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Choosing a base from the wonderful places in Southern France

Help! Where should we stay for a week in Southern France? Everything looks lovely. Vence, St. Paul de Vence, Villefranche-Sur-Mer, Antibes? We enjoy the visual and performing arts as well as scenery and just strolling the small streets. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by JS
Bay Area
3166 posts

So many wonderful towns. You mention no budget or transport options. I will assume u wish public transport. Therefore i would suggest u stay along the train route.The most centralwould be Nice.
It is a great spot for museums, sights, churches, beach and markets. book soon for summer months.
I love Villefrance sur la mer but it is alot quieter and less to do but beautiful views.
If u have a car or have a zbudget in mind. Pls let this forum know.

Posted by Carlos
Barcelona//Los Angeles
211 posts

Southern France is a big place with a great diversity of landscapes and potential sights. I personally like the Languedoc region of southern France, it's the lesser known western neighbor of Provence. Geographically, Narbonne may be a good base at it sits right in the center of the action, so to speak.

For potential sites, Languedoc contains the well preserved medieval towns of Carcassonne and Béziers, countless Roman ruins (such as the Roman arenas in Nîmes), medieval abbeys, Romanesque churches, and impressive feudal citadels (such as the ruined Cathar castles in the mountains of Corbières).

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

What time of year is your visit? That might make a difference.

I've been to all the places you mentioned, traveling only by public transportation, and will provide a few comments:

Vence requires a bus from Nice and to go anywhere else. Very atmospheric and good-sized historic district; not very touristy when I visited in May 2017. I am not aware of a major museum right in Vence, but there may be something.

St.-Paul-de-Vence also requires use of a bus. It's a beautiful place built on the side of a hill but is extremely, mind-bogglingly touristy. I cannot imagine staying there for a week, but tiny places swamped with tourists really do not appeal to me. However, it has a magnificent modern-art museum, the Fondation Maeght.

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a cute place on the coast with train service along the Riviera, a much handier location. No significant museum that I'm aware of right in the town, but many in other towns along the Riviera that would be readily accessible by train. The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and the Villa Kerylos are quite close. Villefranche can be very touristy. Large cruise ships dock there, though many of the passengers go straight to some other place (like Monte Carlo), I was told.

Antibes had what I thought was the best balance of atmosphere and things to do (Picasso Museum and a market) among the four towns you mention. Antibes definitely gets a lot of tourists, but the situation didn't seem oppressive to me.

Since you specifically mentioned the arts, I would say you should take a serious look at Nice. It has at least six art museums, and I think you're more likely to encounter evening performances of some sort there, as opposed to the other (much, much smaller) places along the Riviera. Although Nice is a large city, it does have a picturesque historic district. And because of its size, it absorbs large numbers of visitors relatively well.

I recommend getting a good guide book that focuses on southern France and reading about all the sights. Make a list of the things that sound most interesting to you and mark them on a map. That will help you narrow down your options. As others have noted, southern France is more than the Riviera. You may decide that Provence or Languedoc is where you want to be on this trip. All three areas have opportunities to see art.

Whether you plan to rent a car makes quite a lot of difference. The Riviera is by far the easiest area to see by train plus occasional bus. It is definitely possible to visit Provence and Languedoc without a car (I did it), there will be some places you cannot easily reach unless you take bus tours.

Posted by Angelita OP
Portland
2 posts

We will be going in the fall, September or October. If we can get by without a car, that would be great. It seems like driving in the Cote d’azur Is a challenge, to say the least. Thanks for the information already shared.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10367 posts

That's not far off-season, but it is not peak season. I'd expect generally nice weather, but one thing to be aware of is the tendency of smaller museums and attractions to tweak their days and hours of operation from month to month. I noticed this when planning a trip that began in early May. Quite a lot of places were closed one extra day per week in May (typically a total of two days), and one small, privately-owned museum (don't remember which) did not even open until June. So hit the museum and other websites next summer and make yourself a calendar to avoid disappointment. It's conceivable you'll run into a few 3-days-a-week closures in October.

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
10367 posts

I liked Antibes best. The local train is the best way to get up and down the coast. If you want to get off the coast, however, you need either a car or bus. The traffic is bad either way and a bus limits your ability to move efficiently. I came from Provence and dropped the car as soon as I got there, then flew out of Nice back to Paris.

Posted by Gooster
Nice, France & San Francisco
220 posts

Along the cote d'azur, and the towns you cited, you can be assured that things will be open through October, with the exception of beach and water related services, which often will shut down at the end of September (like the beach clubs, water gear rental, etc). In the countryside and in other parts of the South, you will see things begin to shut down a bit earlier For them, Nov to Mid April is the off season and some places even shutter completely.

Going into the countryside is possible by train or bus, but some places are really only conveniently access by car. You can rent for a day or night if you are really interested in these villages. Taking the train is generally faster, but the main 100 bus from Nice to Monaco (and places in between) is superior for views.

Posted by Darlene
Carlsbad, CA
22 posts

I also recommend Antibes. And it is easy to visit Villefranche and Nice by train.