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Need guidance on if we should include Andorra and southwestern France

Hello! We are a well-traveled family of four (2 teens) who enjoy road trips through pretty parts of the world, and who enjoy rustic and rural as well as urban and chic. We are planning to spend the full two weeks exploring southern France for the first time, but I need some advice on how I have broken up our trip (before I buy plane tickets and reserve lodging). I have Rick's book on Provence and the French Riviera and have read and seen his Andorra pieces. But wonder if anyone out there has done them at the same time. Here is what I am proposing.

March 24 - land in Toulouse, rent car and drive to lodging ( approx 1 hr away south/southeast)
March 25 - Carcassonne and Perpignan
March 26 - Andorra and the Pyrenees
March 27 - Drive to next lodging (between Avignon and Arles)
seven nights exploring places like Avignon, Arles, Séte, (Aix, le Baux, Salon de) Provence, Saintes Marie de la Mare. (staying aware of Easter holiday events and closings in the areas.)
April 3 - Drive to lodging outside of Nice
four nights/5 days exploring Nice and beyond including Monaco, St. Tropez, Antibes, part of the Italian Riviera
April 7 - fly out of Nice.

I guess I am second guessing the western leg of the trip. I, personally, love the little countries and love going places not many people have gone, getting stamps for my mom from unique places, etc. I figure if I don't see Andorra now, I may never do so. But is it worth taking those three days from the other regions?

I would appreciate anyone with experience weighing in to tell me I'm crazy, or right on point, or tell me what I am missing.

Many thanks!

Posted by stuartcumella
39 posts

I visited Andorra about five years ago, and found it to be a long shopping centre in a deep valley. If you like shopping, you would enjoy visiting. Otherwise, I recommend a drive from La Seu d'Urgell in the far North of Spain, to the Val d'Aran via the small town of Sort. This is an exceptionally beautiful route. If you are driving across the Camargue, you should visit Aigues Mortes - a stunning walled city near the sea. The City of Montpellier has a fine centre with a large gothic quarter.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
2296 posts

We love the southwest of France. We’ve visited many times and will be returning for 3 weeks in September. I’ve never heard anything good about Andorra. Its main attraction seems to be outlet stores. I suggest you look into spending a few days in the Dordogne. Picturesque towns, lots of prehistory sites, good food and wine, canoeing on the river, and cave visits are among its delights.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
7127 posts

You do not need to see Andorra itself. I agree that La Seu de Urgell is a very pretty town and recommend that you take the advice offered here about substitutes to fill the time you might otherwise spend getting to and seeing Andorra.

I feel like you're trying to hit too many places and probably underestimating the time you'll spend driving, thus not giving yourself adequate time to see the places where you stop, especially during the first few days. There is a lot of interest in that area of France, and I wouldn't head down there for just two days, especially if you want to see the mountains as well as the coast.

I found Toulouse very pretty and--with its red-brick architecture--quiet distinct from most of the French cities. You are not going to see it at all.

I know nothing of the road conditions you will be dealing with, but I wonder whether your routing could be improved. It appears that you plan to travel southeast from Toulouse almost all the way to the coast at Perpignan, back west toward the Pyrenees, then east again before hitting the coast and turning north toward Arles.

Sète is on the way from Perpignan to Arles/Avignon, so I'd plan to visit it in transit.

You appear to be mis-counting your days along the Riviera. If you drive to your lodgings outside Nice on April 3 and fly home on April 7, you have much less than five days for the Riviera--more like 3-1/2 at the most. Although the distances you plan to cover from that base are not great, I really question whether 3-1/2 days is enough time. I suspect the train would in most cases be faster than driving (St. Tropez being an exception since it has no train service); you may face some traffic on the coastal road as well as somewhat time-consuming parking challenges even in April, but it sounds as if you're staying in a rural area, so you probably will need the car.

Speaking of the season: Although I wouldn't be surprised if there's considerable tourist traffic because of the Easter holiday, April is very off-season for Provence and the Riviera, based on the opening days and hours of many of the smaller tourist sites in that area. When I was researching hours at places like small art museums for my summer trip last year, I noticed that many places open 6 days a week in July/August were open only 5 or even 4 days a week in April, and the hours were often cut back as well. If you anticipate going inside museums and such as opposed to just enjoying scenery and small-town atmosphere, this will be an additional challenge. A lot of places close for an hour or so over lunchtime, as well.

Edited to add: I trust you've checked the weather stats for early April. I'm not sure what you'll encounter in the mountains. Last year, early May was not as sunny as I expected it to be along the Riviera.

Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
523 posts

What town are you staying in south/southeast of Toulouse? I agree that those 2.5 days could use a rework. I would consider dropping Andorra and Perpignan in favor of more time in the French Pyrenees and the area between Carcassonne and Foix. I highly recommend the Grotte de Niaux just south of Foix. One of my favorite things in all of France. While I have not been, many people love Mirepoix. I would consider spending one day going to Niaux and exploring Foix and the Pyrenees and one day seeing Cathar sites, bastides, and Carcassonne.

Note that the mega rest stop on the highway near Carcassonne is a site to behold. Excellent cafeteria along the canal du midi. Huge with everything you would need in a break. I have more information specific to the resources that I've used when planning and executing trips in this area - please Private message me if interested.

-Matt

Posted by ukimmeru OP
2 posts

Wow!!!! Thank you all so much for the amazing and helpful comments and suggestions so far! I knew this was the right place to seek advice. Please keep them coming. @Matt, to answer your last question, I haven't narrowed it down yet. I was going to wait till we had a solid feel on cities to visit and then triangulate to the best position to mitigate driving times and find something there.

Related, we are trying to find rural places to stay when possible in those regions. Similar to Italy's agriturismos (farm houses or self sufficient places around farms or vineyards. I found a site: gites-de-france.com, but if anyone out there has better ideas I am all ears (admittedly have not searched the forums yet. One step at a time).

Again thanks for the feedback and opinions. I would welcome hearing from anyone with $0.02 to share. :)

Posted by Matt
Somerville, MA
523 posts

I recommend www.vrbo.com for home rentals in France. I also use google street view extensively when scoping out a home base.

Posted by Gooster
Nice, France & San Francisco
121 posts

It seems many people go to Andorra and never go beyond the main highway through Andorra La Vella. There are some excellent hikes and some beautiful sights in the Pyrenees once you venture off the main road in the valley -- but late March is probably the wrong mid-season to either ski or hike. But as others have noted, there are some very interesting villages and smaller towns throughout the area.

I would also consider trimming a day from your western provence arm and adding it to the Nice stay, if possible. If the weather is not good, there will be more options in the coastal cities (and a lower chance of the mistral winds). Also, add Pont du Gard to your list. You should also check tripadvisor rentals for places, which aggregates listings from a bunch of sites they've acquired.

Posted by Philip
Hobe Sound, FL
1214 posts

If you are looking for small, rural towns, consider visiting Cucugnan in the Cathar region. It’s a quaint little town, a true “back door” visit. Has a working mill that grinds the grains for the operating bakery in its base. We stayed in the Auberge du Vigneron - nice, small hotel with an excellent restaurant - great cassoulet!

Posted by dlindstrom
la rioja
71 posts

I would second Matt and Philip's advice.
I totally second visiting Foix. Another place I would recommend in the area is Mirepoix, and the Église Notre-Dame de Vals which is carved out of a rocky hillside. And the Aude and Cathar region are full of little treasure. They have a pretty good tourism portal on line. The Abbey of Saint-Hilaire is the birthplace of Blanquette de Limoux, which is considered the first sparkling wine, and legend says that Dom Pérignon learned to make sparkling wines here.

We spent a week at the gite Le Cammas d'Amont, just outside of Mirepoix and close to Carcassonne. It is a on a farm in the countryside.

We were two families, each with two teenagers, and we had a wonderful time.