Corniches - The World Famous Panorama Roads
What is the best way to get to Menton and Nice? It depends on what is meant with "best way". There are in total four straight connections from Menton to Nice: The motorway Authoroute Esterel is certainly the fastest connection, but also the most expensive and most unattractive one. Those who have some time and want to see something will take one of the three Corniches.
What is a Corniche? By translating the word Corniche, it means something like cliff of cliff road. Therewith it is clear what a Corniche is if I talk about a connection Menton-Nice. Those who have a deep look into the roadmap will see in addition to the motorway three roads between Nice and Menton. As the rocks of the Maritime Alps in this are go straight into the sea, all three roads are Corniches.
The lower road is called Corniche Inférieure or also Corniche du Litoral. It leads from Menton up to Nice right alongside the coast. Those who drive alongside the coast that is of a length of only 30 km will cross one village after the next one. Maybe I should not call Monaco village ... Numerous beaches string together. In the summer time, one could need some good two hours for his piece of road as the stretch is oftenly frequented.
Who has never heard anything of the Grande Corniche ? Who will even say that he never saw this road anywhere? The Grande Corniche is the most famous panorama road of the world. Also those who never drove alongside this road has surely seen some parts of it on TV. How many million people have seen the movie Golden Eye, the James Bond movie from the year 1995? The movie starts with a spectcular car chase. James Bond chases the Russian female fighter pilot Xenia Onatopp, she is driving a Ferrari, he an oldtimer that is not less fast. This chase takes place exactly on this road between Menton and Monaco.
The Grande Corniche (translated: big cliff road) was built by Napoleon I. alongside of the old Roman road Via Aurelia. It has a partly dizzy height of up to 500 m over the Mean Sea Level. At the level of Monaco it is of a height of 450 m. James Bond has misused this panorama road for a car chase. It is much too good for this, as from the Grande Corniche one has so many fanastic views that one actually only drives from one parking place to the next.
Thereby, the views are not limited to downwards towards the sea, but if the weather is clear, one can also look up to the heartland - up to the peak heighted 4.000 m in the background; Where else in the world is it possible to see mountains heighted 4.000 m hand the sea from the same spot?
How does one get to the Grande Corniche? For those who start from Menton it is easy: right in Roquebrune, one continues in direction to La Turbie. There one already finds a big sightseeing: the Roman victory monument. The monument of a height exceding 30 m is still in very good condition nd in La Turbie one finds the first big observation deck.
Those who want to get to the Grande Corniche by coming from Nice will need to have a thorough look to the map. Those who find the way to the Observatoire (Observatory) will get automatically to the Grande Corniche. But the way in Nice is badly signposted. Those who drive from the old port in direction to the motorway, will mostly discover (if he discovers it at all) too late that at an inconspicuous area that at the right up the mountain there is the way to the observatory.
Once arrived at the Grande Corniche, one drives through it by having numerous stops. The stretch is not strongly frequented, so that one can also stop in the middle of the way in order to make a picture. But according to my opinion, one has the most fascinating views from Col d'Èze at a height of 512 m or from the neighboured Belvedère d'Eze. I was impressed the most by the view to the Cap Ferrat from above. With a good binocular one can also see the details of the Villa Rothschild...
The Cap Ferrat is, together with the Cap Martin (between Menton and Monaco) one of the most exclusive addresses of the whole Côte d'Azur. At the upper side of Monaco there is a further view point, the Le Vistaero, from which one can see both capes and of course also Monaco. The view from the Grande Corniche to the little mountain village Eze is unforgettable, a village that one should not miss to visit.
The Corniche Moyenne
Also the third Corniche between Menton and Nice should not be discarted. Those who drive the Grande Corniche in one direction can drive back on the Corniche Moyenne (middle cliff road). From the Corniche Moyenne, one has at least as impressive views as it is the case form the Grande Corniche; Numerous parking places mke it possible to have one or two stops in between.
But attention! The Corniche Moyenne should be in any case driven from Nice in direction to Menton and not the way around. The lay-bys are always at the seaside; As the road is highly frequented, one has barely a chance to cross the trace of the opposing traffic in order to get to a parking place.
Additionally, the co-driver will barely be able to enjoy the views during the drive in direction to Nice as the road is surrounded by a medium heighted wall. But from Nice in direction to Menton, the road is a great experience!
Before the motorway was built, the Moyenne Corniche was the main artery between Menton and Nice. Still today, the stretch is strongly frequented. The maybe most fascinating parking place (Mont des Mules) is located right above Monaco.With a good binocular, one could look right into one or two houses of celebrities. With a binocular, one also could enjoy watching the nobilities in front of the casino.
The parking places at the Col de Villefranche and at the Plateau Saint-Michel right over Beaulieu are not less impressive. From these both points one has a great view to the two bathing resorts right underneth oneself. Many times, huge cruisers make a stop at Villefranche. Those who are lucky will be able to watch from the view points these maritime Giants doing the difficult manoeuvres.
One reason why one should in any case drive through the Corniche Moyenne unbedingt is the place Èze that is located right at the road. One should not only look at the place from the oputside but take one or two hours time in order to walk up the Jardin Exotique from which one has a great view in direction to the Cap Ferrat. More about this on the Èze-page.
The final question is how is the way to drive through all the 3 Corniches and get the most of it.
Anyway, I recommend everybody to spend at least one night in Menton. Then, one should take a full day for the two upper quay sides. I recommend everybody starting in the morning from Menton to drive the Grande Corniche up to Nice. Because then, one has the sun at the back and one never has a dazzled view to the mountains and down to the sea and one can do a lot of pictures.
Once arrived in Nice, I recommend to have a stop for having a bath and a snack in between before returning through the Corniche Moyenne. By drinving through this cliff road in the late afternoon, one will have again the sun shining at one's back, can have some short stops at the parking places and arrive in time for dinner in Menton.
For the further driving from Menton to Nice or even further, I recomend then the Corniche Inférieure in order to view the most possible of the numerous places (not least Monaco) between the two cities.
Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz