The south of France has everything for those of us who feel the need to add a little speed to our lives. Think twisting mountain switchbacks, sun-drenched coastal roadways, a populace that enjoys and appreciates fast driving, and some of the best scenery on the planet.
The Corniche Road System
There are actually three corniche roads, the lower (basse), middle (moyenne), and upper (Grande), that run from Nice to Menton (the last French town before the Italian border). In order to get the best bang for your buck from each of them you need to have a little advance knowledge.
Let’s begin with The Lower Corniche.
Timing is everything. Really.
Don’t even consider hopping on the lower corniche during holidays, the summer season, Friday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, or at any time that could be even slightly construed as rush hour. In fact, if you have just an inkling that there may be traffic on the road, forget it.
Properly timed, though, and a drive along the lower corniche can be exceptionally rewarding. You’ll cruise past the famous seaside resorts of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, Eze-Bord-de-Mer (Bono owns a home there), Monaco, and finally, Menton. Expect to see plenty of elegant 19th century villas and dramatic cliffs rising out of the sea.
The Moyenne Corniche, built in the 1920’s to help alleviate traffic on the basse corniche, is a remarkable stretch of road with stunning views of the coastline. Numerous stopping points along the way provide ample opportunities for taking pictures and admiring the view. The hilltop village of Eze, though very touristy, is a popular destination with plenty of shops and restaurants.
The Grande Corniche was built by Napoleon along the old roman route “Via Julia Augusta”. It’s a spectacular stretch of road with exceptional views of the coastline and the inland, snow-capped Alps. Be sure to stop in La Turbie for lunch and a visit to the Trophee des Alps, a 2,000 year old monument built by Emperor Augustus. Visitors to La Turbie will also want to take advantage of what surely must be the best view of the principality of Monaco (there’s a lookout point at the edge of town).
With a little advance planning the entire road system can be driven in a day.