After 5 days in Paris, my husband and I will take the train to Avignon, rent a car and then head to Hotel Crillon le Brave. We will be staying there the first week in August. We have 6 full days and would like to spend our time leisurely: Visit several towns, a couple of vineyards, eat, drink, relax. We are of the "less is more" mentality and don't feel the need to pack it all in. We definitely want to spend a day in Avignon (although not the day we arrive) and would like to see Isle -sur-la Sourge as well. What other towns would you recommend we visit taking into consideration our base-camp and desire to relax? We would also love some recommendations for dinners close to our hotel. We will end our trip by driving to Nice (returning our car) and then spend our last two days there. What is the best way to spend 36 hours in and around Nice? Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
If you are going to L'isle-sur-la-Sorge, you'll be very close to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, one of our favorite towns in the area. I would add Rousillon as a "don't miss." If you want details on what to see, pm me.
I think you'd enjoy outdoor markets. Rick's Provence book has a list of what markets are on what days in each town. I like the Friday market in Lourmarin but there are many good ones. I would spend a day or more in the Luberon hill towns. If you don't mind driving a bit, you could drive up to Vaison la Romaine, Seguret, and Gigondas. A nice vineyard with a view is Domaine de Mourchon in Seguret. Definitely see Pont du Gard.
The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat near Nice is worth at least half a day and is a nice place to have an outdoor lunch with a view.
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse was one of our favorite towns on our 10 day trip in March to Provence. In addition to Avignon and Fontaine we also liked Arles, St. Remy and Les Baux de Provence, Pont du Gard, and visiting Orange to see the Roman Theater, among other towns and sights. We visited a few hill towns but we had a different experience than you will have in August as there were few tourists. There's a lot to see in that area. We went with tentative itinerary of one or two major sights per day and three small towns for other days. We cut out some sights as we also like 'less is more' and just spent more time enjoying where we were. Have fun!
I didn't have a car, so I didn't see the smaller villages. Of Arles, Avignon, Orange, and Nimes, my favorite was Nimes, which was a great town I'd gladly go back to and spend more time in (I only saw it as a day trip). I also liked Arles a lot, and the Roman Theater in Orange was fantastic, with its intact theatrical wall; the rest of Orange, however, was nothing special. While I liked Avignon well enough, it was not as nice, to me, as Arles or Nimes.
If you don't already have Rick Steves Provence And The French Riviera, I'd recommend it. It will give you good ideas for your time in Nice (hint: focus on Old Nice, then on the museums that interest you). Note that his general France book has MUCH less information about this area.
I would also recommend spending some time going to the hill towns of the Luberon. One small village not frequently mentioned and thus off most tourist's list is Cucuron which is just a few kilometers to the east of Lourmarin. It is smaller less touristic and still lovely. There is a small reservoir with large trees shading the nearby side walk cafe seating. A perfectly lovely place to have dinner or while away a couple of hours at lunch time. You can just jump back on the highway or toll road to be back in Avignon quickly. Be sure to visit one or more of the morning markets during your time there, there is supposed to be a good covered one in Avignon, but I didn't get that far in my time spent there last month. I would say start early in the day to avoid crowds at the bigger tourist destinations during August and this will also help you beat the heat! Pont du Gard is a don't miss 1/2 day excursion.
A couple of things: we are not big shoppers on vacation. We like to poke into small interesting shops, but overall we do very little shopping. Secondly, while I love markets and could spend all day strolling through them, my husband does not. He enjoys them but is content seeing one or two and moving on. I have a couple of questions. The one day I was unsure about was Arles/Les Baux. Would you consider that a MUST and if so, how would you spend that day. Is it worth driving there just to experience the Camargue? Secondly, since we will be in Paris for 5 days previous to this and we prefer to see smaller villages and such, could we spend 1/2 day in Aix or perhaps even stop there on our way to Nice for lunch? Or would you recommend stopping in Grasse/St. Paul de Vence/Mougins on our way to our hotel in Nice. Finally, I am thinking about taking Uzes off of the list since I'd rather dedicate 1/2 day to Avignon and the other 1/2 to the Pont du Guard. So much to see, not enough time! Thanks again….
Definitely skip the markets if you or your hubby won't enjoy them. I think I am in the minority but I wasn't crazy about Les Baux. I liked Arles a lot and think Aix is worth a lunch stop/half day. We combined Aix and Cassis as a day trip. We went to a concert one night at the Roman theater in Arles and it was fantastic, you could check at the TI to see what is on. I haven't been to Grasse but would skip St Paul de Vence unless you want to see the modern art museum. Do what appeals to you, your preferences/likes may be different than mine. I don't think you'll be disappointed with whatever you choose.
I recommend dropping your car off at the airport in Nice and taxi into town. We dropped ours off in town and it was a nightmare. Lots of one-way streets in Nice and lots of traffic! Had to go down a one-way street the wrong way to get to the drop-off point! Very stressful. What hotel are you staying at (out of curiosity?)
My favorites were Ilse sur la Sougre, Arles, Vence, Vaison la Romain. Skip Grasse, Rousillon was a hike to get to and we ended up turning around and leaving. We stayed in Antibes which is not far from Nice. I agree to check out Ricks book he describes the areas and distances.
I think you might like visiting the vineyards around Suzette, Lafare, and especially Beaumes de Venise. Check out the Cotes du Rhone driving tour in the RS France and Provence books. Make sure you drive in the direction recommended. You're also so close to Mont Ventoux - you should definitely drive to the summit and see the grand view.
For your day.5 in Nice, I would prioritize the Chagall museum and it's easy to continue from there to the Matisse museum (both closed Tuesdays). Next, the Russian Cathedral (for something different), classic beachfront promenade, and Vieux Nice/old town for the morning market and dining options.
My favorite market is St. Remy and because it is not huge you don't have to spend a ton of time there... just shop the market for lunch. They have all the best... roasted chicken, cheese, bread, fruit, wine, etc. You can have a great little picnic and peruse the market and wander the beautiful town. Isle sur la Sourge is a rather big market with lots of antiques... nice for the serious shopper. Really any direction that you go you will find very different villages that each have their own unique and wonderful sights. I don't particularly care for Aix... much larger than I thought. Drive to the Carmague ... worth it? It is very different and I really enjoyed it. One time we saw a ton of flamingos, and the white horses, next time we saw 2 flamingos, some white horses and some bulls. I love the little beach town there. It is a bit of a drive but worth it for me. (However I was in Provence for more than 2 weeks each time) Another favorite beach town on the drive to Nice is Ste. Maxime.... beautiful beach area, nice restaurants and unique shops. LaBaux is really touristy, but if you go really late you can have the place to yourself. There is also a place near St. Remy (I always forget the name) but there is an audiovisual show that is projected on the walls of a cave.... very impressive. There is so much to do in the south of France, and with a car.... you will love it.
Terry kathryn is referring to the don't-miss-experience of Carrieres des Lumieres which is right outside of Les Baux (which can be missed).
I would just like to "third" the suggestion to be sure to visit Carrieres des Lumieres in Les Baux. It is an amazing and very unique experience. If you can get there right when they open you may get lucky like we did and have the place almost to yourselves for the first 15-20 minutes. I would not miss this spectacular show.
Arles, Aix, the Camargue, the tiny fortified town of Aigues-Morte, Pont du Gard are my favourites. Take a bag lunch to the Pont and sit on the shore of the river below the bridge and eat your picnic. Buy a walking tour map of Arles for 1 Euro at the tourist information office on the main street and do three different walks, including a Van Gogh one which will take you to places that he painted and a Roman sites walk. The featured artist at the light show at Les Baux this year is Gustav Klimt. Take a sweater as it is chilly, which is lovely on a hot day. Bring a sunhat and a bottle of water if you are going to southern France in the summer!
I like experiencing aspects of the local culture. You may be able to catch a bullfight in the Arles arena. Or catch a bull game ("course camarguaise"), which occur in various locations throughout the region. It's also a great venue for people watching.