My husband and I will be traveling with three long-time friends in mid-May,2014. We will be going to Germany, Switzerland and the hill towns in Italy for about three weeks. We (husband and I) are considering going a month ahead of time and staying somewhere in South France. We haven't been to France, so we haven't narrowed down an area yet. We like small towns, wine and basically just touring around and taking in the local flavor. My questions: have any of you stayed in one area for a month and used it as a base for touring? What area would you recommend? Also, would appreciate recommendations for websites to find a place to rent for a month. Thanks for your help.
Southwestern France is stunning and the food is divine. I would stay in Périgueux and explore the Southwest regions. airbnb.com could be a good website for you.
I myself haven't done this, but I have some good friends who rented an apartment in Nice for a month this past Feb./March and loved it. Obviously, Nice is not a small town, but it does have access via bus and train to a number of small towns and villages in the area. In addition, my friends also spent a few days in Avignon and took some day trips from there. Perhaps you'd consider splitting your time between these two cities, or between Nice and one of the smaller places in Provence. By the way, my friend rented an apartment in Nice from nicepepples.com and were very pleased with them.
For me personally a month in one place in the south of France would be too long. If I had a month I think I would divide it among 3 areas, Paris, the Dordogne and the west coast from Biarritz down.
One suggestion would be Aix-en-Provence. It is a nice town that has quite a few sites of its own to visit, restaurants etc., but is also conveniently situated to use as a base to visit other areas in Provence (Les Baux, Avignon, Arles, Camargue etc). It's a large enough town in that you can hire a car or take the train from it. Also, as you say that you have never been to France before, it has the advantage of having a lot of locals who speak English there (due to tourism and the fact that it is a university town as well, the times that I have been I have heard a lot of young people conversing with British or American accents, who were obviously foreign exchange students). Despite it's popularity with tourists it retains a local charm, I find.
Thanks all for the great suggestions. Will start doing some research.
I have stayed almost 3 weeks on two separate occasions in St. Remy... love it. Great town with easy access to lots of great places. But, if I had a month I would have to say I would probably have to split it up (unless I had a free place to stay) I would stay 2 weeks in the south (St. Remy) 5 days in Paris and the rest near Normandy (maybe Bayeaux) and visit that area. I love that area as well. I also stayed 2 weeks in a house in a small village near Ste. Tropez in Gassin and it was great. There are a few small hotels there as well. But it does not offer the amenities that St. Remy has.
On my bucket list is a month in Paris and a month in Nice..so obviously, I would vote for Nice.
2 weeks So France: St.Remy 1 week Paris
1 week Normandy
A second vote for a month in Aix en Provence.
We stayed for 5 weeks in a town in southwest France called Pezenas. If you like wine then this area is wine heaven! Many, many small to medium sized wine producers. Many of them have tasting rooms of some kind and so many of them are very unique to this area. My very favorite is the Abbaye de Valmagne not too far from town. It's housed in an old abbey and the massive wine barrels sit in the side chapels of the monestery church. If you time it right they hold concerts there - one of the most unique wineries I've ever been in. This whole area of Languedoc is covered with vineyards. There are many small villages in the "village circulade" style. The Cevennes are nearby with their beautiful gorges, caves, and hill towns tucked into hidden valleys. St. Guillaume le Desert (sp?) is one of the nicest. The beaches are only about a 20 minute drive south, the Canal du Midi, runs through the area and, if you drive west, you can be in Carcassonne in a reasonable amount of time. One of the seaside towns we loved was Coulliere (again...sp?? :)) The fauve painters made this their base in the 1800s. Pezenas itself is a gorgeous, ancient town. Moliere lived there. The winding stone streets are filled with very pretty shops and restaurants and, of course, there is a weekly market that is as French as they come. Didn't see one American the whole time we were there. Dying to go back to this area! It's worth considering for your month - we could have stayed another 5 weeks!
For your time in Normandy, if any, check out bandbnormandie.com. We stayed in this rural farm house outside of Villers-Bocage, about 15 miles east of Bayeux. They have a separate house with modern amenities but on the 400 year old working farm.
Another vote for Pezenas. We stayed in a village near there for 3 weeks in 2005 and rented the same house again for 2 weeks in 2010. There is more than enough to do in Languedoc for a month. We did an overnight trip to the Gorge du Tarn, day tripped to the Camargue, Pont du Gard, Carcassone, etc. I've been to other regions of France and enjoyed them, but Languedoc calls to me. Mid-May would be a wonderful time to go - the grape vines will be leafed out and flowers blooming everywhere. There is so much there, but it isn't really touristy.
We haven't been to Cinque Terre, but are also thinking about that area. Probably best to divide our month up and see a few different areas. Which town in Cinque Terre would be best to base ourselves for a week?
Can we get to Pezenas via train?
In addition to what Tom said about Nice, you really aren't that far from Cinque Terre, if you haven't been there, give that some consideration.
"Can we get to Pezenas by train?" No, but you can take the train to Montpellier and rent a car from there. Pezenas is about a 60 minute drive by Autoroute. You will want a car for getting around.
In my opinion a week is a long time in the Cinque Terre. A few nights would be enough.
After reading about this area in RS travel books, I agree, a week would be too long.
We took the TGV from Paris to Agde, the town near Pezenas that is close to the beach. From there you can take a cab to Pezenas; about 15-20 minutes.