Making tracks into the mountains.
Nice is a glorious city with - and this is less well-known - an outstanding hinterland full of mountains, valleys and lovely villages. After a day or two in town, you might like to get up and among it all, for even fresher air and even wider horizons. And the Train des Merveilles is a splendid way to do so. Its name ('Train of Marvels') tells no lies. A regular SNCF (French Rail) service, it trundles out of Nice-Ville station and then up through the most astounding sub-Alpine scenery to villages and small towns like Sospel, Saorge, La Brigue and finally Tende.
Here you are surrounded by the real Alps - a spit from Italy, the Mercantour national park (where there be wolves) and the Vallée des Merveilles with its world-famous Bronze Age rock carvings. And you've got here without all the terror of some pretty white-knuckle driving along mountain roads. The train works daily all year round. But, on weekends in May and October, and every day from June to September, the 9.05 service to Tende comes equipped with proper guides and explanations of the landscape and its ways in both French and English. These add immeasurably to the experience.
The journey to Tende lasts 1h45, so you're there by 10.49am. I'd head straight for the Musée des Merveilles (Avenue du 16 Septembre 1947, 04 93 04 32 50, www.museedesmerveilles.com.. Free). The museum is modern and will tell you all you need to know about the Vallée des Merveilles, it's pre- and proto-history, its wildlife and customs. Open 10am-6.30pm summer, 10am-5pm winter; shut Nov 13- Dec 6, and Tuesdays, except in July and August. There's also advice on walks and other ways to benefit from this magnificent countryside. The more intrepid might, for instance, like to take a mountain bike, or tackle the nearby via ferrata. At any rate, there's more than ample to fill the day until 5.22pm - and the train back to Nice. I think that, when you arrive back in the city, you'll agree you've had a spectacular time. I hope so. I cannot recommend this trip highly enough.