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Southern France

I am traveling to France for the first time ever. Paris one day, and then 5 days in the southern area. I hardly know where to start - must see places? Off the beaten path? Lovely B&B's? Any advice is appreciated.

Posted by
8770 posts

I think the place to start would be to read a good guidebook. Southern France is a big area. Are you talking about Provence? The Riviera? The Languedoc region? Since no one here knows you or your interests it would be helpful for you to give us some idea of what you want to see.

One day in Paris? Well I can't imagine only spending one day there, but if that's all you have you might consider taking a hop on/hop off bus to see the major sites. Of course in only one day you won't have time to go in to most or see anything in depth, but it's better than nothing.

Posted by
81 posts

Provence and the Riviera are our interests. Paris is where we are flying into, so that is just starting point. I would love a nice B&B to stay, see the countryside, wineries, that sort of itinerary.

Posted by
8770 posts

Are you flying into Paris and leaving for the south of France the next day? Does your 5 days in the south of France include the day you will need to take a train back to Paris? I'm assuming you have to return to Paris to fly home. It helps to know how much time you really have to give you any advice. If you have 5 full days (meaning 6 nights) you could split it between Provence and the Riviera, but it doesn't give you much time in either. If you actually have 5 nights, that is only 4 full days. I don't know how "off the beaten path" you can get in that time. Will you have a car or will you rely on public transportation?

Posted by
1020 posts

With your limited time I suggest the TGV train Paris - Avignon which takes about 2.5 hours. Within 1.5 hours drive from Avignon you'll find the best of Western Provence imho-- the Luberon, Arles, the Camargue, the wineries of Chateauneuf du Pape, Pont du Gard, to name just a few places. I suggest a read of Michelin Green Guide to Provence to get you started on identifying what you want to see and do. Trip Advisor is a good place to look for B&Bs. I would save the Riviera for another trip but if you must see it you could drive to Nice for the last day. But when are you going? It's very crowded in Provence in July and August.

Posted by
81 posts

We are going last two weeks of Oct. I would say 5 full days. Itinerary not fully decided upon. Perhaps. A guide book is best at this point? Just do not want to miss anything that is truly worth seeing. We will be using transit system; no car.

Posted by
8770 posts

Five full days meaning 6 nights? If so, you could spend 3 nights in Provence and 3 nights in the Riviera.

In Provence, with no car your options are limited to places you where you can take the train to other towns. Avignon, Arles and Aix en Provence would all work.

In Arles I stayed at Hotel Regence. It's not a B&B, but a small hotel. They do serve breakfast at a price. We found we saved money by having coffee/tea there in the morning, then we would walk somewhere nearby for a pastry or whatever. We had a car, but it is near the train station. It would be a convenient location for you. Arles is smaller than Avignon and Aix. The old area of Arles is very walkable. They have a great market on Saturdays.

Without a car I don't see how you will get off the beaten path.

A guide book is definitely in order. Rick Steves has one dedicated to Provence and the Riviera.

Posted by
81 posts

All good advice as this is also my first trip abroad. Very exciting and daunting all at once. London; Switzerland; France. Thank you for the help!

Posted by
3336 posts

We love places a little off the beaten path of American tourists. If you are wanting to go to southern France try the area around Herault. There are lots of beautiful towns, beaches, vineyards, and mountains. We like to base ourselves in Pezenas and see the Cevennes, the ancient "village circulades" in the area, go to the beaches in the area and explore the many wineries, many of which are very unique! The Canal du Midi is lovely, the town of St. Guillaume le Desert, the seaside town of Collioure, and so many other places, are fantastic and not overly touristed.

Posted by
3683 posts

Since you don't want to spend time in Paris, why not fly into a southern airport and save most of a day's travel each way? You could land at Marseille or Nice, on a connecting flight, for not much more than the trans-Atlantic ticket, and take an easy train to several of the cities mentioned above. From Ohio, your research could start with Delta/KLM-Air France who function as pretty close to one airline from the US to France.

Posted by
81 posts

Great advice Anita. Will check out Herault as that is the type of place we were looking for. Flying into southern France is also sage advice. Cannot wait to start planning now! Thanks.

Posted by
8770 posts

Herault looks great, but it is west of Provence. You say you also want to go to the Riviera. With your limited time and lack of wheels I would pay close attention to how easy and how much time it will take to get between regions. If you would consider renting a car it opens more up to you.

Posted by
81 posts

Ok - how hard is it to drive there? Clear road signs? I am open to renting a car and widening our area of places to see.

Posted by
2893 posts

Driving in France is generally easy. Roads are well maintained and well signed. The hardest time is driving into cities or very popular towns like Arles or Avignon. In both cities and towns, the problem is traffic, one way streets and searching for parking. In some instances, the roads are very narrow and turns are tight but the cars are generally smaller so you should be able to manage.

Posted by
8770 posts

Driving is not difficult, and a GPS makes it easier. You can see Provence without a car, but you can see more with a car. Be aware that France has toll roads. I haven't been to the Riviera, but I believe a car isn't necessary there.

Posted by
3685 posts

Not having a car will limit your options considerably, but it can still be done. It just may take longer to get off (and back on) the beaten path via train, bus or taxi.

One lodging possibility that is rarely mentioned here is the series of small hotels findable through Logis. Search for them by using the "more criteria" search at the bottom of the lime green box if you know where you want to go. If you are unsure of that, use the "locate your Logis on the map" link just above and keep zeroing in to the area you are searching. I did notice that if you do that, you must use the arrows to go to a different area nearby and still have the markers for the hotels. You can click and drag, but the markers won't show up.

If you find a place of interest, be sure to email them about getting to and from there using public transportation.

Most of the hotels have attached restaurants with good chefs. When searching I make sure that the lodging rating (number of fireplaces) is at least 2 and that the food rating (number of casseroles) is at least 3.

In planning our trips, I find that where we go and what we do is often influenced by where we can stay.

Update based on possibly renting a car: When we were in France in 2012, we stayed in Aix-en-Provence and we had a great time driving all over the areas west and east of there. The only big traffic snafu was coming into Arles from the south (the Camargue). It was the worst traffic we have been in and it was all due to volume. If you have a car, parking in bigger towns may be an issue or more expensive than you might like. If you are in a smaller town, no matter where you stay, and certainly if you stay in a Logis hotel, parking will likely be easy and free. When we were in France in 2009, we did not have a car and stayed in Antibes. It was an easy train ride from there to Nice for the things we wanted to see and do there.

Posted by
8293 posts

To add to Lo's reply (above) you will need to google logis-de-france, not just "logis". Lo is right, they are wonderful small hotels, all family owned and all over France.

Posted by
81 posts

Cannot thank you all enough for the wonderful advice. Will make our trip easier to plan!

Posted by
3685 posts

You can just click on the link I have embedded in the word, Logis. The same is true for the other links in parentheses.

Posted by
4 posts

I am planning a trip to Provence in June. After some hesitation I finally decided to rent a car......still a little nervous on that. I have a question for Andrea (or anyone else that may know). I also have a room booked at the Hotel Regence and was if you had any recommendations on parking. Is there safe parking nearby?

Posted by
8770 posts

@jwarford - There is a pay parking lot behind Hotel Regence, but I never used it. There is plenty of free parking across the street and around the corner. I wouldn't leave anything visible in the car, but I wouldn't do that anywhere.

Posted by
3304 posts

Delilah,

In my opinion, one (jet-lagged) day in Paris is useless. Save Paris for another trip. If you haven't bought your tickets yet, I second the suggestion to investigate the possibility of flying into a southern France airport. We have tickets on United; e.g., to fly from San Francisco to Nice, with a change in Frankfurt. Much less hassle than flying into Paris and using land transport to get where we want to be. I advise you to check United, as their flights from the U.S. usually have the long, transatlantic segment direct from an American hub. Except for the codeshare Air France flights, Delta almost always makes you change somewhere in the U.S., like Atlanta or JFK. Of course, it may different flying from Ohio. When you decide on a southern France region, check out flying into Marseille, and Montpellier, as well as Nice, to get as close as possible. We always rent a car, except for big city trips, because of the great flexibility it affords us. Driving in France, especially with a gps, is quite easy.