If there’s one thing that makes me feel at home in a foreign country, it’s visiting a garden. I’ve always been a lover of green spaces, where I am surrounded by lush landscapes as the potent fragrances of different florals waft through the air.
Now, I’m no botanist, but there is just something about gardens that speaks to my soul. Call me a hopeless romantic for flowers, but there is an inexplicable peace that washes over me when I’m in a beautiful garden.
If you’re anything like me and appreciate the horticultural beauty of gardens, you’ll be blown away by the gardens of the French Riviera. I visited these three gardens while on a trip to Nice, and each visit ended up being a huge highlight of my time in the city. If you’re visiting Nice, these three gardens are all within 30 minutes from the heart of the city and easy to access using public transport.
Jardin du Monastère de Cimiez
Starting out with a garden that sits within the boundaries of the historic Cote d’Azur city itself, the Jardin du Monastère de Cimiez is a magnificent garden I came across while visiting some of Nice’s top art museums and galleries.
I knew little about the garden before I visited and was fascinated to learn more about it. In short, it is one of the oldest gardens in Nice, surrounding a historic Benedictine Monastery from the 9th century. It’s an Italian-inspired garden that was once a vegetable garden and orchard harvested by the monks at the Monastery. They would cultivate vines and fruit trees and use the plants for medicinal purposes.
Today, the garden is a haven of French Riviera flora, dotted with orange, lemon, and mandarin trees, landscaped flowerbeds, and creeping roses. Together with other species like olive and cypress trees, you can only imagine the floral smells that float through the garden.
You can visit the garden for free, pets are welcome to join you, and there are facilities that make it accessible for self-propelled wheelchairs.
Today, the garden still follows the original layout it did hundreds of years ago. One of the first things you’ll notice is the view, overlooking panoramic vistas over the Bay of Angels and the city of Nice. Along with other notable literates and artists, Henri Matisse is actually buried in the cemetery of this garden.
To get to the garden from Nice, you could get a range of buses from the center. From Nice-Ville train station, hop on the 05 bus and travel 21 minutes up the hill into the northern suburbs of Nice. This bus leaves every 20 minutes (on French time…) and costs €1.70 per direction. If you’re traveling from the Promenade des Anglais along the coast, you’ll need to catch two buses, the 08 and the 05.
As I mentioned, I visited this garden because it happened to be within close proximity to the Museum of Matisse and the Jardin des Arènes de Cimiez. Don’t confuse it with the Jardin des Arènes de Cimiez, which is a large park used for public events. I only walked across this park to get from the museum to the Monastery, but this seemed like a beautiful spot for a picnic shaded by century-year-old olive trees.
The Jardin des Arènes de Cimiez is accessible for free and has an entrance into the ruins of the Cimiez Arenas, which showcases the incredible archeological past of Nice. Here, you can also visit the nice Archeology Museum at Cimiez for a tour of the remains of the Roman civilization of Cemenelum, which were once thermal baths and a Paleo-Christian Basilica. This museum is open between 10 am and 6 pm daily and costs €10 to visit.
Jardin Exotique d’Èze
Towering over the historic village of Èze, the Jardin Exotique d’Èze is a botanical masterpiece in the heart of the French Riviera. If you’re a fan of botanicals and native flora, you’ve come to the right place. Planted on the site of an ancient fortress hundreds of meters above sea level overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, it’s hard to find a more impressive garden.
Wandering through the garden offers a glimpse into the floral species of the world (or those that manage to grow at the high elevation and Mediterranean climate). Throw in some ancient ruins for a touch of history, and we have ourselves one of the most spectacular botanical gardens in France.
The south side of the garden is dedicated to all things cacti. Here, you’ll find towering succulents like cereus and agave that you’d expect to find in the Mexican desert, surrounded by blossoming xerophytes creeping through every crack. The northside is packed with more Mediterranean species, including agapanthus, lavender, rosemary, olive trees, and abundant bougainvillea.
Dotted between cacti and blossoming citrus rose plants, the garden is also home to a number of clay and bronze statues by Jean-Phillipe Richard.
You’ll need to purchase a ticket to enter the garden, which can be done at the entrance on the day you visit. A ticket for an adult costs €6, while kids below the age of 18 pay only €3.5.
The garden is open daily between 9 am and 4:30 pm between January and March and between October and December. During the busier season in April, May, and June, you can stay in the garden until 6:30 pm and up until 7:30 pm July through September. The best time to visit is in spring and early summer when the flowers are in full bloom. Morning visits are usually quieter (and cooler).
The garden and the Medieval town of Èze make for an ideal day trip from Nice. If you’re visiting from the city, your best bet would be to catch the TER train from Nice-Ville, which comes around every 40 minutes, and travel to the seaside town of Èze-Sur-Mer. This journey takes around fifteen minutes and costs under €3.
Here, you’ll have to hop off the train and catch the number 83 local bus from Gare Èze. This bus will cost €1.70 and take you up winding streets to the hilltop town. Alternatively, if you’re up for an adventure, you could hike from Èze-Sur-Mer to Èze up the 1.4-mile Nietzsche Trail, which is around an hour and a half walk up a well-marked (yet decently steep) hike.
Whether hiking or not, do yourself a favor and wear comfortable walking shoes and a sun hat, and bring along a bottle of water. The entire village is made up of cobblestone alleyways and narrow staircases, so comfortable shoes are a must!
The Gardens at Villa Rothschild
Last but absolutely not least, the gardens at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild were easily some of the most exquisite gardens I’ve visited in my lifetime – and that is saying a lot.
Let me set the scene: You arrive at an enchanting pink villa set on the glamorous Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat peninsula overlooking the azure blue Mediterranean below. A subtle fragrance of lavender and rose wafts through the air as you lay your eyes on the impressively manicured gardens surrounding the villa.
I visited this garden in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record in the Riviera, and although it was scorching hot, the tall trees and water features made it feel like a refreshing way to spend a hot day.
Built during the French Belle Epoque era in the early 1900s by Beatrice de Rothschild, the villa was designed by famous architects and landscapers of the time. Home to seven hectares of garden and over five thousand works of art, the entire property is a living and breathing reminiscence of the era and its ostentatiousness.
When the owner of the villa passed away, she left the property to the Academie des Beaux-Arts, which continued to design and maintain the gardens, fountains, and pathways. Building a garden on a windswept rocky cliff was no easy task, but with the resources to explode the ground and bring earth and soil in to cover and reveal the surface for planting, anything was possible.
Within the gardens, there are nine sub-gardens, each following a unique theme. Think French lavender gardens, Spanish gardens, a unique stone garden, a traditional Japanese garden, a Florentine garden, an exotic botanical garden, a Provincial garden, and, of course, a rose garden.
After wandering through the hydrangea-lined paths and watching the exciting dancing fountain show (which happens every twenty minutes to a classical tune), head to the elegant tea room for a snack or meal.
The villa, garden, tea room, and small souvenir shop are open year-round from 10 am to 6 pm. However, reduced hours are observed during the winter season between November and February, when the villa is only open Monday to Friday from 2 pm to 6 pm and on weekends from 10 am to 6 pm.
It’s not cheap to visit the villa, but it is absolutely worth every Euro. Basic adult entry costs €12.50, while children between 7 and 17 years old can benefit from a reduced rate of €9.50. Kids under 7, students, and disabled guests can visit for free.
These tickets include admission into the villa and gardens as well as an audio guide. For a professional tour of the villa, you could pay €17 for an adult tour. Make sure you print your tickets or have them on your phone for the gatekeepers to scan.
Getting to the gardens is simple and can easily be reached by private transport from any town along the French Riviera. I came from Nice, and we took the number 15 bus from the heart of Nice to Passable/Rothschild station.
From there, it was about a 500-meter walk up a moderate hill to the villa. The journey took around 40 minutes and made more stops than I could count, but it wasn’t too busy and only cost €1.70 per direction.