The French Riviera may be a playground for the rich and famous, but there's much more to the Côte d'Azur than casinos, exclusive villas and harbours stuffed with billion-dollar yachts. This delightful coast stretches from St.Tropez to Menton on the Italian border, with Frèjus, Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monaco along the way. There couldn't be a better way of appreciating the natural beauty and diverse character of this special place than by driving the three spectacular coast roads known as corniches, with each of these parallel highways delivering a different perspective on the Riviera.
The Grand Corniche (La Grande Corniche) is a 31 km (19 mi) cliff-top road, rising to a height of some 450 m 1475 ft) as it passes above the Principality of Monaco. It was built at the beginning of the 19th century (following the line of the Roman Via Julia Augusta) to facilitate the movement of Napoléon's troops to Italy, and as such does not pass through many interesting places. No matter - the road itself is the star of the show, offering sensational far-reaching views.
It is by far the most satisfying way to entering and leaving Nice, and the drive from there to sober Menton is unforgettable.
The 33 km (20 mi) Base Corniche (La Corniche Inférieure) along the shoreline is an altogether different experience - slow-moving and traffic choked, it was built by a Prince of Monaco and visits each and every place on the Côte d'Azur in turn. This is the way to go if you're interested in the hothouse social and commercial street life of the Riviera.
The Middle Corniche (La Moyenne Corniche) runs between the other two roads, clinging to the escarpment's rocky backbone as it winds through the Mediterranean landscape, offering wonderful views of the coast and the coast and the Riviera's towns and village below.
WHEN TO GO
TIME IT TAKES
Allow a day to drive all three in turn, with leisurely stops.
Le Turbie on the Grand Corniche - the symbolic border between Gaul and Ancient Rome, with an impressive Roman colonnade.
On the Middle Corniche - the view of Cap Ferrat from the elevated Villefranche Neck, and (upon exiting a tunnel) the sudden appearance of the dramatic village of Eze, perched high on its soaring rock.
On the Base Corniche - Cap Ferrat...and course Monte Carlo, where you definitely won't break the bank.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Princess Grace of Monaco died when her car mysteriously plunged from the Middle Corniche.