Alpes-Maritimes: tourism and sightseeing
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From the French riviera resorts of Nice and Cannes to the mountains of the Alps, passing through scenic hill villages and dramatic craggy scenery, the Alpes-Maritimes is one of the most diverse and beautiful departments in France.
The Alpes Maritimes department is in the south-east corner of Provence on the border with Italy and is best known for having some of the most popular coastal resorts in France.
Take the time to explore inland and you will discover that there is much more to the Alpes-Maritimes than the Riviera. Just a few kilometres from the coast you will find countryside of great beauty with breathtaking landscapes, historic towns and beautiful villages and many other places to visit.
During the summer months the coastal regions can become rather crowded. When exploring along the coast we suggest that you leave the car behind and use the small train that stops at many of the towns and resorts.
Alpes-Maritimes: the coast
The southern coast of the Alpes-Maritimes department is part of the French Riviera, famous because of the beautiful coastline which includes some of the most popular beaches in France and the renowned resorts such as Nice, Antibes and Cannes.
Don't be put off visiting by the hype. This region really is an unmissable region of France with a great deal to see and do and consistently good weather!
As well as being one of the most visited resorts in France, Nice is one of the most beautiful cities in France, certainly one of our personal favourites (especially in late spring or early autumn when it is less crowded) and also one of the most vibrant and interesting cities: see Nice travel guide for details.
Antibes is also a very attractive coastal town and close to some of the most scenic coastline in France and at glamorous Cannes you can admire the enormous yachts and walk in the footsteps of the rich and famous.
Further east near the border with Italy the town of Menton has an extensive historic centre and is also one of our favourite resorts in France, and of course while Monaco is an independent principality and not strictly part of France, it is a fascinating city and a highlight in the region.
Other places we suggest you visit on the coast near Nice include the pretty town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, and the scenic setting for Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Cap-Ferrat . Among the 'lesser known' coastal resorts in Alpes-Maritimes are Mandelieu-la-Napoule and Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
Because there are so many resorts and scenic highlights along the coast here we have a separate guide dedicated to the French Riviera - see the Cote d'Azur guide for highlights.
Alpes-Maritimes: the south
Heading north from the coast you quickly leave the crowds behind and reach the low mountains and smaller towns and villages that typify the inland region. Several of the villages also have stunning views across deep valleys and olive groves and out across the Mediterranean.
Away from the coast the roads become dramatically quieter and often quite narrow and steep as you enter the impressive rocky, forested scenery of the region. Travel times between places that appear close on the map can be quite lengthy!
Note that although we mention a few of our favourite villages below there are a great deal of others you will discover as you explore the Alpes-Maritimes.
West of Nice
The perched village of Saint-Jeannet to the east of St-Paul-de-Vence has lovely views and the historic centre of La Colle-sur-Loup just a few kilometres to the south-west is also pleasant to explore.
Continuing north from here there are more interesting villages to explore such as Bouyon, Bonson (particularly recommended due to its lovely location) and Villars-sur-Var: these each have their own characteristics and scenic settings - but can be quite slow to get to along the winding roads!
The Vesubie Valley east of Bonson towards Saint-Jean-la-Riviere is a very lovely river valley that heads towards the north and the Mercantour National park, with Saint-Martin-vesubie and the panoramic view from above the village of Utelle being particular highlights.
Among the other villages that we recommend you should visit in this part of the Alpes-Maritimes are Biot, a picturesque small village north of Antibes and the tiny village of Gourdon, in an exceptional clifftop location and classified as one of the 'most beautiful villages of France'.
The town of Mougins where Picasso spent the last years of his life still has an established reputation for its art and restaurant, while Grasse, well known as a centre for perfume production, also has an extensive provencal town centre.
East of Nice
The region to the north of Nice and Menton is easy to access and makes for a very pleasant day out (or two) when you are staying on the coast. Two villages classified among the most beautiful in France, Coaraze and Sainte-Agnes, are to the north from Nice and Menton respectively and both recommended.
A winding road to the north-east of Coaraze will take you to the pretty village of Luceram, rather difficult to reach but a lovely traditional village with a 15th century church containing several noteworthy works of art.
In fact to the north and east of Nice there are a fascinating number of ancient perched villages each with their own particular charm including La Gaude, Saint-Jeannet, Falicon, Colomars, Aspremont, Castagniers, Tourrette-Levens, Saint-Blaise, La Roquette-sur-Var, Levens, Duranus...and others!
At La Turbie, on the hills above Monaco, there is an imposing Roman monument that was built to celebrate Roman domination of the region 2000 years ago, and lovely views along the coast.
France This Way suggest: a short distance north-east of Nice, the village of Eze is not officially listed as one of the 'most beautiful villages in France' but in our opinion is absolutely one of the most lovely villages in France, and there are exceptional views from the tropical garden at the top of the village. See Eze for details.
Further north and following close to the border with Italy we suggest you follow the route through the Roya Valley. To reach the valley follow the route north through Sospel and the small town of Breil-sur-Roya.
From here head into the Roya Valley. You will soon see the hill town of Saorge on a hilltop far above the route, then after exploring Saorge continue to the traditional hill town of Tende to explore the extensive old town centre and the brightly painted collegiale church.
If time permits, the road north-west from Sospel towards La Bollene-Vesubie is another scenic diversion, albeit a rather slow road, with a chance to explore the small traditional village at Moulinet.
From Tende you can access the ancient engravings in the Valley of Merveilles. This is a very scenic valley that contains 1000's of prehistoric engravings but can only be accessed with a guide, either on foot or by 4 wheel-drive car, and is a full day trip from Tende.
We also recommend you take a short detour to explore the village and churches of La Brigue, just south of Tende.
You can see a guide to this excursion at explore the Roya valley.
Alpes-Maritimes: the north
The most northern half of the Alpes-Maritimes is more mountainous and less visited than the south, and usually beyond the reach of 'day-tripper' tourists - although often less than an hours drive from the coast.
Known also as the 'Alpes d'Azur' region it offers a wide range of magnificent scenery, including the extensive Parc National de Mercantour, and a very wide range of possibilities for those seeking an active holiday including hiking, mountain biking, caves, rock-climbing, hang-gliding, kayaking etc.
Although it is the scenery that is the principal attraction there are also interesting mountain villages here such as Saint-Martin-d'Entraunes and Saint-Etienne-de-Tinee, both centred around their traditional churches and Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage, in the north-west corner of the Alpes-Maritimes and the highest village in the department.
It is also in the north-west of the Alpes-Maritimes that the most southerly alpine ski stations are found, with many resorts and villages providing access to the slopes of the southern Alps - Isola, Auron and Les Launes are among the largest and best known of these ski stations.
Map of places to visit near Alpes-Maritimes
See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Alpes-Maritimes
See an index of all Alpes-Maritimes communes
French version: Alpes-Maritimes (Francais)