Hi we're going to be flying in to Paris, then driving down to Provence and flying home from there. Which airport is the best to fly out from if you're in Provence: Nice or Marseille? Do they both have international flights?
Well, a couple of thoughts... I'm surprised that on a first trip to La Belle France you are visiting the Loire Valley. But hey, While you will be relatively late in the season and road traffic will be a bit easier, I would always divide Provence into two parts. There's what people often mean when they say Provence - the rural hill country areas like the Luberon, and swampy areas like the Camargue; towns and cities of Arles, Nimes, Avignon and Orange, and the riverside areas like the Pont du Gard; and Aix en Provence. The other part is often called the French Riviera, or the Cote d'Azur, for the Azure blue water and sky. It is pretty much everything along the coast from Marseille to the Italian border, including Nice, Monaco, Grasse, Cannes and the other coast towns. It is the easiest thing in the world to spend a week in Paris for a first visit, one or two weeks in the west of Provence, and a week in the Cote d'Azur. I have frequently visited the Provence and Cote d'Azur areas but in all the years I've been going to France I've never visited the Loire so can't suggest a duration there. IMO, a car is the easiest way to visit the west of Provence; a car is often a headache on the Cote d'Azur. Trains along the coast between Nice and Monaco, and onwards to the Italian border town of Ventimiglia are frequent, cheap, easy, and give an absolutely magnificent view of the coast. Parking is very hard. I'd suggest dropping your car at the TGV station in Avignon and taking the TGV which whisks you straight into the Charles de Gaulle airport and straight home. Nice is no place for a car and you would have to change. BUT - it is your vacation and your choices. I just speak to my preferences which are worth what you paid for them. The Rick Steves book of the area has excellent detail.
Yes, both have international flights. You'll need to change planes at least once. Two considerations for you, logistics and price. Price varies, you'll have to compare for the dates you want. Logistically Nice and the Cote d'Azure are about 3 hours or so from the Rhone valley. From Avignon, you can get to Charles deGaulle about as quickly as you can get to the nice airport. So arguably Nice is only a good choice if you are planning to visit Nice, barring exceptionally great airfares from there.
Thanks much, Adam. You're suggesting that if we're in the Rhone Valley, then Marseille will be much more central, and that Nice might be better only if we're farther east on the Riviera. One thing that I'm not sure I understand: you mention that from Avignon you can get to Charles deGaulle about as quickly as you can get to the Nice airport. I just checked the web site mapcrow.info and it says the distance from Avignon to Nice is 122 miles but from Avignon to Paris is 360 miles.
TGVs run at full speed between Avignon and Paris. Their speed is restricted along the coast between Marseille and Nice.
That's right Rick, but from Avignon your TGV train to CDG airport will be going at well over 300 kph (over 186 mph), sometimes 360 kph with the newest trains, for nearly the entire distance. From Avignon to Nice the same train creeps around along the coast winding in and around the mountains. I haven't measured it but I have ridden it and I would guess that the speed rarely exceeds 100 kph (around 60 mph). You wouldn't do either trip by car.
Ah, thank you, gents very glad to have this info. This'll be my first time in France so it's all new. 186 miles per hour - why oh why can't we Americans do that? (Don't get me started....) We were actually planning to fly in to Paris and stay there for a week, then rent a car and drive through the Loire Valley for a couple of days, then into Provence and finally fly out of either Nice or Marseille. So a drive from Avignon to Nice is not viable? What's it like in general having a car in Provence? Maybe after touring the Loire we should drop off the car in somewhere like Avignon, and then rely on trains to see the rest of Provence? The car idea was really mostly for exploring the Loire Valley. All transportation suggestions are welcomed - the trip is planned for late September through mid-October.
Rick, the drive to Nice from Avignon, like the train, is about 3 hours. It can be a very nice trip, especially of you make stops enroute (which would take longer). And you might want to visit the Cote d'Azure in its own right. So 3 hours, perfectly viable, but perhaps not optimal depending on the rest of your itinerary. As for driving: a car or a bicycle is very handy in the Loire and in Provence. You'll see a lot more in Provence with wheels. So you can drive across France or you can rent a car in the Loire, return it, and rent another in Provence. The drive from the Loire will take all day (and cost about $125 in gas and tolls). The train is a little faster, even with the change in Paris. (Or reorder your trip so that Paris is second.) Fall is a great time to visit, I'm sure you will have a blast.
Thanks, everyone. Adam, I'm intrigued by your suggestion that the train from the Loire to Provence would be slightly faster than going by car. But you mention the "change in Paris" - we wouldn't want to go back north to Paris in order to go south to Provence, would we? Or is that actually the fastest way - going back up to Paris in order to grab the TGV to Provence?
Paris is THE hub for France. All roads lead to Paris (nearly) and all fast trains lead to Paris (nearly). It is almost always faster to take a fast train from wherever, through Paris, and out the other side to wherever. France is the epitome of a hub and spoke design. Tours to Avignon via Paris is just over 5 hours including the change. From Angers about 30 minutes longer.
Rick if you are curious about trains I recommend the German rail site for the best online timetable. Just pick any week day to get an idea of trains, routes, and trip times, as the October schedules may not be ready yet.
It's easy to connect to Boston from either Marseille or Nice. Delta and its AirFrance/KLM partners offer a number of combinations for the one-stop return flight. You can even find a local train from Avignon to Marseille airport (not the downtown station.) However I would be nervous about that connection for an early-morning departure.
For easier flight arrangements you could reverse your route. Begin your vacation by connecting in Paris to the south, then work your way north for a Paris visit. The non-stop to Boston could be a comfortable mid-day departure. These multi-city tickets cost very little extra than the standard Boston-Paris round trip.
Adam, thanks for the suggestion about the German rail website. I assume there's also a TGV web site? But the German web site is better even for French trains? Southam, I hadn't even thought that we could fly non-stop from Marseille back to Boston, so thank you! But I'm not sure I understand your suggestion about reversing our route: are you suggesting flying in to Provence, then working our way north and then returning home from Paris? Why would that be an easier flight arrangement than starting in Paris and returning home from Provence? Thanks.
But the German web site is better even for French trains?
Yes, it is the best online timetable, though you can't buy tickets (or see prices) there for trips that do not originate or end in Germany. Great for planning though.
"Why would that be an easier flight arrangement than starting in Paris and returning home from Provence?" Flights that have to connect in Europe often leave very early in the morning. For instance, if your Paris to Boston flight leaves at 11 AM, then the Marseille to Paris flight that will connect with it may leave at 7 AM. In that example, you get several hours more sleep by departing from Paris. This is certainly not always true, but it's worth thinking about when looking at flights (particularly for some airports, like Venice, that can take time to reach).