This relaxed, self-drive itinerary travels through some of the best coastal and countryside villages in the French Riviera. Starting and ending in Nice, you'll experience Mediterranean beaches, medieval architecture, local markets, perfumeries, and even hiking trails in the nearby mountains (if you so choose). Stay at a different scenic destination each night for a road-trip adventure you won't soon forget!

Highlights

  • Kick off the trip by visiting a beach or two along the sunny Italian border
  • Experience family-owned inns including one that hosted famous artists like Matisse
  • Choose between a range of trails in the Massif des Maures mountain range 
  • Visit castles and fortresses dating back to the 8th century and enjoy the views
  • Walk (or boat) around a series of canals in the "Venice of Provence"

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Nice - Drive to Menton Menton
Day 2 Explore Menton - Drive to Saint Paul de Vence Saint Paul de Vence
Day 3 Explore Saint Paul de Vence - Drive to Port Grimaud Grimaud
Day 4 Explore Port Grimaud - Return to Nice Nice
Day 5 Depart Nice  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Nice - Drive to Menton

Nice's setting along the Mediterranean
Nice has one of the biggest harbors in the French Riviera

Welcome to Nice! Located at the foot of the French Alps along the Mediterranean Sea, Nice is a picturesque place to start your road-trip adventure. Upon arrival, you'll pick up your rental car in the city center and begin the journey.

Your first stop is a place called Eze. This rocky little village perched on an impossibly steep peak is often called the jewel in the French Riviera's crown. The main attraction is the medieval village itself, with small higgledy-piggledy stone houses and winding lanes (and plenty of galleries and shops), along with mesmerizing views of the coast.

The village gets very crowded during the day, especially in summer; for a more peaceful wander, come in the early morning or late afternoon. You’ll get the best view from Jardin Exotique d’Èze, a cactus garden at the top of the village where you’ll also find the old castle ruins.

From here, continue the drive to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and visit a medieval castle that was built-in the 10th century. This stark, defensive chateau looks out over the Mediterranean from a rocky peak above the village and is open to visitors. Check out the ceremonial hall, guard room, seigneurial residence, and panoramic views of Monaco and the sea beyond.

Today's driving route culminates at the picturesque town of Menton where you'll have free time to enjoy the late afternoon and evening. Menton is situated along the Mediterranean Sea at the Italian border and enjoys a quasi-subtropical climate with hot summers and mild, sunny winters. Indeed, you can lounge on one of a dozen sand or pebble beaches up until sunset. No need to fret about the weather since Menton receives a notable 331 days of sunshine a year!

Day 2: Explore Menton - Drive to Saint Paul de Vence

Hit the markets in Menton before continuing the drive
Hit the food markets and shops in Menton before continuing the drive

After breakfast at your hotel, you can visit the morning markets of Menton in order to experience a taste of local culture. A good place to start is the daily covered market that takes place at Les Halles on the Quai de Monléon where 30 colorful stallholders sell fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, and sweet treats. During summer months, the market swells to Place Fornari with more stalls selling clothing and various other items.

From here, you'll drive to Tourette-Levens where you can visit a castle overlooking the ancient "salt road". This modest-sized castle dates back to the 12th century and offers tours and an interesting museum devoted to entomology. 

Following the castle, you'll continue the drive to Gourdon. Nicknamed the “Eagle's Nest”, this lofty village is perched at 2493 feet (760 meters) on a dizzyingly high, rocky outcrop. Overlooking the Valley of the Loup, the panoramic views stretch over the entire Riviera—from Nice on the left to Théoule on the right. The historic village served as a fortress of and on since the 8th century thanks to its exceptional natural defenses. 

Finish the day at Saint Paul de Vence where you'll have free time to explore in the late afternoon and evening. Perched atop a verdant hill 15 minutes from the sea, this medieval village enjoys an exceptional panoramic view that stretches from the coast to the pre-alpine mountains. Arriving in Saint Paul, you first come across the renowned auberge (inn) called La Colombe d'Or, which has hosted a pleiad of artists such as Chagall, Modigliani, and Matisse. Today, the property houses many of these artists' works.

Day 3: Explore Saint Paul de Vence - Drive to Port Grimaud

Hilltop Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Saint Paul de Vence's hilltop surroundings

Today, you'll have the entire morning to relax and explore Saint Paul de Vence and its surroundings. Consider taking a stroll through town or join a nearby hike or bike excursion in the foothills of which there are many trails to choose from. 

In the afternoon, you'll drive to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world since the 19th century. Just 9 miles (15 km) from Cannes, at 1312 feet (400 m) altitude, Grasse is a breath of fresh air in a verdant setting surrounded by mountains, forests, and caves and is often visited by those seeking rest and relaxation. Along with scenery and rich heritage, Grasse is also known for its eau de toilette, soaps, and powders thanks to flowers in the surrounding countryside which have been used for these fragrances. 

In addition to perfumeries, a good suggestion is to visit the castle of Mouans Sartoux. Rebuilt in the 19th century, this castle situated in a lovely park was converted into a Museum of Concrete Art

Next, you'll drive to Port Grimaud, nicknamed the "Venice of Provence" where you can explore the charming streets and authentic Provençal style houses by boat or on foot. In fact, there are 4.3 miles (7 km) of canals and 7 miles (12 km) of quays with both private and public moorings, so there is plenty to see. Enjoy the lively atmosphere and great restaurant options for dinner!

Day 4: Explore Port Grimaud - Return to Nice

Collobrières
Check out the cobbled streets in Collobrières

Today is a free day to spend at leisure in Port Grimaud and the Massif des Maures. Situated between the sea and the countryside, this vast mountain range extends from Hyères to Fréjus over approximately 37 miles (60 km) with wonderful hiking and biking trails.

Another option is to visit the village of Collobrières, known as the "chestnut capital". Located between Pierrefeu and Grimaud, the village has a factory which creates chestnut specialties (like crème de marrons and marrons glacé to name a few) as well as a chestnut museum. Many restaurants serve game specialties paired with local produce such as chestnuts where you can wash it down with local wines from neighboring vineyards. 

En route back to Nice, make a stop at Villeneuve Loubet. This castle, property of the Panisse-Passis family, is a superb 13th-century defensive structure with a pentagonal keep. Ramparts and parapet walks are punctuated with five round towers and a medieval drawbridge for great photographs. Historians should know that French King Francis I stayed here in 1538 to sign the Truce of Nice with Emperor Charles V—a pact that put an end to the Italian Wars.

From here, you'll spend your last night of the trip in Nice! In addition to the excellent dining options, popular attractions here include the Promenade des Anglais, the Chagall Museum, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

Day 5: Depart Nice

Goodbye, Nice!

It's time to say goodbye to the South of France! Enjoy your last moments in Nice by taking a seaside stroll or perhaps shopping for souvenirs. At the designated time, you'll drop off the rental car and transfer to Nice Côte d'Azur Airport for your departure flight. Safe travels!

Map

Map of French Riviera Getaway - 5 Days
Map of French Riviera Getaway - 5 Days