Best Provence Two Week Trip by Car -- we did it!...a great tour.

Wife and I just returned from first Paris for 3 days (jet lag adjustment), then the TGV to Nice, then by rental car did the loop in Rick's book, omitting only Cassis (hotels never replied to our emails requests) as a stopover. Following the book worked well and to no surprise as we've used his advice since 1987; our first time in Provence and it's easy to see why he and Steve rave about in the books on France.

Best city: Nice; enjoyed it much more than we expected. Hotel Suisse was a worthwhile splurge for it's view and amenities. Avignon a close second but once you've seen it, no reason we can see to return. Did Monaco, Eze(don't miss!), Antibes. Needed 4 nights in Nice minimum.
Best small city: Arles; stayed two nights at Hotel Spa Calendal ( will return for sure!)
Best country experience: Hotel/Winery Domaine de Cabasse in the Cotes du Rhone. Great home base for wine/Roman ruins tour; did the loop in the book. Also staying at Le Mas d'Estonge near Roussillon was delightful, the town interesting but so-so.
Best hilltop town: Aiguines; surprised us. Altitude 823 was a basic hotel but the city is unspoiled, small and has beautiful views. Great one night stay.
Driving: country driving with only a map was easily done; driving in the cities trying to find hotels in Aix, Vieux Nice was awful.
Train: TGV very pleasant experience. We were pick pocketed boarding the train for Milan at the Nice Ville station. Damn...let our guard down for just a moment and wife's purse was unzipped and small wallet snatched out without realizing it until later.
Food: delightful but can be expensive if one orders the full deal. Consider sharing a pizza at lunch.
People: everywhere were polite, friendly and courteous if one exhibited courtesy to them. They were patient with my French.
Most Fun surprise: doing laundry in Nice and Avignon we met Europeans and their families; don't overlook these types of opportunities to make travel personal. At Domaine de Cabasse we attended a wine tasting and met a group of Belgians; one invited us to their home when we visit their city.
Biggest Oops: we were in Arles on May Day...a French holiday; all monuments closed!! But there was a Provencal culture celebration complete with a parade in native costumes. Look at your travel itinerary and compare it with French holidays!
We will definitely return to Provence!!

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
8835 posts

Thanks for your report, Mike! The trade-off of planned sites for local parade sounds like a decent trade.