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Help with Itinerary- Especially Provence area

Hello-

We are in the early planning stages for a trip to France- late Aug/Sept 2018. Not sure yet how many nights but most likely anywhere from 21-24. "We" is my husband and myself- will be 63/67- experienced travelers in good shape ;)

I am stuck on Provence area. Originally thought we would rent an apartment for 5-7 days there and day trip around, but I cannot decide where that apartment should be. Now I am thinking we might stay in a few different locations while in the area. We don’t mind moving around a bit more because we prefer to see different villages/towns in the evening rather than all 7 evenings in one town. Normally we like to tour/day trip in the am and be “home” by late afternoon for dinner and a stroll for atmosphere.

I know this question has been asked many times and I have read thru lots and lots of posts but still looking for a bit of advice.

Plan so far
Fly DC to Paris- 3 or 4 nights- we have been to Paris and won’t need to do all museums, etc- we will take a day trip to Chartres.

Train to Bayeux- 3 nights- guided tour of WW2 beaches and a tour to Mont St. Michel.
Pick up car on Day 3 and drive to

Amboise- 2 nights- 1 or 2 chateaux visits- drive to
Sarlat 2 or 3 nights- drive to Nimes? (5-6 hour drive)
And here is where I am stuck.

This is what I am thinking:

Get to Nimes 3 pm- check in hotel- 1 night- Nimes evening
Nimes sights in am- drive to Pont du Gard- then drive to
St. Remy- 3 nights with day trip to Gordes, L’Isle-sur-la Sorgue
Leave St Remy- visit Les Baux on way to Arles

Arles 2 nights- drop car here and train to
Avignon for 1 night arriving in am
Train to Nice 3 nights

——or to Avignon from St Remy for 2 nights and skip Arles
——or add night to St. Remy- day trip to Avignon from there and train from Arles to Nice.

Fly home from Nice.

That’s 7 nights in 4 diff locations which seems a bit nuts but how do you decide which town to skip?

If we do just 3 nights in Paris and 2 in Sarlat and drop a night or 2 from Provence- we’d probably train to Lyon from Nice for 2-3 nights then back to Paris to fly home. Making it a real whirlwind trip!

So I guess my question is- Arles or Avignon?
Is Les Baux a must see?- I am seeing mixed reviews.

I am patiently awaiting the new RS Provence book, hoping it helps me make a decision.

Thanks for reading, sorry it is so long!

Posted by Jazz+Travels
Chicago
3223 posts

Is Les Baux a must see?- I am seeing mixed reviews.

There is no such thing as must see. Les Baux is a day trip that does not take all day to include with other small villages visits the same day. Yes you are going to have to get a guide book to pinpoint where you want to go instead of this way.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

Two nights in the Dordogne seems pretty skimpy, given the hassle of getting there and from there on to Nimes.

Posted by ChristineH OP
Gettysburg PA
450 posts

Jazz+Travels- thank you- yes I have several guide books. I've spent plenty of time researching and will continue to do more.
Reviews of Les Baux run from "a very special place" to "a tourist trap"- what is your opinion of Les Baux?

acraven- I agree. It's a long drive to and from, I feel sure we will keep 3 nights in Sarlat for that reason.

Posted by TravelingMom
California
307 posts

We stayed in Vaison la Romaine on our RS tour. http://www.vaison-la-romaine.com/spip.php?rubrique=246. It would be a great location for a few nights. There are Roman ruins, small wineries, plenty of good restaurants and tons of atmosphere.

We stayed “ up the hill” at the Hotel Beffroi.http://www.le-beffroi.com/en/ It is an enchanting ( albeit a bit challenging) walk up cobbled lanes to get the the hotel. We had a spacious room that overlooked the pool and valley below. We had a small table/ chairs in the room where we enjoyed a bottle of wine we purchased ( very cheaply) from the refrigerator case at the village grocery store. In the evening there are restaurants halfway down the hill from the hotel if you don’t want to walk all the way back down into the village.

Posted by rca
Florida
274 posts

Jazz+Travels is certainly correct that "must see" is highly subjective. If you keep Les Baux on your list, check out the amazing art/light/music exhibition at Carrieres-Lumieres. http://carrieres-lumieres.com/ It looks like the current exhibit ends in January 2018, but the next is certain to be high quality and highly entertaining. It was a highlight of our visit to the region a few years ago.

Posted by chexbres
Paris
2466 posts

You might find it difficult to find an apartment, if you are only staying 2 or 3 days.
I'd opt for a hotel, instead.
And I would make my base in Arles. Les Baux is touristy, no doubt about it, but it's worth a look - lots of stairs...

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
9974 posts

Nimes, St. Remy and Arles are all a reasonably short drive from each other. I'm not sure you need three bases. I stayed in Arles, and was happy with the choice. I originally thought Arles was too far south for my base. I wanted to avoid driving in and out of the busy traffic in Avignon. Nimes seemed too far west. I looked at St. Remy but didn't find as good of Airbnb options. Later, when I visited St. Remy, I decided I liked Arles better. I felt the center had the most to see and do with plenty of good eating options.

Pont du Gard - plan it late in the day. I may have arrived a little too late because everything was closed except the ticket booth when I arrived. The late day sun on the Pont, however, is amazing. I had just enough time to hike to several good spots for photos before I ran out of daylight.

Nimes has enough sights to spend a very easy paced half-day, or a fast paced couple of hours. I probably spent two plus hours in the Arena alone listening to a lot of audio guide descriptions. I learned things about gladiators I had not seen anywhere else. After that, I walked up to the park and a few more Roman ruins then to the Castellum Aqaue (where the water came into town from the aquaduct) - about a half day for me.

I went to St. Remy primarily to see Glannum but I also saw a few Van Gogh sights. I had planned a potential leg through Gorges and L'Isle sur la Sorgue but decided with only four days in the area to come back to it during a future visit.

I visited Les Baux and liked it. The town walking up the hill is reminiscent of Mt. St. Michel. Very neat stone village but 100 percent touristy. If you ignore the touristy part (not as bad in mid September when I was there) it's a pretty town with quite steep roads. In high season, it may be too crowded and too touristy to enjoy. The ruin at the top isn't the best ruin, by far, that I've visited but it comes with great views and an audio guide to tell you about the place. There is little shade on top so on a hot day you may wish you had lots of water and sunscreen. The place isn't accessible, I would recommend anyone with ambulatory issues skip it completely.

There was a live black smith demonstration at Les Baux and they operated the trebuchet once. Overall the demonstrations weren't as numerous or active as I thought they might be (but possibly because I was there in September). The best of that kind of thing, so far, was at Guedelon.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

The Sunday market in L'Isle sur la Sorgue is fun, but there are two caveats:

  • There weren't many extra antique stands, primarily just the large buildings that are open throughout the weekend, not just on market day. So I'd say if you're especially interested in the antiques (as opposed to stalls selling food, clothes, etc.), you don't necessarily have to go on Sunday. I was really surprised about this; my impression from my research was that the Sunday antique situation was a big deal. Not the case during my visit in June of this year.

  • It's quite a pretty town, but it's difficult to appreciate that with the streets absolutely crammed with market stalls. I ended up making a second trip there a few days later so I could actually see the town.

Posted by Jazz+Travels
Chicago
3223 posts

Reviews of Les Baux run from "a very special place" to "a tourist trap"- what is your opinion of Les Baux?

It is worth a look from a distance and from inside as I took a few photos. I remember our guide telling us that only a small number of people live there within the walls and so the town is mostly merchants so I can see where the tourist trap description comes from. And our guide deliberately took us there before 10 am for the purpose of seeing the town before all the tourists got there. I do not need to go there again but the guide pique my interests when he recommended that light show mentioned here above by rca.

Posted by ChristineH OP
Gettysburg PA
450 posts

Thank you everyone- lots of good info!

TravelingMom-I had looked at Vaison la Romaine and it does look lovely but unfortunately it is about an hour north of Avignon which is a bit too far out of our way, so maybe next time!

rca- have put Carrieres-Lumieres on the list, sounds cool

chexbres- we would only consider an apartment if we stay in 1 place for at least 4 nights- and right now I am leaning in that direction.

Brad- thank you- extremely helpful. Arles was/is our first choice for a base- it seems to be the easiest to get in and out of with a car, more lodging choices and train station convenient. Good to hear there is enough to do that we won't get bored spending all evenings in Arles
We really do want to avoid driving in and out of larger towns and dealing with traffic/parking. I think if we do stay in Arles we would actually take train for a day trip to Nimes and possibly Avignon.

acraven- thanks for the warning! We do enjoy markets but are not particular and if the antiques market day in L’Isle sur la Sorgue is a mob scene we can certainly skip that and try to visit on a different day.

Now I am thinking this:
Sarlat 3 nights
Drive to Arles with a stop at Pont du Gard on the way
Arles- 5 nights
1 day for Arles sights, chill, do laundry
1 day drive to St. Remy (possibly market day) then stop at Les Baux if time
1 day- train to Nimes
1 day either drive to Gordes/Isle sur la Sorgue or train to Avignon
Train to Nice from Arles

Does anyone have recommendations for an apartment in Arles with parking, easy in/out?

Posted by Adam
Boston
3679 posts

Good advice re : one base for Provence, more time in the Dordogne. (I add: even more time in the Dordogne).

I just wanted to respond to your observation about a "whirlwind" trip. Those can be fun if short, but if you are using that word to describe a 3 + week marathon, that is an alarm bell. You can sprint part of the time but you need to pace yourself.

If that means leaving Lyon (a wonderful place) for another trip, do so without regrets. You can spend that time in the Dordogne and still not exhaust what that very special part of France has to offer.

All I'm saying is, with that kind of time to spend, go for a little depth.

Posted by cgichard
English but living in Melbourne, Australia
334 posts

Re Les Baux and the sound & light show in the quarry nearby. I was on a solo walking trip in June 2016 with a segment from St Rémy to a hotel at the foot of Les Baux and my route took me past that quarry. The car park alone was so unbearably busy with coaches and their occupants that I was dazed with the noise and the crowds and scurried past. So glad I hadn't booked into a tour there.

Posted by Brad
Belmont Bay, VA
9974 posts

A little more detail on Arles. I stayed right on the Place du Forum and found parking easily a few blocks away on a road that runs along Quai Marx Dormoy. It's pay parking but only about 5 euros to park overnight. The only day I had trouble getting in and out of town was market day (Saturday?) when the main road through the area was closed until early afternoon and my GPS really wanted me to go through there. Plan market day as the day to take the train out of town.

Also, for Avignon, an option is to park across the river, in Villeneuve, and take the ferry across the river to Avignon. It's easier to get in and out of Villeneuve but I didn't try the ferry.

Posted by djp_syd
David in Brisbane, Australia
6945 posts

Some ideas that you may like to consider ...
1) The Dordogne is remote and 2 nights doesn’t really make it worthwhile. Perhaps substitute Lyon.
2) Return the car after you finish in the Loire, and take a TGV to Lyon.
3) All of your location hopping in Provence will eat into your sightseeing time. I would consolidate, and choose Arles for its local train connections.
4) Get a 2nd rental car for your final few days in Provence. Pick it up when you visit Nimes, before heading to Pont du Gard late in the day.

Day
1..Arrive in Paris (4 nights)
2.3.4..Paris
5..Train to Bayeux/Normandy (3 nights)
6..Tour to D Day Beaches
7..Tour to Mont St Michel
(Pick up rental car in Bayeux)
8..Drive to Amboise/Loire Valley (3 nights)
9..Visit chateaux - Blois & Chambord
10..Visit chateaux - Chenonceu & Villandry
(Return rental car in Tours)
11..Train to Lyon (2 nights)
12..Lyon
13..Train to Arles/Provence (5 nights)
14..Arles
15..Day to Avignon
16..Day to Aix-en-Provence or Marseille
17..Day to Nimes & Pont du Gard
(Pick up rental car in Nimes)
18..Drive to Les Baux + St-Rémy (2 nights)
19..Day to Gordes + l’Isle sur la Sorgue
(Return rental car in Avignon)
20..Train to Nice/Côte d’Azur (4 nights)
21..Nice
22..Day to Monaco
23..Day to Antibes & Cannes
24..Depart Nice

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
11613 posts

I based in Nimes for five nights and made several daytrips. Excellent bus/train connections. I visited Pont du Gard, Arles, Orange, and Avignon.

Posted by ChristineH OP
Gettysburg PA
450 posts

Just wanted to pop in and say thank you to everyone. I am reading/absorbing all of your great advice and still trying to formulate a plan. Going to try to come up with 2 or 3 proposals to go over with my husband soon.

A couple of points- we are most likely flying into/out of Paris unless the flight costs change drastically. Usually we would do open jaw but the difference in cost is $300 per person if we fly home from Nice (and both legs require change at LHR- yuck). A cheap flight to Paris from Nice is only $60 so I am having a hard time justifying flying home from Nice- we will be on a very strict budget.

I have priced out some of the suggested options (2 cars rentals, skip Sarlat replace with Lyon etc) and it appears there is really not much difference in total cost. Sarlat is more of a priority- Lyon was just a hmm can we throw that in as well? As long as husband is OK with a bit more driving we will likely keep 3 nights in Sarlat. The drive from Sarlat to Arles is the 1 day I am not liking- but powering thru may be the best way to go.

Also looking at Lourmarin for 2 nights - any input? Thinking of keeping car- 2 nights Lourmarin/explore Luberon then drive to Nice- drop car.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

Keep monitoring fares back from Nice. You might get lucky. I know fares were unusually low last fall for 2017 trips, but I got a great deal into Nice (changing in Amsterdam, not LHR) and out of London for $536, plus $30 or so to pre-book the seat on the outbound transatlantic flight. It was great not to have to worry about choosing between a short unprotected connection, a long unprotected connection, or an unplanned overnight at the transfer point.

(What I didn't worry about, but should have, was landing in Nice on a public holiday. No airport transportation was running!)

Posted by ChristineH OP
Gettysburg PA
450 posts

Do you mind sharing which airlines?
We usually fly in/out of PHL- it's just a tad closer than IAD with good direct flights - often less $$ than IAD
BWI is out- the europe flights go from there to PHL or JFK, etc first- might as well start in PHL!

I am looking at IAD-CDG RT $623 right now. We really prefer direct both ways - but especially direct to our first destination in Europe.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

I booked through Delta but my flights were on Lufthansa (both legs outbound) and Virgin Atlantic (the return from LHR). I departed from Dulles. VA, like BA, charges a bit more for advance seat reservations than Lufthansa. I think Delta itself still offers free seat reservations at the time of ticket purchase.

That's not a bad fare you've found. If you wanted to depart from Paris, I'd be suggesting that you grab it. As it is, there's a lot of time between now and next fall. I'm not sure what I'd do; probably wait till at least the end of November. A non-stop flight definitely has considerable additional value, so you don't want to end up having to fly out of Paris with a connection. Wouldn't it be great to have a crystal ball?

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1829 posts

You sure that wasn't United Airlines Dulles to Amsterdam?

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

Absolutely certain. I went back to my confirmation email to be sure.

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1829 posts

But what did the confirmation say? Is it LH (3 numbers) or a United codeshare LH (4 numbers >5000)?

I’m not aware of any Lufthansa nonstops from US that aren’t to Frankfurt or Munich.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

From the confirmation email (spacing cleaned up by me):

DELTA 9385* WASHINGTON-DULLES 5:40pm [Sun, 30APR]
AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS 7:15am **Mon 01MAY

**Arrival date is different than departure date.
*Flight 9385 Operated by KLM ROYAL DUTCH AIRLINES As KL Flt 652

Posted by Tom_MN
Minneapolis, USA
1829 posts

So it's all Delta/KLM/Virgin Atlantic, so that makes sense. I just couldn't believe Delta would sell Lufthansa tickets on SkyTeam routes.

Posted by mariesherlock1
22 posts

Hope I'm not too late to add a few thoughts?
We just got back from five weeks in France, part of it spent in the Provence area. We were underwhelmed by Les Baux but LOVED Lourmarin (they have a fantastic marche there; don't miss it). We stayed in a very inexpensive but lovely spot in Robion (not a tourist town) and hubbed out to a bunch of wonderful spots. Favorites were Rousillion and Lourmarin.
I agree with the others about the Dordogne. We spent a week there in 2015 - so beautiful and sooo much to see and do. Well worth some extra days.
Hope this helps!

Posted by mmebonnie
Nice, France
7 posts

This may be too late, but here goes...

We are retired Americans who have lived in Paris and currently live in Nice. Hopefully, you are aware that Paris practically closes down in August while the French take their 4-5 week vacations---mostly to other areas of France, so the crowds are worse outside of Paris in August than any other time. If you can move your trip to early September you'll still have good weather and the crowds won't be nearly as thick.

Regarding Provence, having just one "home base" is advisable. Not only is the packing/moving tiring and time-consuming, but the region just isn't all that big. As long as you choose a central location and have a car you'll be able to see a lot in a week. We recently spent 5 full days in Provence and opted for a small but wonderful semi-rural B&B (http://www.bastide-saint-didier.com/en/ ) in a traditional Provencal home that has a pool, self-laundry, self-service kitchen (great for preparing picnics), a fabulous breakfast, and a friendly host who really knows the area (born and raised there). It's a short walk to a charming village with a grocery, take-out, and several good restaurants for winding down at the end of a busy day. We loved it because it gave us a more authentic experience of life in Provence, rather than the sense of just being a tourist passing through.

Though this B&B is on the north side of the Alpilles, the central location allowed us to do easy day driving trips throughout Provence: north to the RS "Cote de Provence Wine Tour" drive; northwest to Orange and Chateauneuf-du-Pape; south to the Luberon villages; southwest to Avignon, Pont du Gard, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorge, Arles, Saint-Remy and yes, Les Baux (which I think is a "don't miss" but you must get there VERY EARLY to enjoy it before the load of busses arrive, around 10am). And do see the Carrieres de Lumieres if you can, as it is pretty spectacular.

I've been to Nimes and prefer the Roman ruins in Arles, Orange and Saint-Remy, mostly because of the easier access. (Nimes traffic can be a nightmare.) Plus, Nice has some lovely Roman ruins so you'll get your fill even if you skip Nimes.

I think a car is necessary to really see Provence but it is possible to combine car/train/tour bus if you want to save some money. One last thought: we never opt for the GPS option when we rent cars in France because nearly every car has it built in nowadays. I expect you'll get a SIM card for your cell phone, so in the rare event that your rental car doesn't have GPS, you can always use GoogleMaps.

Good luck with your plans!

Posted by ChristineH OP
Gettysburg PA
450 posts

Once again, thank you everyone for all the advice.
We have settled on this itinerary—9/3-9/27.
I will be booking flights tomorrow and have already booked hotels for the 23 night trip. (although I am still undecided on Paris hotel- I will post that question separately)

I am sure I will have more questions over the next 9 months! We feel this gives us all the locations we want to see - I know we are covering a lot of ground but it is what it is- and no we probably will not return to France anytime soon- we are desperate to return Italy so that will be our 2019/40th Anniversary trip ;)

Tues 9/4 Fly IAD to Paris- 3 nights
Wed- Paris
Thurs-Paris
Fri- Paris
(we have been to Paris so will just do neighborhood walks, markets, wandering, maybe 1 museum)

Sat 9/9 Train to Bayeux- 3 nights
Sun- Tour Normandy Beaches (Overlord?)
Mon- Tour Mont St Michel (Overlord?)

Tues 9/12 Pick up car- Drive to Amboise 2 nights
(stop at Chaumont on the way)
Wed- Tour Chenonceau, maybe Clos de Luce if time

Thurs- 9/14 Drive to Sarlat- 3 nights
(stop at Oradour sur Glane on the way)
Fri- Sarlat- Dordogne drive
Sat- Sarlat market- chill

Sun 9/17 Drive to St. Remy- 3 nights
Mon- St. Remy sights, Les Baux
Tues- Luberon drive
Wed- St. Remy market in am then drive to Pont du Gard

then to Arles late afternoon-drop car- 4 nights Arles

Thurs 9/20- Arles sights
Fri- Nimes day trip by train
Sat- Arles market in am- then maybe train to Avignon for afternoon/evening

Sun- 9/23- Train from Arles to Nice- 4 nights
Mon- Nice sights
Tues- Monaco
Wed- Eze le Village
Thurs- Fly home Nice to IAD

Please critique- any glaring mistakes?

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
8563 posts

Looks like a good pace.

I see you have the major Nice sightseeing planned for a Monday. If you plan any of the art museums, check their websites for closing days. I'm pretty sure some are closed on Monday. Others might be Sunday or Tuesday; I don't remember.

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
3359 posts

Nice -- if you love Chagall, arrange your schedule to spend a half-day (or more!) in the Chagall museum. Wonderful!!!

Posted by ChristineH OP
Gettysburg PA
450 posts

Thank you for the feedback
We actually made an adjustment just before booking flights. We dropped a night in Paris- that 4th night was simply so we could do day trip to Chartres- but the additional costs were pushing us too close to our max. I have edited post.

It feels "good" to us as well. We settled on a hotel in the 4th. Had considered one in 6th but it was a little further out than we liked- we stayed in 3rd last trip- 8 nights in an apartment and loved it- sort of wanted to try diff neighborhood this time but we liked the hotel/location/price better in 4th.

Just checked- Nice museums are closed on Tuesday so looks like I got that right- even tho I never looked it up!

Posted by Gooster
Nice, France & San Francisco
169 posts

Just a note on your Nice leg, you can often combine Eze with another visit -- it's quite small -- either with Monaco or Villefranche-sur-mer/Cap Ferrat.

Posted by morvegil
Houston, TX
137 posts

I dont see a point in staying in Arles if you are in St.Remy. Its literally a 30 minute drive. I'd stay plonk in St.Remy and then go to Nice.