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Tips for the South of France

Will be in the South of France in October 2020. I am a 74 yr. old female traveling alone. This will be the end of a 6 wk trip beginning in Amsterdam and ending in Nice. I already have the early part of the trip but need help with the end. Leaving Paris October 11 and thinking of doing Lyon, Avignon, Carcassonne, Cassis, and finally Nice, staying in each of those places. I walk with a cane but I can do stairs. Want places to stay that are small and charming, I won’t have a car. Traveling by bus or train. No decision on that yet. Ideas for how many days to spend there and places to sleep. Leaving Nice October 29. Especially interested in Cassis.

Posted by
94 posts

Carcassone seems a little out of the way, and from what I am told, it is very "disney-fied" and crowded and ticky tacky. I am planning a trip to that region and many have advised me to skip Carcassone. Lyon, Avignon, Cassis and Nice are all very accessible by train and bus. I have spent time in Lyon, depending on your interests I would suggest 2 nights there. Avignon is on my list this fall, but we will have a car to do side trips. Maybe 3-4 nights there would suffice? There is a bus that runs the route through to Cassis, and will take you to Nice. 3 nights in Nice IMO is adequate, including a quick train or bus to Monaco for a day trip.

Posted by
22514 posts

Lyon has a lot of sights, and a variety of them. Some very interesting museums. For me, two nights would be too short.

You can also easily fill a lot of time in the areas of Provence and the Riviera. Side trips along the Riviera coast are easy by train. For the hill towns above the Riviera you'll generally need to take a bus. Often staying in Nice is easier if you're planning to make multiple trips up into the hills (such as to Vence, St-Paul-de-Vence, Eze, etc. Otherwise, a lot of folks like to stay in one of the smaller spots along the coast. I've noticed on this forum that both Villefranche-sur-Mer an Antibes are mentioned fairly often.

In Provence there are some picturesque villages that just aren't accessible by public transportation, plus others that would be most practical if you were staying in a particular part of Provence. Therefore, you need to dig into a guidebook (and Rick has on that focuses solely on southern France, with more coverage than the full "France" guidebook) to figure out your priority Provencal destinations.

I have never been to Carcassonne, which I definitely a geographical outlier for you.

Posted by
4125 posts

These are all worthwhile destinations, and feasible by train.

Carcassonne is interesting, and charming at night once the tour buses leave, but afflicted by crowds during the day. There are stairs. To me, it is a bit of an outlier on your itinerary, since you will have to travel about 3 hours each way from Avignon. Also, you don't really have much time, do you?

So, tips.

Lyon is a very worthwhile city with great mass transit to get around. There is a city card that is maybe the best deal in France. You could spend a week there; I'd say no less than 3 night.

In Provence, I like Arles better than Avignon. They are close and connected by rail. Avignon has the better bus connections, which may be important to you, but Arles has more charm and its own set of Roman antiquities.

Both are close to Cassis; you could even visit Cassis as a day trip from Arles.

Posted by
541 posts

Avignon does have a variety of tour companies that operate excursions into the countryside. That may be an advantage for you, as getting into the countryside on your own can be a trial, especially in the offseason. I do agree that Carcassonne is an outlier.

There are a number of boutique hotels in Nice and the tram network will cut down on walking without a lot of bus waits. Because a lot of train and bus lines begin and end in Nice, it is often easier to base from there but Villefranche-sur-mer has a lot of charm (but also is on a hillside, and some connections are more difficult).

Posted by
2855 posts

Carcassone seems a little out of the way, and from what I am told, it
is very "disney-fied" and crowded and ticky tacky. I am planning a
trip to that region and many have advised me to skip Carcassone.

Yes, Carcassonne is crowded and loaded with trinket shops, but it is still spectacular. The key is not to do it as a day trip but as an overnight trip. Once the day crowds leave after 7:00, you'll have the place to yourself, same thing in the morning. If you're willing, get up in time for sunrise against the walls, some of the best photos from my trip are of the sunrise.

Posted by
509 posts

One of the highlights for us in/around Cassis was driving the spectacular Route des Cretes, above the town. I did a brief Google search and it looks like you would be able to see it with a private driver or organized tour. If you aren't familiar with the drive (and don't suffer from vertigo!), you can see some comments and photos on this TripAdvisor link:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g196675-d2398250-Reviews-Route_des_Cretes-La_Ciotat_French_Riviera_Cote_d_Azur_Provence_Alpes_Cote_d_Azur.html

There are several pull-offs where you would be able to leave the vehicle for better views and photo ops.

Posted by
761 posts

Hi Twoz,

My husband and I also want to visit the region via train and bus. I’ve been told L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a charming village with a great Sunday market, and close to Avignon. It may be worth investigating.

We are going to stay in Aix-en-Provence, which also is a stop on the TGV line from Paris. Day trips to Marseille, Avignon, Simiane and an overnight in Lyon all via train. Bus trips to Lauris, Ansouis and Lourmarin.

Posted by
2916 posts

Of all the places you mention, I think Lyon is by far the most worth seeing, and worth spending the most time in. I did not like Carcassone, and given that it is so out of the way on your itinerary, you should skip it. I'm also not wild about Avignon, but a lot of people praise it, and it is convenient to get around from w/o a car. I think Cassis is worth visiting, and I've never been to Nice.

Posted by
332 posts

We really loved Villefranche sur Mer which is easy to get to by bus or train from Nice. I would recommend Hotel Welcome which is right by the waterfront with shops and restaurants close by and a lovely shale beach. We enjoyed sitting out on our balcony and seeing the enchanting seafront area. You could also take a bus to Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild which is so interesting and has beautiful views from the gardens.

Posted by
139 posts

I second the recommendations to spend a few days in Lyon. It has very good transportation, good museums and monuments to visit, and has excellent restaurants (although I think the Bocuse restaurants are overrated). A guided tour of the silk making region of the city is worthwhile. Peter

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for the many good suggestions. This is the itinerary I’m considering.
October 11,12,13. Lyon
October 14,15,16,17 Avignon
October 18 Carcassonne (arriving late afternoon and leaving next day by noon)
October 19,20,21 Cassis (really want that relaxed seaside experience)
October 22, 23,24,25,26,27,28,29 Nice (hoping to explore the hill towns of Provence and the seaside towns of the French Riviera. I’ve been to Eze and Villefrance Su Mer although it’s been 20 years ago.) Looking forward to doing further research.

Posted by
244 posts

Apparently it is fashionable to arrive late and leave early when visiting Carcassonne.
My wife and I are not slaves to fashion, thank goodness.
We visited for several days as we planned to watch a stage finish of the Tour de France there.
I suspect most people posting on this forum stay in La Cite and spend all of their very brief time there.
We stayed instead in the Bastide (the actual town of Carcassonne).
We found it a charming town. Even in July it was uncrowded with tourists (they are all up the hill at La Cite).
The Bastide lacks star quality sights. 5 or 6 interesting churches, a terrific art museum, the canal and Place Carnot the town square which became a massive farmers market on one of the days we were there.
I found the town a good place to wander at leisure. Just an interesting small/medium sized old French town.
Up the hill of course is it's superstar attraction. An impressive sight as you approach. I enjoyed 5.30 am visits, it is spectacular from all angles. At 5.30 it was deserted and quite eerie to wander around inside the massive walls.
During "business hours" it was very crowded inside the walls. We paid our money to visit the Chateau and walk the ramparts, worthwhile!
To avoid the crowds we simply wandered mostly around the exterior. We were able to sit and enjoy a very quiet picnic lunch.
We also visited in the evening, not deserted but not crowded.
We stayed in town rather than in the Cite. A basic hotel near the station, Astoria (decent breakfast). About USD50.
Then moved up market to a lovely B & B, Art Home. USD90.
Our hostess always provided some home baked goodies for breakfast which we had on the balcony overlooking her walled garden. Usually plenty of animated discussions re the Tour with the other guests (Canadians, Belgians and a Japanese lass, a hardcore TDF fan).
We ate at various restaurants around Place Carnot. We seemed to find ourselves in a pleasant little "Irish Pub" for a post dinner drink each night. Not much Gaelic or English being spoken lol, seemed to be mostly locals a good place to interact.
Anyway just my little bit in support of a town we really liked.
The other places I am unfamiliar with.

Posted by
292 posts

People seem to be divided on Avignon, and I sometimes wonder if the difference is where they stay. The area around the main sights (Palace of the Popes and Pont d'Avignon) is very touristy; the Place de l'Horloge is packed with restaurants with tourist menus and tacky neon signs. If you came on a day trip and that's all you saw, or if your hotel was in that area, I can easily understand not liking the city. I spent an afternoon seeing those sights--and I enjoyed it--but after that I was glad to be in another part of town.

I stayed for four nights at Les Jardins de Baracane, a small, lovely B&B closer to the ramparts (and thus also closer to the train station). It was on a quiet side street a few blocks from Place des Corps Saints, a square with interesting restaurants and cafés and a pleasant local feel. That area also has the advantage, for a day-tripping visitor, of being only about a ten-minute walk from the train station. And Avignon has excellent train and bus connections to other towns in Provence. However, note that the train station I'm talking about is the one serving regional trains; the TGV station is further away.

By the way, I'm 64 and travel alone; last summer, I went everywhere you've mentioned except Carcassone and had a great time. I stayed in Antibes (in the old town) instead of Nice and loved it there, but Nice does have better transportation connections. Have a great trip!