4 days in Provence

Old May 21st, 2011, 09:38 AM
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4 days in Provence

Three of us including teenager will be in France for 9 days in August. We would like to spend 4 of those days getting a flavor for the Provence and Cote d Azur areas. Here are my questions:

1. Taking the TGV and basing ourselves in a comfortable hotel that allows 3 people in a room in Provence - should our base be Avignon or Aix-en-Provence or some other city? Any suggestions about a 3.5-4.0 star hotel will be appreciated.

2. Thinking of doing day trips from Provence base to Nice and Cannes and Monte Carlo - is it better to drive or take bus tours (are those even available ?)?

3. Leave Cote d Azur for another time and explore Provence area instead. If yes what would you recommend as the "must see" sites in the 4 days?

We are interested in the usual things - villages, dining, landmarks, - not so much shopping.

Thanks in advance.

Dante
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Old May 21st, 2011, 10:07 AM
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I suggest sticking to Provence -- the Cote d'Azur will be bumper-to-bumper traffic in August.

Aix is a neat city -- but it IS a small city. If you want the real Provencal experience you should base yourself somewhere like St Remy, Lourmarins, Bonnieux or Rousillon. To do it right, you should TGV to Avignon, pick up a rental car and head for your base. Visiting villages in Provence is lovely, but staying in one, particularly where you can walk someplace for dinner, is heavenly.
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Old May 21st, 2011, 10:57 AM
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Uh Oh,

Thanks for the suggestion. Can you recommend a car rental agency in Avignon? I have status with Hertz and National but haven't checked if they serve the Avignon area. Or would you recommend some other European or local agency?

Of the 4 cities you mentioned as a base I have seen St Remy recommended quite a bit - would you recommend one of the four as better than others?

With our teenage son wanting to see the Riviera and the water it would be nice if we could get out that way one day. Or maybe next time.

Dante
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Old May 21st, 2011, 11:08 AM
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Save Nice/Cannes for another trip - plus it is too far away from 'central" Provence to do a day-trip there - especially in August.

I love Aix (never considered it a small city), but Aix is not centrally located in Provence to see the main stuff without excessive driving. For a first-timer with a teenager in tow, I would stay in St Remy and use it as your base. Avignon is centrally located - but it is a large city & if you also visit Paris on your 9 day trip, you might welcome something smaller in size. Lots of shops, restaurants, cafes, pizza places in St Remy.

You'll need a car to get to the main sites - buses or "tours" will consume a lot of 'wait" time, and there is no train station in St Remy (they are only in the larger cities like Avignon, Arles, Nimes, Aix).

Take the TGV to the Avignon TGV station & rent a car there. St Remy is only 30 mins away.

Do you have my 27 page Provence & Cote d'Azur itinerary?. I've sent it to over 2,000 people on Fodors. E-mail me at [email protected] & I'll attach a copy to the reply e-mail. Do so soon - we leave for 6 weeks in France three weeks from now.

Stu Dudley
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Old May 21st, 2011, 11:16 AM
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If your son wants to see water - take a day trip to Cassis - but in August traffic & parking will be difficult. Do it on your last day in Provence - you may find that you might not want to leave Provence. We've spent 18 weeks vacationing there, and there is LOTS to do & see. Go through my itinerary to find them.

Use www.AutoEurope.com or www.kemwel.com to rent a car. They are the same company. They are a US broker & will probably give you the best rates - unless you have a super deal with Hertz. They will "set-you-up" with Europcar, Avis, Hertz, Budget, etc. The Avignon TGV station has all the main car rental places - including Hertz (although we've never rented a Hertz car).

Stu Dudley
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Old May 21st, 2011, 11:18 AM
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Stu,

Yes, I got your itinerary and am in the process of going through it. Thanks.

All,

Any hotel or rental car recommendations based on personal experience in St. Remy?

Dante
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Old May 21st, 2011, 11:29 AM
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We stay in Gites (houses) - so I'm not familiar with hotels.

Forgot to mention - do your car research on the two sites mentioned above, but call them and ask for an AAA discount on top of their published rates. We have a EuropCar reserved through them for our upcoming trip. On about 80% of the trips we've taken in France, we have ended up with a EuropCar car. If you have a Gold or higher CC, decline CDW (insurance) - your CC will offer it instead, at no cost to you.

Stu Dudley
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Old May 21st, 2011, 01:42 PM
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I always thought of both Aix and Avignon as small cities, what else are they. They are both around 100K population, I believe. On the other hand, St Remy is not a small city, it's only around 10K population and doesn't even have a train station. It sort of feels a little bigger than that to me, but def. not a city.

Nice is too far to do day trips from Avignon or Aix, I would leave that for another time.

highly recommend autoeurope or kemwel to book your car rental in advance, I've used both.

I haven't stayed in St Remy and don't like it myself, but lots of other people do. It is smaller than Aix so would be easier to find a hotel to drive elsewhere from, that is true, if you are driving a lot. There aren't that many 3-4* hotels there so you should be able to narrow it down pretty quickly.
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Old May 21st, 2011, 03:53 PM
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I agree with the recommendations posted here. We stayed in a gite in St. Remy 3 years ago which was our base to explore Provence. We've rented from Kemwel and AutoEurope without problems. You can get a rental from Avignon. We also did a day trip to Cassis where we took a tour of the Calanques. Also, my teenage boys enjoyed their swim in the Mediterranean.
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Old May 21st, 2011, 06:03 PM
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Take a look at Mas des Carassins within a five-minute walking distance to the center of St. Remy http://www.masdescarassins.com/anglais.php
It is a nice small hotel with mini suites which would accommodate your family; reasonably priced; gracious English speaking hosts, and a large swimming pool which may come very welcome in August. We stayed there in 2006 and thought that it was a good choice.
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Old May 21st, 2011, 11:11 PM
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Since your son wants to enjoy the water, my suggestion would be to do 5 days in Provence and then Nice for the rest of the trip. You can find many hotels or apartments either directly across from the beach or within talking distance.

You'd also be able to ditch your car and enjoy Nice on foot and make day trips (Eze, Antibes etc) by train or bus. There is also a boat ride from Cannes to Monaco which is lovely and captures the entire coastline. Nice is a very enjoyable city and you can easily spend 4 days there.

I have used apartments on ownersdirect.com and nicepebbles.com and found them more comfortable (and generally less expensive) than a hotel room. It's quite handy to have a full kitchen to make coffee/breakfast in the morning and a refrigerator for snacks, fruit or wine for the evening.
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Old May 25th, 2011, 01:08 PM
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We stayed at a small hotel - Auberge Santroumierenco (pool) just outside of St. Remy in 2008 for 9 nights and used St. Remy as our base for visiting Nimes, Arles, Orange, the Camargue, Les-Baux-de-Provence, Pont du Gard (took the tour inside the upper aqueduct area). We flew from NC through Chicago to Charles de Gaulle, then took the TVG to Marseilles where we had reserved a car from Hertz. We recommend spending more $ for an automatic car (we had a stick-shift that was tempermental). We returned the car at Avignon and took the TVG back to Paris. We were just in the Languedoc-Roussillon area and returned for two nights in St-Remy to visit four French friends whom we met in 2008. The people are wonderful there! We visited the Roman site of Glanum on this trip and had previously visited the hospital where van Gogh lived for a year. Wonderful area to visit!
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Old May 25th, 2011, 02:08 PM
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We preferred Cassis to Nice, as the coast and town are quite unique. In fact, Cassis was one spot where we really wished we'd been able to bring our kids -- who were college age at the time we visited. As well as the gorgeous clear water, the calanques offer great rock climbing opportunities.
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Old May 30th, 2011, 02:19 PM
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Rosiekins,

Did you make the TGV reservations from the States? Do you recall how much the 1st class fare might have been?

We will get off at Avignon. Did you take the TGV to Marseille because of Hertz's location?

uhoh_busted,

Did you drive to Cassis from Avignon? How was the road? Any precarious,un-guardrail-protected turns? How long is the drive from Avignon?

Thanks.
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Old May 30th, 2011, 02:37 PM
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You should have made your TGV reservations 3 months before departure, when you would be more likely to find cheap FREM fares. I thing they are about 40E for 2nd class & 60E for first. Second class on the TGV is about like business class on an airplane. When making reservations on the SNCF site, do not select US as your home - you'll be "switched" to the more expensive RailEurope site. Select UK instead to get the English version.

Avignon has tons of car rental offices at the TGV station - which is outside of town.

The drive to Cassis is easy. Check driving times on www.viamichelin.com

Stu Dudley
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Old May 30th, 2011, 03:20 PM
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The drive is very easy. Nothing precarious. We did Cassis as a daytrip from St Remy. (Well, actually we were just outside of town in St Etienne de Gres (sp?) ) Regardless, the hardest things you may encounter re: driveing, are roundabouts. Learn to think of them as your friend. If you aren't sure you've sussed out the right exit, just go round another time to be sure.
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Old May 30th, 2011, 06:39 PM
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Remember, that the cote D'Azur is not the true Provence
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Old May 30th, 2011, 07:47 PM
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You can "do water" right at the Point du Gard. People swim there all the time. No need to go zooming off to the Riviera with such a limited schedule. And every largish town has a municipal swimming pool you can use.
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Old May 30th, 2011, 11:03 PM
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Based on Stu's comment, I went ahead and got the e-tickets. Outbound to Avignon leaving Paris at 13:16 in 1st class for 3 of us for 135 Euros. Return to Paris at 10:05 in 2nd Class for the 3 of us for 135 euros. Says on the tickets: TGV Prems and non-exchangeable, non-refundable. Is 270 Euros a bad price? Also my son got categorized as Adulte and should have been Youth. I entered the date of birth for him but for some reason he still got flagged as an adult. If the youth price is indeed lower should I email SNCF and see if they will credit the difference? Has anyone encountered this sort of thing before? Now on to the car rental and hotel.
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Old May 31st, 2011, 07:12 AM
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135E is about 40E per ticket - good price for 1st class.

I've never purchased a youth ticket, but based on what I have read on this forum, PREMS do not offer youth discounts, but are still less expensive than any youth discount that IS offered.

Stu Dudley
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