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Feedback on Provence itinerary

Hello everyone! I had a COVID wedding this year and needless to say we weren't able to do much to celebrate. So we are starting to dream of a trip in October of 2021, hoping that things will improve by then. I have much of it nailed down but am looking for some advice on whether we should spend more time on the Cote d'Azur or in the Gorges du Verdon.

Some basic facts: I have been to France twice before but not to Provence. This is my husband's first time. We plan on renting a car while in Provence, I drove on both previous visits and in 2019 we drove through Italy without issue. Generally, we like places that are less touristy where we can absorb more of the culture, but I think that is hard to find in an area like this. We both really love history and smaller towns with charm instead of the larger towns. We are foodies and love good food and cooking. We love to hike and spend time outdoors. We're budget-minded but we always like to do at least 1 special splurge on a trip, usually a meal at an exceptional restaurant, on our trip to Italy last year we hit the jackpot and got into Osteria Francescana. We have 3 weeks for this trip.

Itinerary so far:

Fly into Paris, stay 4 nights, day trip to Versailles one day, otherwise will be all about what the honey wants to do as I've already seen a lot of the city, and as much as I love the small towns I absolutely adore Paris.
Train to Lyon for 2 nights, picking up a car here. We'd really love to have 1 splurge on this trip (because delayed honeymoon) and considering a stay at Chateau de Bagnols if it's open. If not open, we may skip Lyon and take the TGV straight to Avignon and pick up a car there.
Drive to St Remy de Provence, stopping at Pont du Gard along the way. I had considered staying in various places for a couple of nights each in this area but I think that it makes more sense to stay a full week in St Remy and use it as a home base for day trips to Arles, Avignon, Les Baux, and villages like Gordes and Roussillon. So I have 7 nights allocated here.
Drive to Marseille or Cassis for 2 nights, stopping in Aix en Provence on the way. We definitely want at least a day trip to Marseille, not sure about staying the night there so thinking about Cassis as an alternative. The Calanques sound interesting, I like the idea of a beach-side hike or boat ride. Is there another town on the coast maybe east of Cassis that you would recommend more and could still day trip to Marseille and the Calanques?
And this is where I am wavering. I was originally thinking of heading to the Gorges du Verdon from here and spending 2 nights in Moustiers Sainte Marie. However, weather will be mid-50s to 60s (F) at this time so there's a chance that weather may not permit that, especially with only a 2 night window. We're from the Pacific NW and hike the Columbia Gorge area regularly, so I'm also wondering if this location would really be that special for us. We really loved the Cinque Terre and Amalfi Coast on our trip to Italy in 2019, and Collioure was one of my highlights on my last trip to France. So maybe beach is better. Should we spend more time in Marseille/Cassis (or another town that would be convenient for day trips to those areas) and get some more beach and sunshine time? The fact that we'll be coming home to cold and wet October in the PNW is making me lean that way.
From here we'll end our trip with 4 nights in Nice where we'll fly out of to return home. So we will get some beach and sunshine time in before we head back. The return flight I'm eyeing is a 6:30a flight that will get us from Nice to Amsterdam to Portland (just the 1 stop) so as charming as they sound I'm not interested in staying in Eze or Villefranche-sur-Mer where an early morning trip to the airport would be a little more difficult. I think staying in Nice would be more practical.

Any thoughts or feedback? And thanks in advance!

Posted by
847 posts

Sounds like a wonderful trip. I can't help much because I've not been to Gorges du Verdon - but I have been to everywhere else you mention and I think the amount of time you have planned for each is good. I stayed in Marseille and day tripped to Cassis and I would suggest you do the same, especially in October, rather than staying in Cassis. If the boat rides to the Calanques are running definitely do one of those. I also love Aix and think you might consider more time there. So just two nights for Marseille, Cassis and Aix is not enough in my estimation. I'd add your two nights there (either in Aix or to Marseille and do Aix as a full day trip, not a stop off en route).

With four nights in Nice you can do day trips to Eze and Villefranche-sur-Mer. Also to Vence, St Paul-de Vence, etc. You don't need a car for Nice (or for day trips to Eze and Villefranche) but it would be handy to have if you were going to Vence. Same thing about Marseille. So it would be possible to drop the car before the second part of the trip (Aix, Marseille, Cassis, Nice, etc.). On the other hand, in October the traffic might be less so it might be OK to keep it. If you are keeping the car though, maybe then I'd advise to base in Aix and do day trips to Marseille and Cassis. (Don't take the car to Marseille, use train or bus).

Your base of St Remy for a week is great. I've done that and it was wonderful.

Here are my photos of all these places:
Provence -
Nice and Cote d'Azure -
Marseille and Cassis and Calanques -

Posted by
2588 posts

4 nights in Paris is 3 days. If one of three is spent at Versailles, that is only 2 full days in Paris, less than the time you plan on staying in Nice. With very short days in October and getting shorting during the month, and temperatures cooling, I would save Paris for the end and go directly to Provence, probably flying from PDX into MPL via any number of connecting airports, and rent a car from Montpellier the day after you arrive. Your itinerary is very susceptible to bad weather. Going south at the beginning of October allows you to take advantage of potentially better conditions, both for driving and for sightseeing.

There is plenty to do in Paris even when the weather is rainy, even when it is cold. Save it for the end of October (which is just after the peak tourist season) and add a few more days as 2 days in Paris is not nearly sufficient.

Posted by
10346 posts

I'll incorporate a few of the above suggestions.
Upon arrival, you could take the train or a flight directly to Lyon, leaving Paris for the end.
From Lyon, you could either drive or take the train to Avignon and stay in St. Remy.
After St. Remy, drive to Moustiers; Moustiers is breathtaking, unlike any town in the Columbia Gorge. You may find the Gorge less exciting than someone from the Plains, but Moustier is unique.
Then from Moustiers drive to Aix for your stay. You can day trip to Marseille and you can stop for the day in Cassis on your way to Nice. Aix to Cassis by car is very short, while Cassis to Nice is 2 hours. No, I wouldn't go to any other town east of Cassis. In addition to the Calanques, there's the impressive Cap Canaille, a nice challenge to hike up. Or, if the boats aren't running due to wind, you can hike out to at least the second calanque. Cap Canaille is a smooth path; the calanques terrain is rocky, so poles and the right shoes might be needed. These are two different geological formations from different periods.
As for the beaches, I wouldn't expect Florida beach weather, but it could be sunny and pleasant.
Finally, get a flight back to Paris, Orly being the more convenient airport and stay in Paris before heading out to CDG for your flight home a few days later.

Posted by
3621 posts

You should be aware that the Cote d’Azur beaches tend to be rocky. If you want beach time, maybe you can find out, in advance, if there is a sandy one to visit. Also, if you are thinking of swimming, the water temps, in my opinion, are cold.

Posted by
454 posts

I love your plan to settle in for a week in/near St. Remy and use it as a base to explore many small towns in Provence. We stayed near St. Remy in the fall of 2018--the middle week of our vacation in France--and we had a fabulous time visiting all the towns you mention (Arles, Avignon, Les Baux, Gordes, Rousillon). We also visited L'isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the Pont du Gard, Uzes, and Aix en Provence.

Aix was a longer drive than you might want for a day trip, but we had a really fun 6 hour culinary experience there. The day begun by meeting up with our chef to shop for our ingredients. After we bought our produce and cheese from his favorite vendors in the open market (not the one for tourists but he one for local chefs and restaurant owners), he took us to a wonderful bakery and butcher shop. Then we went to his lovely home out in the country and prepared our four course meal in his outdoor kitchen. This was an opportunity to enjoy wonderful food that we made ourselves, spending that time with a local resident who taught us so much about the daily life and culture of this part of France. Our chef was Gilles. He calls his business the Provence Gourmet. You'll easily find his website if you are interested.

In the small town of Venasque we had our best meal of the trip, a three hour, four course lunch, at a restaurant called Les Ramparts. I recommend you make a reservation for a table on the terrace, seating at the railing for views of the beautiful countryside.

For your week-long accommodations, consider Moulin de la Roque, just outside of the small town of Noves. It's a 17 minute drive from St. Remy. We loved our stay there. It's a stunningly beautiful property with such friendly and helpful owners who will assist you with recommendations, driving directions, reservations, etc. You'll love walking into the town of Noves each morning to pick up that day's bread, pastries and some produce.

We didn't get down to the coast at all. Prior to our week in Provence, we had a short stay in Chamonix, doing some hiking there but also day tripping to the lovely town of Annecy. If you wanted to end your trip in that area, instead of Nice, it would be a very short and easy drive to the airport in Geneva (an hour and ten minutes), and you could return your rental car on the French side of the airport to avoid extra fees for returning in Switzerland.

After our time in Provence, we drove to the Dordogne region, stopping in Carcassone on the way. Our accommodations in the Dordogne were in the pretty little village of Sarlat. There is a lot to see and do in this area. It's lovely.

Our trip ended in Paris, but we didn't drive the whole way. We drove as far as Chartres, stopping in Oradour-sur-Glane on the way. An overnight in Chartres allowed us to visit the beautiful cathedral, then we took the train to Paris the next morning.

The next time we go to Provence, we would like to see Cassis and the Calanques, but we just couldn't work them into that particular trip. Have fun planning!

Posted by
698 posts

As someone else noted, you could split a base in the western end of the Luberon and day trip to Moustiers St. Marie.

Weather in October in the south can be hit or miss. It could be 70s but it could also be rain. Your best sandy beaches will be from Antibes and west, with my personal favorite near Ramatuelle (near St. Tropez). Most of the beach clubs will be shut down for the season by early October.

If you are not wanting to stay in a city you could keep your car and stay just outside of St. Paul de Vence. A car is nice to hit some of the less connected villages like Gourdon or Peillon. Despite how crowded the Cote can be in the summer, there are villages that are nearly empty during the offseason. If you stay in Nice, you can ditch your car and take trains and buses to do daytrips. If you stay in the city, you can take the tram directly to your terminal.

If you are looking for a splurge meal, you could go to Mirazur in Menton. At a more moderate price in Nice, Flaveur or Jan.

Posted by
125 posts

Thanks so much everyone for the feedback. I realize 4 nights in Paris is short but I've been there twice before and while I love it and want to spend a little time there on this trip, there are a lot of other places we would like to see and time is limited so we have to budget our time accordingly. The hubby is more interested in the countryside as well.

I will look at flights in reverse, flying into MPL, LYS, or NCE and then out of CDG. I had thought it would be better to start in Paris as we definitely want a clear day when we go to Versailles. We're fine with temps in the 60s and 70s in Provence, we're from Oregon so that is perfect weather for us, as long as it's not raining. 80s can feel too hot for us, we're just not used to the heat. I realize water may be too cold and that's fine, not really looking to go snorkeling or swimming, thinking more of hiking one of the calanques and/or a boat trip, if possible. We did a sunset cruise on a small boat (6 guests total) in the Cinque Terre in late September last year and it was completely wonderful, I'd love to have an experience like that again. But I know that will depend on weather.

It sounds like the Verdon shouldn't be missed. I had been thinking that maybe I could get that in on a future trip to Burgundy and Chamonix, but looking at the map it's not exactly convenient to those areas. So I think I'm going to have to look at either cutting the 2 nights in Lyon or adding 2 nights to our trip total in order to get everything in and make it meaningful.

I especially appreciate the restaurant tips and the cooking class referral, I am definitely looking forward to those! For the week-long stay in St Remy we'll use AirBnB or VRBO and get a flat with a kitchen and washing machine. We've found that for long trips like this it's more budget friendly to be able to prepare our own meals or at least keep picnic provisions on hand -- for example, making our own breakfast and lunch and just having dinner out (because we have to try the local cuisine). The washing machine is a must for me to be able to pack light, sink laundry is no fun. :)

Vickie - I went to the Dordogne on my last trip. Started in Paris then took train to Perigeux where I picked up a car and stayed in Beynac, day tripped to Sarlat for the market. It was absolutely amazing, I loved that area of the country. We then drove to Carcassonne for a stay, day-tripping through Albi on the way. We did some hiking in Cathar country (Peyrepeteuse was my favorite) and ended the trip on the coast in Coillure. That was a truly wonderful trip.

Posted by
454 posts

The accommodation I mentioned near Noves has cottages, villas and apartments for two to ten people. The property was an old flour mill until the centuries old stone buildings were renovated into charming guest accommodations. We were traveling with another couple and chose their two bedroom two bathroom cottage that has both a full kitchen and a washer and dryer. I agree with you about eating in on occasion while traveling. We wanted to be able to cook some meals ourselves, not just to save money but also to enjoy relaxing on the beautiful terrace at the end of a long day of sightseeing--enjoying as much wine as we wanted because we didn't have to drive home. I believe Moulin de la Roque only has one accommodation that would be budget friendly for a couple traveling without companions. It a studio apt. on two levels with a private terrace. The main level has a sitting room w/ sofa and dining table, separate efficiency kitchen (sink, oven & stove, microwave, refrigerator, toaster, drip coffee maker plus Nespresso), and the upper level is a loft with twin beds that can be made up as a king if desired. You wouldn't have the washer, it appears. But one trip to a laundromat could be enough.

Posted by
15675 posts

I like the idea of starting in Paris. With jetlag and/or after a red-eye flight, it's nice to be somewhere familiar. It also means you'll have a little more time to adjust before tackling a rental car and backroads.

I spent 2N in Marseille and enjoyed my 1-1/2 days there. I would drop the car in Marseille - then take the train to Nice. Trains are frequent and cheap for daytripping from Nice, and parking would be hard to find and/or expensive in most places. The beaches along the Riviera are much more accessible than in the CT or AC and they are much larger. Most of the beaches are pebbly but there are a couple sandy ones. My visit was in March, so I'm not sure which are sandy. Villefranche was my favorite town in the area, small and quiet and on the train line. There are limited options for dining, but otherwise I think it would be as good a base as Nice, maybe better unless you want the nightlife, which Nice is great for.

Posted by
125 posts

Thanks so much Vickie, I will definitely check out your recommendation. The bonus of having a washer in the apartment is we can run it while we're having coffee on the terrace in the morning or relaxing with a glass of wine in the afternoon after a day of sight-seeing -- which I agree is one of best parts of a vacation. It's just more convenient than using sight-seeing time at the laundromat. Of course I've also found that some B&B's that will do your laundry for you for a reasonable fee, which is also super convenient.

Good point Chani, it is nice to be somewhere familiar on that first day when we're jet-lagged. In the past -- and looking at flight schedules now -- flights into Paris arrive in the morning which gives us time to drop our bags, relax with a coffee and croissant at a cafe, and see some sites during the day. My approach has always been to push myself through the day and retire at a normal time locally (with the help of a benadryl to keep me asleep through the night). I've never had issues with jet lag the following day doing this. The first time I went to Paris, I used that arrival day to see the Eiffel Tower and then take bus #69 out to Pere LaChaise and wander through there. The second time I lounged in Luxembourg Gardens, clambered through the catacombs, and saw the Pantheon. The coffee and croissant at a little Paris cafe first thing is the best though. Not full days for sure, but a chance to see something I want to see at a leisurely pace. So that's a good way to make use of our limited time in Paris. It looks like most flights into Nice or the other Provence airports arrive in the afternoon so we would give up most of that day. Although, if we started in Nice we could jump on the train from there and use nearby Villefranche or Eze as a homebase for that area instead. So many decisions! I think it will come down to the itinerary (duration, stops, layovers) and price I'm able to get. Planning is half the fun of vacation. :)

Posted by
12172 posts

Some thoughts:

  1. Good time of year to go. Mistral winds can blow hard in Spring. I was there in mid-September. It was beautiful but it still was a little hot. October should be very comfortable with no aggravating Mistral winds.

  2. Towns to stay. I ended up staying primarily in Arles as a base. I considered St. Remy but couldn't find a good Airbnb option. I was really happy with the choice. Arles has a lot of sight options, a huge street market within walking distance from the center - plus it's a good base to explore western Provence and has a wide variety of eating options. I visited St. Remy but didn't see anything that would make it a better stay. I didn't think Arles felt like like a large city at all.

  3. Rental car. Provence is a region where a car is a must. You can probably get most places without your own car but to do so would cost a lot of valuable travel time. You're making a good choice.

  4. The Gorge. I've heard nothing but good about it but I haven't visited yet.

  5. Marseilles. I've had friends stay in Marseilles. They didn't give a good report so I avoided it when I went to Provence area. It's a big city and French Navy port; according to the reports I've heard, not a particularly nice one. I don't really like big cities to start with so didn't feel I needed to visit.

  6. I was mostly interested in History and made sight choices based on that. The day that seemed most like a hike was Les Baux, it was also quite warm and thirsty wandering the castle ruin in September.

Posted by
15675 posts

copper, your reminiscing makes me yearn to be back in my favorite city! I never feel I have to do anything or see anything, it's enough just to be in Paris. But definitely make reservations for your next destination or you may never leave Paris.

Posted by
27409 posts

So there's no confusion: The part of Eze people most often want to see is up on the hill. It has no train service. The train line runs through Eze-sur-Mer down below. So if you stay in Eze without a car, you will be a bus (or taxi) ride plus a train trip from anywhere you want to go. I might be OK with that for one day, but it would irritate me if I were there longer.

As an art lover I found it very practical to stay in Nice, because the city has at least 6 art museums as well as having great transportation links to surrounding towns. I wouldn't have wanted to travel into the city over and over again to reach all those museums.