My brother and i are taking my 79 year old mom to France this fall! She's spry and mobile and looking forward to it. We will be in Paris for the first three nights and then heading south. I am thinking of taking the TGV to Aix and then renting a car. We'd like to explore a bit of Provence and some of the Mediterranean coast. I have been to Provence before but they have not. Two questions: Where should we stay for a home base? I was thinking Saint Remy or maybe even Aix. We will get a car so we can explore small towns in Provence. And then a day trip to Cassis--does that sound good? Maybe a boat tour of the Calanques? Then we would take the TGV back to Paris for one night and fly out on Nov. 9. Any input is greatly appreciated.
It depends on your priorities. The Hotel du Soliei in St Remy has parking and was a delight. We never got to Aix, let alone Cassis. It takes time to see Les Baux, Pont-du-Gard, Orange, Avignon, L'isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Vaison-La-Romaine, Gordes, Bonnieux, and some wineries. We never got to Aix, let alone Cassis. There is plenty to see in the area and the roads are narrow and slow. The TGV to Avignon and driving the car to St Remy worked well, but you have to sort out what is important to you.
St Rémy is our favorite town in all of Provence. It’s perfection in our opinion. We love staying at Hotel du Soleil in town. Free parking, pool, lovely grounds, fabulous buffet breakfast.
Thanks so much! I just booked Hotel de Soleil and now can start planning our day trips from there.
That’s great Kirsten, i think you’ll be very happy there.
Your plan is good, but I prefer Aix because it's a larger, more dynamic town. We've stayed in hotels there with parking. In fact, I used to drive there regularly when one of my kids was at the university there and would just pull into a parking structure. I also like your trip to the coast to visit Cassis, which is a nice change from the landlocked interior, as long as it's a day with calm waters. It's beautiful.
A few things to note:
--Alll regions of France will have school vacation from October 21 to November 6.
--Traditionally, many--but not all-- shops and restaurants in the Provence villages close for the season the day after All Saints Day on November 1. November 2 is when I've watched them start deep cleaning, closing up and staff kissing each other goodbye. They reopen at Easter. There's still enough to browse because some stay open all year.
--November 1 is a holiday on a Wednesday, so working people could be taking long weekends either before the holiday or after. (Oct. 27-Nov. 1 or Nov. 1- 5)
Thank you, Bets. I knew Nov. 1 was a holiday, but did not realize many places in Provence would close up for the season. Do you think we should still explore Provence at this time of year? Or maybe stay in Aix to have a more lively home base? We could also go straight to the coast and do other places. I have no set itinerary but just want to show my mom the variety of France. She also prefers warmer weather so that’s why I thought we’d go south from Paris instead of doing Brittany or Strasbourg etc. Thanks for the insights.
It's still worth driving around the interior for a couple of days, but it won't be the same as high tourist season. In addition to some things closing up for the winter, daylight is also more limited. Sunrise is at 7:15 but sunset is early, at 5:30. Finally, the temperature is cooler the further into the interior you go. Check the historical temperatures to see. It's very nice to drive into the Luberon, Ventoux, Alpiles area, but I'd stay in Aix and visit further south, as well. Arles, Nîmes, Cassis, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Marseille, Bandol.
We watch YouTube travel videos to check out towns we’d like to stay in or visit. ASELYA FONTIN makes wonderful YouTube videos of the Provence area that are very enjoyable and very worth watching.
A word of warning about the Cassis/calanques plan. A few years ago we planned that, but were stymied by the weather. Day 1: rain, no boat ride. Day 2: sunshine, however, it was too breezy for the calanque boats. We had reservations elsewhere, so no possibility for a third try.
We took a ride on one of those tourist trains which was supposed to include views over the calanaque. It was unbelievably awful. Jammed in body to body. The recorded English translation of the narrative was out of sequence. The calanqe view was very brief.
As I recall, there is a walking path alternative. In hindsight, it would have been a much better choice.
FYI the walking path is quite a hike, particularly to get to the second calanque, En Vaux. The rocks are smooth from so many people hiking the trail over the years. There's a lot of ups and down.