Are you wanting to have a birds-eye view of the incredible French Riviera coastline? Why not visit some of the beautiful hilltop villages or villages perchés. The Alpes-Maritimes department in southeast France, or commonly known as Côte d’Azur, is home to countless medieval hilltop villages. Where in some cases you can be as high as 1,500 meters above sea level. Here are best 5 hilltop villages near Nice that are the perfect day trip.
Côte d’Azur Villages
Most villages in the Cote d’Azur emerged during the 12th and 13th centuries. What they all have in common is that they were built in strategic locations, to protect themselves from invasion, often on rocky cliffs making it hard to access and easy to defend. They each have a center point, the church and a bell-tower, with the curvy cobbled alleyways winding down from there. You may also find large archways and tunnels, that presumably would have provided some shelter to the outdoor elements. Many still have a castle, or ruins of a castle, nearby. Needless to say, they are all breathtaking. Be prepared to park your car just outside the town limits and walk to the centre of town.
Best Hilltop Villages near Nice
ST PAUL DE VENCE
St Paul de Vence is considered one of France’s most beautiful villages. Cobbled streets, centuries old buildings, tiny squares and lovely fountains at every turn, this pretty hilltop village is a definite must-see.
The beautiful hilltop village of Saint Paul de Vence inspired some of the world’s best artists, like Picasso, Chagall and Matisse. A large collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings can be found in the art galleries dotted through this lovely village, especially along rue Grande. If you only visit one, go to Fondation Maeght, where they combine the love of architecture, art and nature together. The best thing to do in St Paul de Vence is to simply wander and explore. Walk along the fortified medieval wall, climb the narrow ramparts, and stroll through the vaulted passageways and you’ll feel the history here. Gaze upon the weathered ancient doors and potted plants are a photographer’s dream.
For a tiny village, there is no shortage of restaurants in St Paul de Vence. The most legendary is La Colombe d’Or. This restaurant has been serving guests the 1930s. It was a favourite of many artists and writers, some of which left behind their work creating a art gallery feel to this restaurant. Reservations are a must.
15km west of Nice – recommend going to nearby village of Vence
Eze is one of the prettiest villages, but also the hilliest. Be prepared to climb – a lot. But, it’s worth it as the views are simply incredible which makes Eze a must-visit day trip from Nice.
Eze is perched in an “eagle’s nest” fashion. This beautiful village can be viewed from afar due to its ochre colour church. A botanical hillside garden filled with interesting statues, cacti and tropical plants is a must-visit while in Eze. Take the path called “Nietzshche way” paying tribute to the philosopher writing some of his most famous works while walking up and down these winding pathways. Within the village, you will find the same crooked, winding cobblestone pathways. Shaded squares, ancient fountains and pretty doorways filled with colourful window boxes are abundant. Tour, for free, the Fragonard perfume factory.
Due to the high number of tourists, Eze has many shops, restaurants and hotels. Stay and dine at 400 year old Chateau Eza, offering the best views and of the French Riviera. Don’t let the number of visitors deter you from visiting this lovely village, trust me, once here, you’ll never want to leave.
12km east of Nice – recommend visiting nearby Monaco and Beaulieu sur Mer
Peillon is a beautiful hilltop village that is perched on a sheer cliff. This tiny tightly packed village won’t take you long to explore, but it is definitely worth visiting.
Peillon may be tiny, but it is spectacular. You are immediately struck by the tall stone-built houses that appear to be carved out of a rock. Once inside this fortified medieval village, you can admire these ancient houses up-close and the lovely weathered doorways. Stroll the narrow cobblestone streets, vaulted bridge and stone staircases. Visit the baroque church and chapel and view the 15th century frescos. Peillon provides panoramic views of the surrounding forested mountains, valleys, distant towns and Mediterranean sea.
Peillon is a hidden gem with very few tourists that visit here. It is quiet, peaceful and undeniably charming.
20km northeast of Nice – recommend visiting nearby La Turbie and Menton
Peille is an ancient village clinging to the side of a mountain facing Monaco and Menton. Lose yourself in its narrow streets, small but beautiful squares, pretty fountains and stone archways.
The hilltop village of Peille feels like you’ve stepped back in time. Many of the buildings date back to the 12th century. There are four religious monuments to visit. The village Church of Sainte Marie from the 13th century, the Chapel of the Misericords (now an oil mill), Chapel Saint-Sebastien (now the town hall) and the Chapel Saint-Joseph. Unique to this village is the surrounding walking tours, ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours. It’s a great way to explore the countryside and yes, take in more of those stunning views.
Peille may be a bit remote, and off the beaten path from most tourists which is a reason to add it to your day trip from Nice. Don’t expect to find many shops or restaurants- only charm can be found here.
25km northeast of Nice – recommend visiting nearby La Turbie and Menton
ROQUEBRUNE CAP MARTIN
The hilltop village of Roquebrune Cap Martin is known as the gem of the French Riviera gem. As it lies very close to the Mediterranean sea and has views of nearby Monaco.
Roquebrune Cap Martin has two distinct parts. A seaside resort closest to the coastline is where you’ll find luxury villas where former guests of Coco Channel, Winston Churchill and royalty would stay. The ancient village of Roquebrune Cap Martin is perched up high above. What remains now is an 11th century castle and chapel. But, the real reason to go here is for the closeup views of the Mediterranean, making this a bit unique to the other hilltop villages.
25km east of Nice – recommend visiting nearby Menton, Monaco and Beausoleil
As a holidaymaker…
The French Riviera, or la Côte d’Azur, stretches from Marseille to Menton. It’s a stunning coastline that attracts many. But there are still some quiet and peaceful spots to be found. Go a bit inland and visit some the most beautiful hilltop villages close to Nice.