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South of France recommendations

We are planning a trip to the south of France in spring 2022. We have been to Paris dozens of times and the Alsace regions multiple times, but never south. What are your go-to places for the region? We would also like to include a mountain region as well if roads/weather allow. We are looking at late April-early May, also Covid permitting.
We have no issue renting a car or exploring multiple towns in a day if convenient. We will be arriving most likely from Paris, so we would either train or possibly fly to the region.

My travel partner loves to cook and is quite good at it, so of course, food/restaurant/wine recommendations are a priority. We are big on photography, unique shops, charm, nice hotels, and feeling the vibe of each place we visit. We aren't big on museums but are looking for suggestions on things to do or must-do's when in the region. We have been reading about Aix, Provence, Annecy, Chamonix, Nice, etc., and it all gets quite overwhelming. We know we can't do it all, so need to scale it down to 3-5 good places. For this region, we will most likely head over to Northern Italy. We have about two weeks to do it all (South of France and Northern Italy). We have been to Italy many times, just never the Lakes region.

Posted by
4641 posts

My suggestion is to fly directly to Marseille (change CDG or AMS) and spend the entire 2 weeks based somewhere in the lower Rhône valley. My experience is that this is the most interesting area in Europe and it is dense with sites. There are mountains right here.

Training from Paris wastes time and there is no reason for adding to your dozens of visits. Yet another visit to Italy also wastes time.

Posted by
8244 posts

My favorite part of France is the Dordogne and we have spent a week in an apartment in this region twice -- once 5 years ago; here is a chateau ruin visit that also has some shots of a night market, a market and the town we stayed in Cadouin. The second one was a stroll through a tiny town in the region; we love the honey colored stone.
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2017/07/25/perfect-place-for-murder-commarque-chateau/
https://janettravels.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/montferrand-du-perigord-and-its-12th-century-stone-church-st-christophe/
and once about 20 years ago. We have also spent 3 or 4 days in the regions while passing through. You have interesting gardens and chateaux, canoeing on the Dordogne river (not the Vezere) is endless interesting and fun -- we pulled over and had lunch at a restaurant and paddled past beautiful chateaux and small picturesque towns, the markets are lovely. It is truly quite a wonderful area. And of course you have the caves. Lascaux is available as a replica --and a very good one and the Font du Gaume is the real deal. We have visited it twice and it is a wonderful experience.

the Riviera is nice -- we spent two weeks in a friend's apartment in Roquebrune Cap Martin 5 years ago -- and have spent time in Nice, Monaco, Menton --- but IMHO it is not as beautiful or interesting as the Dordogne regions.

Posted by
7468 posts

Hi JR,

I’ll just post a link to my trip report since it gives a lot of detail of the Nice area. I was there 5 nights and would like to return again to spend more time there. Sounds like your travel partner would love the food tour!

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/our-combined-solo-couple-vacation-in-france-2019

This one includes Annecy:

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/3-weeks-in-italy-france-french-locations

Posted by
3062 posts

The best of the south of FR is Provence and the riviera so if you focus on these two areas, you’ll be less overwhelmed. Remember, you can always go back to FR and see more.
You can take a direct train from Paris Gare de Lyon station to Avignon (4h 15m) and sleep there to explore Provence. Following are day trip recommendations:
• Direct train from Avignon to Nimes Pont du Gard (30-minutes). Visit Pont du Gard and then take a direct train to Nimes (Centre) station (15-minutes) and explore the center.
• Direct train to Orange (30-minutes).
• Drive to Uzès (1h).
• Drive to Vaison-la-Romaine (1h).
• Drive to Aix-en-Provence (1h 15m) and explore the town before driving to Nice (2h) and sleep in Nice to explore the riviera.
If you want to visit Cap Ferrat (30-minutes), Vence (30-minutes) and St-Paul-de-Vence (15-minutes from Vence) is best by car. You can take direct trains to Villefranche-sur-Mer (15-minutes), Monaco (30-minutes), Grasse (1h 15m) and Antibes (30-minutes). If going to Grasse and Antibes the train departs from the Nice St Augustin station.
To learn more buy Rick Steves FR guidebook 19th edition.

Posted by
699 posts

If you are headed to Avignon, you might maximize your stay by renting a car for the full time and staying in a town a little smaller than Avignon. You can head east from Avignon into the towns of the Luberon (see the RS book for more). You could base for example, in Orange or Uzes and in St. Remy or Arles to the South. Nimes/Pont du Gard, Orange/Southern Rhone Wine Region, the Luberon villages (Isle sur la Sorgue, Gordes, Bonnieux, Minerbes, Roussillon), St. Remy/Arles/Les Baux/The Carmargues, etc. There are more places than you have time.

Contrary to the post above, you can take the train directly from Nice Ville to Grasse and Antibes. You can take a bus to many villages, but they can be slow (though the trip to Cap Ferrat is very efficient by bus -- there is limited parking and the bus drops off at the base of the driveway). A car is best and most efficient for hitting some of the hill towns, like a loop through St. Paul de Vence, Vence, Tourettes sur Loup and Gourdon (returning via Mougins).

There is also some wonderful less developed coast line between Hyeres and Saint Tropez, the islands offshore, and some beautiful villages (and good rose wineries on the Ramatuelle peninsula).

Posted by
8244 posts

This is such a matter of taste. I personally found Provence a big disappointment and definitely not as pleasant a place to visit as either Burgundy or the Dordogne. And I sure would not waste time on Italy when you only have two weeks (and I do love Italy -- but the secret for us of happy travel is spending time in a place rather than on travel logistics.)

Posted by
10370 posts

Actually Uzès is 45 minutes west of Avignon, into the Languedoc, so not a good base for visiting the Luberon. It's good for Nîmes, Pont du Gard, the foothills of the Cévennes, and even Avignon and Montpellier(1 hour).

Posted by
27450 posts

As you can see, we all have our favorite areas and towns. The issue you have is time. Two weeks would be a comfortable amount of time for the Riviera and Provence. You could include the Dordogne or Annecy/Chamonix and still keep the trip to two weeks. You'd see somewhat less of Provence and the Riviera, but I think it would still be a decent visit. Your lack of interest in museums will simplify matters, because there are a lot of art museums down there.

I agree with the others who've said trying to include northern Italy when you have only two weeks would be a mistake. Not only would you be skimming lightly over places yet still expending transportation to reach them, you'd have to pay attention to entry limitations and rules for two countries rather than one.

Posted by
1174 posts

You all are correct that with all these suggestions, Italy may be too much. So many wonderful suggestions. Now to try and narrow it down. The biggest thing is we don't want to drive around and around seeing basically the same type of town at each stop. Is that even possible?

Posted by
27450 posts

It is certainly theoretically possible to go to multiple similar tiny towns that are superficially a bit too alike (from my perspective). But there is a great deal of variety within Provence, the Dordogne and the Riviera. Just as examples, you have nice gardens in Menton, medieval hill villages (like Eze-le-Village and St-Paul-de-Vence), coastal villages and the tax haven of Monaco along the Riviera. In Provence you'll find the red-rock village of Roussillon, the huge market and water wheels of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Roman ruins in Arles and Nimes, and a WWII internment camp on the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence. The Dordogne has caves (real and excellent reproductions) with prehistoric art, castes, lovely scenery along the Dordogne and Lot rivers (with canoeing opportunities), a huge bi-weekly market in Sarlat-le-Canada, and many picturesque places from villages to large towns.
Rick has a guidebook that focuses on Provence and the Riviera; it has more detailed coverage of southeastern France than the regular guide to France. The latter is where you'll find his suggestions for the Dordogne, I believe. Those books will help you figure what places you most want to visit.

Provence is especially known for its charming markets, most of which are held weekly.

Others will be able to help you with wine-related sights. There's no shortage of good food, but I'm not the one to tell you the best place to research that before your trip.

Posted by
4641 posts

Focusing on the real, original Provence and not the eastern Riviera half politically lumped into Provence more recently: to the north is a premier wine area, Côtes du Rhône, lots of famous places like Gigondas to sample wine. Nearby is the town of Vaison la Romaine with Roman ruins, and Mt Ventoux of Tour de France fame.

To the East is charming L’Isle sur la Sorgue and just beyond the hilltop villages of the Luberon.

To the West are impressive Roman ruins like Pont du Gard and the Nîmes amphitheater.

There’s a lot more to see. Following from Janet’s negative comment be aware that the central plain coming up from Marseille has a lot of people and some industry, it’s busy in the middle, but the rim encircling the central plain has sensational sites. Keep in mind that although the old part of Avignon is interesting, the modern sprawl on the southern edge feels like an African city jammed with traffic, and traversing this area is often required when driving around.

Posted by
548 posts

I don't agree with some of these posters at all. You can get from Paris to Marseille in 2.5 hours by train I believe. Much of the Côte d'Azur is famous for (mediocre) beaches and warm weather and being the playground of European rich. They are kind of lacking in castles, chateaus, and history compared to the rest of France. The Luberon/Provence area is also nice mainly for the weather and hilltop towns, but again kind of devoid of French-ness in some ways.

Among the better towns are Avignon, Nimes, Aix-en-Provence, Antibes, Nice, maybe Menton. There is a lot more going on in the Dordogne region.

Posted by
4641 posts

You can get from Paris to Marseille in 2.5 hours by train I believe.

I suggested flying directly to Marseille airport (not in Marseille BTW) because the ticket to MRS is likely about the same as just CDG and arriving at CDG to take the train to Provence is a clumsy transition: when buying a train ticket, how long a layover is required to cover a late plane arrival, and what if my flight is canceled? If you want to be in Provence buy an air ticket to there.

There is a lot more going on in the Dordogne region.

I assume you forgot a “not” in that sentence. The Dordogne is a wonderful area, but its bucolic nature, i.e. not a lot going on, is part of the appeal.

Posted by
1321 posts

Tom_MN is right on with his comments on the region.

I think Provence, Luberon and Cote d Azur are wonderful with so much to do and see - but IMHO Italy has better food and a better "eating" experience. Be prepared to eat dinner early like 6pm in the region

Fly to MRS or NCE - prefer NCE just because Marseille can be a traffic nightmare but that said we plan to flying home from MRS in June. Our plan for our May/June trip includes Lake Maggiorie (5 days/4 nights) - drive from Milan to Seguret (6 days/5 nights) but we start in Florence (4 nights/3 days) for cooking classes, cycling days and food and wine. Not our first trips to either area. And we know we are cramming a lot into this trip and would not recommend our itinerary to new visitors to either region in France or Italy.

Posted by
355 posts

I am just at the beginning stages of planing our trip to the south of France and think that Provence and the Riviera seem to have a ton of different experiences to offer. We are active and outdoorsy ( not so into museums either and a little art goes a long way for us), so this area really appeals.

We will likely take the TGV train form Paris to Avignon. It's 2.5 hours and we don't want to lose time flying due to security, baggage, etc....

What appeals to me about Provence is: roman ruins (Nimes: Pont du Gard, amphitheater, temple of Diana; Arles: Alyscamps); outdoor adventure (kayaking the Pont du Gard, white water rafting and hiking in the gorges du verdun, swimming, snorkling, boating, kayaking around the Calanques near Marseilles); cute villages of the Luberon (Menton, Bonneiux, Rousillon, Gordes, Lacoste), les Baux de provence, L’isle sur le sorgue; unique natural phenomenon (Rousillon, the Camarague) and history (camp du milles in Aix, Chateau d'If in Marseilles).

I am finding the Lonely Planet "Provence and the Cote d'Azure" very helpful for planning. RS tends to be more focused on history and art/culture. If that's not your thing, check it out.

Posted by
26 posts

Just booked my second trip to southern France. Starting in Nice for 4 nights, then to Marseille for 3 nights. Pick up a car and drive to St Rémy for 5 nights. Then 2 nights in Belcastel, 3 in Sarlat and 3 in Bordeaux. Going in May.