Easy Day trips from Nice, France to Italy
When friends visit, I often ask if they want to do some day trips from Nice to Italy. To be honest, they look at me like I’ve just suggested getting on another long-haul flight. They have no idea where they are, and it’s easy to forget, geographically, when you are in Nice. The truth is, Nice is soooo close to Italy, that day trips from France to Italy are a no-brainer.
Nice is located in southeast France, literally 15 miles to the Italian border. Yep – how’s that for long-haul?? When you are here on holidays, you absolutely must take some day trips from Nice to Italy for a completely unique experience!
The Italian Region of Liguria
The area just on the other side of the French border in Italy is called Liguria. Italy is divided into 20 regions, and most of us have heard of Tuscany. Of the 20 regions in Italy, I’ve visited 15. The western-most part of Italy near France is called Liguria, and its capital is Genova. Liguria is flanked by the French border on the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Alps and Apennine mountains to the East and North. It stretches from the town of Ventimiglia in the west to La Spezia on the east. Liguria is divided into four provinces: Imperia, Savona, Genova and La Spezia. In this region you’ll find the famously popular, luxury town of Portofino, and the highly-talked-about area of The Cinque Terre in the east.
Local Ligurian Specialties
Liguria is rich in local specialties, such as olive oils from Taggia, pine nuts, wine, fresh fish, focaccia and fresh herbs, such as basil and rosemary. Olive oil made in italy is some of the best in the world and you can’t go home without it! Liguria is also known for pesto production. Pesto is a sauce, which is a blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. That’s it. Put all those ingredients in your immersion blender and you are off. I make it often when my basil plant is overgrown and I can’t figure out how to use all the leaves!
Since there is so much olive oil production in this region, you can also buy unique, olive wood products like cutting boards, utensils, trays. Below are some of the items I buy from the Olive Oil festival in Imperia, Italy, every November.
Best immersion blenders for making pesto
The best immersion blenders for making pesto I’ve come across are the Dualit brand. It comes standard with two beaters, a Balloon whisk, a wand with a blade with is great for blending soup, and a chopper bowl with blade, which is what I use for the pesto. I cram everything in there and let the blade do all the mixing. Take a look at these for the best blenders for making pesto. I love having one electrical appliance with multiple attachments. I can’t be bothered with a bunch of separate appliances. While I personally use Dualit, there are many out there that will do the trick. Check these out. They are great!
How to get from Nice, France to Italy
There are a couple of ways to travel to the coastal towns of Liguria, Italy from Nice. It all depends on what you want to do and see, how much time you have, when you want to go, and the stress you want to endure!! You either go by car or train.
Rent a car from Nice, France to Italy
You can easily drive to Italy from Nice by following the signs for Autoroute A8 east out of Nice. It’s similar to the ‘interstate-tollroads’ in the US. On this beautiful highway you will see the stunning terrain of the Alps and the ravines. It can be quite a distraction because it’s so beautiful. The A8 turns into Route E80 once you reach Italy. Although the distance is short, it will take longer since you are crossing the mountains. There may also be a bit of traffic depending on the time of day.
If you drive from Nice to Italy, the best time to leave Nice is after 9:30, once the commuter traffic is out of town. Then, continue on E80 and exit toward any one of the lovely Italian seaside villages to explore more.
Take the train from Nice, France to Italy
When I do a day trip from Nice to Italy, I like taking the train. It is always my preferred means of transport. The ride along the Cote d’Azur into Italy is an amazing experience all by itself. The clean and efficient train hugs the Mediterranean Sea as you pass some of the most stunning seaside villages along the French Riviera.
The French railway trains on the SNCF line to Ventimiglia stop at all the smaller towns along the French Riviera. You’ll hit Villefranche-sur mer, Beaulieu-sur-mer, Eze-sur-mer, Cap d’Ail, Monaco, Roquebrune-Cap Martin, Carnoles, Menton, Menton Garavan, and in 59 minutes, you’ll arrive in Ventimiglia, Italy.
There is a quicker, more direct route on the Thello line that whisks you from Nice directly to Ventimiglia in 37 minutes. SNCF trains will cost €7.20 ($7.85) one way, and the Thello will cost anywhere between €10-12.50 ($11-14) depending on the time and day. It travels the same route as the local train, but at a quicker clip with just a couple stops.
1) Ventimiglia – Easy day trip from Nice to Ventimiglia, Italy.
Ventimiglia is the first stop in Italy on the train and a very easy day trip from France. The train drops you off right in centre of town. Simply head straight out the train station doors down Via della Repubblica to begin exploring Ventimiglia.
Don’t let Ventimiglia scare you or put you off. It’s a bit grungy, and some compare it to the attitude of, “I’ve seen Mexico because I’ve been to Tijuana.” It’s not true! And that’s not true here, either. I’ve been to Tijuana and Ventimiglia and it’s nothing like one another, but I completely understand the analogy. You could decide that the rest of Liguria is not for you if you base it on Ventimiglia. But don’t do that.
Ventimiglia is a border town with about 55,000 people and a bit rough around the edges, but that’s also its charm. It’s not glitzy and glamorous like its neighbours, and it’s certainly not dangerous. It’s a real, live, Italian town that proudly displays its old along with its new.
This below is the more modern part of Ventimiglia, where you’ll find a lovely seaside promenade, several comfortable hotels, a variety of restaurants, and local boutiques, patisseries and cafes.
Visit the Weekly Ventimiglia Outdoor Market
Every Friday, at the end of Via Repubblica, along the Lungomare (‘along the sea’), you’ll find the weekly outdoor Ventimiglia Market. Here you will find 400 stalls with a mish-mash of everything. You need a beach towel? You will find them. Unique items for the home and kitchen? There will be plenty. I mean, who doesn’t want an authentic espresso maker from Italy? Forgot your swimming suit? They have hundreds. Selfie stick? It’s there… And make room to take back some fresh fruits and vegetables, for which Ventimiglia is known. The outdoor Ventimiglia market is a super place to find local goods. The Ventimiglia Outdoor Market is open on Fridays only from 8a – 4:30/5:00p.
You will want to be prepared to shop in the markets and what better way than to have a French market baskets on your shoulder? Whether you choose one with long or short handles depends on how much shopping you plan to do, and the weight of your items. I personally like the long-handled bags as they are easier to carry on your shoulder. Choose from these great options here!
Visit the Ventimiglia Covered Market
The fruits and vegetables in Italy, by far, surpass anything you will find in France. You often see the French popping over for produce, cheese, pasta, liquor and cigarettes – all of which are cheaper in Italy. I often take my ‘market trolley’ and stop by the famous Covered Market in Ventimiglia (again on Via della Repubblica) to pick up fresh produce before heading back to Nice. That is where I found mounds of fresh Mediterranean artichokes for a special dinner. And the tomatoes are out of this world with several varieties coming from southern Italy. Ventimiglia’s Covered Market is open from 7a-1p Monday to Saturday and reopens at 3p on Friday and Saturday.
While some may laugh at my ‘granny trolley’, I often don’t leave home without it. They are great for shopping and also for the beach. They come with wheels, a kickstand and are simply easy to travel around with them. You can tuck so much stuff in them and it’s simply easy to roll around, and everyone does it here! Here are some good options to buy.
Ventimiglia’s Old Town
If you want to explore the older part of Ventimiglia, cross over the Passarella Squarciafichi bridge, near the end of Via della Repubblica, and venture up into Ventimiglia’s Old Town. The Old Town is best discovered on foot as the streets are too narrow for most cars. Walk up to the old cathedral, baptistry and crypt, and meander around the original, old walls of Ventimiglia. It’s really something special and ‘old world.’
You can also take in the city’s Roman remains – the theatre, and tombs. Time permitting, stop by Italy’s largest Botanical Gardens, Hanbury Gardens, which are managed by the University of Genova. And for history buffs, you might like the Balzi Rossi Prehistoric Caves with Cro-magnon fossils, tools and artefacts.
For lovely seaside restaurants, just continue along the Lungomare and you’ll find lots of reasonably-priced options.
Stop for a traditional Italian Apero (happy hour) in Ventimiglia
Later in the afternoon, why not stop for a traditional Apero in Ventimiglia before getting back on the train back to Nice? One place that does a super Italian apero is Ristorante Pizzeria Barbecue on Via Giuseppe Mazzini 13. It’s literally a 3-minute walk back to the station and a great place to enjoy some local specialities and an Aperol Spritz, which the Italians adore. They serve up some mean, tasty bites every time you order a drink! It’s a great way to close out the day before heading back to Nice on the train.
2) Bordighera, Italy – Day trip to Bordighera, Italy from Nice
Bordighera, Italy is the next town along the Ligurian Rivera. It’s a town of around 11,000, and is the southernmost town on the Ligurian Riviera. Due to it’s location at the base of the Alps on Capo Sant’Ampelio, it has it’s own micro-climate and benefits from warmer winters. It’s also a place where the famous painter Claude Monet spent several months in the 1800’s.
Bordighera has a modern section of town, close to the sea, and an older, hill town. Again, the train drops you off in the centre of the modern town, and you walk straight out Via al Mercato to begin exploring left and right. It’s a beautiful, green town with lots of lovely palms and well-manicured gardens. You can feel this town had a grandiose history with its numerous villas and palazzos. But ‘had’ is the key word. While I enjoy this part of Liguria, you can’t help but feel it’s all somewhat stuck in time.
Travel with your passport!
Important reminder: When you travel across the border into another country, you must carry your passport with you. Actually, you should always have your passport, or a copy of it, with you at all times. It’s a requirement to have identification on you, so you might as well show yourself as chic as possible. You’re visiting the Riviera, right? Here are some lovely, quality passport holders I highly recommend.
Look for passport holders with RFID blocking. Many cards have the ability to be used ‘contact-less’, meaning in many stores, you just swipe your card past a machine and it will automatically deduct what you need to pay. Our passports have a similar chip and you do not want your details stolen for malicious purposes. Get a passport and credit card holder with an RFID blocking mechanism. Check these out below!
Bordighera’s Seaside Promenade Argentina and Alt (Old) Town
When you exit the station, turn to your right and you’ll find an underpass that leads to seaside promenade. This lovely walk, called Promenade Argentina, was named in memory of famous guest, Eva Peron – “Don’t cry for me, Argentina.” Here you can enjoy one of the many seaside restaurants and bars, and even take in a swim. Eventually, you’ll pass a few quality hotels and end up at the main road, the SS1 Via Aurelia.
Cross the road and you’ll find a little path that leads up into a park-like area. Continue walking up, and up and you’ll come to a parking lot. Walk to the end of the parking lot near the massive, old ficus tree, and you arrive at Bordighera Old Town.
Bordighera Old Town is a quaint village to wander. It’s quite quiet, historic and small. There are reasonably-priced restaurants with good seafood options. One of my favourites is Ristorante Pizzeria Saraceno. I’ve been going there for years and it’s the same family-owned restaurant with excellent prices. Spaghetti with clams will cost around $11 and $10 for a 1/2 litre of wine.
Bordighera’s Weekly Market on Thursdays
Bordighera’s abundant weekly outdoor market is on Thursdays from 8-2pm. The market is along the ‘lungomare’ (seaside) and you simply exit the train, cross underneath the train tracks and you’ll find more than 200 stalls to enjoy. You can’t miss the market.
3) A day trip to San Remo, Italy from Nice
Sanremo is Italy’s version of Monte Carlo – at least it used to be… It’s is a lovely town of around 60,000 people with older, over-the-top Belle Epoque villas, a casino and a Riveria-style attitude. In the past, many of Europe’s, ‘Hoi Polloi’, used to come here for the health benefits of the Riviera’s warm winters. Like other towns along this part of the Ligurian coast, Sanremo’s regal importance has diminished, but what remains is well worth a visit.
Sanremo is the home of the famous, annual San Remo Music Festival, and is said to be the inspiration behind the Eurovision Song Contests. I first paid attention to the town and festival when it appeared in The Talented Mr. Ripley film, only to discover that segment was actually filmed south of Rome.
It’s also part of the Milan-Sanremo bike race held annually at the end of March. This 290 km race is one of the most important cycling races in Italy. There is also the Pista Ciclabile del Parco Costiero Riviera dei Fiori along the seafront. This is a wonderful, paved, bike path that stretches 24 km along the seafront over what used to be the old railway line. It was finished in 2014, and both pedestrians and cyclists use the line. Rent a bike along this route to enjoy a bit of seaside cycling.
Sanremo Casino and luxury villas
The Sanremo Casino is still in operation and you can admire many of the luxury villas on the eastern end of town. Just past Nobel Gardens, you’ll find Villa Nobel named after Alfred Nobel of the Nobel Peace Prize. This villa, now a museum, has undergone many updates and is open to the public most mornings from 10-12:30 and a few afternoons. It is located at Corso Felice Cavallotti 116. You can enjoy many other villas from the outside along this same area. Then you can head south to reach the seafront and bike trail.
Travel with the best lightweight digital cameras
Are you getting this all on film? You should be, and you want to carry the best, lightweight digital camera with you. I never leave home without a camera. I have a couple of DSLRs and lightweight digital cameras depending on what I’m doing for the day, and these digital cameras are some of the best for capturing everyday shots. You are going to want something durable that you can throw in your bag without it getting dinged up, and has a great lens. I generally carry a Sony digital camera or a Nikon digital camera. And you might want one that also takes shots underwater. Check out these options here.
Visit the Sanremo Weekly Outdoor Market
A visit to the weekly Sanremo open-air market is a must-do on a day trip from Nice. The twice-a-week market is on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:00a-1:00pm in Piazza Eroi Sanremesi. It’s located up in Sanremo old town, and you can’t really miss it if you follow the crowds. You’ll find more than 200 stalls with food and non-food items. It’s a great, busy place to wander around and you’ll find some great bargains.
Sanremo Covered Food and Fish Markets
In the same area, you’ll find the Sanremo Covered Food and Fish Markets. The San Remo Food and Fish Markets are open from 6:00a to 1:30p Monday to Saturday and 4-7:30p on Saturday afternoons. It’s a great place to stock up on fresh fruits, cheeses, salamis and meats, honeys, spices, liquors, wines – you name it.
4) Day trip from Nice, France to Imperia, Italy
For a bit of history, Mussolini created Imperia in 1923 by combining Porto Maurizio with the town of Orneglia and various villages nearby. It’s a sizeable town of about 45,000 people with a lovely port and a great place to spend a day. It’s only 30 minutes from Ventimiglia on the train, and I’ve been to Imperia a number of times.
Imperia now has a new train station, and is a 15-20 minute walk from town. Previously, the station was smack-dab in the centre of town, which was really convenient. Now, the new train station of Imperia is about a mile out of town and it can be a bit of a schlep. Generally, it is an easy and safe walk, even at night.
Olive Festival in Imperia – Olioliva Festival
Imperia is a lovely town to discover, particularly when they host their annual Olioliva Festival in November celebrating that famous green fruit – the Olive. Not only will you find loads of olive products here, but also local specialties such as foccacia, honey, salami, prochetta and other tasty items to sample. We basically eat our way through Imperia!
Villa Grock, the Clown Museum in Imperia
One point of interest in Imperia is Villa Grock, which was originally called Villa Bianca. Grock was the stage name used by an internationally-famous Swiss clown, Charles Adrien Wettach. Wettach originally ran off with a traveling circus and became one of the highest paid entertainers in the early to mid-1900’s. He built this lavish 50-room villa in Imperia for living and entertaining. Villa Grock is now a clown museum in his honour. You can easily see the iconic rooftop of the Villa from the Imperia train station as you exit, and there are several street signs providing directions. The museum is open only on Tuesdays from 2:30-5:30p and is located at Viale Matteotti, 147.
Visit Imperia’s Porto Oneglia Area
The town of Imperia is lovely to walk around, and you will inevitably find yourself walking down the main drag; the infamous Route SS1. Yes, this is the same road that goes through Ventimiglia, Bordighera and Sanremo…. The SS1 in Imperia is a lovely shopping street with covered porticoes on both sides, which is really refreshing when it’s scorching hot. There are lots of specialty shops and boutiques. My friends Deima and Craig can’t help but stop for shoes every time we go. The shoes are made in Italy and the prices and quality are great.
Continuing along then crossing over SS1 heading south, you’ll wind through an older part of Imperia passing the Basilica di San Giovanni Battista and eventually to the paved stretch in front of Porto Oneglia.
Here you’ll find several restaurants that front the port offering some of the best seafood around. One suggestion is to try the restaurant that is on a fishing boat in the harbour. You can’t miss it. It’s the only one there.
For another treat, head to Damare Ristorante close to the port wall. It’s a family restaurant and they have reasonably priced menus of the day. The staff are super friendly and professional. We enjoyed lobster with tagliatelle for $20! Oh, and wine!
Once you are have finished lunch on the port, head left (east) down the promenade on Via Angiolo Silvio Novaro. The promenade was named after the famous writer and poet born in Diano Marina, the next town after Imperia going east. This promenade is again part of the defunct rail tracks that forms part of the 24km bike trail mentioned above. You’ll go past Koko Beach, where you can rent a lounge chair for the day and enjoy a chi-chi lunch seaside. There’s a park, a playground, a little snack shop, then it’s just seaside promenade. If you continue on this path you’ll eventually end up in Diano Marina in about an hour.
Outdoor Market in Imperia, Italy
Imperia has a sufficient outdoor market with more than 100 stalls three days a week – Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Wednesday and Saturday are at Rione di Oneglia in the main town, and Thursdays’ is near the Port at Porto Maurizio. Best bet is to get there in the morning like the other markets.
Nice Apero Stop in Imperia
A great place to stop in Imperia for an afternoon Italian Apero is at Bacan on Via Vieusseux. It’s just off the SS1 (covered portico street) as you head back toward the train station. They, too, will serve up a hefty plate of nibbles while you enjoy a $5 glass of wine or an Aperol Spritz. It’s a great way to take the edge off before you head off to dinner or back to Nice.
The next time you are in the South of France on holiday, do not hesitate to take some day trips to Italy. They really are very easy to do and you’ll have a super time discovering this wonderful part of Liguria. Have you done a day trip from Nice or Monaco to Italy? Drop me a line and let me know how it went!
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