church was beautiful. When the bells rang out (whilst there was no other soul in sight) was just a beautiful feeling. The only other sound I heard first thing in the morning was the birds chirping away nearby. I was thinking if any visitors were staying in a few of the guesthouses in the hilltop side of Pigna, well, it’s going to be a bit of a struggle to lug the luggage. Plenty of rest stops on the way is recommended.

The last place I stopped off was about 2km away in the village of Castelvittorio which is even higher up than Pigna. This place is a lot less touristy than the other villages but still has a nice square, some pretty streets and some restaurants. The church bells which ring out here can also be heard in the valley down below. This village marks the end of the Nervia Valley and then the Italian Alps begin. If doing a road trip to all these villages in one day, then turning around here and doing a non stop drive back to Ventimiglia will take about thirty five minutes.


Another side road trip we did in the Nervia Valley is the road (known as the SP-68 and then turns into the SP-70 and then SP-92) which turns off from the main road just north of Dolceacqua and heads towards Rocchetta Nervina (clearly signposted) and then winds down the valley through some beautiful villages and comes out at another main road (known as the SS20 and is the main road which runs from Ventimiglia in the south to Tende in France before coming out of the mountains near the city of Cuneo in Italy). This road would be an excellent way to head back to Ventimiglia and the beaches but I would recommend doing this in the daylight as there are a few tight twists and turns on the road.  


The Liguria region of Italy has a lot of surprises and this is one of them. It’s not all about hitting the beaches (which of course is worth a visit if you love the sun, sand and sea) but exploring this region is totally recommended. Whilst staying in Pigna I hired a car and spent a week here. The area is cheaper to rent accommodation than the French Riviera but if you still want to visit that area, Pigna to Monaco is about fifty minutes drive whilst Nice is over an hour. I did this a couple of times and it wasn’t a problem with traffic. I fell in love with this area and I hope to come back again, this time with a bike to do some cycling or some hiking. The area is just truly amazing and a hidden gem.


Near the coastal town of Loano is the Toirano Caves. Ideally a car is needed to get here as public transport isn’t that great and there is ample parking outside the main building. To visit the caves, I was put in a guided tour group but unfortunately due to the time of day they didn’t have any English speaking tours so I had to go with the Italian speaking tour (which wasn’t too much of a problem for me).


From the building to the cave entrance is about a ten minute walk up the mountain side and it can be hard going in the heat as the path is steep in some places, so my advice is to take some water. At the cave entrance I was met by my guide and about thirty of us followed her into the unknown.


The cave system has several main areas where we (the group) saw some interesting things we have never come across before. In the area known as Grotta della Basura (The Witch’s Cave), we were looking at the remains of the Ursus Spelaeus (the cave bear) who decided to use this cave to hibernate. Here we found the remains of ground paw prints, claw marks on the wall and loads of bones. I was totally amazed at what I was looking at, this amazing piece of natural history, this was worth making the trip just to see this, let alone the cave system. Also nearby is evidence that humans were in this cave around 12,000 years ago as there are foot, knee and hand prints in the clay.


After a few areas of looking at the amazing stalactites and lakes the group was taken to the deepest spot inside the mountain (which is open to visitors and about 170 meters above sea level), a tunnel which connects one cave to another. Before anyone asks, I did bang my head here whilst walking through this section. 


The final section of the tour took us to an area where we were looking at calcite flowers which are formed by the process of water evaporation and condensation at different pressure levels and temperatures. Pour moi, it was too much information with all this science jargon so I am going to say, they look like crystals and they were pretty. The last section was a huge den which was used as an air raid shelter for the locals during the Second World War and has even hosted concerts. 


I do have a few pointers if anyone is making the visit. I always say take a jumper or coat when visiting caves as it can be quite chilly down here. In the middle of the hot summer months, a light jumper (pullover) is enough but make sure to wear the right footwear. It can be slippery in some places. This is not disabled friendly so wheelchairs are highly not recommended. A visit will last around one hour but there is a cafe afterwards to have a drink and a snack. 


How to get to the caves: I drove my car to the site (as having my own transport was very handy for this region of Italy) and it is very easy to reach from the A10 (take the Borghetto Santo Spirito exit) and then follow signs to Toirano. Caves are signposted. Very easy drive I found. However, by train get off at Loano and head to one of the bus stops on Via Aurelia. Bus information and more information on the caves can be found here

Now for all the important information: 


How to get to & where is it located: The Azure Coast in France is very easy to reach. The main international airport is Nice-Cote d'Azur airport located in France, 22 km west of Monaco. For those with mega-rich bank accounts, there is a helicopter service which takes visitors and wealthy locals from Nice Airport to the main helipad in Monaco taking in the amazing coastline and mountains to the north and sea views to the south. Nice is probably the best airport also for the Italian Riviera as it's not far to travel to places like Ventimigla and San Remo by car or train. However, the best airports for flying into Italy for the Italian Riviera is Genoa and further afield is Milian airports, Verona, Pisa and Turin.  

 

There is a train service which runs up and down the coastline and to get to the airport directly, it is best to take the regional train and get off at Nice Saint-Augustin (which is a short walking distance to the terminal buildings). However the train line also takes passengers to nearby Menton, Nice, Cannes, Marseille, and international services like Ventimiglia (Italy), Barcelona (Spain) and places like Milan, Vienna, Budapest and Warsaw, (the Minsk and Moscow part of the service is currently suspended due to Russia’s war on Ukraine - 2023).

Map of the French & Italian Riviera's from Toulon to La Spezia. Copyright: @Google

The main road which goes through is the region in France is the Autoroute A8 which bypasses all the cities and towns on the Riviera and connects to the west of France at Marseilles (please note the A8 is a toll road) and then turns into the Autostrada A10 (also a toll road) which goes all the away to Genoa. Please note that there is an additional toll when entering and exiting Italy before going through the mountains which acts as a natural border between France and Italy. There is also a coastal road which goes along Cote d’Azur and into Italy, it takes forever to drive, however some of the views of the sea are amazing. 


Accommodation: There are a lot of accommodation options and a lot of websites which can do some great deals. My first point of call is always Booking.com and can offer a range of hostels, hotels, campsites, apartments, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. After that I always have a look through AirBnb for great deals on apartments and other lodgings especially when traveling as a family. Just to note that Monaco can be very expensive for a room, so for anyone traveling on a budget, I recommend staying in nearby Menton or Nice and taking a train into Monaco.


Currency: France, Monaco and Italy use the Euro currency which is also widely used in most European countries. Currency can be exchanged at the airports and train stations (for a huge fee) so we would recommend either going to a currency exchange place downtown, to a bank (if they have good rates) or if you got a good bank account with fantastic exchange rates, then use an ATM machine (may incur a small fee but we always do this option as we got good bank accounts). 

Language: France, so it would be French. However at major tourist sites, a lot of staff do speak English (it is not like the old days where French people refuse to speak English, that has changed you will find the locals here love to practise their English as well as visitors trying to learn French). 


The main and official language for Monaco is actually French. However at major tourist sites, a lot of staff do speak English. Monégasque is the traditional language of the Monegasque people (however this only represents 22% of the population of Monaco), and it is a dialect of Ligurian language spoken in the Liguria region of Italy which is located to the east of Monaco. The language was threatened with extinction in the 1970s but now it is making a comeback with the language being taught in schools and in some parts of the country, the street signs are marked with Monégasque wordings as well as French.


Then of course Italy speaks Italian but I find English is common with younger people but the closer visitors are to the border, French can be understood, but the further way visitors travel east from the border, French is less used.  


Watch out for: Didn't have a problem here. Use common sense, like watch out for pickpockets etc but to be honest, otherwise so visitors should not have a problem.

Flying into the area: Then I would recommend using Skyscanner to find flights as that is our first point of call. Then if necessary use the airlines directly to find a good deal. We sometimes use Momondo as well to compare prices before booking. 


Travel insurance: This is essential to anywhere you go in the world. We always carry travel insurance. Having travel insurance will cover you from theft, illness and those annoying cancellations which can happen on the road. 


Need a visa for France, Italy and Monaco? Always check if you need a visa when coming to France, Italy and Monaco, especially for those who come from outside Europe. All three countries are also in the Schengen zone, so there are no land-border checks; however I have noticed more checks on the border recently with the police doing surprise checks in Menton and on the main autoroute between France and Italy. 


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Disclosure: Please note that while I was not working with any companies on the French and Italian Rivieras, my review and experiences written about in this post are 100% genuine. I value my readers too much to lie to you. My blog would be nothing without you and your continued support! There maybe some links above which are affiliate and are at no additional cost to you. If our readers use them, I earn a commission to buy their products and remember, I only mentioned products and companies I use. The income from this keeps this website going. Thank you.

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