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Nice to St.-Remy iin October - Train or drive

We are a couple in our late fifties visiting France. After a week in Nice, we plan to move to St.-Remy for six days. The choice is to (a) rent a car in Nice (train station or airport?) and drive to St.-Remy, or (b) take a TGV from Nice-Ville to Avignon-TGV and rent at Avignon. We do want a car for day-trips around St.-Remy.

We will have a check-in bag, plus possibly two carry-on bags and a small backpack. Yes, we are aware of the benefits traveling light in Europe, and we have done that in all our previous trips. However, this time we have other constraints - attached business trips and split travel after France visit. Although we are well-traveled by trains in Europe (including France), in ok shape and can manage, taking big bags in trains is a bit inconvenient. A little challenging if the stations do not have escalators (do they?), and when there are split levels (does the first class have that as well?).

If we rent the car, we can stop in one or two places on the way. A couple of options are Cassis or Aix ( fitting both is likely not practical), or even a small pretty village on the way. We have never driven in Europe and not sure if driving within Aix or Cassis (mainly to find safe parking) will be difficult at this time of the year. Also a little concerned about leaving our luggage in the car. There may be an extra drop-off fee for a different location, but not a big concern for now.

Our next destination is Lyon, but only for three days, so we may just take the train or if we rent the car, just drop it off right away there.

Posted by
6395 posts

The train ride happens to be quite scenic, so I would take the train! The number of bags you have seems manageable between two adults.
Cassis is out of the way if you drive, and Aix deserves more than a couple of hours, so I would have no regrets ditching the drive.

And i would take the train from Avignon TGV to Lyon as it is much faster!

Posted by
624 posts

The drive itself is pretty easy, with most of it being on the tollway. However, it lacks the scenic component of the coastal route (there are skippable built up sections and twisty stretches along the coast). Getting out of town can be a challenge; the airport may be easier. .

Posted by
1317 posts

From Nice to St Remy I would skip Cassis. But i'm going to say if you pan on day trips from St Remy I would want a car. We have driven all over the region and other then a few towns that we parked outside of and walked into driving is a breeze.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you all. Still deciding about train/car for Nice to St.-Remy. If we do take a car, any recommendations for the type of car and car rental company? Need car trunk with sufficient space for our luggage plus possibly some minor supplies for the road securely stored without being visible. A small, but comfortable car, but any guidance on car class -- are the compacts/intermediates similar to US ones? Any advantage of special status with Hertz/Avis, etc.? Thank you.

Posted by
6395 posts

For your amount of luggage, a compact ("C" category or its automatic transmission equivalent) might be a bit tight depending on the exact model you get, so you might want the size above. Also, almost all cars are hatchbacks: they usually have luggage covers, but it might be missing (never happened to me but saw reports of this), so check before you set off with the car.

Use whatever rental co. you prefer, keeping in mind that low cost brands like Firefly (Hertz-owned) or Keddy (Europcar-owned) are more picky about damage. Many people, including myself, find that broker Autoeurope is an excellent price comparison website and usually has better rates (with free cancellation until 48h pre-departure).

Posted by
52 posts

I've not been to Nice but I can say that the TGV station in Avignon is small but newer, so well equipped with escalators (and I would guess even elevators although I'm not sure about that). Night and day over the older train stations in city centers- your only luggage issues there would be on and off the train. I don't remember the TGV we took from Paris having two levels but it has been awhile, so I couldn't promise. Check www.seat61.com to see pictures and details of the TGV trains, he'll also has details and pictures of the train stations.

The car rental lots are just outside the station in Avignon, it was a VERY easy place to rent and return a car. (We based in St Remy). I always worry about leaving luggage in a car and you might have to upgrade to fullsize to guarantee a proper trunk if that is the concern, but that has it's own issues getting around villages with tight parking. I also avoid the discount car rental agencies, we've used Hertz and Europcar.

Posted by
52 posts

oh, and regarding Balso's comment about damage. We've found that all of the car rentals are way more picky about damage than US agencies. Make sure to document even the smallest scratches, including scrubs on tires before leaving the lot and avoid returning to an after hours location.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you all again. Yes, Europcar and Hertz were my top choices, based on my reading as well and thank you for confirming.

Regarding insurance, I may just buy the whole comprehensive package. I know I am playing into their tactics, but thinking more as a 'no stress' insurance during vacation.

Although I have some good credit cards including a couple of Visa Infinite cards, AmEx Platinum, etc. which claim good primary insurance, recording everything (in English?), dealing with all the processes if an unfortunate accident happens, etc. is just too much hassle for me.

Even within US, when I had an accident and had a good AAA insurance (AAA took care of their part perfectly fine), there were issues getting the deductible paid by my card. It turned out to so cumbersome that I gave up. They were agreeing on principle, but demanding so much paperwork it just became too stressful and time-consuming. In France, with an unfamiliar language, rules, etc., I can't even imagine how practically the credit cards will handhold you through this.

Posted by
18 posts

Sorry to follow up on my own post, but may be this can be useful. Noticed I get good rates from Costco for automatic cars, additional driver included (some other sites mention you have to add on site) with Enterprise and Alamo at Nice airport. Didn't know these rental companies also operate there. Just don't know how big they are there and whether there is good choice. For intermediate they said Puegeot 508 or similar.

Posted by
2679 posts

Just a warning, the last time I rented a car in Europe I got to the car rental location and I was picking up my car, which was a manual transmission and a couple next to me talking to a different agent were having a nervous break down because there were no automatic transmission cars available. It was very apparent they could not drive a manual transmission. I can, so I’m fine but I’ve heard of that happening a lot and I’ve seen it happen once.

I’ve had the same thing happened with car sizes. When I reserved in Avignon I reserved a compact. I got a medium size SUV.😂

Posted by
52 posts

I understand your rationale on the comprehensive insurance and I'm guessing we will end up going that way in the future. We've only had to pay for damage once that was entirely our fault and not an expensive repair. On the other hand we did have full coverage for a car in Italy where it was required and card insurance didn't cover. We came back to the large public car park in Volterra to find a huge scratch all the way down the side of the car. We were near the edge of the car park, no cars nearby- looked possibly intentional. Walked in to drop it off, told them, shrugged, and walked away relieved we had the full coverage!

Posted by
18 posts

Thanks Carol. Yes, we have also heard about the manual vs. automatic issue. I drove an old beat-up manual for five years when much younger, but it should come back easy enough. My wife does not have much experience driving a manual car, so if we get one, I will do all the driving. In fact, I am half-tempted to just rent a Mercedes manual which is just a few dollars more/day vs. a standard intermediate. Distances are not that large by US standards, so hopefully it should not be an issue especially outside the Riviera traffic.

Posted by
6395 posts

The roads are hilly, twisty, with many roundabouts, so an automatic will be more comfortable if that's what you are used to driving.

Posted by
9865 posts

Back to thé luggage: we took six traîns yesterday, getting home from Switzerland, some in 1st, some 2nd. I couldn't believe thé steamer trunks on four wheels so many people were rolling onto and off thé trains. One woman had two off those large hard shell cases. Others had large suitcases and kids in strollers. So whatever size your checked bag is, you'll find a way. People are helpful.
If your want downstairs seating, and all TGV trains on that Line are double deckers, réserve asap in 1st class and get to thé station early. Some upstairs passengers drop their bags off downstairs, taking up downstairs luggage space.

Posted by
18 posts

One more follow-up request on this topic. We have essentially decided to rent a car at Nice airport, mainly for added flexibility and optionality if we do decide to stop somewhere interesting along the way. For example, St. Paul-de-Vence -- we were planning a day trip otherwise, but we can consider stopping there and continue to St.-Remy in the afternoon.

The question is about rental insurance. As mentioned, my primary thought is to take the complete insurance from the rental company for piece of mind. I did come across an interesting product from Allianz (assume there are others), called OneTrip Rental Car Protector, which seems to give a pretty attractive CDW insurance at a reasonable price ($11/day for a couple) with no deductible. Wondering if others have experience in using this.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you for everyone's help. Have now booked through Costco car rental. Still a little anxious as everyone seems to be using Europcar and they were almost 2X the cost for the same size automatic car, including the additional charge for extra driver (Costco gives it for free). The eventual booking is through Alamo. Hoping that there is no catch here. We will use Allianz rental insurance and also have back-up of credit cards if needed.

Posted by
6395 posts

There shouldn't be a catch. Europcar is nothing special in my (admittedly limited) experience, and Alamo is reputable - definitely not low-cost.