Cagnes-sur-Mer and Le Haut-des-Cagnes also make a fine day trip from Nice.
Roya Valley & the Mercantour National Park
The timeless Roya Valley and the Mercantour forests (one of only seven National Parks in mainland France) are a train hop away from Nice. The entire area was once the private hunting ground of Italy’s Turin-based kings. It only became part of France in 1947, and the Italianate train stations and tumbling hill villages remain. Thankfully, a lot of wildlife is left, too, in the form of wolves, marmots, ibex, eagles, and deer.
The Train de Merveilles (tendemerveilles.com), climbs up into the Roya Valley from Nice-Ville station up to six times daily. A stunning stop is Sospel, 45 min. from Nice. This age-old village is sliced in two by a raging river, and is a center for mountain biking, horseback riding, and alpine hikes.
Further north up the valley, the village of Breil-sur-Roya has stolen a few hearts, too. It lies at the nexus of several hiking paths, one of them leading downhill to Sospel.
The large ex-Italian town of Tende, 2 hr. from Nice, is the train’s final stop. The names above its stores, on its churches, and in its rococo graveyard are distinctly non-French. It’s also the gateway to the Mercantour National Park (www.parc-mercantour.eu). Before partaking in the park’s 100 hiking routes, make a visit to Tende’s Musée des Merveilles (www.museedesmerveilles.com; tel. 04-93-04-32-50), which highlight’s the area’s prehistory, cave paintings, and fairytale geography.
Lovers of la bella italia may continue on to Cuneo in Italy using a locals-only train that runs from Tende towards Turin several times each day.