a VirtualTourist member from Chicago
We are traveling by train from Paris to Provence in late June. From there, we have 10 days to visit the countryside, ending up in Nice. Can you suggest a starting point? Any "must-sees?" We plan to rent a car.
The village of 'Apt' (near Avignon) and its region is beautiful ... !
I would suggest a start in Avignon where you are not far from L'Isle sur la Sorgue. I'm presuming you will have a car from there, otherwise it will be difficult to see much of Provence just using the train. Marseille and the Camargue is an easy jump to do along with Cassis and the calanques. Further inland heading east you have the natural beauty of the Parc du Luberon. Loads of villages in the area. Around Moustiers is also the Parc du Verdon and Castellane. Then S-E towards Grasse and then St Paul de Vence, Tourettes, Vence itself and a host of other places before getting to Nice. There's also the wild country of the Parc du Mercantour. In fact just in this region you could spend 3 months and wonder how did I not see that place, because you certainly will, with only 10 days. Good luck.
I agree with starting in Avignon. Also Arles (where Van Gogh lived). Buy the Michelin map of the region and take the red roads (as an alternative for the motorways) and really dive into the country by taking the yellow roads. Especially those that are highlighted with green.
Also buy the green Michelin guide of the region which gives you prefab touristic routes and note the underlined cities and 1-2-3 stars for places on the map to visit (not always the big towns!).
Additionally, check out the B&B's which are called Chambre d'Hotes which can be townhouses, farms, castles... especially with a car you can find very special places to stay.
Here's the French B&B website:
If you note the website's logo, you will recognise those signs on houses when you are on the road.
I've always done it this way in any part of France. Great exploration, surprising sights. Enjoy!
The general assumption above is that you are ending your train trip in Avignon. If that is true, you will want to spend at least a day in Avignon to visit the Palace of the Popes, the Pont Benedet, Rocher des Doms and the Place de l'Horloge at the very least. The walls of Avignon are very dramatic . . . and photogenic.
In the Avignon area, you may be interested in the Pont du Gard west of Avignon. The amazing old Roman aquaduct spans the river and you can walk across it, rent kayaks or canoes or, weather permitting, swim. There is a nice new visitor center (not so new any more) with parking and great ice cream cones. http://www.pontdugard.fr/
With 10 days you can see a lot, but Provence is huge so you may just whet your appetite for a return trip. You will head east from Avignon and there is so much to see and do. A favorite area of ours is Arles and you could use that as a base to explore the town of Arles, the Abbey at Montmajour and the Camargue. In the Camargue, don't miss the Parc Ornithologique with all the flamingoes, Camargue horses and bulls. The village of Stes.-Maries-de-la-Mer is right on the sea and you have free parking and free beaches. We've seen the flamingoes in the small lakes (etangs) near the road too.
North of Arles is St. Remy-de-Provence with a nice Old Town and on the edge of town is Glanum, the Roman excavation with an amazing Triumphal Arch. You can also visit the asylum where Van Gogh committed himself for a year. It is still a working hospital but there is a visitor section with Van Gogh information and it is lovely. You can walk over from the parking at Glanum; it's just across a small field. glanum.monuments-nationaux.f...
Les Baux is a dramatic ruined chateau on a mountain top with a cobblestone village. If you are in high tourist season, you may want to skip it because it gets very crowded. If the weather is bad or you are in low season, enjoy it because it's beautiful and the views are amazing.
There are all sorts of beautiful stone perched villages in the area and you can't go wrong visiting any of them. Lourmarin is not as hilly and very pretty. Our favorite is Roussillon. The village is beautiful and you can also visit the ochre quarries beside the town. Amazing views and the colors are marvelous, all bright reds and yellows. They have paths through the quarries and change them periodically so the environment isn't ruined. There are also abbeys in the area. Senanque is the most famous and has lavender fields and Silvacane is probably the easiest to reach.
Aix-en-Provence is a city worth a stop. The Cours Mirabeau is famous but the entire Old Town area is beautiful. Northeast you have Moustiers-Ste.-Marie mentioned above and the Grand Canyon of the Verdun.
Grasse is the perfume capitol of France and especially on Saturday market day, it is a lovely visit. There is a perfume museum at Fragonard in Grasse with a nice gift shop.
When we're in the Nice area, we try to stay in or near Tourrettes-sur-Loup (found under the spelling Tourette-sur-Loup here on VT). It is a beautiful perched village with great views and super ice cream (I'm addicted). Nearby is the village of Gourdon perched on a mountain top. There is free parking just at the foot of the village. Fun village and great views. Nearer Nice are Vence (nice Old Town) and St. Paul de Vence. St. Paul is a must-see. The village is a perched cobblestone village so very pretty and with good views; however, just outside the Old Town is the Maeght Foundation with an excellent permanent permanent art collection and usually very good traveling exhibitions. fondation-maeght.com/index.p...
Cagnes-sur-Mer has the Renoir House and Gardens. Not sure if they're done with the renovations to the house, but the gardens are beautiful and free. There is Antibes with the Picasso Museum; Vallauris with War & Peace by Picasso; the Rothschild Villa at St. Jean-Cap-Ferrat; Menton and an easy full day in Nice with all the sights there. The Cours Saleya is a huge market area with flowers, vegetables and all sorts of other things. We enjoy the Museum of Modern Art with its roof-top garden. If you go up to the chateau, there is no chateau but there are great views of Nice and the Mediterranean.
Type the names of the places that interest you into the VT Search Window above to see what has been written about them. There will be photos, hotels, restaurants and external web links to help you decide what to do and what will wait until the next trip. You can also click on the names of people who answer you here and visit their Travel Pages on the different locations to see what you think. It's a great resource here on VT and lots of fun.
Enjoy your trip. Provence is magical.
We did a driving trip last summer and Paul is right, there is no way that you can see everything. I started planning my next trip the day I got back! We started a little further west than you but once we got to Provence we stayed in Orange one night, St. Remy for two and Aix en Provence for two and finally near Marseilles for the last night before we flew home.
The days I really enjoyed were visiting Nimes and Pont du Gard and the day we rode through the hill towns, Gordes being my favorite. I also enjoyed spending a day in Avignon. St. Remy was a nice base for seeing the sights as it was somewhat centrally located.
Marseille was gearing up to be the cultural capital while we were there so I didn't think it was a highlight but since it will be the cultural capital this year it might be worth a look.
You have been provided some great recommendations, Arles with its colosseum, Aix, Gordes, Avignon..... but for me Provence is more of a feeling,... a sense of just enjoying the life, the food, the wine, taking in some local culture. And you can get this in any number of smaller towns. Since you have a car, I would just note a few major things to see and then just go with the flow, and take it easy.
-->> Sally, there wasn't an assumption that the train trip was finishing in Avignon. The OP asked for a starting point and at least four of us agreed that Avignon was a good place to start, that's all.
Thanks [VT member d50e5] I missed it completely but it made perfect sense. That would be my choice too. We're probably going to do that ourselves on our next trip to Provence. Our daughter wants to try the TGV. Fun!
Great advice - I would simply recommend sticking to one area - say the Avignon/Arles/Aix/Marseilles circuit - because that is already a lot for ten days; i.e. forget Nice, Cannes etc. If you rent a car you can enjoy the marvelous countryside. If not, there is incredible train service amongst all those cities and plenty to see and do in them. As one poster said, part of it is about the atmosphere, you will want time just to relax and breathe it in happily. Late June is a great time!
Whew! what great advice. The only thing that I can contribute to all of that, if you have the time, is to visit Carcassonne a medievil walled city, it does get rather crowded at peak times though.
C arcassonne is lovely, in fact that is why we flew into Toulouse instead of into Marseille but it's a long drive from Avignon or wherever you decide to take the train into, 2 hours 42 minutes according to viamichelin each way, I'm quite sure it took us longer than that. Best save that for another trip.
You could theme your travel in this area around Roman remains. Orange and Nimes, both with arena's, come to mind. Pont du Gard already mentioned...
Grasse, if you like perfume. But again, I would rather spend more time on the backroads :-)
You're right Dabs. Carcassonne is a great site but very far from where the poster is headed. It's not even in Provence, but in Languedoc-Rouissillon. Nice trip from Toulouse. We've done that too. A great future trip!
Yes, I know but if they plan to end up in Nice it will not be terribly far from there.
Carcassonne is about 5 hours from Nice by car
Yes, I know but there are lots of interesting places along the way and the terrain changes greatly.
But all that in ten days? goodness that is certainly not in the provencal spirit! relax, take your time, regard, enjoy, absorb....a magical evening listening to the cicadas will convince you of that!
Wow, seventeen postings! Thanks everyone. We are knocked out by your thoughtful and idea-filled suggestions. We could probably plan not one, but two or three trips, on these postings alone. Perhaps with some luck, that's exactly what we'll do.
Again, thanks for your generosity and for your insights. We are more than grateful.
You are very welcome, have a wonderful time. Look forward to reading about your trip when you get time to write it.
You are welcome. Enjoy, it is a wonderful area. Although I must say I got a little bored with Aix after a couple of days, but then again it was raining and I did not have a car so I could not use Aix as a base. However, I really enjoyed the Languedoc region and the areas surrounding Carcassonne. After reading all these posts I am ready to go back. ;-) Karl
I want to point you to one of the best art festivals ever (music, dance, theatre)... the Festival d'Avignon which is 5-27 July 2013. Here's a link to the official website, I've chosen the Background information page but do browse further: festival-avignon.com/en/Proj...
You can buy tickets to various performances but back in the 90s, my best friend and I stumbled upon the festival and decided to stay 3 days and just enjoy the free music on the streets until late night. We sat on the pavement watching jazz musicians jamming, one of them on a vacuum cleaner hose!
ATLC, super suggestion about the fest in Avignon. We happened on it by accident one year and had a great time. Fortunately, one of our daughters was with us on that trip. Don't know if they can make it work on their schedule, but it would be fun.