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Feedback on Provence Itinerary

Hi, my wife and I will be in the Provence region for ~1.5 weeks in mid-late October, and looking for some advice. We will NOT be renting a car. So far we have:

Base out of Nice

Day 1 - Land at Nice around 1 PM. Spend the day in Nice.

Day 2 - Villefranche-sur-Mer + Cap Ferrat (Debating if we really need a full day here)

Day 3 - Monaco + Eze (Excited for Eze!)

Day 4 - St Paul De Vence + Vence + ???? Cagnes sur Mer, Haut de Cagnes ???

Day 5 - Antibes + Cannes (Cannes didn't seem our think, but swing by to look)

Day 6 - Transit to Avignon (and setup base from Avignon)

Day 7 - Nimes

Day 8 - Arles. More for the historical coliseum & roman architecture, less for Van Gogh

Day 9 - Pont du Gard (morning/early afternoon) + Avignon (afternoon+evening)

Day 10 - Avignon (full day - my wife had some shopping she wanted to do!)

Day 11 - ?????

Our extra day is currently EITHER being planned for Nice or day trip from Avignon.

Nice -- We don't actually have much time budgeted for Nice right now, outside of whatever time we throw in on mixed days because we'll be based out of there. Debate if some of the days (i.e. Villefrance is relaxing enough that we add hours to Nice).

vs.

Day Trip from Avignon - Places like Gordes, Saint Remy de Provence, La Fontaine de Vaucluse, Roussillon looked interesting. I've found a few minivan based tour companies that company that into a 1-day excursion for ease of transit.

Posted by
659 posts

Sounds wonderful! We just left Provence after spending a month in Aix without a car.

Yes I would recommend a tour to the Luberon. It’s a great way to see it; let someone else do the driving. I also recommend taking a bus to L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Charming town, you could go in Sunday during the Antique Market, we did not. Take the walk along the River Sorgue to Les Partage des Eaux and have lunch at La Guinguette. It is something special 😊

Posted by
21039 posts

I think your day plans are fairly aggressive--often with two destinations, and taking those day-trips day after day. Nice is a very good, central location for your Riviera plans, though.

The time needed at the various stops depends, obviously, on what you want to see and do. There's an excellent modern-art museum a short walk from the historic center of St-Paul-de-Vence, for example, but the tourist-clogged main street doesn't take long to see. Vence has a good-sized historic center that doesn't seem to get a lot of visitors. There's the Picasso Museum in Antibes, and Nice itself has at least six art museums, most of them not small. Cap Ferrat has the very interesting Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (with substantial garden) and Villa Kerylos, neither of which is really close to a train station, and then there's the walk around the peninsula (not as interesting as one might imagine, because the properties are walled, so you're basically looking just at the water most of the time).

I think a one-day small-group tour that hits several of the small Provencal towns is an excellent strategy when you don't have a car. I regret not doing that. You don't need a tour to get to St-Remy from Avignon, though; there's bus service.

I picked a rainy day to go to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, which no doubt affected my reaction to it, but I was very underwhelmed. There is bus service from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (which is pretty well-connected to Avignon), so Fontaine-de-Vaucluse might be manageable by public bus.

The archaeological museum in Arles is modern and I thought it was quite good; I'm usually more of an art-museum person.

Your wife might enjoy the markets in southern France. Some are only once or twice a week, but I believe the markets in Nice and Antibes run six days a week. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has markets on Thursday and Sunday (the larger one); they are larger than one might expect for a town the size of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. As a general rule it's best to try to hit markets in the morning.

Posted by
3654 posts

With this amount of time there’s enough to do in historic Provence OR the Riviera but not both, unless you are willing to rent a car for some of the time.

Posted by
1777 posts

Day two - how are you planning on getting to Cap Ferrat?
Day three – how do you plan on getting to Eze-le-Village?
Day four – St-Paul-de-Vence and Vence only. I would forgo Cagnes sur Mer and Haut de Cagnes.
Day eleven – direct bus to Uzès (1h).

Posted by
501 posts

If you wanted to expand your day in VSM, you could hit the Villa Kerylos. The bus 15 routes through Beaulieu sur Mer. You can also go directly back at that point. You are relatively light in time on Nice, and could squeeze in some time to hit the museums or the Cours Saleya market (mornings -- warning the 7th day on Monday is the antique/flea market day), and go to the top of Castle Hill (le chateau).

I'd drop Haut de Cagnes and Cagnes sur Mer and spend more time in Nice on that day. Or take the local bus to Tourettes sur Loup. There are some small van tours that hit these places all in one day.

I would recommend renting a car or the tour to better utilize your time in western Provence. There is much beauty in going to the villages -- like les Baux, Gordes, Roussillon, Lacoste, etc

Take care of schedules - bus schedules to the villages are often more frequent during the week than the weekend, esp Sunday

Posted by
2293 posts

Nice -- We don't actually have much time budgeted for Nice right now,
outside of whatever time we throw in on mixed days because we'll be
based out of there.

We stayed in Nice for a few days after our RS tour a couple of years ago. Having the evenings to spend wandering Nice after exploring the other places nearby should be enough in my opinion. Nice is one of those places that is on my list for a month-long stay after we retire, but as you are doing it, just using it as a home base.

There's a restaurant in Nice called Lu Fran Calin that has the best lasagna I've ever had. I just tried the website and it's not working. I hope it's not a covid casualty.

My favourite thing about Pont du Gard was the museum. It was really interesting. I spent more time in the museum than hiking around the bridge.

I think Cannes is underrated. One of the highlights for me was heading out to Ile Sainte Marguerite and the museum which has a prison cell where the real man in the iron mask was reportedly held. https://www.seecannes.com/museums/fort-royal-museum-ile-sainte-marguerite-698338 I'm a big Alexander Dumas fan so this was a fun trip for me. You can reach the island by a short ferry ride from Cannes.

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks for the feedback all - sorry for my delayed response, been a crazy busy week. Lets take this one reply at a time :)

Re: Car. For anyone suggesting a car, I've read/heard it already, but it's just not happening. I don't drive normally in the US either, so I absolutely would not be comfortable driving in a foreign country. But think we can still enjoy without a car!

@CaliMom. How much time would you recommend for Luberon & L'Isle sur la Sorgue?

@acraven. Yeah, it is aggressive, but we don't know when's the next time we may back in the region, so we want to hit the major sites. Maybe if we like them enough, we'll make more of an effort to revisit in the future. Think of it as a sampler plate ;)

Thanks for the tips around St-Paul-de-Vence, Vence, Antibes, and Nice. We actually also read that Cap Ferrat is mostly walking around the Cap, and have contemplated dropping it for something else. Your comment that it's "not as interesting as one might imagine" is making us consider that a little more.

How much time would you recommend at St. Remy if I add that directly to one of my Avignon days?

I've heard L'Isle sur la Sorgue recommended twice now -- sounds like that's something I'll have to add. How much time might you suggest there?

@Tom_MN. Thanks.. yes, we know it's a bit of a rush. But for above reasons, we're doing what we can!

@MaryPat. I was going to follow the various bus recommenations in RS's book. So:

Cap Ferrat -- Bus #15: Nice > Villefrance-sur-Mer > Cap Ferrat (and back).
Eze-le-Village -- A bit long winded, but evidently there's a bus and a shuttle I can transfer on?
Day 11 -- Ohh, would you suggest Uzes over some combination of Gordes, Saint Remy de Provence, La Fontaine de Vaucluse? I'll look into Uzes more myself in the meantime...

@Jeff B. Ohh, thanks. If I do that, that might free up some time to add more, or at least to relax my pace!

@Gooster. We looked into the Cours Saleya market alongside our dates, and didn't seem super interesting to us. Thanks for the advice on Haut de Cagnes & Cagnes Sur Mer -- I was on the fence about those myself, so will probably take you up on that. What's Tourettes sur Loup?

Yeah, I realize there are some small villages there that are nice. Thus the consideration of a small group minivan tour group. We just don't drive.

Posted by
21039 posts

To be clear: Both the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and the Villa Kerylos were very enjoyable; it's the time spent walking around the peninsula that I think is worth consideration when you have limited time and a lot places you want to see. It's not like you won't see the Mediterranean at other times. I do especially like gardens, so finding the nice garden at Villa Ephrussi was a plus for me.

As for places like St-Remy and L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, I am a very unusual traveler in that I like to walk every block of every street in the historic part of a small town. Thus I spend more time at each stop than the typical traveler, sometimes much more time. I don't go somewhere just to take a quick look at a few blocks (unless that's all there is). For one thing, I use my travels as a way to get a lot of exercise, which means I need to walk. Others can probably give you a better idea of timing than I can. I'm not even very good at estimating my own time requirements and often end up using lunch (a real one or a package of nuts bought at a little grocery store) to align my travels with the bus schedule.

For St-Remy I'd suggest getting an earlyish bus, spending the time you want (having lunch there or not, depending on whether you're about ready to leave and the bus schedule), then heading back to Avignon. If you get back early, you can go across the river and spend an hour or two walking around Villeneuve-les-Avignon. And Avignon itself has some very nice historic streets.

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue isn't a tiny little place, and if you hit it on a market day (Thursday and Sunday) that will add a lot of time; if you also want to attempt to see the town on market day, you might need about half a day; it could be longer on a Sunday if you're seriously into antiques and want to visit the antique stores (which seemed to mostly have stuff like furniture that would be awkward for a casual purchaser to deal with). If you have no interest at all in Provencal markets, you should avoid L'Isle-sur-la-Sorge on Thursday and Sunday, because the extremely large number of market booths makes it difficult to fully appreciate the attractiveness of the town architecture. I ended up going back a second day so I could see it better.

On your L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue day you can considering including Fontaine-de-Vaucluse (though I was underwhelmed) if you finish up early in L'Isle. The two are very, very close together. If you can spot a taxi you could use that for one direction of travel if the bus schedule doesn't fit your needs. Or just head back to Avignon and enjoy it.

I have not been to Tourrettes-sur-Loup, but a local highly recommended it to me as a picturesque, non-touristy town after I bemoaned what has happened to St-Paul-de-Vence. I believe bus service isn't frequent, but perhaps a visit will be workable.

Posted by
1777 posts

You can take a direct bus to Uzès and St-Rémy (1h). You need to connect if traveling to Gordes so I would skip it. How would you get to La Fontaine de Vaucluse?
Rick Steves gives Uzès three triangles and St-Rémy two and that’s why I suggested Uzès over St-Rémy.

Posted by
3803 posts

I strongly suggest skipping Fontaine de Vaucluse, unless you know it has been raining recently.
The spring has become less and less reliable over time and is often little more than a big hole with water in it, accessed through a gauntlet of touristy shops and restaurants.
After the rain, it can be quite impressive still, but there is no public transportation available.

Posted by
659 posts

For L’Isle sur la Sorgue, we were beholden to the bus schedule. I believe we had about 5-6 hours there. It was enough to walk along the river, have a leisurely lunch, do the water wheel walk provided via map from the Tourism Office, and have an hour for some light shopping.

For a market day or more in-depth exploration of the many antique and brocante shops, another 3 hours could be used.

Posted by
21039 posts

It was my impression a lot of the antique shops in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorge were only open limited days of the week, especially around the weekend.

Posted by
24 posts

All right, so looks like I'll change my Provence half a little bit based on this input and quick discussion w/ wife. And based on the feedback, I will probably add my 1 extra day to Provence vs Nice area. Still don't have a dedicated day for Nice, but may have to settle with just evenings around Nice (and some time on Day 4).

So, first half doesn't look like it changed too much based on the input I've received, except for:

Day 2 - Cap Ferrat still is up in the air. Sounds like there's a few nice places to see, but all the walking to get places may consume too much valuable time.
Day 3 - Looks like I need to figure out how to get to Eze, since it's not as simple as I thought
Day 4 - Dropping Cagnes sur Mer & Haut de Cagnes, and spending more time in Nice.
.......
Day 7 - Nimes + Pont du Gard + Uze
Day 8 - Arles (not much into Van Ghogh museums, so 1 day should be enough)
Day 9 - Avignon (sightseeing)
Day 10 - Avignon + ??? If there's something close by that we can add for half a day, otherwise my wife planned to just have a lazy day shopping & people watching!
Day 11 - L'Isle-sur-la-Sorge, maybe La Fontaine de Vaucluse if it rained recently..?

My wife decided she wasn't that interested in seeing Gordes, and it looked a bit more inconvenient to get to w/o a car. St. Remy & Roussillon.... just don't know how to fit it without being TOO crazy. May still look into the original idea of a minivan tour for Day 11, I just haven't found an itinerary that fits what I'm looking for w/o adding too much extra that I'm not interested in.

BTW, anyone have souffles recommendations in the region? My wife love souffles.. haha.

Posted by
3803 posts

Hi!
Regarding your remaining open questions:
- Day 3: There is a bus to Eze from Nice, line 82, several daily departures.
- Day 7 is ambitious as it stands. If you do not make it to Uzès, use Day 10.
- Day 10: I suggest Orange, the theater is in renovations but they are reportedly not too intrusive, and it is an impressive sight! Train from Avignon is very easy and half a day is enough.

As for soufflé, are you going to Paris at all in your trip? There is a specialized restaurant there, called... le Soufflé. Otherwise, it is not at all a Provençal dish, and generally not that common across the country since it's so easy to mess up even in a restaurant setting!

Posted by
24 posts

@balso Thanks. I'm not going to Paris this time around, but have been there a few times before. And yes, we've eaten at le Soufflé! Wife actually wanted something like that again, but couldn't find anything w/o going to Paris again!

Posted by
24 posts

Everyone's been so hopeful.. so one more follow up question as it relates to the actual transit.

I'm thinking I should buy/reserve in advance my train ticket from Nice to Avignon.
But for all my other trips (be it bus, or regional train).... can I just buy the ticket on the day, at the station/bus??? Or are there significant cost savings/necessity to pre-book more?

Posted by
3803 posts

The ticket from Nice to Avignon is indeed best bought in advance. Buy a ticket to Avignon Centre: that way, it will include the short connecting train from Avignon TGV (outskirts) to Avignon Centre. Sales open 90-120 days on advance, it varies a bit.

For local trains and buses (e.g. Avignon to Arles, Nice to Eze...) there is no need (and for buses, no way) to book in advance. But once you get to Avignon, if you know on which day you are going somewhere by train, then it makes sense to buy the tickets then so as not to stress out about buying them on the day (making sure you choose the correct date for the tickets! They are only good for a given day). And make sure that you validate the paper regional train tickets (there are stamping machines called "composteur", usually yellow or blue with a slit in the front). For bus tickets it will depend, I haven't taken all those buses.

Posted by
501 posts

There really isn't too much walking to get to the Villa Ephrussi or Villa Kerylos in Cap Ferrat/Beaulieu. Just take the 15 bus from the stop near the MAMAC modern museum in Nice. There is a walk up the driveway to get to the Eprhussi, and walks in the gardens, but it all pretty efficient. You might be able to combine it with a trip to Villefranche-sur-Mer and/or Eze.

For the buses in Nice, you can best secure a seat by going to the stop where the line commences. In peak times, buses like 100 to Monaco tend to fill up. Note some of the routes drop in frequency on Sundays.

Posted by
24 posts

Thanks everyone. Flying out tomorrow, so excited!

Another question... Should I go Nice > Eze > Monaco, or Nice > Monaco > Eze?

Which direction makes more sense given bus/train routes?

Posted by
3803 posts

My gut says Nice - Eze - Monaco, because you can always walk down from Eze village to Eze Bord de Mer (about 900 feet downhill elevation change) on the lovely "Nietzsche" path. And once there, you have access to the frequent 100 bus and the train to Monaco.