When summer in Ireland is coming to an end, I’m usually left longing for just a little more sunshine and warmth before the winter chills settle, and this year I figured that the French riviera would provide a wonderful short recharging getaway.
We took Friday and Monday off work at the very beginning of September and flew over to Nice on the Thursday evening, flying back on Monday. There are frequent flights from most major European cities, Nice airport is pretty busy but the benefit is that you can watch multiple flights land as you’re sitting on the beach in Nice (I love watching planes and I’m also recently obsessed with FlightRadar24.com - did you know that there can be between 6000 and 10000 flights in the air at any given time? That’s a staggering 1 to 2 million passengers that are airborne right now!).
Pro tip for French Riviera beaches: bring your rubber water shoes! You will need them as all beaches are full of pebbles:
Upon landing in Nice, it’s much better to take a bus or train to your final destination as taxis are notoriously expensive in Cote d'Azur: we were quoted 77 EUR for a 20-min journey, more than the cost of our flight. Nice is a largish city with all the city attractions along with city issues such as traffic, air pollution and crowds, so unless you’re a complete city slicker and love your shopping and fancy cocktail bars, I would recommend staying in one of the neighbouring towns. Villefranche-sur-Mer and Beaulieu-sur-Mer are much cozier and quieter but easily accessible by trains running every 30 minutes.
We stayed at Villefranche for the first two nights in Hotel Le Provencal and started on Friday with a wonderful breakfast on the beach. There is a lovely walk that takes you along the beach with the sights of the bay all along, and you can take a refreshing dip in the warm sea.
You can take a train into Nice itself, where there are some cool waves on the beach, a really long promenade with marvelous views and a huge choice of restaurants offering seafood for lunch or dinner. We opted for a more casual and international Movida which did not disappoint with their cocktails and tacos!
Next day, Saturday, was spent exploring two beautiful villas in the near vicinity of Villefranche (both accessible by local bus, just ask in your hotel).
Villa Ephrussi de Rotschild is a luxurious summer residence built by the millionaire family about a hundred years ago and boasts superb botanical gardens and some sumptuous decor in pastel colours, in a style that became known as Le Gout Rotschild. This is the view from the gardens:
However, it was Villa Kerylos that stole our hearts and was our absolute favourite place in the world. It’s a reconstruction of an ancient Greek villa, built with no expenses spared at the start of the XXth century, and is truly magical. The audio guide also gives you lots of info about how the Greeks used to live their everyday lives, not something you’d usually see covered in a history class. Everything is made of marble and the library is a place that makes you want to live the XIXth century writer/explorer dream. Pictures don't do it justice but here's an approximation:
As you’ll spend about 2 hours in each villa, break the visit up with lunch at La Chicorée, a delightful little cafe that serves a chocolate fondant to die for!
Our third day, Sunday, started off in Eze village (accessible from Villefranche by bus). We stayed in Eze Hermitage which is a very elegant boutique hotel high up in the hills, with gorgeous walking trails on your doorstep, its own swimming pool and a fine dining restaurant - all highly recommended!
A visit to Eze old town is definitely a must! The old town is completely traffic free and comprised of romantic cobbled streets with artisan shops and cosy restaurants. Save some cash to buy souvenirs and gifts here, they are really unique.
We were sad to have to leave, but very grateful that the beauty of the French Riviera allowed us to see so many spectacular places in just 4 days, while soaking up some sunshine and gorging on delicious food and wine