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Provence and Paris Itinerary Feedback

Bonjour mes amis!

I am starting to plan a trip to visit Provence and Paris, hopefully for September 2021.
I would love feedback and suggestions on my itinerary so far, so tell me what you think!

Some background: Trip will be two couples in their 30s and 40s.
I have been to France before, and lived there for a year, near Chartres, from 2004-2005. I'm not fluent in French, but I can certainly get around well. Last time I was in France was 2005. I have been to Paris several times, but never Provence. The other three people on the trip have never been to France.

Here's what I have so far:

Sat Sept 4 - Leave USA

Sun Sept 5 - Arrive in France, probably at the Marseille airport. Rent a car, and drive to our home base, most likely Le Moulin de Roques in Noves (about 30 minutes east of Avignon). http://moulindelaroque.com/
Check in, maybe go to the grocery store for a few essentials, get settled.

Mon Sept 6 - Take a tour of the Luberon with a Rick Steves recommended guide, Doug Graves. The tour circuit I'd like visits two wineries, the Lavender Museum, the Corkscrew Museum, Bonnieux, and Menerbes.
OR
Daytrip to Cassis to take a boat tour of the Calanques, with some swimming if it's not too chilly. Any recommended boat tour companies? Should we drive ourselves to Cassis, or hire a guide for the day that will arrange the boat tour and chauffer us?

Tues Sept 7 - Start the day at the market in Vaison La Romaine. After we finish at the market, do the Rick Steves self-guided driving tour of the Cotes du Rhone villages.

Wed Sept 8 - Day with the guide Ashley Tinker, of www.curiousprovence.com. (Anyone ever used her?)
Tour of the St Remy market, and then visit St Paul de Mausole for our Van Gogh history. Have a home cooked lunch at a private home, then in the afternoon visit an olive oil producer and a cheesemaker.

Thurs Sept 9- Visit the L'Isle sur la Sorgue market in the morning. Maybe eat lunch in L'Isle.
Spend the afternoon in Avignon where hopefully we have enough time for the Rick Steves Welcome to Avignon and the Backstreets Avignon walks.

Friday Sept 10 - Luberon Tour with Doug Graves OR Cassis, whichever one we didn't do on Monday.
Maybe, if time permits, visit the market in Eygalieres first?

Sat Sept 11 - Arles, or more Avignon?

Sun Sept 12 - Other couple leaves to return to USA, My husband and I will be staying longer. I'm thinking we would leave the Moulin de la Roque to stay somewhere in Arles or Avignon.

Monday Sept 13 - Thinking this would be a good day to visit Nimes.

Tues Sept 14 - Leave Provence for Paris
Check in to our hotel. I'm leaning towards staying in The Marais. I've always stayed there because I love the vibe and location. You can walk to so many sites and the metro stops near there make for easy access to everything else. Or should I branch out and try a different neighborhood? There were a few hotels in the Latin Quarter area that looked nice.
After we check in and store our luggage, we would do some kind of orientation tour - perhaps the Rick Steves Old Paris Walk, and the bus #69 tour? This is for my husband to get his bearings and an overview. Paris is mostly about what he wants to do since I've done all the big sites there before.

Wed Sept 15 - Visit the Louvre in the morning.
Visit St Denis Basilica in the afternoon
Maybe do a tour with www.Paris-Walks.com, time permitting? I used them a few times in the past, and see they are still around!

Thursday Sept 16 - Daytrip to Chartres to see the Cathedral and town. Stop to see the town of Rambouillet, my old stomping grounds, on the way out or back (it's on the same train line as Chartres). We'd also like to stop in Maintenon to see the Chateau there (again, same train line), but I suspect there will not be enough time for all three stops.

Friday Sept 17 - Cluny Museum and Army Museum/Napoleon's Tomb

Saturday Sept 18 - Fly home.

Posted by
21992 posts

Check the days and hours of operation of the Nimes sights you want to see. Do the same for the small museums you may want to see on Monday, September 6. Although it varies, Monday is a very common day for places to be closed.

I would not be inclined to change lodgings for just two nights unless there's a benefit in terms of a faster or cheaper train trip back to Paris.

Check fares to Marseille so you know what you're getting into. There may not be an issue, but Nice was a lot less expensive for me in 2017. I realize that Marseille is a lot closer to the places you want to see, but there are four of you.

You'll need to get timed tickets for the Louvre. I have no idea how far in advance you'll need to do that, but you have little flexibility since you won't be in the city very long.

Posted by
1211 posts

Wrt Cassis - I'll tell you our experience and maybe it will be helpful
We drove to Cassis in the afternoon from Il sur la Sorgue and the drive felt long (even though it was only 90 minutes). We rented a motorboat ahead of arrival for the next morning. I think we started out at 9:30 or 10a. This was in July, btw.
So we head out for the boat the next morning - dh, me, and our 3 young teens - and it was so foggy that you could barely see land, even though is was not far away, which made navigation hard (although Dh thought it was fine). The water was choppy, the sky was grey, and we couldn't see (the previous evening on arrival it was sunny, hot, and we went to the beach for two hours). My eldest dd and I did not enjoy this (spray in our faces, cold, unable to see anything) and asked to go back. The younger two kids absolutely loved it and wanted to keep going. So, we went back to the dock to drop off me and eldest dd, and the other three headed back out on the boat. The plan was for us to hike and meet them at d'En Vau and boat back together. I love hiking so this turned out great for me and dd1. The hike was awesome! So glad I got to see that (its easy to walk right from town to the trailhead and then the trail is well marked). By the time we got to d'En Vau, dh and kids were already planted on the beach and the boat (rubber raft with outboard motor) was anchored out where they must be anchored. We spent the day at the beach and cliff-jumping off a great cliff for it (maybe 30 ft high) with others, and then hiked to where the raft was anchored and boated back. By this time all the fog had cleared and the wind had settled and the boat ride was super fun. During the hike, dd1 and I had the chance to see the two other Calanques from inside and they were ok. Port Miou is basically a harbor full of boats, and Port Pin was a smaller, less spectacular version of d'En Vau. d'En Vau is the real gem.
You will be driving 3 hours that day round trip. Do you want to then navigate your own boat (it was so easy and fun when the sky was clear)? Do you want to pay for a tour that you dont necessarily need (not a lot that you can't figure out on your own with a good map)? Depends on how you travel. We prefer doing a lot ourselves. We spent a second night in Cassis and left very early the next morning.
If you depart your hotel early that day, you will get a lot more out of Cassis - maybe spend some time in the Calanque and then have time for a casual dinner before driving back. We really liked it. Oh, parking is a beast. There are parking lots. We ended up getting a spot on the street, but it adds time and logistics

The rest of your trip sounds good

Posted by
5506 posts

I'd like to come with you to Provence, as I haven't been there and it's high on my list! ;-)

Acraven's suggestion to fly into Paris with a TGV to Marseilles makes sense, but only if you leave ample time between flight arrival and train departure to allow for possible flight delays, immigration clearance, baggage claim (unless you're all carry-on), etc. I'd recommend four hours, though others may have braver suggestions. TGV is very expensive unless bought well in advance, and non-refundable if you miss it. Looking at the dBahn website, I saw only one afternoon train from CDG to Marseilles, taking about four hours. Others leave from Gare du Nord or Gare de Lyon, adding to the complexity of your arrival day. EDIT -- I see that it was Wally's suggestion, and he suggested the TGV to Avignon. Apologies to all. Same advice applies, except that the train ride is about 45 minutes shorter.

I think your September 15 plan is too ambitious -- Louvre + St-Denis, even without adding one of the Paris Walks. St-Denis is well worth seeing but it takes awhile to get there and back. The Louvre is vast, as you know. Maybe you're just looking for one or two pieces there, but it can still take a long time to find them -- and there are so many distractions! ;-)

We found that a day trip to Chartres took pretty much the whole day, but again you may have more focused objectives. Without knowing anything about Rambouillet or Maintenon, I'd be surprised if you could fit all three into a day.

We've stayed in the Marais (apartment on rue Vieille du Temple). It's convenient but we found it very crowded, the narrow sidewalks don't lend themselves to strolling while Parisians are rushing to and fro living their lives. I'd recommend someplace in the St-Germain or Luxembourg Gardens area, based on location alone. Of course the Metro makes it easy to get anywhere fast if you don't have time to walk.

Sounds like a fun trip, though, too bad you don't have more time for it. And too bad we all have to wait so long, but I think next fall is a realistic goal.

Posted by
536 posts

Sounds like you aren't spending enough time in Avignon. An afternoon seems quite short. I would recommend doing another day in Avignon, so trying to find some time in Arles. We thought Arles was a great town and far better than Nimes. Lots to see, great restaurants. Take a day trip to Nimes maybe.

You are spending lots of times at markets. You may find that it isn't necessary to visit all of the markets.

Posted by
8004 posts

Jessica, in her hugely helpful and informative post about Cassis, said:

Oh, parking is a beast.

I can attest to that !! I once tried to take my parents there — and I would have been happy to pay for a spot in a lot for parking — but we could not find anything and finally had to just leave.

☹️

That place you are thinking of staying looks fabulous.

Posted by
104 posts

I feel sad that you're missing out Aix. It's great for markets and strolling and eating and people watching and drinking. We did Cassis / winery/boat tour as a half day tour from Aix. Not enough time to properly enjoy a beach day, but still a nice way to get a taste of what you'd do next time :)

Posted by
8648 posts

I’d recommend staying in St Rémy instead of Arles or Avignon. I know you’ll be there for the market but you won’t have time to explore the town which was our absolute favorite. We stayed there last September at Hotel du Soleil, which we loved.

I like the Marais and Ile St Louis the best, so staying in the Marais again would appeal to me. I grew up in Paris and have stayed for a year or a month or two many, many times and i never tire of the parts of Paris i love the most. Others would say change it up. I do like the Latin Quarter and have stayed there many times, but i like the other two areas the most.

Posted by
8849 posts

With all the great suggestions of places to go, you need to count on returning one day.

We were in Cassis for 6 months. If the wind picks up, the boats won't run out to the Calanques. So watch your weather forecast the night before and the morning of your trip to Cassis.

Moving down to Arles is a good idea. It gives you a different area to explore: Nimes, Montpellier, Marsaille, and more.

Why don't you go to St. Denis in the morning and take advantage of the Louvre having late hours on Wednesdays. That way you won't be rushed. Just note that some rooms could be closed in the evenings, so look on line to be sure it's not something you are particularly looking forward to seeing, like 17C Dutch, et.

Chances are the only stores open for food on a Sunday afternoon will be tiny corner markets. I'd just bring a morning's supply of coffee, sugar, and some biscuits to eat on Monday morning and then try to find a large store on Monday. Some might open in the morning but on a Monday, some might not open until the afternoon.
You can always eat in a restaurant on Sunday on the way to your rental. Caution driving after the flight.

I agree about the train so you have less driving once you arrive.

Posted by
54 posts

Thank you for all the responses!

I completely forgot that there is a TGV to Provence right from CDG airport. I was thinking it would be easier to fly to a major gateway in Western Europe and then take a flight to Marseille. I thought that would be easier than flying in to CDG and then having to get to a train station. That will definitely be better to just grab the train right from the airport.

I'd like to stay in the same place for the two nights after our friends leave, but we plan to rent an entire house and I don't want to pay the full price for all the space we don't need once they are gone. I also thought switching to a hotel in a city would give us more a chance to experience that city. Any opinions on Arles vs Avignon for those two nights?

I like the idea of renting our own little boat so we can stay in the Calanques on our own time. My husband is not a fan - he wants someone who knows the area. My thought is...how hard can it be if the weather is ok? We're hugging the coast line, I certainly would not leave sight of land. Given the parking issues in Cassis, maybe we should at least hire a chauffer for the day, if not someone who also arrange the boat tour. Any more thoughts on that?

I'll definitely be booking our Louvre tickets well in advance! I know the Louvre will take a while. I guess we can plan St. Denis for that day, but if we don't get to it then, we could switch that to the Army Museum/Cluny Museum day, and maybe drop one of those if needed. But I think with the Louvre being open later on Wednesday that would be good plan to go to St Denis in the morning.

Good point about Sunday in a village not having much of anything open!

I'm torn on the Chartres day. We will definitely do Chartres. I just don't know if I want to stop at Maintenon to see something new to me, or show my husband where I used to live in Rambouillet! Trip down memory lane...or a new to me chateau?? Decision decisions!

We do have a lot of market time planned. Anyone have opinions as to which are the best ones? Do they all have very different vibes and product selections?

I would like to see Aix, but just crunched for time. We've already cut out the Riviera too!

Posted by
21992 posts

The Sunday market in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is huge. It takes over a large part of the town--so much so that I decided to go back on a non-market day so I'd be able to enjoy the architecture. There are a lot of antique shops open only on/around the weekend as well. Much of what they sell is rather large (furniture, etc.), so not the most practical of purchases. I'm sure parking is something of an issue, so that's something you should research ahead of time.

If I had a car, I'd want to keep a cooler in the trunk so I could buy interesting provisions when I happened upon a market and keep them safe until I returned to the rental house.

I believe there may be some night markets in Provence, but I've never hit one of those.

Posted by
8849 posts

The coastline you are hugging in the Calanques is a straight wall of rock. Aside from some beach on your way out of Cassis, the only shore/ beach is in one or two of the coves.

Posted by
21992 posts

I based in Avignon while visiting several places in Provence in 2017 and really enjoyed walking around the historic center; you just need to get off the direct path between the train station and the Palais des Papes. I enjoyed a day-trip to Arles as well. I thought the newish archaeological museum in Arles was quite good, and that is far from my favorite type of museum. Avignon felt as if it had more scope for wandering, but with only two nights I'm not sure it makes a lot of difference which one you choose as far as sightseeing goes.

Posted by
105 posts

We have stayed in Paris for extended (about a month at a time) periods of time in short term rental apartments. We have stayed on both sides---including the St. Germain, Latin Quarter and other arrondisements and our favorite location is in the Marais. Yes, depending on time of the year the streets can be crowded but the busy vibe adds to the ambiance. The Marais location---transportation options, restaurants, great architecture, bistros, galleries, food shops, boutiques, museums and lots of other cultural venues make it fantastic. There is always something going on and you can literally walk to anywhere since it's so centrally located. And the only place to be on a Sunday when the rest of Paris is mostly closed.

Have done Paris Walks and always enjoy that. Yes bus #69 (and #42 and #87) and it takes you out to the Pere Lachaise cemetery. You will enjoy no matter what you do.

Posted by
8648 posts

I’ve never seen the rest of Paris mostly closed in all the years i’ve lived there...

Posted by
830 posts

Definitely include Arles especially if you're Van Gogh fans. Lots of sites related to his time there. Plus a Roman amphitheater.

I didn't see on your list but if you the opportunity visit Rousillon. Kind of like Sedona but up on a hill surrounded by lavender fields. Lovely small town. Just don't wear white shoes unless you want them permanently dyed ocher.

Posted by
267 posts

Thank you for your post. I had a detail itinerary for this fall (the weather has been terrible, maybe a blessing we did not go) and will try for 2021. I may re-think looking at your notes. But I wanted to respond to your museum considerations.
Perhaps art is your strong interest, mine is history and I can only take 2-3 hours in any museum. I did not find the Army Museum particularly interesting and it appears that the Cluny Museum is closed until 2022. There is a new location for the The Liberation of Paris Museum - General Leclerc Museum - Jean Moulin Museum. It is basically the history of the Resistance movement, it is very well done.

Also, we did two Paris Walks, Montmarte and Paris During Occupation and Liberation, loved both.

Good Luck!

Posted by
2581 posts

We didn't have time to visit the Lavender Museum, but the Château du Bois products in the gift shop are marvelous.

Maybe/maybe not a tourist trap - but I wish I had bought more of the 45 Euro leg gel.

Posted by
54 posts

I've been to the Army Museum and the Cluny before, but it was almost 20 years ago. Thanks for the tip about the Cluny - they are indeed closed until early 2022. I actually liked the army museum, and I am not a military history buff at all. My husband would really like to go and our time is Paris is mostly about what he wants to do since Provence is mostly catering to my interests!
The Liberation museum may be a great alternative to the Cluny! Sounds like it's right up my husband's alley.
We are definitely museum people and can't get enough of them, so no worries there.

I love Lavender anything so the gift shop at the Lavender museum sounds like somewhere I will definitely enjoy going, tourist trap or not!

Posted by
191 posts

When you are in Provence, a must see is the Carrieres de Lumieres in Le Baux-de-Provence! It is a fantastic multi media art show inside a quarry, with art projected onto soaring walls, the ceiling and floor. You feel as if you become part of the art, and the music enhances the experience. It is a truly wonderful experience. If you cant find time for this, the same show happens in Paris, but to me, the quarry is the better venue!

Posted by
409 posts

I didn't see this when you posted it four months ago. We stayed at Moulin de la Roque when we vacationed in France in 2018. I can't say enough good things about it! We can't wait to stay there again and are planning that for Sept. of 2022. We too were traveling with one other couple. We chose the cottage that used to be the miller's house back when the property was a flour mill. It's called Maison du Meunier and it was fabulous! I recommend you choose it for yourselves! It was a beautiful, spacious and comfortable place for two couples. You will love your time spent on the fabulous pergola-covered terrace!

Our trip started with a flight to Geneva from the US, rental of a car on the French side of the airport, a drive to Chamonix (1.5 hour) and two nights there, then the drive to Provence (4.5 hours) and our 7 night stay at Moulin de la Roque. We then drove to Sarlat (long driving day) and spent 3 nights based there, exploring the Dordogne region. Finally, we drove up to Chartres, stopping at Oradur-sur-Glane on the way. We returned the rental car in Chartres and after a one night stay there, took the train to Paris for our final two nights.
.
So back to Provence . . . we arrived on Sept. 8 and the weather that week was HOT! High 80s and low 90s. It is so nice to stay in a place where you can fix your own meals. There will be evenings when you're tired from the day's activities and just want to kick back on the terrace to relax, socialize, eat and drink, and not be driving. A grocery store stop at the beginning of your week is a good idea, but don't buy your bread and produce there. You'll want to wander into Noves each morning to do that at the local bakery and the produce shop next door. Such a perfect way to start the day, a ten minute stroll down a tree and flower lined path from the property into town.

Guy and Gaby, the owners of Moulin de la Roque, will provide you with a lot of help regarding places to visit, how to get there, when to go, where to park, etc. They'll make reservations for you at their favorite restaurants if you wish that assistance. Take them up on this for the restaurant in Venasque called Les Ramparts! Gaby got us a table on the railing of the terrace with the most wonderful panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Our 3-hour 4-course lunch there was the best meal of the two week trip. As we were lead to our table, you could almost read the look on the faces of the local residents who were dining there that day. They seemed be thinking "Hmmm . . .how did the Americans score THAT table?")

Make sure you ask Guy to give you a guided tour of the mill. It was fascinating and fun!

The towns/places we visited during our week were Avignon, L'isle sur la Sorgue, Venasque, St. Remy, Les Baux, Gordes, Roussillon, Arles, Uzes, the Pont du Garde. All of those were within easy driving distance. I loved the market in St. Remy. Get there first thing in the morning so you can get a parking place! We did, and had no trouble parking, and it was fun to watch the merchants setting up for the day, then we spent several hours wandering and shopping, followed by a visit to the psychiatric hospital where Van Gogh stayed, as you too are planning. We had enough time left that day to work in short visits to Gordes and Roussillon, just a little taste of each of those, to wander a bit and enjoy the beauty. Our farthest excursion was Aix en Provence, but it was worth the drive for the wonderful all-day culinary experience we had there. (Check out the website of The Provence Gourmet. We loved our day with Gilles!)

I like guided tours for cities, but personally feel that you're planning too many of those for your time in Provence. It's going to put you on a "schedule," and I think you'll have a more relaxing and wonderful week if you just wander and explore on your own.

Your trip looks great! I hope it all works out for you! Enjoy!