About The Corniches between Nice and Menton
Between Nice and the Italian border, the three famous Corniche roads each offer a dramatically different view of this most easterly section of the French Riviera. Closest to the shore, the Corniche Inférieure makes slow progress through a seamless ribbon of smart resorts and elegant villas squeezed between the gathering hills and the coastline. Above it, the Moyenne Corniche cuts a dash beloved of car industry advertising executives, alternately clinging to the mountain side and boring through tunnels of bare rock. The Grande Corniche, one step higher still, was built by Napoleon, and follows the Roman Via Julia.
Building a casino on a barren hillside inhabited by goats may well have seemed foolish to some in the 1870s, but it was a turning point in the fortunes of the itsy-bitsy principality of Monaco, 21 km east of Nice. For over a century the glitter of Monte-Carlo’s gilded salons has seduced generation after generation of gamblers, while the splendid hotels and gracious dining rooms, elegant boutiques and pricey antique stores cosset and divert the idle rich.
If this seems a little too much for your taste, spend a day in Menton. Although no poor relation (it has a casino of its own), its quiet Italianate charm works wonders on frayed nerves. Gorgeous gardens, affordable seafood restaurants and a little light cultural relief provided by Jean Cocteau will revive you in no time.
Nice makes an obvious starting point, though of course you could begin anywhere and still see all the best places to visit. From Nice (see Alpes Maritimes), you could take the Corniche Inférieur (N98) for a little cultural trail along the coast, offering a chance to stop off at the Cocteau chapel in Villefranche-sur-Mer, the impressive Musée Ephrussi de Rothschild on Cap Ferrat, and Beaulieu-sur-Mer before reaching Monaco. If time is short, the Moyenne Corniche (N7) will take much less time, and certainly wins additional points for the views. The two roads link up between Monaco and Menton. You could then return to Nice via the Grande Corniche (D2564). If you can, also take in some of the delightful hill villages of the Alpes Maritimes. After the dazzle and dash of the coast, the peaceful Nicois hills make a wonderful contrast.
Frequent trains serve all stops between Nice and Menton along the coast. Bus routes follow all three corniches (a convenient way of seeing the scenery without having to concentrate on driving), including the Grande Corniche from Nice to La Turbie.
Beaches are, perversely, a problem on this stretch of coast. Private beaches are everywhere but you are often asked to pay more than 100 euros a day just for access and maybe an umbrella or a ma. Windsurfers and other water-sporting equipment are available for hire in most places.
Public beaches do exist, but are generally unattractive, especially the long, pebbly stretch at Nice backed by the coast road. The shores are essentially rocky, in places plunging steeply into the sea. Tons of sand have been dumped at Menton and Monte-Carlo, but if you want anything approximating idyllic coves, you have to venture west of Cannes to the Estoril and beyond.