My husband, young daughter, and I will have a week in France near the end of May. We want to be in the warmest place possible, not too busy, with things to do that will work with a 4 year-old. And we want to be in just one place. The top choice right now is Collioure (we fly out of Barcelona), but I'm also interested in being near Nice (we'll be coming from Lyon). Any suggestions?
In Herault there is a small town called Pezenas where we spent 5 weeks one summer when our son was small. It's a very old village with winding streets, a fantastic weekly market, and great restaurants. The beach is about 15 minutes away...we went down to Agde where there is a water park with sections designed for smaller children - Cap Pirate. You can also go out into the Cevennes...at the mouth of the river that winds up towards St Guillaume le Desert at Pont du Diable, there is a nice, pebbly swimming beach with kayaking. Lots of families hang out here under the old Roman bridge. There are several monasteries in the area with lovely gardens and cloisters to explore, one of which has been turned into a gorgeous winery...Abbaye de Valmagne. There are other area towns as well that are fun to explore. This part of France has tourists but it isn't overrun like Collioure and the beach towns of the Riviera.
Another vote for Pezenas. It is central and a good home base for exploring the area without having to deal with a lot of traffic congestion. We have spent a total of 5 weeks there and have day tripped from Collioure to Arles and from Carcassonne to Albe. It has good access to the Autoroute for getting around quickly and lots of backroads (N and D routes) for exploring the country side and smaller towns and villages. This is my favorite area of France. Get the Languedoc-Roussillon Michelin Green Guide and a l'Herault map and you will see how much there is to see and do there.
I'm definitely going to do some research on Pezenas! I was hoping to be on or near the water, but maybe I should give that up in favor of smaller crowds?
I love Villefranche-sur-Mer, 5 km from Nice. It has a lovely little beach and good bus and train connections. The town is on a steep hill; I recommend that you stay in or near the Old Town, which is close to the water. There is a small playground near the Tourist Information office, which is on the main road (and near bus stops for Bus 100 which goes to Nice and along the coast).
I rented an apartment the last 2 trips I took to Villefranche through VRBO. One of my favourite visits is to the Villa d'Ephrussi Rothschild Gardens; not sure about the 4 year old, but I love it. St Jean Cap Ferrat/Beaulieu sur Mer has a large beach and a wonderful walking path along the water. Rick describes that area well in the Provence book.
Monaco and Nice both have a touristy train with a recording that I enjoyed.
Have a great trip.
I think that the Nice area just adds too much to our travel time at the end of the trip. I also think it might have been just too busy that time of year (during Cannes and the grand prix). I know Collioure is touristy too, but the beach and proximity to Spain make it the clear front runner right now. If we can find a good place to stay...
How about checking out Argeles-sur-Mer just up the coast from Collioure? It has miles of beach and beachfront promenade as well as easy access to the autoroute and other roads.