Last Updated on December 29, 2023
When my wife and I brainstormed where we wanted to take our honeymoon, we were looking for somewhere romantic, sunny, unusual. Some place we’d never thought of going before; some place we’d likely never go again. Somewhere special. Different.
Living on the beach in Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico were too close, too cliché. We like to “see things and do stuff” on our vacations, not just sit around poolside eating and drinking.
Though neither of us had ever been to those places, again, they felt overdone. Like, eventually, we’ll get there anyway. We wanted a honeymoon destination slightly off the beaten path. Somewhere not on our existing Europe must-see list.
I forget exactly how we landed on Nice, France and the Côte d’Azur (Blue Coast), but as soon as the idea was offered, it took flight. That was 2014. The only aspect of our honeymoon in Nice that failed to live up to and exceed expectations was it being a “once in a lifetime” experience. We had such an unexpectedly amazing honeymoon, we’re going back for our 10th anniversary.
I’m looking back through our Nice scrapbook – remember those – to help you plan your Nice vacation, and make sure we don’t forget any high spots when planning our return.
A quick lesson on nomenclature. Nice is located on an area known as the Côte d’Azur. That term is largely interchangeable with what’s considered the French Riviera. The region in France known as Provence is much larger, encompassing all of southeastern France inclusive of Nice and the Côte d’Azur, from the border with Italy, along the Mediterranean, over to Marseille.
When is the Best time to Visit Nice, France?
Our 2014 visit to Nice occurred in mid-May. I think this is the perfect time to go.
First, the weather is sunny and pleasant, but not hot nor cold. We wore jeans and t-shirts the entire time. No, it’s too chilly to get into the water, but again, we live at the beach in Florida so that wasn’t important to us.
Secondly, May represents the fleeting days of off-season before the French Riveria gets crushed by the wave of European summer holiday visitors. I don’t remember standing in line or waiting for a table once during our honeymoon. Also being off-season keeps the prices down.
Thirdly, mid-May coincides with the Cannes Film Festival, a short 33 kilometers from Nice, and the Monaco Grand Prix, just 20 kilometers in the other direction. We took day trips to Cannes and Monaco/Monte Carlo, reveling in seeing both all done-up for these major international events.
Cannes hotels were draped in movie posters for upcoming blockbusters, red carpets were set up, and we even saw a couple celebrities. European celebrities, anyway. We didn’t know who they were, but based on all the people photographing them, they must have been somebody.
In Monaco, we walked the racecourse through the city streets with the pit areas and fencing constructed to separate spectators from drivers.
For our anniversary, we can’t return in May due to professional obligations so we’re going in late April. The weather will be cool, but not cold, and prices and crowds should be at a minimum.
Daytrips from Nice
We’re active travelers. We’re the kind of people who need a vacation following our vacations.
One of the primary reasons we chose Nice for our honeymoon and enjoyed it so tremendously was its central location from which to day trip out to other places of interest. Places we wanted to see, but places where spending more than a day seemed like overkill.
As mentioned, Cannes and Monaco were two such places.
We visited Cannes as part of a small group driving tour which also included the fragrance capital of the world, Grasse, and a visit to the Fragonard perfumery. The day-long tour was a highlight of our honeymoon, not for Cannes or Grasse, but for the villages perché – perched villages.
Dotting the French Riviera’s interior are dozens of tiny, ancient towns, the towns out of your Medieval and Renaissance European dreams. Carved high atop mountains, the perched villages offer charming boutiques and cafés with dramatic views of the surrounding region out to the Mediterranean. It’s almost hard to believe such places still exist.
Gourdon and St. Paul de Vence are two such places and strolling their narrow cobblestone streets, ducking into art galleries, petting neighborhood cats, and snatching a croissant for the walk proved a completely unexpected highlight of the trip. Another highlight.
We didn’t rent a car at any point on our honeymoon. Booking a tour including these sites will save you money in the long run, avoid the anxiety and hassle of driving overseas, and allow you to just sit back and enjoy the ride.
We liked Monaco, we didn’t love Monaco. For sure go there if you’ve never been, but on our return trip to Nice, we won’t be going back. Plan a full day there for your first visit.
We didn’t have time, but north of Nice, the Italian border beckons as another primo day trip destination accessible by train.
Wherever you travel in Europe, a visit to the market is a must.
Nice’s market is located smack dab in the middle of town, walking distance from pretty much everywhere.
Here are a pair of great links with detailed information and hours for visiting the numerous markets in Nice, particularly its world famous flower market.
Nice Must-Sees for a First Timer
Nothing I’m about to share here is anything you won’t find in all the Nice guidebooks. There’s a reason: these are the highlights.
Since these have all been written about ad nauseum, I’m simply going to list them. All are easily accessible on foot or via bus. Many you’ll pass in the course of your moving about town:
- Quai des Etats-Unis/Promenade des Anglais (the Quai is the main street lining the Mediterranean for cars, the Promenade is the walking path adjoining it, the city’s main beaches are beside)
- Vieux Nice (old town)
- Hotel Negresco (looky-loo the ornate lobby and order a drink – it’s expensive)
- Castle Hill
- Musée Matisse (Henri Matisse spent his later years in the area)
- Musée National Marc Chagall (Chagall spent his later years in St. Paul de Vence)
- Place Garibaldi
- Cathédrale Saint-Nicolas de Nice in French/Russian Orthodox Cathedral
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, a short bus ride out of central Nice, was my wife’s highpoint of the trip. The small peninsula jutting out into the sparkling Mediterranean merits all the adjectives for beauty.
A mostly flat, mostly paved walkway – the Sentier du Bond de Mer/Coastal Path of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat – rings a nub perpendicular to the main peninsula. It’s a three-mile loop that starts and ends at the marina. It merits our highest recommendation.
Blooming flowers line the pathway, sailboats breeze by in the distance, grotesquely large yachts – the property of villainous Russian oligarchs, Arab oil sheiks, and American hedge fund billionaires – bob offshore. It’s a James Bond movie setting.
The Musée des Coquillages – seashell museum – at the marina is ok; the Villa Rothschild and gardens where the mainland meets the peninsula is a must! Villa Ephrussi de Rothchild – the surname synonymous with wealth – is a mansion – a pink mansion – with delightful gardens out back and arresting views of the Mediterranean. Guided or self-guided tours of both are available.
Budget a full day for Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
Eze is another short bus ride adventure outside of Nice right along the water. Its medieval old town is a villages perché, topped by a magnificent botanical garden heavy on succulents (cactus). The Jardin Exotique d’Eze has the best views on the Cote d’Azur!
In town, ancient streets and alleyways, cafes, shoppes, art galleries, and boutique hotels delight.
Again, our highest recommendation.
Eze is small, but by the time you get there, look around, and get back, you’ll have eaten up most of a day.
Getting to Nice and Getting Around
Two U.S. airports offer regular, daily, non-stop service to Nice: New York’s JFK and Atlanta’s Hartsfield. It’s a six- or seven-hour flight – piece of cake. The ease of traveling to Nice from the East Coast is one of the main reasons we picked it as our honeymoon destination.
Once there, you will not need to know French to get around. It helps, but is unnecessary. I understand and can speak the smallest amount of rudimentary French, my wife spoke none, and we were just fine. Service industry folks can tell you’re American before you even open your mouth and they’re all proficient in English.
They’re also all friendly.
During our week-long visit to the Côte d’Azur, never once did we encounter rude or huffy service for any reason. Every encounter we had with a French person was polite and hospitable. This is far and way the norm when visiting anywhere in France. The whole “French are rude” stereotype is a xenophobic American creation.
Public transportation – buses and trains – are also exceedingly simple, efficient, and inexpensive to use in Nice. My wife and I live in a small town and have little experience using mass transit. We figured out the trains and buses in Nice to visit Monaco, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Eze, and other destinations without problem.