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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!!

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