When you think of the French Riviera, luxury comes to mind. Does this mean you have to have/spend tons of money to have an incredible time? Definitely not. Here are my recommendations for knocking your trip out of the park without blowing your budget.
Hiking Cape Antibes
Looking to spend a day exploring, hiking, picnicking, swimming, and cliff jumping? Check out Cape Antibes. This day trip can essentially be done for free.
GETTING THERE: If you are coming from Nice or Cannes, take the 200 bus to Antibes on the Lignes d’Azur route (1.5 Euros). Work your way down the coast to Plage de la Garoupe. You can take a local bus to get here, or you can walk to get the hike started early. Walk past the beaches and parking lot to the end where the path begins.
THE HIKE: This hike takes about 2 hours. There is nothing around (food, drink, bathrooms) once you have started, so have that in mind when you begin. The terrain is rocky and sometimes narrow, but overall not a difficult hike. Think exploring winding castle grounds and cliffs as opposed to hiking a mountain. There are cliffs you can jump off into the sea, but I would aim for the ones you see the locals utilizing for *obvious* safety reasons.
EATING: You will pass countless hidden coves perfect for a picnic and a dip. Bring a baguette, some cheese, and a bottle of wine, and you have a picture perfect afternoon ahead of you.
PRICE TAG: Roundtrip bus fare: 3 euros, Picnic: 5-10 euros
Monaco Day Trip
We would assume this is one day trip you really couldn’t do affordably. Wrong. You can definitely leave thousands of dollars in the boutiques and casinos, or you can leave after an amazing day with your wallet intact.
GETTING THERE: The Lignes d’Azur bus also makes it’s rounds to Monaco. Depending on where you’re coming from, I would recommend taking the train just for efficiency’s sake. It can turn into a few hours on the bus depending on the time of day.
THE CITY: Start your day off with something free! The changing of the guards at the Prince’s Palace is a spectacle to be seen. This happens every day at 11:55am. After this, turn around to the ticket office behind you. You can buy a combo entrance ticket that gets you into the State Apartments and the Prince’s collection of antique cars for 11.5 euros. There is also an aquarium you can combo into that, but I chose the first option. After that, your day of exploration can be totally free: check out the yachts in the boat yards, pay respects to the resting place of Princess Grace at Saint Nicholas Cathedral, hit the pebble beaches on the coast, see (modern) cars that will blow you mind in Monte Carlo, walk around the Casino, window shop your day away- the list really is endless, despite being able to walk across this entire country in only a few hours.
EATING: Eating in Monaco can get pricey. I would check out the smaller grab and go eateries near the beaches, or find one of the lunch package options to save a few euros. Bring sandwiches and picnic on the beach. There are plenty of affordable options, just don’t settle for the first restaurants you come across.
PRICE TAG: Roundtrip train fare: 15 euros (or less depending on your location), Palace and Car Collection Entry: 11.5 euros, Lunch: 10 euros
Picnic on Ile Sainte Marguerite
This picturesque island is an easy day trip for a completely different beach feel.
GETTING THERE: There are several ferry companies that make this journey. I used Riviera Lines- a very accommodating and friendly group, with several destinations from Saint-Tropez to Cannes and beyond. I took the 20 minute ferry from Juan Les Pins, but you can get there from other coastal cities as well.
THE ISLAND: This is not a white sand beach island. The edges are cliffs that lead to rocky reefs and out to the bluest of blue seas. It is a nice contrast to the crowded public beaches you see on the coasts. There are endless nooks and rocky hideaways you can discover, and set up camp for the day. The best beaches are straight across the island from the ferry dock. Walk past the snack stands, through the forrest, and straight to the coast on the other side (about a 10 minute walk). There is an ancient fort and monastery on the island if you want to break up you beach time with some history. Snorkel, hike, swim, explore the forests- there are plenty of ways to spend the day!
EATING: There are a few food options on the island, but the most affordable would be to bring a picnic. There are many stone tables set up along the island that make for a lovely lunch spot. There are two snack stands right off the docks where you will be dropped off- one to the right, and one to the left. These sell an array of sandwiches, cold drinks, ice cream, and other snack options. There is a restaurant I did not visit, but was told it is on the pricey side. It’s on the same side of the island, but further down the coast to your left. There is even an ice cream and drink boat that makes stops around the beaches- flag it down, and order right out of the sea!
PRICE TAG: Roundtrip ferry fare: 19 euros, Food: 5-10 euros
Italy Day Trip
How about a day trip to Italy? This is very doable, and a gorgeous trip at that. I came across this one by chance when my train to Grasse was cancelled. The next train out was to Ventimiglia, Italy. I decided to take the chance, and am so glad I did. Ventimiglia is just across the border, only a few miles past Monaco. You would think the close proximity would make for a very French town, but it couldn’t be more unique. You are immediately swept up in Italian charm. The people, the buildings, the flowers- all unique, and very Italian.
GETTING THERE: I took the SNCF line from Juan Les Pins to the Gare Ventimiglia. The trip was just over an hour, and not very crowded, as many trains can be in the French Riviera. They had trains leaving every half hour or hour. You can buy your train tickets online before hand, or just get them once you arrive at the train station. You can find the schedules and times on their website.
THE TOWN: Walk down from train station, you can head straight to the coast to check out their gorgeous beaches. There is a photo worthy view of a colorful group of stacked buildings in the mountains to your right. You can cross the bridge to check out another area of the town, or you can head in to your left and get some lunch. There are a few cathedrals, an ancient theatre, and countless shops to explore. The city has installed several maps with tourist highlights, as well as wifi hot spots. Pick a few, and start walking!
EATING: There are a ton of options for lunch here. There are grab and go focaccia and pizza slices, sit down beach-side lunch specials, and full on multi-course restaurants. Whatever you’re in the mood for, they have it. You must try a gelato-or two- while you’re there! Stop for an afternoon espresso and snack before you journey back to France.
PRICE TAG: Roundtrip train fare: 15 euros (again depends on your origin, but shouldn’t be much more than this), Lunch: 10-20 euros, Gelato: 2 euros
Nice and Cannes
Both of these cities have so much to offer, and with the very low bus and train fare to work your way across the coast, they are perfect for budget day trips. Bring a swimsuit, towel, and a snack, and have yourself a beach day! The beaches in Nice are very rocky, and not always comfortable, but the water is stunning. Cannes offers white sand beaches, and a bustling shopping district. You can shop high end, or hunt for deals, either way, you will find what you’re looking for.
EATING: Each city has tons to offer in the form of cuisine. I went several times to each, and always found a new neighborhood or area to spend a lunch or have a coffee/cocktail while I people watched. There are snack stands along the beaches, and restaurants that have tables right in the sand.
PRICE TAG: Round trip bus fare: 3 euros, Round trip train fare: 6 (ish) euros, Lunch: 10-20 euros