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France: Provence/Loire/Lyon

Hello! First time post and first visit to France. We will be in France 4/11-4/20. Plans set in stone are Nice 4/14-4/17, then train to Paris 4/17-4/20. We are friends in our mid 30's who would rather be outside doing something active or outside relaxing if possible. Museums do not hold much interest.

Trying to figure out what we want to do 4/11-4/13. We will be flying home from Paris but I am not sure where we want to fly in (Paris/Marseilles/Lyon) and what to do. I am also not sure if we will rely on public transportation or perhaps rent a car for a day or two. What would you recommend for this long weekend? Would prefer to be in the countryside/small town...currently trying to decide between Provence, Loire, or Lyon area (other ideas/suggestions are welcome!). We do enjoy red wine quite a bit so a vineyard would be fun but not mandatory. Burgundy to Provence was also a thought I was considering. I know we can't do more than one.

Any thoughts/ recommendations/ insight would be greatly appreciated as I would like to book the flights soon.

Many thanks!!

Posted by
7190 posts

Fly into Marseille. In Marseille you can buy a half or full day tour of Provence that includes a visit to Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards

Posted by
3 posts

I am leaning on not making Marseilles my base since Nice will be my base for 3 nights right after this leg. Would prefer to spend it inland enjoying the countryside/ small town(s).

Posted by
21065 posts

Is this a stand-alone trip to France, meaning that you will be arriving on April 11 after an overnight flight from the US or Canada? Some folks find their arrival day is a zombified blur and not worth much for sightseeing purposes. You're young and may do better. It's definitely best to be outside on your arrival day, which fits well with your preferences. If my assumption about the trip is correct, you have only eight full days to play with plus some hours on April 11. I can't imagine going to the huge city of Paris plus two other destinations in that amount of time.

Assuming you fly back to North America on April 20, there probably won't be time for much sightseeing that day because your airline will suggest that you be at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight is scheduled to depart.

If you travel to Nice from elsewhere in France on April 14 and leave on April 17, you'll have just two full days and a few hours in Nice. I wouldn't do that; most people want to see some of the attractive coastal and/or hill towns while they're in the area. And the trip to Nice could be quite long; that obviously depends on where you're traveling from.

Any day when you shift hotels/cities is a day half-gone, at best. You'll lose more time than that on April 17 when you relocate from Nice to Paris. If you're willing to get on a 6:57 AM train from Nice (I wouldn't be doing that on a vacation), you can be in Paris at 1:53 PM. A saner departure time of 8:23 AM gets you to Paris at 3:23 PM. As you can see, once you are settled into your hotel and oriented, you have only a few hours left pm that day. So you're giving yourselves just two full days and some hours for Paris at the end of the trip.

So I think you're setting yourselves up for seriously inadequate time in both Nice and Paris, plus a lot of travel time. I'd rethink this trip completely. I enjoyed Nice and surroundings a lot, but I'd suggest dropping that area and focusing on Paris and one area not too far away. Alternatively, plan on Nice and Paris but alter the schedule so you either begin or end in Nice and fly into or out of the Nice airport.

Edited to add: You've listed your dates in the original post in a way that suggests you have more time than you do. You show your travel days as if they give you time in both the departure city and the arrival city. That can lead you down the garden path as well as confuse responders. This is what I think you really have:

April 11: Arrive in City A after overnight flight (3 nights)
April 14: Travel to Nice (3 nights)
April 17: Train to Paris, 6 to 8 hours (3 nights)
April 20: Fly home

The conventional wisdom on this board (for a very good reason) is that 3 nights somewhere gives you just 2 days.

Posted by
3 posts

This is a stand alone trip so we will be arriving early morning via overnight flight from the states. In all our travels we usually get some sleep on the flight and then stay up and power through a normal day going to bed slightly early perhaps (even the trip to Thailand). Staying up after landing gets us on local time.

I hear what you are saying about travel time from Nice to Paris; thoughts on flying instead of the train? Looks like this flight is cheap ($37) and leaving Nice at 10:15am gets me to Paris at noon. Getting to the airport by 8:15 still saves us quite a few hours in travel time. Or, is the train really scenic and worth the additional time travelling?

I also hear what you are saying about three nights not being a lot; however, in my experience that gives you a nice experience and since we have so little vacation time in the states almost necessary to see more than one location. Rick Steve's only recommends two nights in Nice, and four nights in Paris... so, with this plan i'm adding one night to Nice and subtracting one from Paris.

I can also look into flying home on 4/21 instead of the 20th to give us one more day in Paris. While we certainly want to see Paris and explore, cities are not something that we like to stay in for very long . We prefer cosy/quaint locations and exploring the outdoors.

Itinerary so far:
Land 4/11 in the am ________ & head to _____ (3 nights)
Train to Nice 4/14 (2.5 -5.5 hours)
Arrive in Nice afternoon of 4/14 (3 nights)
Flight/Train to Paris 4/17
Arrive in Paris afternoon of 4/17 ( 3 nights, possibly 4)
Fly home from Paris 4/20 or 4/21

Posted by
3186 posts

Loire is easy to get to from Paris by train. If you fly to Paris from Nice, take train to Loire, rent car there, turn in car and train back to Paris. Of course, it is definitely preferable to fly into Nice and out of Paris.

Posted by
21065 posts

My experience with intra-European flights is limited and I've never set foot in Orly Airport. However, I know it's closer to the city than CDG, and on the surface that flight looks like a good option. You certainly can't argue with the fare even though you may need to pay a luggage fee of some sort. I have used EasyJet several times and had no problem; just know what you do and do not get for your money on those flights.

Unless money is no object, I suggest looking at multi-city fares into City X and out of Paris to get an idea of costs and schedules before you get too interested in any particular destination as your first stop. From my origin Nice is sometimes a cheap destination. Marseille, Montpellier, Bordeaux, etc., typically cost a great deal more. Pay attention also to the travel time if you see something that looks good into a city other than Paris. With only 2 full days at your first stop, I'm sure you aren't interested in spending 20+ hours to get there.

Also check travel time from whatever that other airport might be to the place you want to spend those first 3 nights. I'd want to choose a city I could fly right to, not a place that involves hours on the train after an overnight flight. It can be difficult to guess how much time you need to allow between scheduled landing time and stepping-on-a-train time, the result being that the usual advise is to insert a lot of padding into the schedule when you plan a train journey on you arrival day. That means if you choose to buy the rail ticket in advance (which in some cases saves a lot of money), you will find you really can't get anywhere earlier than 4 hours after your landing time--and that's for a place no more than an hour from the airport.

If your destination is a regional-train trip away from the arrival airport, you can just wait to buy your ticket after you arrive, happily knowing that you can take the first train you're able to make.

Posted by
4462 posts

I’ve been in the Normandy region, Paris, Loire Valley, Alsace region, Provence, French Riviera, spent a few nights in Lyon and also at Lake Annecy, and down to Avignon and west. All of the regions are very nice to visit.

Marseilles would certainly be the most handy location to arrive in France if you want to see Provence before heading to Nice. I just spent three weeks in France in September, and it’s a 6-hour train ride from Paris to Nice. I wouldn’t want to waste six hours when you could be doing something active, instead.

We had a lot of fun in Lyon, but if this is your first time to France, I would pick some smaller towns for your first stop vs. another city. The smaller towns to visit from Avignon, plus renting a canoe to go under Pont du Gard are an option.

I really liked the Loire valley, and you could rent bikes there to explore some small towns, but that will increase your transportation time to reach Nice.

Train info is available on www.sncf.com. Also, if you’re interested, here’s my trip report from my recent 3-week trip to France. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/our-combined-solo-couple-vacation-in-france-2019. I would especially recommend the Food Tour in Nice!

And here’s my trip report when we covered Lyon & Lake Annecy:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/3-weeks-in-italy-france-french-locations

April 11: Arrive in Marseilles after overnight flight. Take the train to Avignon. Rent a car for Days 2 & 3. (3 nights)
April 14: Take the 9:00am train to Nice and arrive at 12:30pm (3 nights)
April 17: Take the 10:00am train to Paris and arrive at 4:15pm (3 nights)
April 20: Fly home

Posted by
847 posts

I have flown between Nice and Paris. It's easy. Nice airport is close to the city center so doesn't take long. Orly is a bit easier to get into central Paris than CDG but also depends on where in Paris you are staying.

If you aren't interested in Marseille (I was just there this summer for the first time and loved it, but I understand if you are spending some days in Nice you want to see inland) then I would fly into Nice and spend a few days in the Nice hilltowns just west of Nice. Vence, St Paul-de-Vence, Tourettes-sur-Lupe, etc. Base in Vence. You really need a car for that and since you don't want to drive on your arrival day (jet lag can make you a very dangerous driver) I would start in Nice and then rent the car, returning it to the airport for the flight to Paris. You say the Nice days are set in stone though. I guess that depends on if they could be switched around a bit.

Photos of the towns I'm talking about - https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/p43619107

Posted by
8403 posts

The weekend in question, 4/11-13, is Easter weekend. You have two things to keep in mind: Europeans from everywhere go to Paris at spring break, and though few French practice religion, everyone celebrates with a family meal. The more provincial an area you choose, more will be closed. So, I'd fly to Marseille, maybe stay in Cassis and since you like the outdoors, I'd be out hiking. You have very little time on this first leg. The train to Nice is only three hours along the coast from there. Just be sure you reserve a restaurant for Sunday and Monday.

Posted by
2318 posts

We took the train from Nice to Paris in June. The first hour is scenic as you're following the coast but as soon as you turn inland it's nothing special.

Posted by
250 posts

If you prefer the countryside/small town, you might want to reconsider Lyon. It is one of the biggest cities in France (the third biggest, I believe.)

Posted by
4125 posts

If I understand the questions correctly, then the answer of where to fly into depends on where you want to spend two days, the 12 and 13 of April. Have you thought about this?

Of the two options you mention, the Loire is the biggest stretch. You can get there from deGaulle, but getting to Nice from the Loire will take more than the 5.5 hours that seems to be your upper limit.

If you fly into Marseilles, you can use a small city like Arles or a small town like St Remy as a base to visit sights in the Rhone Valley or the Luberon. If you are OK with driving jet lagged, you might even base yourself in the Luberon. Then drive or take the train to Nice.

It's the off season and inclement weather is a possibility. Be OK with that or have an urban Plan B in your back pocket (I recommend Lyon).