3 week (or more) stay in Southern France

Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 05:11 AM
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3 weeks (or more) stay in Southern France

I guess I could find some answers in existing threads, but I don't have the patience to use a large amount of time reading possible dozens of threads to find the answers I'm looking for.

I was looking at the opportunity for spending a longer amount of time, perhaps three weeks or more in southern France in the spring/early summer. May and early june could be a good time. The main objective for the trip would be activites like hiking and biking. In addition history and culture (architechure), and just pure relaxation (btw, I also consider the mentioned activites as relaxtion, what is not that is a lot of traffic and tourists and larger cities) Renting a car is not an option, and I would like to use a train. I've therefore used the rail map in the link below to chart possible loactions for the trip.

Rail map France

Most importantly, I would like to stay in small towns or villages, not larger cities. And most of them should be localized so that hiking or cycling is a viable option. The biggest place I want to or say would be Aix-en-Provence.

The plan would be to fly to Nice. Then stay in one or two towns along the coast. I was looking at Grasse first, and the Cassis.

Then go to Aix-en-Provence and stay for perhaps two or three days, before continuing north along the train line running towards Gap. Then staying in Sisteron before continuing to Die. Then heading south towards the Pyrenees.

And finish by spending a few days in the eastern Pyrenees. Prades was an options I was looking at.

So the question is. Are there other and better options than what I've already mentioned? Like an other hilly village than Grasse or a coastal town than Cassis in Provence? And other places than Sisteron and Die north or west of Aix. Or another location than Prades near the Pyrenees? I could be open to a total different route between Aix and the Pyrenees. The only things settled is the coast of Provence, Aix-en-Provence and the Pyrenees at the end.

PS: I'will leave Avignon and Luberon for an other trip. Same with Carcassonne and other towns of a certain size in Occitanie.

Last edited by OlavE; Mar 2nd, 2023 at 05:38 AM.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 07:00 AM
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I'm not a fan of Grasse. Kind of grungy. Try Antibes or Cassis instead.

Also not a fan of Die. Not grungy, but not very exciting either. Nearby Crest might be an alternative - but it has been over 18 years since we were there. Get other opinions on this region. We drove from Aubenas (nice town) to the Devoluy region in the Alps, and stopped & toured Die for an hour or so.

Embrun & Briancon are nice villages. We stayed for a week in the former & 2 weeks in the latter.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 07:12 AM
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Originally Posted by StuDudley
I'm not a fan of Grasse. Kind of grungy. Try Antibes or Cassis instead.

Also not a fan of Die. Not grungy, but not very exciting either. Nearby Crest might be an alternative - but it has been over 18 years since we were there. Get other opinions on this region. We drove from Aubenas (nice town) to the Devoluy region in the Alps, and stopped & toured Die for an hour or so.

Embrun & Briancon are nice villages. We stayed for a week in the former & 2 weeks in the latter.

Stu Dudley
Thx. Cassis is already an option. Antibes might be too big and touristy for my taste. I was thinking that an alternative to Grasse should be a hilly village, like Vence or something?

Briancon would certainly be on the list, but that is more for high Alps hiking (which I do often anyway) and will rather be saved for a mid summer trip than one in May.

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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 07:45 AM
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You may know about Eurovelo https://en.eurovelo.com/ and its big bike paths in the area. You will also find that canals often have tow-paths and certainly the whole Canal du midi and attached mini canals makes the south west Med corner of France a veritable cycle centre. I'd spend more time in the west. Done both and know which bits I prefer
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 08:26 AM
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We've spent 4 weeks over 2 trips in a gite just north of Vence. The old town in Vence is quite small, and the non-old town area is not very interesting. Tourrettes sur Loup is our favorite hill town in the region.

Cassis might fell just as touristy as Antibes.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 09:30 AM
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Originally Posted by StuDudley
We've spent 4 weeks over 2 trips in a gite just north of Vence. The old town in Vence is quite small, and the non-old town area is not very interesting. Tourrettes sur Loup is our favorite hill town in the region.

Cassis might fell just as touristy as Antibes.

Stu Dudley
Okay. But Cassis is just by Calanques while the surroundings of Antibes are more flat? And looking at maps the entire coastline from Nice to Cannes seems very "built down"?
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by OlavE
Okay. But Cassis is just by Calanques while the surroundings of Antibes are more flat? And looking at maps the entire coastline from Nice to Cannes seems very "built down"?
I don't know what "built down" is. The coast between Nice & Cannes is quite ugly with overbuilding. Except for Cap d'Antibes. I mentioned touristy in the context that both villages of Cassis & old Antibes are equally touristy.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 10:24 AM
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Much of your itinerary includes areas to which we've not stayed. HOWEVER, we did pound in rail time and bus time in our week along the Riviera, staying in midtown Nice while venturing daily both East and West between Cannes and Menton and as far North as Grasse, so I'll contribute that knowledge.
Word of caution: We were into art and food. Yes, our itinerary required a lot of hiking, but hiking was not our first concern.
--Grasse, as Stu says, is grungy. I mean, REALLY grungy. I would take the hilltop town of Mougins ahead it in a millisecond. It's on a bus route.
--Villefranche-sur-Mer used to be my recommendation for years until cruise ships ruined it for all mankind.
--I still think Antibes is doable if you can get the right area. Puts you in both the bus and rail action for what you want to do.
Happy planning,
AZ
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by StuDudley
I don't know what "built down" is. The coast between Nice & Cannes is quite ugly with overbuilding. Except for Cap d'Antibes. I mentioned touristy in the context that both villages of Cassis & old Antibes are equally touristy.

Stu Dudley
Built down is a poor direct translation from Norwegian meaning overbuilt.

What is acutally on Cap d'Antibes? There is a lot of greyed out roads on google maps. Is that exclusive private properites?

Looking at the map, most of the coastline just passed Cannes seems overbuilt. And also the section between St.Raphael and St.Tropez.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 11:51 AM
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We loved Aix but took a van tour to Cassis from there (it included Calangues via boat). Cezanne's atelier was very Interesting and you can hike up to where he painted. We took the bus to Marseille and trained from there to Nimes...cheaper than from Aix iirc. Our hotel had a pool heated by a natural spring, and spa and was wonderful for relaxing: https://www.aquabella.fr/en

Have a wonderful time!.
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 12:13 PM
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Originally Posted by OlavE
Built down is a poor direct translation from Norwegian meaning overbuilt.

What is acutally on Cap d'Antibes? There is a lot of greyed out roads on google maps. Is that exclusive private properites?

Looking at the map, most of the coastline just passed Cannes seems overbuilt. And also the section between St.Raphael and St.Tropez.
The only section of coast that is not overbuilt is on the Corniche de l'Esterel from Theoule sur Mer to a few Ks short of Agay. I have this section "marked" on my Michelin 114 map. We've driven it several times.

The Corniche des Maures west of St Tropez is nice - but west if the Corniche is not. I'm not a fan of Bandol. The Corniche des Cretes east of Cassis is scenic.

Cap d'Antibes is dotted with sumptuous hotels & villas. There is a tropical garden & a sentier. The Juan le Pins section is overdeveloped. I've visited Antibes old town 3-4 times, and Juan les Pins once.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 2nd, 2023, 01:03 PM
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How sporty are you feeling?

The D94/994 in the Baronnies provençales offers terrific cycling and hiking. Rent bike in Aix, train to Serres, cycle to Bollène having carefully reserved nights at the sparsely-located chambres d’hôtes along the way, train from Bollène back to Aix. We can heartily recommend the Observatoire des Baronnies in Moydans and the olives of Nyons.

No? Then a little farther from your idea of Die, there is the Vercors, again terrific hiking and even more sporty cycling. Search for Vélo Vercors. They’ll pick you up from Valence, I think.

Presuming you are saving a hike along St Jacques de Compostelle for another time?
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Old Mar 3rd, 2023, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by FTOttawa
How sporty are you feeling?

The D94/994 in the Baronnies provençales offers terrific cycling and hiking. Rent bike in Aix, train to Serres, cycle to Bollène having carefully reserved nights at the sparsely-located chambres d’hôtes along the way, train from Bollène back to Aix. We can heartily recommend the Observatoire des Baronnies in Moydans and the olives of Nyons.

No? Then a little farther from your idea of Die, there is the Vercors, again terrific hiking and even more sporty cycling. Search for Vélo Vercors. They’ll pick you up from Valence, I think.

Presuming you are saving a hike along St Jacques de Compostelle for another time?
Thanks. It's absolutely an option. I found the road and the start/finish. No problem doing that in a couple of days.

I'm aware of Vercors. That could be a destination for a dedicated hiking and cycling trip once.

For others here on the forum. I would appreciate additional tips. Especially for the area north and west of Provence.
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Old Mar 3rd, 2023, 10:17 AM
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There is a lot of info about north & west of Provence in my 35 page Cote d'Azur & Provence itinerary. I've sent my itinerary to over 3,000 people on Fodors. If you would like a copy, e-mail me at my Fodors name at AOL. Specify that you want the Provence itinerary - I have about 10 others for different regions in France.

Stu Dudley
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Old Mar 3rd, 2023, 08:35 PM
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Grasse is not a great place to stay, but the town of Mouans-Sartoux down on the plain is a good location: pleasant small town, good railway connections, art museum, restaurants, bakeries, and a weekly market.
It's easy to visit Grasse, Mougins, and other reasonably local sights. The very interesting, beautiful Matisse Chappelle de la Rosarie in Vence is a drive of about 30 minutes.

Another good town to consider as a base is Valbonne, just across the hills from Grasse.
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 03:45 AM
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IMHO April would be a better month for doing outdoor activities - the weather was utterly perfect last year. I flew home in early May and apparently a heat wave crashed down immediately afterwards. I've been to the region in March, July, and September, also. March was nice, but not as nice as April but if you're going to hike and bike it's not yet hot in March. July was pretty darn hot but has its charms - cigales have their rhythm, lots of lavender, lots of produce at the farmers market, and a good pool to hang out all day. Mid-September was lovely but to me it seemed like it got dark a bit earlier and cooler evenings. I am sure September wasn't much different from April in both regards but April is coming OUT of winter which already gives it a boost in my mind, and September is heading towards winter which brings me down.

I've stayed in Cassis twice and it's a nice place to relax. Wineries nearby, pretty drives (you won't have a car though), and hiking in the Calanques which may be restricted in June. Water sports too of course. If you want to do active pursuits and eat and drink, it would be a good base I think.

Last April I stayed very near St. Paul de Vence. It was not inside the walls but roughly a 20 minute walk from there, between SPDV and Tourrettes Sur Loup that Stu mentioned. Close enough that I left the car in the hotel parking and walked. Without a car at all I'd likely stay in TsL if there were transportation into SPDV and the Fondation Maeght, etc.

From there I drove to Cassis via Grasse, meandering and taking my time. It's a very pretty drive to get to Grasse. I was only there the afternoon - lunch, and a meander in the main part of town which mostly had boutiques selling perfume.

I think Aix would still be a good base because you can always leave to do your hikes and bike rides, and come back at night and have plenty of places to choose for a meal.
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 05:42 AM
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You’re planning Mont Sainte Victoire, I trust. Learn from my fail and check the bus schedules along both the D17 and D10. While it’s lovely to wander all the way past the woods and reservoir to Vauvenargues, it’s not so lovely to trudge past suburbia all the way downtown because you’ve missed a very infrequent bus.

your question about “north and west of Provence” — did you want the northern and western areas of Provence, or areas to the north and west outside Provence — I.e. Auvergne, Gard, Hérault, Cévennes, some route towards Pradès?
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Old Mar 5th, 2023, 07:01 AM
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Originally Posted by FTOttawa
You’re planning Mont Sainte Victoire, I trust. Learn from my fail and check the bus schedules along both the D17 and D10. While it’s lovely to wander all the way past the woods and reservoir to Vauvenargues, it’s not so lovely to trudge past suburbia all the way downtown because you’ve missed a very infrequent bus.

your question about “north and west of Provence” — did you want the northern and western areas of Provence, or areas to the north and west outside Provence — I.e. Auvergne, Gard, Hérault, Cévennes, some route towards Pradès?
Outside of Provence. Like the departments you mention here in addition to Drome, Ardeche, Lozere, etc.

From the answers in this thread and looking some more on (hiking) maps, it looks like the best option on Cote d'Azur is perhaps Vence or Tourettes-sur-Loup. They are both fairly close to the sea, but also in the outskirts of the areas that are built. Meaning it is easy to get you and into the nature by hiking or cycling.

In the Pyrenees I also checked Quillan and Ceret, but Prades seems like the best option. Strategically placed to take the yellow train further up in the mountains and close to the Canigou massif. The two other doesn't have equally high mountains that close.

So a route now could be Nice - Vence - Aix - ? - ? - Perpignan - Prades - Barcelona

With one or two towns to visit between Aix and Perpignan.
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Old Mar 6th, 2023, 05:05 AM
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About 10 years ago I had a magical stay in Ceret -- a real town once frequented by artists like Picasso and Dufy. We took a hike with Christian Piquemal, who was just delightful and super knowledgeable, from a family that has lived in the region for generations. He has his own guide service at https://www.enchemin.com/
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Old Mar 9th, 2023, 08:14 AM
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Just a warning, since you do not have a car. Vence is serviced by bus. It is a local hub for the regional lines. Just take a look at the sparser schedules and see if that works for you. (we have a place in Nice).

An alternative along the coast is Beaulieu-sur-mer. It is built up but not with multi-story buildings, and is generally off the main tourist track (except for the Villa Kerylos). You can walk around Cap Ferrat and take a bus line up the hill and continue hiking up. If you are a serious hiker, there is another alternative. The Train des Merveilles or just the regular SCMF line runs up the boarder between France and Italy. There are a number of a beautiful hill villages. At one end is Tende, at the edge of the Mercantour National Park. There are a few trails from Tende but there is a shuttle bus to Castarino, the jumping off place for some hikes into the park (including into the area with the rock etchings). There is another line, Train des Pignes (Chermin de Fer de Provence) that winds its way up to Dignes Les Bain with stops at places like Entrevaux (not a big hiking area, although there are trails, and definitely off the main tourist path).

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