Nice Day Trips

Nice Day Trips - Nice, France

Nice is a malleable sort of place. You can dress it up or dress it down, electing to spend idle hours on the beach zoning out or at a sophisticated restaurant tucked into a warrenlike Vieux Nice alley. Ultimately, however, you may choose to try to get a sense of the Côte d'Azur that departs from Nice's unique urban mode. We've made three daytrip suggestions: jet-set hub Monaco; quiet, low-key Menton; and the perfume town of Grasse.

Pristine Principality: Monaco

Highlights: tiny principality; enclave of wealth; cute castle
Duration: four to eight hours
Exertion level: low
Accessible by: train, car

The adult lives of Monaco's three royal siblings (Prince Albert II, the current monarch, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie) have been well documented in the pages of tabloid magazines. Their mother was glamorous Hollywood star Grace Kelly, who left a successful acting career to become Princess Grace, wife of Prince Rainier III.

The first thing to keep in mind is that Monaco is amazingly tiny. It's under 2 square kilometers (about 3/4 square miles) in area. The principality consists of four quarters: Monte-Carlo, Monaco Ville, La Condamine and Fontvieille. Most interesting are Monte-Carlo, where the casino and municipal gardens can be found, and Monaco Ville, where the royal palace is located.

Monaco is extremely over the top. The wealth of passers-by is palpable. You're more likely than not to run into one or another B-list European celebrity residing in Monaco in order to avoid high taxes.

One sightseeing highlight is watching the changing of the guard at the Palais du Prince and strolling through tiny Monaco Ville. Other highlights include the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco (admission €14/€7 reduced) and the Jardin Exotique (admission €7/&eruo;5.40 seniors/€3.7 under 18 and students).

Check out the official Monaco tourist board site for more information.

It takes about 25 minutes to travel between Nice and Monte-Carlo by train. A roundtrip journey begins at €3.40. Check the SNCF web site for more details.

Grand Old Town: Menton

Highlights: multiple gardens; sunny skies; quiet pace
Duration: four to eight hours
Exertion level: low to moderate
Accessible by: train

Menton is a quiet, sunny corner of France to the east of Monaco, just a few kilometers west of the Italian border. The city is known for its sun and its lemons. Citrus fruits are celebrated throughout Menton in the form of statues, and every February the city holds a Fête du citron, or Lemon Festival, to celebrate its citrus heritage.

People are drawn to Menton for two things: its gardens and its relaxed pace. On the subject of the former, there are a good eight gardens of note in Menton. Among our favorites are Serre de la Madone Gardens (entrance €8/€3.50 reduced) and the Maria Serena Gardens (guided tour €5).

On the subject of Menton's legendary relaxed pace, know that senior citizens flock to the city, both for its weather and gardens as well as for its calm atmosphere. Menton is not a destination for nightlife-minded clubkids. It's a low-key, relaxed environment ideally suited to retirees and others who enjoy their peace and quiet.

The Vieux Port, or Old Port of Menton, is a picture-perfect city port. Unlike the boutique-cluttered villages-turned-celebrity-magnets elsewhere on the Côte d'Azur, Menton's port clearly belongs to a medium-sized city. It's quaint and terribly Mediterranean without being precious.

The Menton Tourist Office site is a good place to look for city background and an events calendar.

It takes about 35 minutes to get to Menton from Nice by train. A round-trip journey runs about €6. Additionally, you can also take the bus to Menton.

Perfumed Hills: Grasse

Highlights: major perfume center; omnipresent flowers; Old Town strolls
Duration: six to eight hours
Exertion level: low to moderate
Accessible by: bus, car

Grasse is a bit of a wonderland, a medium-sized town in the hills of southeastern France. It is one of France's most important centers for the production of perfume, and the flowering plants that put Grasse on the perfume map are abundantly present.

There are dozens of perfume companies with operations in Grasse. A few of these can be toured, and a number operate perfume workshops that allow visitors to create their very own signature scents. Expect to pay around €50 for one of these educational workshops. We like Galimard's Studio des Fragrances, which charges €45 for a two-hour workshop. Visitors leave the workshop with their very own signature perfume in tow. Cheapo tip: You can always take the Galimard Factory tour for free.

Beyond perfume, Grasse's very beautiful Old Town is worth a visit. Especially in the off-season, when tourists are less numerous, the Old Town of Grasse is a great place to gather a sense of the inland Côte d'Azur.

For more information, check out the general Grasse Office de Tourisme site.

A direct bus journey between Nice and Grasse takes about 70 minutes and costs €2.60 roundtrip (€1.30 each way). During the summer there are no direct buses, and passengers will need to transfer in Cannes. Connecting buses in Cannes are well-scheduled. The roundtrip journey costs €5.20 and takes about two hours. Take a Rapides Côte d'Azur bus (site in French only). Tickets can be purchased on the bus.

If you journey to Grasse by private car, consider driving out or back from Nice along the coast. Grasse is inland from Cannes, and the drive between Cannes and Nice provides some of the most gorgeous views of the Mediterranean.

About the author: Tom Meyers is the Editor in Chief of 

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