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Help with 2 week itinerary in Provence and Cote d'azur May 22

We are Americans in our late 60's who like villages, history, scenery. easy to moderately easy hikes. We are not interested in wine, night life, or spending time on the beach. We don't want to check in and out of hotels a lot and we will have a car. We will be there the first 2 weeks of May. Here's what I've got so far, but I need to figure out the timing a bit more.

Day 1 - arrive in Marseilles, drive to Cassis 2 nights
Day 2 - Calanques - boat ride
Day 3 - to St. Remy to base to see Avignon, Arles, the Camargue, Pont du Gard, Les Baux-de-Provence.5 (?) nights
Day 8 - To Cote du Rhone region I think mainly to hike. Not interested in vineyards. 2 nights
Day 10 - Luberon, possibly stay in Roussillon; go see the villages. 2 nights
Day 12 - I really want to canoe the Verdun Gorge; probably stay in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie 2 nights.
Day 14 - Villefranche-sur-Mer; must make perfume in Grasse, Monaco (?) walk along a coastal hike, Nice? 2 nights
Day 16 - Drive to Marseilles to fly home the next morning. Stop at Antibes? stay overnight at airport for early flight.

I feel like i've got to eliminate one of my stops and I'm not sure which one to eliminate. I'm leaning towards eliminating the cotes du Rhone, because we aren't interested in wine, but maybe I'm missing beautiful hikes? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I really don't want all these 2 night stays.... Thanks.

Posted by
3607 posts

Hi,

I would indeed remove Côtes du Rhone, and shuffle the order of your trip to minimize the number of places where you stay:
- Head straight to St Rémy (1 hr, easy drive) from airport. 5 nights is great, but see below
- Lubéron: it is nice to stay there (and 2 nights will do since you are not coming from far and will not go far afterwards), but you can visit it from St Rémy without trouble too, extending your stay accordingly.
- Verdon gorge is lovely, and Moustiers is probably the best base.
- Take the Côtes du Rhone nights and add them to Villefranche, bringing the total to 4 nights. Grasse is on the way between the Verdon and Villefranche, so look into stopping on your way if you want to take a "perfume class". Otherwise, the drive from Villefranche to Grasse can be troublesome (traffic).
- Stay in Marseille at the end. No need to stay at the airport, a cab from the city (Vieux port area) to the airport takes 30 minutes in the early morning hours. And boat tours to the Calanques leave from Marseille as well.

So, in a nutshell:
- Nights 1-7 in St Rémy, including Lubéron visits.
- Nights 8-10 in Moustiers (I added a night because you mentioned hiking)
- Nights 11-15 in Villefranche
- Nights 15-16 in Marseille

If you follow the plan above, it could be wise to drop the car when you arrive in Nice, because you won't need it as much in Villefranche and not at all in Marseille. The train from Villefranche/Nice to Marseille is slow (~3 hrs) but scenic.

Posted by
21 posts

I prefer spending at least 3 nights in each place. I like to get the feel of the town. I have been once and have just finished booking 3 weeks from Nice to Bordeaux. 4 nights in Nice, 3 nights in Marseille and 5 nights in St Rémy then we will head off to the Dordogne and Bordeaux. You might want to fly into one city and out of another. Then you don’t have to backtrack. From Nice there are so many day trips by train, Villefrance, Eze, Menton, even going into Italy. St. Paul de Vence, Grasse, Antibes. Nice itself is gorgeous, many museums and Roman ruins. In Marseille we are planning on going to the Clanques and some of their fabulous museums. St Rémy and it’s surroundings have SO many places to see. Lots of Van Gogh sites, Roman ruins and all the other places you mentioned. We will also start our trip in May! Bon voyage!

Posted by
367 posts

Balso's itinerary advice is excellent--I was going to make similar suggestions based on our 2019 trip. We loved Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and I highly recommend staying there. We only spent one night, and really wished we had more time. In Nice, we spent no time on the beach other than walking on the Promenade, but very much enjoyed the Chagall museum and the Russian Orthodox church. In Villefranche-sur-Mer we enjoyed the RS recommended walks in town and out to Cap Ferrat and the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

Posted by
31 posts

Thanks for all the help. Now I'm trying to decide which Roman sights to include. I think my husband likes them a bit more than I do, and it's his vacation too :) We've been to Roman & Greek ruins in Rome, Sicily, Greece and other small ones in Europe. I'm not sure which places would be best: Orange, Arles or Nimes. It doesn't make sense to go to all 3. Any suggestions?

Posted by
3607 posts

Arles and Nîmes over Orange, in my opinion, because Orange is really just the theater and a triumphal arch, whereas there is a lot more to Arles and Nîmes, including non-Roman sights.
Nîmes is easily combined with Pont du Gard in the same day, if you are short on time - finishing with Pont du Gard because the site is open until 9PM in May, and there is daylight until then.
Arles deserves a full day.
By the way, you mention the Camargue ... What do you expect / want to see there? It is a large area, with few actual "sights" (except Aigues-Mortes). Otherwise it is salt flats, marshland, birds... did I say flat? I like it, but would I fly across the oceans to visit it? Probably not. Opinions may vary, of course.

Posted by
8263 posts

I agree with balso to skip driving through La Camargue, especially since you come from Florida. It would be different if you were visiting one of the ranches.
Plenty of hiking to be found everywhere you are going if you seek it out. Can be rocky, so I advise two poles--Gorges, Moustiers, Luberon.
Agree that you should stay longer on the coast and fly out of Nice.

Posted by
495 posts

A couple of things to add:

If you are going to St. Remy, you'll also be able to stop by Glanum, and the ruins there. I too recommend the Pont du Gard. You will find some redundancy in the Theatres, if you are pressed for time you can cut out Orange.

Eze has a "perfume factory" aka a place for you to create your own ruin. Lesser known tip, if you still have your car (or take a bus) -- continue on to La Turbie and see La Trophee des Alpes. Nice view down from the site and the smallish, but historical marker (the Trophee). Monaco may not be to your liking, but the walk around Cap Ferrat or Cap d'Antibes might be. There is also the train des Merveilles and the hill towns near the Mercantour National Park.

Posted by
31 posts

You have all been so helpful. Thanks so much. I am going to skip the Camargue. I've worked on my driving itinerary some more and would love your input.
Day 1: arrive from US in Marseille, drive to Cassis, eat and sleep 2 nights
Day 2: Boat to see Calanques
Day 3: to St. Remy - visit Les Baux 3 nights
Day 4: Arles
Day 5: Nimes and Pont du Gard
Day 6: to Roussillon - hill towns 2 nights
Day 7: Hill towns; (an easy hike recommendation would be welcomed)
Day 8: to Moustiers - not sure what to do this day,. Easy hikes would be ideal 2 nights
Day 9 Moustiers - Gorge du Verdun; I think the hiking is too steep, perhaps a kayak or just driving around it?
Day 10: to Villefranche via Grasse to do perfume class; this is a must for my husband 5 nights
Day 11: Cap Ferrat hike and gardens
Day 12: Monaco (i'm going to surprise my husband with a Ferrari driving experience)
Day 13: Eze - drive middle Corniche
Day 14: Hill towns like St. Paul de Vence
Day 15: Drive to Marseille and stop at Antibes en route because I really have no interest in Marseille.
Day 16: Cry because it's over and fly back to Georgia, USA
Any suggestions for easy hikes, places to see gardens, or changes to the itinerary?

Posted by
3607 posts

It's looking good!
Have you checked if you could fly home from Nice? It would avoid "wasting" your last day.
Also, I still think that you can comfortably visit Lubéron hill towns from St Rémy and thus do not need to switch from St Rémy to Roussillon.

As for hikes in the Verdon: there is a fairly level, short out-and-back hike that starts below Point Sublime ("Belvédère du couloir Samson") and travels through 1-2 tunnels in a narrow section of the gorge. Otherwise, the "route des crêtes" drive is truly breathtaking! Driving the southern rim is very scenic as well, but a bit tiresome perhaps, so less recommended (by me).
Kayaking can easily be done in the PM of your first day in Moustiers, since you rent kayaks and pedalos right next to Moustiers. Do mind that you will almost invariably have the wind in front of you when you paddle back to the starting point!

Posted by
8263 posts

I've seen La Trophée des Alpes many times and always find it breathtaking. If you drive the moyenne corniche to Eze and Monaco, you could return by the haute corniche and see La Trophée in La Turbie. You can also catch the autoroute up there, but the haute corniche is nicer.

Posted by
20797 posts

Gardens accessible while you're staying in Villefranche-sur-Mer:

  • Gardens at Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild: I'm nearly certain you have to pay for entry to the house to get access to the gardens, but I thought the house was interesting. It's often mentioned here as a good side-trip from Nice.
  • Jardin Botanique de Nice: Not too far from the Nice airport: This was recommended to me, but I didn't have time to see it.
  • Two hillside gardens in Menton: Val Rahmeh-Menton Botanical Garden and Jardin Serre de la Madone. The first is within reasonable walking distance of Menton's second (easternmost) train station. The second has some bus service, but the schedule is probably not very frequent. I took a taxi in at least one direction.

I recommend keeping the car parked in Villefranche on days you go to coastal towns--except Eze, since you want to drive the Middle Corniche that day. The regional trains run frequently; using them could prevent a lot of parking headaches.

If you have time on the day you go to St-Paul-de-Vence (tiny and mind-blowingly touristy), you might try to include the much less touristy Vence with its rather large historic area and the smaller and not-so-often-visited Tourrettes-sur-Loup. Tourrettes is another place recommended to me by a local that I just didn't get to. Since you'll have a car, it would be much easier for you.

Posted by
2 posts

We've rented an apartment in Villefranche along the waterfront for 2 weeks this August, we like it so much. We'll travel by train to explore some of the coast towns, and also rent a small boat once or twice for pretty reasonable fee of about $150 euros/half day. We skip renting a car because parking can be an issue there, unless parking is included with wherever you're staying.

I hired private transport (actually less expensive than a taxi) to take us to what became our absolute favorite town - Tourettes-sur-loup, up in the hills - it's not too far from Grasse. It's a lovely stone village - so beautiful and not too full of tourists, even in August. There is an artisan there who works with olive wood - his work is spectacular - we bought two large bowls on our trip there, and they are my all-time favorite souvenirs from anywhere (other than an old boulangerie/farm table we had shipped from an antiques-market town in Provence called L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, but that's another story). The olive wood guy has been recognized nationally for his work. I believe the business is called, "Le Travail du Bois D'Olivier." We also had a lovely lunch overlooking a ravine in a restaurant called "La Cave de Tourettes."

I would highly recommend Tourettes-sur-loup, especially if you have the advantage of having your own car - we'll get there one way or another this August. Have a wonderful trip - I'd love to be exploring the area in May!

Posted by
2 posts

By the way, if you're interested in checking out the Olive Wood place in Tourrettes-sur-loup, it may be helpful to know they deal in cash only - they don't take credit cards.

You mentioned a coastal walk - we found the walk along Cap Ferrat to be lovely. If you walk there along the road from Villefranche, you may notice an estate with very large black gates adorned with gold leaf, warning visitors in no uncertain terms to not enter the property. The Stones recorded "Exile on Main Street" in the basement of the home there at No. 10, Avenue Louise Bordes. The home is not visible from the road, but the gates are very distinctive, and it's neat to think about the history there as you walk by - it's currently owned by a Russian billionaire who is not inclined to welcome Stones fans, though. I think the signage says something like "death possible" for trespassing!

Posted by
70 posts

I'm so excited for you :) Since you're in to hikes, check out the Nietzsche trail to hike up to Eze. Spectacular views along the way.

I'm interested in your comment that you're choosing Antibes over a night in Marseille, but have no interest in the beach. For me there isn't much to Antibes beyond the beach, and Marseille is much more interesting. It gets a bad rap, but I really enjoy visiting there, especially around the old port area. It was the seat of European culture about a decade ago and they really built up the infrastructure. Personally I would go back to Marseille before Antibes, which I found generally boring, and it's quite far from the airport. Most of the complaints about Marseille are about it being "dangerous" and really that's just islamophobia. I've been to Marseille many many times, often as a solo female traveler, and as young as my early 20s. I've never had a bad experience there. However, if you're really turned off by it, you could look at staying in Aix-en-Provence instead--the airport is much more accessible from there.

Posted by
70 posts

Oh, and I second the suggestion of Menton--such a great day trip from Villefranche!