If you’re visiting Nice, France, you may wonder why you would ever want to leave it to visit someplace else. Nice certainly offers everything you could desire in a vacation destination: the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, excellent restaurants, an inviting old town, top-notch hotels, and the 7 km seaside walkway, Promenade des Anglaise. However, there truly are some great villages near Nice that you’ll want to visit.
Provence-Cote d’Azur is home to some extremely picturesque villages with charms that you can’t find in Nice. Some of them even have stunning views and historical significance. There are so many lovely villages near Nice, it’s impossible to visit them all on a vacation, but these are the most picturesque villages not to miss!
Here are the best villages near Nice to visit!
On a hilltop, 30 minutes Northwest of Nice, stands the medieval village Saint-Paul-de-Vence. The fort-like entrance of this walled village dates back to the 14th century, and the surrounding ramparts are reminders of the important stronghold this town once was. It’s definitely one of the best villages near Nice!
Rich in history and art, this charming village is best seen leisurely walking the narrow stone-paved pedestrian streets. The cobble stone arrangement of the main street, rue Grande is a work of art in itself.
Welcoming art galleries and decorative shops line the streets; take time to notice the nuances of the facades. Each building seems to have its own unique character and something photo-worthy. The attractive window boxes, doors, planters, store signs, and fountains all contribute to the feeling that this town is one big enchanting postcard.
Take a break by the Place de la Grande Fountaine, or duck into a café for a Provencal snack like socca or Pissaladière. Or if you are more in the mood for a gourmet meal, then La Colombe D’Or is for you.
This famous restaurant is worth a visit for the artwork on display in every room, and even outside. It is said poor artists would trade works for meals, and its collection has included Picasso, Calder, Matisse, and Chagall.
Chagall lived in Saint Paul de Vence for 20 years and is buried in its cemetery which is worth a visit for its sweeping view. Additional artwork by Chagall, as well as works by Miro, Giacometti and other modern artists can be found at the Fondation Maeght Museum outside the village walls. There is a free shuttle upon request from the village.
Also, outside of the village walls is the Chapelle du Rosaire which Matisse designed and constructed as a gift for the nun, Monique Bourgeois, who had nursed him through his cancer surgeries.
Just a few km East of Nice, Villefranche looks like an old fishing village in a watercolor painting. But this sleepy village’s bay gets very deep very quickly, and therefore it has become an important French port. Strolling along the harbor you’ll see boats of every size, from the traditional Provencal pointus to grand yachts and maybe even a cruise ship.
Behind the harbor, the village itself rises on a small hill. Most of the buildings of the old town date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. The most noteworthy street is the rue Obscure, a dark, tunnel-like, medieval street that was used to protect the town people from bombardment.
Wandering through the quaint town, take time to admire the beautiful Baroque Eglise Saint-Michel with its clocktower. Check out the local shops and restaurants featuring the traditional fare of Provence-Cote d’Azur.
Although the restaurants along the harbor are a little more expensive than those in the heart of the village, lingering by the waterside with a cold beverage is a great way to take in the atmosphere.
Walk along the stone path of the 16th century Citadelle Saint-Elme which houses the town hall and museums. Continuing on this path will take you to the old harbor of La Darse where you can find the Observatoire Oceanologique de Villefranche, the Pierre and the Marie Curie University of Paris, and the French National Centre for Scientific Research.
About 12 km from Nice, perched on a cliffside, 427 meters above the Mediterranean Sea you’ll see the picture-perfect village of Eze. Because of its location, Eze is sometimes described as an “eagle’s nest.” And you just may wish you had a pair of wings when you start the hike up from the parking lot which is the closest you can get to Eze by car or bus. Grab a map at the tourist office here, and buck up, you will be rewarded for your efforts, and it will be worth it!
Although the first inhabitants of Eze date back to 2000 BC, the oldest building in the village, the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, was built in 1306. After your steep walk up, contemplate how a village could be constructed here hundreds of years ago, or for that matter, the medieval castle that once stood at the top of the hill.
Wind through the maze of narrow streets exploring the homes that have been converted into quaint boutiques, cafes, and artisan galleries. If your feeling more fancy than quaint, stop by the 5-star hotel and restaurant Chevre D’Or.
Make your way to the Jardin Exotique and pay the 6 EU entrance. The views from Eze may be even more spectacular than the village itself, and the best views are from here! Signs around the garden will tell you what you’re looking at. There is a great photo-op of the yellow neoclassical church dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. You can see the local mansions and the gorgeous coastline of the Cote d’Azur including Eze sur Mer (Eze beach).
If you have good walking shoes, you may choose to take the Nietzsche trail down to Eze beach for a dip in the sea or a bite to eat. The hike takes about an hour and it’s all downhill. There are a couple of restaurants right on the beach that are less crowded and more affordable than those in Eze.
About a half hour drive from Nice, the colorful village of Menton sits on the French Rivera just before the Italian border. In fact, Menton is the last rail stop in France before entering Italy, and is often overlooked by tourists who just can’t make it that far. This is one of the reasons I love it!
Menton does not have the crowds of the larger famous seaside resorts, even though the village itself is more beautiful. On the Eastern end of town, there’s a small fort, now the Bastion Museum, from there walk along the path towards the village for a full view of the steepled town with mountains in the background. Take some photos and enjoy a stroll along the sea.
The Bastion Museum and the nearby Jean Cocteau-Severin Wunderman museum both show works by the artist. author, film director, poet, and friend of Picasso, Jean Cocteau. At the center of town, visit the Hotel de Ville’s (town hall) Salle des Mariages (Wedding Hall) decorated entirely by Cocteau.
Meander your way through a maze of pastel-colored buildings to see the steeples of the baroque Basilica Saint-Michel and the Chapel of the White Penitents up close. The square where the green and ochre monuments meet is a must-do. You must also try roaming around the narrow winding streets of the 13th-century old town to get there. You can continue heading further uphill to the cemetery where Menton’s medieval castle once stood for some stunning views of the harbor.
The buildings are not the only colorful sights of Menton; the town also boasts numerous gardens among their top attractions: The Fontana Rosa Garden, The Maria Serena Villa Garden, The Serre de la Madone Garden, The Val Rahmeh Garden, and Les Colombières Garden.
In addition to vibrant gardens, the hills surrounding the town have numerous lemon groves filled with the sweet Menton Lemon variety that dates back to the 15th century. Menton’s Lemon Festival is so well known, it’s bigger than Monte Carlo’s Grand Prix with 200,000 visitors each February.
This prized lemon is used to make pastas, breads, desserts, sauces, preserves and more. These products can be found at the Marché des Halles Tuesday through Sunday on Quai de Monleon. Once there, you can grab the makings of a picnic, or just explore the local citrus products, cheeses, meats, produce, and pastries.
Or grab a bite at an outside table along the pedestrian street Rue Saint-Michel or at one of Menton’s renowned gourmet restaurants. French cuisine has been recognized around the world for hundreds of years, and in 2019, Menton’s gastronomic fame got kicked up a notch when its Mirazur landed the coveted number one slot on the Best Restaurant in the World list.
Returning to Nice
There’s something magical about each of these picturesque villages near Nice, and each is easily accessible from Nice for a day trip. The short drive to and from these villages is also filled with wonderful scenery and views.
It would be hard for me to pick just one to visit, but if you have to choose, hopefully, you now have enough information that you can pick which one would be best for you.