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Need help on itinerary (early Sep 2015)

Hi, we are couple in early 30s looking to visit France from 2-15 Sep 2015. We are budget travellers & enjoy tranquil settings of small towns vs. the hustle of large cities. We are flying in & out of Paris. We were planning to cover the following in France (mode of travel would be train/ local transport):

  1. Cote d'Azur (2-6 Sep)
  2. Provence (6-9 Sep)
  3. Annecy (9-11 Sep)
  4. Paris (11-15 Sep)

Would be great if we can hear from you all on the below:

  1. Addition of Annecy to the itinerary is quite cumbersome due to travel time to/ from Nice. Is it worth the trip in 2-3 days or should we drop it and add more time to Nice/ Marseilles

  2. With Nice as base, is it doable to explore Antibes, Villefranche, Eze, Monaco, St. paul de vence in 3-4 days. If not, what is the ideal time. Or on second thoughts, would Antibes be a better base? We did explore Villefranche but availability of budget hotels was not very good. Nice on the other hand has IBIS which is great.

  3. Would it be advisable to cover Provence from Nice through a day trip offered by viator (http://www.viator.com/tours/Nice/Provence-Countryside-Small-Group-Day-Trip/d478-2356NCE05). If not, where do we base ourselves- Marseilles/ Avignon/ any other.

  4. Have I missed any part of South of France that I should have considered.

Sorry for the long query, but wanted to detail.. Please do let us know!!

Posted by
605 posts

In May 2005 (long time ago by now), my wife and I did the following:

3 nights paris
2 nights Beaune
2 nights Annecy
2 nights Arles
3 (planned) nights in Nice

This was all by train. From there we spent time in Northern Italy. We absolutely hated Nice and cut it down to 2 nights ASAP (added the day to the Cinque Terre). We loved Beaune, Annecy, and Arles. Just my opinion - Nice is very popular, it just didn't fit well with what we liked.

-Matt

Posted by
2 posts

Hi Matt, Thanks for the reply. Your review of Nice does sound very familiar & I am have been sceptical of basing my Cote' itinerary out of Nice. Will surely re-consider.
Also, did you like Annecy. On another forum, someone has suggested that I swap it with Lyon. Any clue?

Posted by
11292 posts

If you prefer small towns and don't like the hustle of big cities, don't stay in Nice. You can stay in Antibes or Villefranche, which are notably smaller.

There are trains along the coast (Cannes to Antibes to Nice to Villefranche to Monaco to Menton, and all points in between) twice an hour. There are buses from Nice going east to Menton four times an hour, and buses from Nice going west to Cannes three-four times an hour (however, I found the buses west of Nice slow, and greatly preferred the train for these destinations). So, wherever you stay, you can see all the places along the coast easily.

To get to Eze and St. Paul de Vence without a car, you have to investigate the bus routes from where you're staying. You may have to change buses in Nice, and the service to these places is not as frequent. For instance, from Nice to Eze there are 16 buses a day Monday to Saturday, and 8 on Sundays; from Eze to Monaco there are 8 buses a day Monday to Saturday and none on Sundays. I had no car and saw all of these, but had more time.

So, if you really want to see all of the places you listed, you may need an extra day, just because of schedules. On the other hand, the coastal places can easily be seen in your time frame.

"Would it be advisable to cover Provence from Nice through a day trip offered by viator"

If you wish, you can, but you can also see these places easily on your own. Note that this tour does not go anywhere near Marseille or Avignon. If you want to see that part of Provence, you should have a different base, as it's several hours between them.

Furthermore, these places are hard to see without a car. You can easily stay in Arles or Avignon and see Nimes, Pont de Gard, Orange, Isle sur la Sorgue, and a few other places by train or bus. But once you get past these, you need a car or day tour (which shouldn't be hard to arrange in Avignon or Arles). If you don't like big cities, stay well out of Marseille, one of France's largest (fun for a city-lover like me, but not for you). I didn't care for Aix-en-Provence, but most others seem to like it.

Rick's Provence And The French Riviera book has MUCH more detail on this region than his general France book; for the amount of time you're spending there, get both. When you do, you'll quickly see the difference in the public transit along the Riviera (copious, easy, and cheap) and the area around Avignon (sparse and difficult).

Posted by
605 posts

I've not been to Lyon, but it looks like a fun place to visit. My wife and I enjoyed Annecy very much. We took the boat around the lake and did the recommended hike in the RS book. It was a beautiful and very fun 2 days. We stayed on the Hotel Chateau (I think that's what it was called, which was one of our favorite hotels on the vacation. When we go on vacation we've tended to prefer the smaller, but still touristy, towns like Annecy, Beaune, Arles, etc. over the larger European cities. For us, being able hike, rent bikes, go for a swim, while also soaking up the ambiance of a place like Annecy is ideal vacation times. In Arles we went out for dinner one night and were eating outside when that section of town lost electricity. The wait staff came over, confirmed that our meal was ready and lit candles. Once we were done we walked back to the hotel along a very dark Rhone river. It was super cool.

-Matt

Posted by
2 posts

Matt,

I saw your post on your France itinerary and it looks similar to what we want to do.

I was hoping that you could provide a little feedback about the logistics of what you did.
We started out thinking we wanted to do Paris-Nice-Florence-Rome, but the more we hear about the big cities the more we are leaning towards spending a lot more time in smaller spots and avoiding the hustle/bustle.

I am thinking now that maybe we would take a 3-4 days getting from Paris to Nice instead of bullet train straight down.

I like the Idea of going to Annecy but am not clear about how to connect that back to a trip into northern italy without feeling like we are spending all our time on the train.

Any suggestions for other small town along the path from Paris-Annecy-Nice-Northern Tialy would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks

Posted by
7140 posts

I think your options after Annecy are, to either back track to Lyon then down through Avignon to the Riviera, or continue on to Turin and then down to the Riviera.

Posted by
1821 posts

If you are on a budget you could do this trip for much less by renting a car.You can save a lot of money by staying farther from transportation hubs that are charging for their location. Moving from one location to another becomes very easy. Take a GPS.

Posted by
3696 posts

I agree with the idea of renting a car. Not only is it the best way to see Provence, it also gives you the flexibility of looking for the budget hotels. You say you want small villages, yet keep listing bigger cities... There are many places to stay in the smaller towns. A smaller town on the sea is St. Maxime and I have stayed there a few times in a budget type hotel with parking. If you are young and adventuresome you can explore this whole area with a car and make your hotel reservations as you go. Marseille is a really big and rather gritty port town, Avignon is a big city as well. I would not stay in either of those places if you want small village experiences. As far as Nice, it is a huge city with lots of people and chaos... You will probably spend more just trying to get a small town feeling with buses and trains than you would if you just stay in a hotel that has the ambience you are looking for. St. Remy has the hotel VanGogh... really reasonable, quirky and parking plus you can walk into town.