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The Three Corniches

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Grande Corniche
View from the Grande Corniche

Moyenne Corniche
Moyenne Corniche with Eze in the distance

Between Nice and Menton the pine-forested Alpes drop precipitously to the sea, creating one of the most dramatic and inspiring views in Europe. Carved into the mountainside are three roads: the Grande Corniche at the top, the Moyenne Corniche in the middle and the Basse Corniche (or Corniche Inferieure) along the coast. Each has their own charm.

The Grande Corniche

The vistas are indeed heady on this dizzying road (the D2564) that climbs to 550m above sea level. Built by Napoleon, it follows the ancient Roman via Julia Augusta. On one side, Mediterranean meets sky while the other side is interspersed with rustic villas, pines and cactuses. It's the most rustic of the three corniches and the most dangerous to drive. Alfred Hitchcock filmed parts of "To Catch a Thief" here in the fifties and in 1982 Princess Grace met her death here in a car accident.

The main town up here is La Turbie, known for the Roman Trophée des Alpes and for its frequent fog. The unparalleled views from the Grande Corniche can be obscured by mist in which case you should descend to the Moyenne Corniche.

The Moyenne Corniche

Built between 1910 and 1928, the Moyenne Corniche also offers entrancing views from a road (the N7) that is less hair-raising than the Grande Corniche. It's also more developed and there's more traffic. The main sight to see is the medieval hill town of Eze. For a photo opportunity, you'll want to stop at the Col de Villefranche just before a long tunnel. You can get a shot of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Nice and Cap d'Antibes. If you don't have wheels, you can take bus 112 from Nice to Beausoleil. See the schedule.

The Basse Corniche

This coastal road (the N98) takes you past the seaside resorts of Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-John Cap Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Eze-Bord-de-Mer, Cap d'Ail, Monaco and Cap Martin.It can get traffic-clogged during rush hours but the route is lined with elegant 19th-century villas (it was inaugurated in 1857) and gardens. If you don't have wheels, you can take bus 100 from Nice to Menton. See the schedule.

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