An Alpes-Maritimes road trip adventure

Located in the south east corner of France, on the Italian border, is the stunning Alpes-Maritimes region - an area where snow-capped mountains give way to the turquoise Mediterranean Sea.

Here, you can shop like a movie star on the French Riviera one minute and sip coffee in a medieval hilltop village the next. The roads in the region squeeze between steep mountains like winding rivers, making this one of the most scenic destinations for an adventurous road trip.

All image credits: Explore with Ed

Taking in the coastal panoramas

Nice, the coastal capital of Alpes-Maritimes, has one of France’s busiest airports and is the perfect place to pick up a hire car ready for an epic adventure.

Its popularity is largely thanks to its proximity to the region’s ski resorts, the luxurious hub of Monaco, and the numerous resorts along the Riviera. Setting off from Nice is a great idea if you want to explore the coastal routes of Alpes-Maritimes, stopping off at fantastic intervals along the way.

Nice to Monaco via Eze

After soaking up the buzz of Nice’s vibrant Promenade des Anglais, it’s time to pull away from the shops and restaurants.

Leaving Nice to the east, there’s an easy half an hour drive that will take you to Monaco via Eze. Driving along the coast, it’s hard not to admire the mansions and yachts that line Port Lumpia before you ascend to Eze.

Nice

This mountaintop village dates back to the Middle Ages, and there is plenty of evidence to highlight its ancient beginnings. Eze is lined with narrow, cobbled streets that transport you back in time as you explore. The village church appears untouched throughout history, allowing the village to retain its authentic beauty and charm.

With its position perched atop a rocky peak, travellers like myself are treated to exceptional views looking out across the Mediterranean. It’s a unique opportunity to soak in the magnificence of the Côte D’Azur away from the bustling beaches or upmarket towns.

Monaco, on the other hand, needs no introduction. 20 minutes along the coast from Eze, the small city state is a luxury playground, adorned with a grand casino and five star hotels. Its annual Grand Prix in May is the pinnacle of the Formula One calendar, where the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel speed through the closed streets.

While you can’t speed through Monaco’s streets yourself, you can certainly enjoy a meander across the hills of Monte Carlo. On this route, look out for famous local landmarks like the Casino and the Prince’s Palace.

Monaco to Nice via Villefranche-Sur-Mer

Another gorgeous coastal route in the Alpes-Maritimes region is the return journey from Monaco to Nice, via the seaside town of Villefranche-sur-Mer.

Villefranche-sur-Mer

10 kilometres south west of Monaco, Villefranche is an historical fishing village and home to a striking natural harbour. Large ships are often seen anchoring here, yet Villefranche retains its novel appeal with buildings lining the hillside all the way down to its magnificent bay. Overlooking the inlet sits La Mére Germaine, a classic seafood restaurant to try out for lunch or dinner.

On leaving Villefranche-sur-Mer and returning to Nice, you’ll be greeted with jaw-dropping views over the Bay of Angels – where the deep blue Mediterranean Sea turns turquoise as it gently rolls over the pebble beach.

Descending into Nice, keep an eye out for the array of sports cars and vintage motors driven by locals and visitors alike.

Riviera to the south, Alps to the north

Taking the car inland will give you the opportunity to explore the region from a different perspective. It’s an amazing journey that took me from Cannes to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, flanked throughout by the Riviera one way and the Alps the other.

Cannes

Cannes to Saint-Paul-de-Vence via Grasse

Well-known for its annual film festival, Cannes is the place to be noticed on the Riviera. However, it’s also home to the stunning Old Quarter where you can explore wonderful boutiques and traditional cafés.

Heading north, the roads are lined with purple lavender thriving in the warm climate around Grasse – the destination of leading perfumeries such as Fragonard. Such is the reputation of the region for its perfume, Coco Chanel came to perfect her No. 5 fragrance here and shops are dotted across the area selling locally produced perfume, soap, and toiletries.

En route to Saint-Paul-de-Vence

As you climb higher into the hills, you’ll be greeted by the village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence – an hour’s drive from Cannes. Its tall bell tower is an alluring sight as you arrive. The fortified centre reveals its history as you step through the arches and walk across the village’s cobbled streets. Inside the village walls, impressive art galleries line the streets, sunken into the hillside.

Saint-Paul-de-Vence

Renowned artists like Marc Chagall and Picasso have resided here in the past, painting the village vistas during their stays. The views from the edge of the village showcase why it has been home to such esteemed guests. The glitzy Riviera shimmers under the sun as you look south, while the rugged Alpine mountains pierce the clear blue sky to the north.

From here, you can return back to the coastal route if you’re on course for Nice, or you can continue your adventure north to go skiing in season. Whichever route you take, you’ll be graced with phenomenal views and undulating hills that will leave you wanting to return at the earliest opportunity.

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