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Need Advice for South of France Itinerary

Background
We are two couples in late 50s. We plan to visit south of France (first time) for about two weeks in early June 2020. We are interested in art, architectures, and scenery. We are not interested in shopping or antique. So market day may not be appealing to us. We also like to see variety of scenery and do variety of activities in one trip. For example, we would like to see different village/town in Provence with different characters, but not multiple towns with similar vibes.

Tentative Plan
2-3 days in Paris
Tentatively, we plan to fly out of east coast of US to Paris and back. Stay in Paris for 2-3 days to get adjusted to jetlag. We all have been to Paris before. We will just revisit selected areas/museums in this trip.

4 days in Avignon area
We will then take TGV train to Avignon and rent a car there. We want to pick a base for all 4 days there and take day trip to visit nearby towns. We would like to get a two-bedroom type of accommodation for 4 of us. I would really appreciate your input for the following questions:
1. Where is a good base for this area?
I would like to have a base that is centrally located with easy (inexpensive) parking and reasonable selection of restaurants nearby. We usually stay at mid-range accommodation. Any specific lodge recommendation?
2. Is the time allocation reasonable?
We will have 3 &1/2 days there and plan to visit the following places.
Day trip to Pont Du Gard, Nimes, and Uzes.
Day trip to Roussillon and Gordes
Day and half for Arles and Avignon
We would like to keep a reasonable pace (not rushed between places) but also plan enough activities in a day. Please critique if the time allocation is reasonable. Is there any other place we should add or drop in this region? We are flexible time wise (can add another day if needed).

2 Days in Marseille
We plan to return the car in Avignon and take the train to Marseille. We plan to stay 2 nights there. Major sights to visit: Nortre-Dame de la Garde, Panier District, Old Port, etc.
1. Is La Charte museum or boat excursion to nearby islands worthwhile?

4 Days in Nice
We plan to take train from Marseille to Nice and stay there for 4 days.
Day and half in Nice
Day trip to Monaco, Corniches, and Eze via train and bus
We would like to visit St Paul de Vence, Villefranche, (maybe Cap Ferrat). I am not sure they will fit in a day trip. We can add another day here if needed.
1. Is there any place I should add or drop in this region? What is the best way to arrange the side (day) trip for the places outside Nice?
2. Traveling between Nice and Paris by Train or by Plane?
We plan to go back to Paris from Nice and connect to our international flight directly to US. I understand it is 6-hour train ride or 1 hour flight between Nice and Paris. What are the pro and con of travel by train or by plane; cost, comfort, convenience in either end, connection with the international flight, etc.?

I know there are a lot of experts on this forum. Your help would be greatly appreciated!

Posted by
1514 posts

Good morning Ying,

You mentioned:

"4 days in Avignon area. We will then take TGV train to Avignon and rent a car there. We want to pick a base for all 4 days there and take day trip to visit nearby towns. We would like to get a two-bedroom type of accommodation for 4 of us. I would really appreciate your input for the following questions":

  1. Where is a good base for this area? I recommend the town of Saint Remy or Aix-en-Provence, both are near the towns you plan to visit on your Provence itinerary. I would like to have a base that is centrally located with easy (inexpensive) parking and reasonable selection of restaurants nearby. We usually stay at mid-range accommodation. Any specific lodge recommendation? Here are three hotels in Saint Remy that fit your budget:

https://www.thehotelguru.com/hotel/hotel-du-soleil-st-remy-de-provence

https://www.thehotelguru.com/hotel/le-mas-des-carassins-provence

https://www.thehotelguru.com/en-us/hotel/le-cadran-solaire-st-remy-de-provence

  1. Is the time allocation reasonable? Yes it is reasonable

We will have 3 &1/2 days there and plan to visit the following places.
Day trip to Pont Du Gard, Nimes, and Uzes.
Day trip to Roussillon and Gordes
Day and half for Arles and Avignon

On your 2 days excursion to Marseille, day trip to Sénanque Abbey, the picturesque abbey with the lavender fields display on travel magazines.

https://www.senanque.fr/en/

Posted by
3355 posts

I have been to all of the places you’ve listed, except Marseille. Your plans for the Avignon area are fine for planned time. I would recommend adding a day to Nice, so give the potential third day in Paris to Nice. Here’s my last trip report that covers Nice. Also, if you need a new museum for Paris, Museum Jacquemart Andre is excellent.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/our-combined-solo-couple-vacation-in-france-2019

For your flight, check the price of a multi-city flight option instead of a round-trip: Your city-to-Paris; Nice-to-Your city. Usually they are not much more, and it would save the cost of the train back to Paris. I definitely would not want to chance taking the 6-hr train followed by an RER or taxi to CDG to catch an international flight. Too many variables that could cause you to miss an expensive flight!

Posted by
16752 posts

I think St-Remy is a better place to stay than Aix-en-Provence, given the places you want to see. You can check driving times on ViaMichelin.com. I'm sure there are many other places that would work as well.

I enjoyed a boat trip from Marseille harbor out to the Calanques. It doesn't take terribly long, and I don't think it needs to be pre-booked, so you can decide about that later.

For your time in Nice you may find it helpful to visit the tourist office on the plaza in front of the Nice Ville train station. It has brochures for many of the surrounding towns. There's one for Cap Ferrat as well. The office can also tell you where you can pick up buses to neighboring towns if you're uncertain. As far as I know, Nice doesn't have a bus station in the sense of a building, so there can be a bit of confusion about exactly where you need to go to get a particular bus.

There are sometimes lines at the Nice-Ville station to use the ticket-vending machines. I was there in May 2017 and sometimes had to wait 10 minutes or so. You can't count on being able to just pop in and have a train ticket a minute later.

You may not need a full 1-1/2 days for Nice itself unless you're into art museums, of which it has at least six.

St-Paul-de-Vence can be reached by Lignes d'Azur Bus 400 from Nice. The same bus goes to Vence, which is less picturesquely located but far less touristy, so worth a visit for its large medieval district if you happen to have time. St-Paul-de-Vence is very small. It doesn't take long to see unless you want to visit the very good Fondation Maeght art gallery outside town (walkable, but it will take a little while; check Google Maps).

Villefranche is a super-easy train ride from Nice, but there's a bit of a walk from the station to town. It's picturesque. Cruise ships dock there, but it seems that most of the passengers head to places like Monaco rather than spending a lot of time in Villefranche, so it's not as crowded as you'd expect.

There are several nice things to do on Cap Ferrat, which you'd reach by taking the train to Beaulieu-sur-Mer. You can walk around the peninsula looking at the Mediterranean, though it's not 100% paved path. Don't expect to get a good look at the fabulous (I assume) local residences, because the are virtually all behind high walls. The two key attractions on the peninsula are Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, which also has a very nice garden, and the Greek-style Villa Kerylos. They're walkable from the Beaulieu trains station and from each other, but it will take some time so you might want to investigate buses or grab a cab to save time.

I suppose if you get an early start you might be able to get to St-Paul-de-Vence, Villefranche and Cap Ferrat in one day, but you'll be somewhat limited by the bus schedule and probably wouldn't be able to fit in Vence as well.

I haven't been to Monaco. A lot of people have said here that they didn't especially enjoy it, but some people do like it. There's the car collection, and there are a couple of gardens.

Edited to add: I'm not sure what the lavender near Senanque Abbey looks like in early June. I thought it was more a July phenomenon, but I have never researched it.

Posted by
39 posts

Thank you all so much for your very helpful advice.

RJean,
Thank you for the hotel recommendation in St. Remy and will check them out.

Jean,
I really enjoy reading your trip report. It is packed with passion and practical advices. I read with interest of your visit to Chartres. I am considering it for a day trip from Paris for my upcoming trip. I am debating between Chartres and Vaux-le-Vicomte for a day trip from Paris. Have you been to Vaux-le-Vicomte before? Can you compare the uniqueness of each if you have been to both before?

acraven
Thanks very much for the practical advices about the Nice area. It is very helpful for my planning.

Please keep advice coming!

Posted by
3355 posts

Hi Ying,

I haven’t been to Vaux-le-Vicomte but have been to several of the chateaus & palaces.

Chartres is famous for their amazing stained glass in the cathedral. If that interests you, I would definitely go see it. They have tours that explain the cathedral, how to read the glass, and I was on a tour that went into the crypt.

The train to Chartres has a station that is very close to the cathedral. There were nice places for lunch nearby, also.

Posted by
1514 posts

Ying - Although Chartres is a wonderful day trip from Paris to see the Cathedral, the stain glass windows inside, and the acoustics of hearing Gregorian chant music echoing within the church, Vaux-le-Vicomte is truly a stunning castle. The gardens are amazing. The castle will fulfill your day. I left there wanting to return again. Is there any chance you can squeeze in both on this trip?

Posted by
39 posts

RJean,

I checked the lodges in St Remy you recommended. They look nice (one is not available). However, I notice none of them have AC (air condition) listed. For early to mid-June, is AC needed (or preferred) in the region? I don't tolerate heat that well.

Thanks!

Posted by
16752 posts

I wouldn't consider non-air-conditioned lodgings in southern France at that time of year. Some folks manage in thick-walled buildings by keeping the shutters closed in the daytime, but I think that surely depends on the availability of cross-ventilation after sundown, and with no window screens, I'm not prepared to risk it.