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Nice area for 2 weeks with trip into Italy

I posted earlier but the link to my post didn't work so I'm posting again with some more information/clarity.

We are heading Europe for 2 weeks in June 2018 and are thinking of flying into a major Airport city and then driving from there to a smaller town/city and renting a house/villa. We want to avoid the major cities because we have about 3-4 couples and 2 small children (1 yr old and 3 yrs old) and hotel are expensive and difficult with small kids. We were thinking flying into Nice but would be good but we are open to other suggestions. Since we are there for 2 weeks we would like to stay somewhere outside of Nice (or other major city) where we can take day trips to other locations (ideas?) so there would have to be plenty to do in a drivable area (3 hours max). Or would we get bored staying in that area for 2 weeks? Would it be better to stay in the Nice area for 1 week and then drive somewhere (3-4 hours away) in Italy and stay the second week there? If so, we have no idea where the best place to stay would be. Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Posted by
16893 posts

It makes sense to fly into Nice, or perhaps Marseille, in order to have the shortest drive to your destination. Or a short train or bus ride would also get you to quite a few attractive towns, including pretty much any town along the coast. Don't be tempted to fly in to Paris if you don't want to stay there. Longer train rides are expensive and driving no fun, especially after a long flight.

Whether you rent several cars or a large van (likely to cost just as much), there will be hefty fees to pick them up and drop them off in different countries. So if you do drive from southern France to northern Italy, you should also plan to drive back. If you want to fly out from Italy, then take a train in the middle and pick up different cars for the different countries.

A good resource to start would be Rick Steves Provence & French Riviera guidebook, with lots of info for that region. I would not stay in the same location for both weeks, but you could choose two interesting and sufficiently different home bases just within the territory of that book.

Posted by
7175 posts

There is a lot to keep you occupied between the Italian border and St Tropez. Nice makes an easy arrival/departure point. Local train services are very good along the coast, so a car is not necessary for the entire time. My personal choice would be Antibes.

Menton
Monaco
Eze
Villefranche sur Mer
Nice
St Paul de Vence
Antibes
Cannes
Grasse
St Tropez

Posted by
673 posts

You can fly into either Nice or Marseilles, depending on what works best. You can easily split your visit into 1 week in Provence and 1 week on the Cote d'Azur. Or you can do a second week on the Italian Riviera or the Cinque Terre.

Around Nice you can look around Villefrance-sur-Mer or Beaulieu-sur-Mer, or Antibes/Juan les Pins, especially if you plan on traveling down into Italy. You'll be able to easily tour sites along the coast with a car (Nice, St. Tropez, Cannes, Cap Ferrat, Menton, Eze) and inland (St. Paul, Tourettes-sur-loup, the gorges and mountain villages). Cannes or Thules sur Mer is also a possibility. In Nice, the high end neighborhood of Mont Boron has villas and apartments with pools and parking. Staying in the area from Antibes and further east will keep Italy in closer reach, as well.

I'd recommend staying close to the sea if your second week will be in Provence (in the inland areas like in the Luberon or around Arles). Don't forget the train can be a great way to get around, especially if the group decides to split up some days.

Don't be afraid to consider apartments in the same complex, as villas of that size (5 bedrooms) can get quite expensive as with size in the area comes a very lofty price tag. I would also be sure to contact the local specialists in each city -- dedicated rental management agencies and local real estate offices will have a selection of seasonal rentals that are sometimes not found in major booking sites. You are smart to be starting early -- many prime properties are already being booked for July and August. If you find a candidate and want some feedback on the area, please repost.

Posted by
4787 posts

I certainly appreciate the fact that you want to get to a small city or town quickly, but you might not want to drive on the day of arrival. Jet lag, lack of sleep, a couple of kids who will probably be somewhat cranky, and not being familiar with the local road system can all be a problem. There are some people that are not bothered by any of those things. Others think they are fine but are really driving somewhat impaired. Still others are zombies and should never drive the same day. Suggest you explore the possibility of hiring a car service with a couple of vans and rent your car the next day or the day after. Even a minor fender bender is a bad way to start a trip. Don't mean to rain on your parade, just something to think about.

Posted by
11 posts

We're torn between staying put in a home base for 2 weeks vs. splitting our time up in between France and Italy. It seems like there's a lot we could do around Nice like you mentioned. A lot of people are saying Antibes. If we decided to stay around Nice but we did a day trip or two into Italy, where would you recommend that would be less than 2 hours away?

Posted by
11 posts

Or should we ignore staying in Italy at all and split up our time between the Nice area and the inland Provence area? If it was you and you only had 2 weeks with 4-5 couples and 2 young kids what would you do? This is all so helpful! Thank you!

Posted by
7175 posts

Only you and your travel companions can ultimately make these decisions.

I would observe however that it is not of any real benefit to include Italy 'just for the sake of it'.

Posted by
1014 posts

We have rented Airbnb and homeaway in Nice. Nice is a good central location. You can take a bus for 1Euro each way to a lot of small towns around Nice. Children would ride free. Roads are curvy, so let the experienced bus drivers do it for you. Trains are cheap ways to get to Italy. You will have to change trains at the border, but besides that, just book and go. You might save a bit by renting 3 or 4 cars, but probably not much when you figure in gas, insurance, rental fees, etc. Look at www.seat61.com. He is an expert on train travel in Europe to see cost of tickets and any ideas on travel by train.

Posted by
27041 posts

For a week based in Nice or somewhere else on the French Riviera you could really get by without cars. If the second week is spent in Provence, having your own transportation for part of that time would be extremely helpful.

I haven't been to the part of the Italian coast that's just across the French border but want to point out that there is considerable Italian influence in Nice, Menton, etc. I'm not sure you'd gain a great deal of vacation variety by splitting your time between the French Riviera and the Italian Riviera. You might find Provence more different from the French Riviera than the NW Italian coast.

Be careful about the location of your lodgings. There are many attractive places to visit in southern France, and you'll probably want to head out on day-trips at least 5 times per week, unless you're art junkies and stay in Nice itself. It will get very old if you have to travel for 30 or 45 minutes each way between your lodgings and the train or bus station.

Posted by
796 posts

I love Villefranche sur Mer, 5 km east of Nice. I am returning there for a 5th time this fall. easy bus or train to Nice and many places (as David from Australia has suggested). I never rent a car but use the bus or train to see all the sites he suggested and more. the Villa d'Ephrussi/Rothschilds Gardens is one of my favorite places to visit and lunch; an easy bus or even walk from Villefranche. I have only rented a small one bedroom or a studio found on VRBO. Other friends have stayed in Nice.

I did enjoy a long stay language learning month in Aix en Provence but would suggest only a couple of days there.

Perhaps you might stay one week near Nice and take advantage of public transport then rent a car to see some of Provence for a week and depart from Nice or Marseille. On a Rick Steve's tour I loved Vaison la Romaine which is difficult to get to via public transport (see his Eastern France tour); the tour I took was over 10 years ago and a bit different. Orange was lovely and some of the wine spots near there were a treat. Vaison la Romaine has many Roman sites as does Orange (one of the best Roman Theatres still standing); they were quite amazing. the tour had 2 nights in Vaison and I could have stayed at least 2 more just to soak in the town and see more of the Roman ruins. Avignon was a bit meh to me, just my impression. Rick's Provence book (and other companies books) may assist you in planning.

Enjoy France!

Posted by
11 posts

I think we decided on flying into Nice and making our home base close the the city - possibly Antibes. From there we can make day trips to other places along the Cote de Azure and possibly into Italy. What day trips from Antibes are a must? We will have a vehicle but are not opposed to taking the train if need be.

Posted by
673 posts

If you insist on heading into Italy, Ventimiglia is at the boarder and people head to the market there. Further in, you'll find Bordighera and San Remo which are nicer and less gritty.

Antibes / Juan Les Pins are notable for the beach and the old town in Antibes. For the younger crowd, the (private) beach clubs in Juan Les Pins are popular. It's within easy reach of the airport, so your biggest headache driving from there will be the traffic.

On the second week, you could head to the Luberon (Bonnnieux, Gordes, Lourmarin) or up near Avignon or in Arles. These simply would be a base. A car is necessary. Here you will find countryside, wine, Roman ruins (Nimes, Arles, Pont du Gard), and charming villages. These ends of the region are a good three hours+ apart.

You can also reach the countryside (car is best) and tour St. Paul de Vence, Tourettes Sur Loup, the Gorges du Loup, Grasse and in a further trip, the Gorges du Verdon. This has a different feel, however, than further to the west. Also, from Nice, you can take the Train de Merveilles up into the mountain villages at the Italian border.

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Posted by
10170 posts

Add Tende, Moustier-Ste.-Marie, Sospel in France and the Roya Valley over the border in Italy.

Agree that you need to go through very reliable agencies due to having two young children and the presence of swimming pools in these houses. Also the apartment complex idea is excellent.

Posted by
27041 posts

You need a good guide book that covers southern France in detail. There are dozens of nice destinations; you need to choose based on the interests of your traveling party. Many of the small towns have important museums of modern art, so research will really pay off for art lovers.

I wanted to go to Moustiers Ste Marie (scenery and ceramics!) but could not figure out a way to do it via public transportation from Nice. I am doubtful that it will work in June, but it would certainly make my list if it were possible.

The intensely touristy St Paul de Vence is accessible by bus directly from Nice. From there you can get another bus for the larger, less touristy Vence.

The narrow-gauge Train des Pignes runs from Nice (separate RR station) north to the spa town of Digne les Bains. It has an historic area that's nice for wandering and/or for a snack or a meal. The major stop along the way is the medieval walled town of Entrvaux, which is extremely atmospheric. It has places to eat as well. The only hang-up is that the round-trip ticket is close to 50€.

The tourist office right outside the Nice Ville RR station has a lot of printed tourist literature about the smaller towns in the area and is a good central point for picking up information at the beginning of your visit.

Posted by
11294 posts

If this area interests you, you should definitely get Rick Steves Provence And The French Riviera. His general France book has much less information about this part of the country. In addition, you will want to supplement with other books.

Do be aware that the most famous parts of Italy (Venice, Florence, even Cinque Terre) are not convenient from France, even though Italy is "just across the border" and "so close." I agree that it's not worth going to Italy on this trip for the day just to say you've been; either just stay in France, or else plan a specific Italy excursion of a few days. And once you start investigating getting between France and Italy, you'll see it's more complicated than you would think. For instance, if you rent a car in one country and return it in the other, there will be an extra charge of several hundred euros. If you want to take trains, you'll likely have to make several changes.

It's a several hour drive between the area around Marseille (Arles, Nimes, St. Remy, etc) and the area around Nice (St. Paul de Vence, Monaco, Eze Village, etc). So, I'd fly into one city and out of the other, and plan a week in each. For getting around the Nice area, you may want to ditch the cars for some trips, as buses and trains are easy and cheap and traffic is bad. The cars will still be useful for places not on the coast, and will definitely be useful for the rest of the trip. I say "cars" as plural because with 3-4 couples, you definitely want several smaller cars rather than 1 huge one.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you for all this info! Who do you suggest for a reputable agency to book our villa through?

Posted by
3590 posts

i have several times been part of similar size groups that have stayed in rental villas for a week or more. While we didn't consciously consider it, in retrospect it was very useful that we had several small cars. People could go on different day trips for different lengths of time. No need to have everyone agree on a single destination. With tiny children as part of your group, that would be very important. Also, small cars are much better in Europe for ease of maneuverability and parking than a large van would be.
Two other considerations about choosing an accommodation come to my mind. One is to be sure a pool is adequately provided with features to keep toddlers safe.
The second is to research carefully the location of any property you are considering. A villa can be close to a town, but if the road is very narrow and curving; or, if there is a long unpaved stretch, it can take a long time to get out and back in. In one of our experiences, for example, it took 40 minutes to reach a major road from our villa.

Posted by
27041 posts

Les Baux seems to have no public transportation except in July and August, so I wasn't able to see it. Use viamichelin.com to get estimated driving times from there to the places you want to visit. Also check TripAdvisor for information on restaurants. I have the impression that Les Baux is quite a tiny place (though inundated with bus tours in the daytime), and I'm not sure how many evening dining options you'll find there.

Posted by
11 posts

So it sounds like St. Remy might be a better base after looking into it more. What would you recommend for day trips around the area with a vehicle?

Posted by
7175 posts

•Les Baux de Provence
•Arles
•Nimes & Pont du Gard
•Avignon
•Orange
•Aix-en-Provence
•l'Isle sur la Sorgue
•Gordes
•Roussillon
•Aigues Mortes & St Maries de la Mer

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you for the great info on St Remy. Another family member said Aix-en-Provence. Which would be more central for more interesting day trips?

Posted by
10170 posts

It depends on where you want to go for day trips. Aix is much larger and close to the autoroutes. It's also a college town, whereas the other is a toney vacation destination.

Posted by
5252 posts

Blockquotef you were taking a day trip into Italy from the Nice area, where would you go?

San Remo.

We've not long come back from a 10 day holiday in a villa not far from Nice that we booked via AirBnB. Two adults and two children, 12 and 10. We were not hugely into travelling around and sightseeing as this was our annual summer holiday relaxing time and besides, it was very hot so the villa pool was well used. There were plenty of attractive old villages and town in the area and Nice is definitely not to be missed. I had already decided on a day trip to San Remo prior to arrival , it was a bit further into Italy than the border towns but a bit prettier. The beach area looked nice with plenty of man made sheltered 'coves' although seeing people frollicking in the water where a sewage outlet pipe was clearly visible did put me off that particular stretch of water. Ate the best food of our holiday in San Remo.

I would certainly recommend staying in one place, preferably France however it is likely to be more expensive. The villa that we stayed in was overpriced in our opinion but it reflected the prices in that area. Obviously we paid extra because of the pool but it was certainly worth it, most of the villas that are rented out are equipped with pool alarms that are activated after 10 mins of no activity in the water and are set off by water displacement so that was a definite plus point when having young children around.

Posted by
27041 posts

EDITED BECAUSE I MIS-STATED THE TIMING OF MY VISIT TO NICE.

I have no idea about villas, but I spent the first two weeks of June [No--MAY! Not June!] in Nice this year, and rates at the budget-level hotels were definitely not at their mid-summer peaks. You may be able to find something quite nice.

The weather for my 2 weeks in Nice was a bit unsettled, which I gather is pretty typical at that time of year. Lots of days with some clouds, sort of coolish temperatures, the occasional shower and one day with a Biblical downpour. By the end of May it was warming up quite a bit and was sunnier, but not yet brutally hot.

Posted by
11 posts

I feel like I've gone down a rabbit hole with research into these areas! You have all been invaluable in my searches. I've compiled an email all about St. Remy and why it would be a great choice for our vacation. He only thing I'm missing is info about restaurants. Our group is a bunch of foodies! Which restaurants are best in st. Remy and nearby?