Where to Begin French Riviera/Provence Trip

Planning an 11-12 day honey moon in mid July 2013 to the French Riviera and the Provence Region. We are curious as to the best place to start our trip. As we see it, there are 2 phases to this trip: the French Riviera portion and the Provence portion. After an initial quick read of Rick Steves' Provence & the French Riviera, we're tentatively planning on Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, and Monaco for the French Riviera section (with Nice and Villefranche-sur-Mer as home bases) and Arles & Les Baux, Pont du Gard & Nimes, Orange & Cotes du Rhone, and possibly Avignon on the Provence side (with Arles and possibly Avignon as home bases). Should we start in Nice (French Riviera portion) or Arles (Provence portion)? We're leaving from San Diego. We can fly into Nice or Marseille (40 min train ride to Arles) for essentially the same price. We'll obviously start our trip wherever we fly into and fly out of whichever portion is the second phase. What's the group's opinion on what to do first (French Riviera or Provence)? We see the Provence side being about touring the country side, wine tasting (which we love), visiting villages, etc. The French Riviera side seems like more of a big city feel with hustle and bustle, but also relaxing beaches and plenty of areas to pamper yourself. Not sure if we're seeing this correctly or not. Has anyone done this trip before and have any kind of an opinion on where to begin? Thanks in advance for your advice and comments.

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1174 posts

If seeing the lavender fields is important to you (it was to me), you might want to start in Provence. Lavender season generally is late June through July. You should also include the Luberon villages and consider basing from that area rather than Arles or Avignon, and renting a car is a must in Provence. Be sure to research market days, my favorite is the Friday market in Lourmarin. For the Riviera, you'll want Nice OR Villefranche sur Mer and no car. The Nice beaches are all stones, there's a sandy beach on Cap Ferrat that is nice. Sounds like a wonderful trip.

Posted by Jim
Dallas, Texas, USA
499 posts

Wes, the most important advice I can give you is.......start making your reservations within next few hours/days. A lot of posters will make reservations as far out as 6 to 9 months ahead of trip to insure you get that special place you want......especially if it's your Honeymoon! You'll love Nice and surrounding French Riviera!

Posted by Cynthia
Warwick, RI, formerly San Diego, CA, USA
63 posts

What a nice honeymoon! To me, I think it makes more sense to fly into Marseille, and immediately make your way to Arles/Avignon, and then over to the Riviera and fly out of Nice. That way you'll already be in the city of your departure (otherwise, you'll have to leave Arles/Avignon and possibly spend a night in Marseille before your flight back to the States). I can't speak to Marseille's airport, but Nice was pretty easy to fly out of. And I would schedule a couple more days in Provence than in the Riviera. More "charm" there. Either train station in Arles/Avignon makes it easy to get around the area. Nice has more options (hotels, restaurants, shops, museums, etc.); Villefranche-sur-Mer is great (about 10 minutes away on train), but small, so it makes for a nice day trip; and Monaco is only 20 minutes away by train. Congratulations on your marriage and have a fantastic trip! Cynthia

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
12568 posts

Congratulations to you and your Bride (Hubby). Mazeltov. I'd stay in either Nice or Villefranche-sur-Mer not both. They are so close you can walk from one to the other. Easily. Other than the tram and the train the transportation dried up early in the evening in Nice when I have been there. Personal preferences - I'd stay in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Says he who have visited both many times but always, nearly always, stays in Monaco.

Posted by Doug
3313 posts

Stay in Villefranche if you can (book now!) Start in Provence. Easier to get acclimated.

Posted by Matt
Olympia, WA, USA
33 posts

We are leaving for two weeks in Provence on Sunday! We are following the Rick Steves itinerary pretty closely, with an extra (REST!) day in Arles. I will post comments when we get back!

Posted by Maureen
San Francisco
119 posts

We did this trip 2 summers ago. I would start in Provence. We based ourselves in Avignon. It was pretty central to the cities we wanted to see. Must do Arles and the hill towns of the Luberon, many to choose from. We rented a car in Avignon , this saves time and it is fun just exploring. We did not find driving there that difficult. We then took the train and stayed in Antibes. They have some of the few sand beaches on the Riviera. Their old town and Picasso museum are wonderful. Again we rented a car to tour around. I would recommend Nice, Monaco, and my favorite town was Vence! The market days move from town to town and we saw many of the same vendors, so they are all much the same. It would be nice to see one, but I wouldn't plan my itinerary around one. Congrats!

Posted by Lee
1017 posts

Save the best, western Provence, for last. Do the Côte d'Azur thing then rent a car and drive to the Luberon which is quintessential Provence. You'll want to move on from there, of course. If you stay in Arles take a day to drive through the Camargue and tour Aigues Mortes.

Posted by Darren
Boulder, CO, USA
672 posts

Hi Wes, First off, Congrats on the wedding!
Now, reread Cynthia's post, as she's right on, in my opinion. In full disclosure, I'm not really that into the riveria, but Provence is one of the reasons that I keep returning to France. I have stayed in Arles and Avignon, but I much prefer to stay in a hilltown/village to really experience provence. Lourmarin, Roussillon, Gordes, etc. are all excellent options. If you stay in Arles, hit the market (Tuesday, if I recall?) load up on picnic supplies then head to Pont du Gard for an excellent waterside picnic with a view of spectacular Roman architecture. Earlier posters are right on, you'll want a car to explore Provence. After writing this, I don't know if I can wait the 10 days before my flight! Good luck and have a great trip!

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1259 posts

I have spent more time in Provence than in Nice but I think I might recommend that you start in Nice. The Nice airport is very close to the city and just a quick and inexpensive bus trip from the airport. After a wedding I would think you would not want to have additional travel legs after you land in France. The issue with flying into Marseilles is that the airport is some distance from the main train station, so you will have a half hour or more transfer to the train station in Marseilles and then 45 min. to Avignon to your hotel. There are a couple decent hotels at the Marseille airport if you want to stay at the airport the night before your return home. I know that most people prefer Arles as a home base, but I personally love Avignon. The train and bus connections and rental car pickup (especially at the TGV station) are simple and uncomplicated. Avignon has such great restaurants and evening strolling. Restaurant Brunel and his sister restaurant 76 are 2 of my all time favorites in France. Les Halles, the local daily market, is wonderful everyday. I would agree that you need to make hotel reservations immediately. Provence and Nice are very crowded in July. If you have special restaurants you want to reserve ASAP for July.