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Trying to decide whether to keep the French Riviera/Nice in our France itinerary, opinions please!

My husband and I (66, 67 year olds) are planning our first trip to France in late August/early Sept. of 2019. Our initial plan has been to fly into Paris for four nights including a day at Versailles, train to Geneva and spend two nights with a day trip to Chamonix, train to Avignon and stay somewhere in Provence for 3-4 nights ( with car rental there), then train to Nice for 3 nights and fly home out of Nice. We are not really interested in going to the beach and we are not interested in artist/art museums. We enjoy architecture, touring the interior of a few palaces (which gives us enough of an art fix and we enjoy the historical aspect), gardens and nature, and just walking around all of the neighborhoods. I am a professional musician so we plan to do the tour of the Opera Garnier and we would like to see the Carriers de Lumieres in Provence as well. I am just throwing a couple of the specifics out to give an idea of what we like. We are more interested in dining at a cafe than a fancy restaurant. When we were in Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg and Munich, we ate at cafes more than restaurants especially since my husband has pretty simple tastes. Anyway, as I have been planning all of this, the idea of going to Nice is less appealing for various reasons. It will be more expensive to fly out of a different city. I have no doubt that the area is astoundingly beautiful but the fact that it is playground of the rich and famous doesn't really appeal to me that much. I know a lot of people go there to follow in the footsteps of some of the renowned artists who lived and worked there but we would not be doing that. And I feel that we need to allow a full two weeks to make adding Nice worthwhile. My husband starts to get antsy after about 10 days but I have already told him that we would need two weeks and he will manage grudgingly. I feel like we are probably already setting up a pretty busy pace with days lost on the train portions and just getting acquainted with each area once we arrive. We have been successful in packing a lot into all of our previous trips so we can cover a lot of territory in a day if we want to but sometimes I think we should kick back a little bit. I planned our last 12 day trip that I previously mentioned to the "T" which is how we have always done things, and we had a blast and did everything we planned. Fingers crossed that we are always that fortunate! It sounds like I am talking myself out of going to Nice but I would like opinions. Should we add a little more time in some of the other three areas instead and skip it? Or will we be missing something we will regret? I am inclined to skip it and take our next vacation to Spain and see some of the coastal areas there or do the Italian Riviera which has always intrigued me more that Nice.

So... opinions please? Maybe leave my husband at home? Ha ha. But really, he is very excited about the trip so despite his "limitations" I want to take it with him! Thank you!

Posted by
6113 posts

Your trip is far too rushed.

The first day you land will be lost to jet lag, so allowing for your day trip to Versailles, that only leaves 2 days for Paris, which is very short for one of Europe’s great cities.

Paris to Geneva will take 5+ hours door to door. Two nights in Geneva means one day there and this will be spent in Chamonix 3+ hours away in each direction? It’s too far for a day trip and doesn’t give you any time to see Geneva itself.

Geneva to Avignon will be c 6 hours door to door.

I don’t think you have time for anything else OR stick to France and drop Switzerland.

Posted by
695 posts

It does sound like you've talked yourself out of it. You already have a lot on your plate, you might consider combining the trip with a trip to the Italian Riviera in the future. The Cote d'Azur is not just about beaches, artists and the rich (that is mostly evident in some exclusive enclaves), there are some lovely villages, gardens/estates, vistas and a blend of French and Italian architecture (and cuisine).

Your trip to Geneva is a bit unusual -- although convenient to Chamonix (and Annecy), it's tough to see the true beauty of the Alps other than in Chamonix itself (via the lifts). You might consider getting off (the TGV) in Lausanne/Vevey/Montreux instead and seeing the north portion of the lake, which is more beautiful (IMHO, I used to live there). There is Chateau du Chillon, the Lake (from the Ferry), the Lavaux terraces and a drive over the pass down into Chamonix. It is still a lot -- a separate trip in itself, as is western Provence.

Posted by
8157 posts

I'd drop Switzerland but then I have always found its cities unpleasant and overpriced. It would be one thing if you had mountain hiking for a week on your plans, but this side trip gets you nothing much IMHO. I would then give Paris at least 6 nights and the rest to Nice and the Riviera. or perhaps Provence. Being there beats spending time on logistics.

Posted by
2712 posts

Consider more time in Paris cafe hopping, strolling neighborhoods, then the rest of the time in Provence. 3-4 nights in Provence is way too short a time. Slow down! You can train to Avignon, rent a car, pick a home base then stay there with day trips to the many towns and villages. We stayed in Lourmarin for a week and loved it. Different village every day, with pleasant late afternoons and evenings strolling in Lourmarin and sitting at Cafe Gaby. We flew home from Marsielle which was a relatively easy drive. We spent little time in Nice at the end of our RS tour before heading off to Lourmarin on our own. We enjoyed the Chagall museum, eating mussels, but did not feel like Nice was a place we’d spend more time. We loved Provence.

Posted by
4132 posts

I'd drop Geneva before Nice. But you might have an even better time just spending more time in Paris and Provence. Add Nice if you can add a day or 2 to your trip.

You are wrong about it being more expensive to fly out of a different city, generally, if you take total trip costs into account.

Posted by
27332 posts

I spent a lot of time in Nice and took many side-trips, but it's true that many were art-focused. You definitely have my permission to drop Nice and focus on your other destination. You can certainly use more time in Paris and in Provence.

I agree that Geneva is going to be time-consuming and not add much to your trip.

Posted by
1103 posts

We enjoyed our four night stay in Nice in May 2018. While there were some fancy yachts in the harbor, Nice did not seem to be an enclave for the wealthy. Nice has good transportation options for your return trip.

Posted by
9 posts

We too are going for two weeks but only France, We travel the day we arrive in Paris , to Avignon by train, renting a car at train station. We are staying in Noves for 5 nights, then drive to St. Maxine for 4 nights. Then drive to Toulon ( 1 hour drive) and fly back to Paris for 5 nights stay. Price for the Toulon flight was very reasonable on Air France and we save time not training back! I too would not go to Geneva, there is just too much to see in Provence and the coast. We spent 3 weeks last summer in Italy and it was wonderful, family thought 3 weeks was a week too long, so we are doing 2 weeks this summer. Enjoy!

Posted by
11433 posts

I recommend you slow it down and skip the Riviera. Spilt your time between Paris, Avignon, and Chamonix, not Geneva.

More time in Paris is advisable. Make it 6 nights if you can.

Why stay in Geneva to day trip to Chamonix when you can stay in Chamonix? Give it three nights so if you have a day of poor weather you have a better chance at a day you will enjoy. Chamonix is one hour from Geneva if you take a shuttle like AlpyBus, so take the train from Paris to Geneva than the shuttle to Chamonix. When leaving, take the shuttle to Geneva and then a TGV to Avignon.

If you stay 6 nights Paris and 3 Chamonix, you would have 4 or 5 left for Avignon and touring Provence.

We stayed in Avignon and managed well without a car, but I can see where a car might be nice. We did like it better than the Riviera. You can fly out of Marseille, only 40 minutes from Avignon by train.

Editing to say you can certainly change course and orde this itinerary Paris to Avignon to Chamonix (Via Geneva) then fly out of Geneva.

Posted by
227 posts

After reading all of everyone's very helpful replies, my inclination is to drop Geneva/Chamonix and start from that standpoint which will simplify the itinerary and train time significantly. Then we can spend more time in Paris and Provence and possibly still a couple days in Nice either at beginning or end depending on flights, etc. Thank you very much for all the advice, it helped me realize that all four of those areas are a bit much and taking the farthest one out of the mix will make the trip simpler and more relaxing. We can do another trip where we could possible focus on Germany, Austria and Switzerland some other time. I looked at some of the RS tours to see what they do to give me an idea of possible itineraries. Merci!

Posted by
1878 posts

On this itinerary I would drop Geneva--it does not make any sense to spend two nights there, when the only full day you'll have there you will spend day tripping two hours each way to Chamonix (which is a great stop BTW). Geneva does not have the great of a reputation as a tourist stop, so if the only reason you are going there is proximity to Chamonix and fast train from Paris, I would drop it. You are not going to see Geneva much the way you have it planned anyway.

You could extend your stay in Provence and drop the Riviera stop. The Riviera is certainly not obligatory and you are entitled to your reservations. It's your trip, skip it if you want. I have visited only for two nights, really an evening and one full day, and that was back in 2003. I think it's a worthwhile area and want to return. It's not only a place for the rich and famous. Smaller towns like Villefranche-sur-Mer and Antibes might have greater appeal than Nice. Rick recommends Antibes highly. For me the art part of the Riviera is not the thing that would make me want to return, more about it being yet another unique region of France (that also happens to be a resort area). The French are pretty good at avoiding excessive pandering to tourists. Even though it's a report area, I don't think the Riviera is devoid of its own character.

If you do drop the Riviera, you might consider flying into Marseille and out of Paris, saving Paris for the end. I like to save the big city for the end, once I have my travel legs back. You can catch the train from the Marseilles airport to Arles. Provence is well connected by train in general, not counting smaller villages. You could do really well going from Provence (Arles or Aix to start, followed by St. Remy or other smaller town with car), then to Annecy with day trip to Chamonix, then on to Paris. You did not ask for a whole trip redesign, but I have been researching this for years as I take other trips in anticipation of a future itinerary like this.

Do not let the extra expense of flying open jaw prevent you from doing so unless the difference is really a lot. If you delay things a few weeks you might save in other ways, too. If you did round trip into/out of CDG you are probably going to need to stay in Paris on the front end too, getting on the TGV after a long flight does not sound like a good plan. You have to get to the TGV after all, and factor in enough time cushion so that you're sure to make your train. Opting out of open jaw to save a couple hundred dollars could be a false economy.

Posted by
4132 posts

Thank you very much for all the advice, it helped me realize that all
four of those areas are a bit much and taking the farthest one out of
the mix will make the trip simpler and more relaxing.

Exactly. Less can be more.

Posted by
84 posts

If you are inclined to drop Nice (as I did, from a similar itinerary), but still want a beautiful visit to the Mediterranean Sea, look into Cassis. We will do a day trip there from a home base of St. Remy in Provence and I cannot wait.

Posted by
4420 posts

I have never been to Nice, so have no basis for comparison, but given your interests, I think you should try to go to at least one Loire Chateau. With your interest in architecture, I think you would enjoy seeing Chenenceau, which is built over a river. I found it much more enjoyable than Versailles.

Posted by
2030 posts

I like Nice a lot. I think of it as a more down-to-earth city on the Riviera, doesn't feel like a place only for millionaires (as Monaco does). A great place for strolling, the old town is wonderful, there's a great outdoor market, and great lookout park high up on a hill by the sea, and lots of wonderful cafes. The airport is easy to get to.
If not on this trip, I hope you see it sometime.

Posted by
227 posts

We are definitely going to Nice and looking forward to it after all the advice and some more research on what to see, how to get around and where to stay. I will check out some of the other suggestions, thanks everyone for all the replies!