A stellar month in southeastern France

Jul 13th, 2019, 04:45 PM
  #1  
kja
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Join Date: Dec 2006
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A stellar month in southeastern France

My month in southeastern France was absolutely stellar! I was incredibly fortunate to have spent the month of May, 2019, in this stunning part of the world and wanted to share some of my experience with you. My plan for this trip report is to
  • provide a bit of context and offer some thanks to those of you who helped me plan this trip;
  • outline my final itinerary and share some information about my planning;
  • summarize what I liked best and least about my experiences on this trip; and then
  • offer a more detailed description of what I saw and did.
Questions and comments are welcome at any time, even if only to say that you are reading along!

For those who don’t know me:
  • I’m a reasonably experienced solo independent female traveler.
  • I plan my trips with an eye to maximizing the diversity of my experiences. For this trip, I planned with the hope of seeing diverse types of art, architecture, and natural scenery – and I’d say that I succeeded quite well!
  • I generally don’t seek opportunities to relax, relying on meals and time in transit for that. Instead, I prefer to take full advantage of every moment I have on the road.
  • I’ve been to France before, but not to any of the locations I visited on this trip.

My thanks to all of you who helped me plan. I learned a great deal from the many trip reports and planning threads I read, and I benefitted enormously from the responses that many of you generously provided on my planning threads
    I can’t say I took full advantage of the information that any of you gave, but I am confident that my trip was far better because of your input. Fodorites ROCK!

    I’m not going to try to thank all of you for each and every thing you said on these various planning threads. Instead, I’m going to try to thank each of you explicitly for just one way in which your input made a difference – no matter how much advice you gave (and some of you were invaluable sources of information on multiple aspects of my planning). Sometimes, several people mentioned the same thing; and in these cases, although I only note one person’s recommendation, I hope you realize that I’m thanking all of you who mentioned that thing. And please understand that my gratitude goes far beyond these limited acknowledgements!

    Turning to each of you in alphabetical order….

    @ 5alive: Thanks for assuring me that long posts aren't necessarily bad! I hope you don’t come to regret that sentiment.

    @ ahbonvraiment: I took your advice and greatly enjoyed a dinner at Le Micocoulier -- delicious food, lovely setting, very nice staff.

    @ bilboburgler: Thanks for emphasizing the lovely gardens near the border with Italy (even though I think you were talking about the ones on the Italian side).

    @ BlueSwimmer: I thought Les Fines Gueules in Lyon delightful -- thanks so much for recommending it!

    @ bon_voyage: My schedule didn't overlap with any events in historic venues (I do envy your experience in Avignon!), but I did get to see a bit of a festival and a few unexpected "performances" here and there. Thanks for making sure I explored all my options!

    @ burta: Although I ended up at neither of your recommendations, I appreciated your input and trust those ideas will prove useful to others.

    @ Christina: I didn't make it to Dame l'Oie, but I did visit Pernes-les-Fontaines -- what a charming town!

    @ ClareG: Thank you for making sure I knew not to try walking near Saorge -- there's no way I could have done what you did. (Kudos!)

    @ ekscrunchy: As I had hoped, I ate exceedingly well on this trip, and I appreciated that you took the time to provide insights into the ways you identify worthy dining experiences.

    @ EYWandBTV: I'm glad you encouraged me to give Uzès serious consideration: What a beautiful town!

    @ gooster: While in Nice, I chose Jan for a splurge -- well worth it!

    @ HappyTrvlr: Thank you for adding your voice to the recommendation to visit Eygalières -- I wouldn't have discovered a sweet little town, without masses of tourists, if I hadn't decided to go there. That it wasn't actually Eygalières is sorta' beside the point, and you'll have to read on for that story.

    @ isabel: The Abbey Montmajour is wonderful, isn't it? I thought of you as I roamed around it.

    @ joannyc: As you suspected, the bus from Annecy to Geneva's airport suited me perfectly -- thanks for confirming it had worked for you.

    @ Judy: You helped convince me to splurge on Mirazur -- except that it was fully booked by the time I checked. My wallet was greately relieved.

    @ KarenWoo: Aren't the flamingoes of La Camargue wonderful? So many, and so close to the walkways!

    @ kerouac: Although I didn't take the specific route you recommended, I'm very glad I drove through parts of the Mercantour National Park, where I enjoyed any number of fabulous views.

    @ maitaitom: Thanks for making sure I knew about L'Arome, even though I didn't make it to Bonnieux. Next time!

    @ Michael: Among so many other suggestions, thank you very much for introducing me to Tarascon, which had otherwise escaped my radar. What a wonderful castle!

    @ mms: I'm very glad that I included Antibes in my plans -- it is definitely a nice place to roam.

    @ MyriamC: I'll look forward to a future trip when I can include Likoke -- thanks for bringing it to my attention!

    @ natylou: Thanks for linking in your trip report -- and letting me know that you are still a member of our Fodorite community. Yay!

    @ Odin: The D48/D559 between Vidauban and on toward St-Tropez has some lovely stretches -- thanks for making sure I knew to take that route!

    @ PalenQ: You are a rare Fodorite to recommend Grasse, and I'm glad I saw it, particularly because I was there during its Rose Festival.

    @ Pepper_von_snoot: Le Merenda was delightful -- I'm so glad you mentioned it!

    @ rhon: The Pont du Coq is wonderful, and so unusual! I would have taken note without your comment, but I wouldn't necessarily have known what I was seeing.

    @ rialtogrl: Many thanks for your confidence that I could and should trust my instincts about several aspects of my travels, even when others cast doubt!

    @ Sandrine_from_Vence: Sian d'Aqui was closed when I was in Vence, but Les Agapes was excellent -- thanks for mentioning it!

    @ Southam: Although I opted against a visit to the Verdon Gorge, I'm glad for the information you provided. I thought long and hard before deciding to skip it.

    @ StCirq: I greatly appreciated the way you helped me understand the festival in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer -- many thanks!

    @ StuDudley: Among so much helpful information, I found your insights into the differences between driving the upper and lower parts of gorges very useful, and am now squarely in your camp -- give me a gorge with a road at the bottom any day!

    @ TDudette: Thanks for encouraging a visit to Menton! Such wonderful gardens (among other things).

    @ thibaut: If I haven't already thanked you (I think I have), thanks for getting me to Gassin, if all too briefly -- lovely!

    @ thursdaysd: The Roman theater in Orange is quite remarkable, isn't it? I was fascinated by the similarities to, and differences from, the one in Aspendos.

    @ tomboy: I ended up skipping Gigondas, as L'Oustalet was to be closed when I would have been there, but I did manage to find some wine from Gigondas -- wonderful! I raised my glass to you.

    @ TPAYT: Thanks for mentioning Le Pontet, even if after my trip ended -- I'm sure hope my thread on dining opportunities will prove valuable to many travelers to the area.

    @ victorinevien: I'm happy to join those who commend Bistrot Chaud Vin -- what a wonderful little place!

    @ whitehall: Thanks for confirming that I was intentionally skipping Monaco and Monte Carlo.

    @ xyz99: Thanks for your interest in my plans.

    @ yestravel: Thanks for making sure I saw your trip report on Lyon, with it's helpful restaurant notes.

    @ zebec: Le Lapin Blanc in Avignon was a very pleasant place for a quiet meal after a long day of sightseeing -- thanks for recommending it!

    To be continued…
    Next up: My final itinerary and some planning notes

    kja is offline  
    Jul 13th, 2019, 05:06 PM
      #2  
     
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    I'm along for the ride!
    Kathie is online now  
    Jul 13th, 2019, 06:27 PM
      #3  
     
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    Oh boy! Looking forward to following along your trip.
    yestravel is offline  
    Jul 13th, 2019, 08:03 PM
      #4  
    kja
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    @ Kathie: Always good to have you with me! Thanks for letting me know.

    @ yestravel: Always nice to have you following along, too! And now that I'm finally caught up enough to start writing my trip report, I'm about to begin reading yours -- I've been looking forward to that.
    kja is offline  
    Jul 13th, 2019, 08:04 PM
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    Signing on!
    thursdaysd is offline  
    Jul 13th, 2019, 08:26 PM
      #6  
     
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    So glad you had such a wonderful trip! Very much looking forward to reading all about it!
    joannyc is offline  
    Jul 13th, 2019, 11:03 PM
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    I had only been in the general areas you were planning to visit a couple of times and you had ALL the Fodorite France experts helping you so I knew I didn't have much to offer. But I read along on your planning threads and am really looking forward to your report . . .
    janisj is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 03:55 AM
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    Can't wait! Your trip only slightly crossed my Sept trip's path, but I can't wait to see what you did and saw; don't skip any details.
    xyz99 is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 04:14 AM
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    I can't wait to hear more about your trip!
    BlueSwimmer is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 06:18 AM
      #10  
    mms
     
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    I am looking forward to reading this!

    BTW, I love how you acknowledged so many people! You definitely set the standard
    mms is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 07:30 AM
      #11  
     
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    How kind of you to take the time to write all those thanks! Looking forward to the trip.
    TDudette is online now  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 07:43 AM
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    Hopping aboard with kudos for the individual thank yous.
    bon_voyage is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 01:25 PM
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    Looking forward to reading the new trip report from kja, always a treat!
    HappyTrvlr is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 05:18 PM
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    Also I will be reading along with you! I can’t wwait!
    Cindywho is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 05:33 PM
      #15  
    kja
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    Welcome aboard, everyone!
    It's delightful to find that so many of you are interested in joining me for a vicarious jaunt.
    (To those who asked for details, you may have cause to regret your words. This report will be long!)

    Today's post: Planning, preparations, and itinerary
    Planning and preparations:

    I LOVE to plan my trips, and in recent years, I've typically spent evenings and weekends (as my work schedule permits) for 5 or 6 months doing so. Of course no plan is perfect, and I never think of a plan as being written in stone, but I do like being able to think things through in advance so I at least have a sense of my priorities and constraints when things inevitably go awry. The hardest part for me in planning any trip is deciding what to skip, and I'm completely convinced that I could easily -- and happily! -- spend another month in this part of France without repeating anything I did on this trip. What a wealth of options!

    Resources:
    Once I decided to go to southeastern France this year, I used the following resources:
    • Guidebooks (in alphabetical order)
      • DK Eyewitness
      • Fodor’s
      • Frommer’s
      • Lonely Planet (which I took along on my Kindle)
      • Michelin Green Guides (Auvergne / Rhone Valley, French Alps, French Riviera, Languedoc / Roussillon / Tarn Gorges, and Provence)
      • National Geographic Traveler, and
      • the Rough Guide.
      • FWIW, I found the Michelin Greens most useful, with the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide right behind.
    • This forum, including just about every thread on the area that was started or topped during the last 3 years and several threads that I began (linked in up-thread).
    • Various internet resources, including
      • booking.com for my hotel research and most of my bookings (a few were with points);
      • tripadvisor reviews (not its travel forums) for additional information about hotels and some information about restaurants and sites;
      • the fork and michelin for some restaurant reservations and reviews;
      • google maps; and
      • web-sites for all the places I considered visiting.
    • And the invaluable
      • StuDudley's guides to the relevant areas (thanks, Stu!) and
      • Advice from various friends.
    Rooms:
    As a solo traveler who spends little time in my rooms, I'm comfortable with fairly basic accommodations and don't want to spend a lot for accommodations. Location is very important to me and I want free wifi. Reviews that are positive and indicate cleanliness are important, too. For me, a good breakfast is a definite bonus.

    Language:
    I made it through about 20 French lessons with Pimsleur's, enough to be civil, order a glass of wine, get directions to the bathroom, and a bit more. I admit, though, that French does not trip lightly off my tongue, so was very glad that most of the people with whom I interacted spoke at least some English, and often spoke exceedingly well.

    Itinerary

    Cautionary notes:
    Before I present my final itinerary, note that I am not recommending it to any one! For one thing, it was very specifically developed to accommodate my particular interests. For another thing, I was trying to avoid certain things (the Cannes film festival, Monte Carlo's Grand Prix); ensure that I would be able to visit high priorities destinations during opening hours; and catch a few events (e.g., the rose festivals at the Villa Ephrussi and in Grasse). And third, it is a plan suited to my particular travel style, which means skipping lunch and taking advantage of every moment that allows me to see or do something. Too, unlike most people, I don't mind relocating frequently, even every day or so -- and I did that on this trip. Even reading my itinerary will likely make some people tired, so pace yourselves.

    Final itinerary:
    • Day 0: Board the first of two flights that together -->
    • Days 1 to 4: Nice, 4 nights, with one day trip that included Villefranche, the Villa Ephrussi, and Villa Kerylos.
    • Day 5: train --> Menton (pick up rental car), 1 night.
    • Day 6: Menton --> through Sospel to Saorge --> Notre Dame des Fontaines --> Tende, 1 night
    • Day 7: Tende --> the southern end of the Gorges du Cians, which was closed for road work --> Gourdon --> Tourettes-sur-Loup --> Vence
    • Day 8: Vence --> St-Paul-de-Vence --> Grasse --> 1st of 2 nights outside of Antibes
    • Day 9: Antibes --> Biot --> the Cap d'Antibes's Sentier du Littoral
    • Day 10: --> Le Cannet --> the Abbaye du Thoronet --> Ste-Rosaline --> St-Tropez --> Cogolin, with dinner in Gassin
    • Day 11: --> Domaine du Rayol --> Monastère de la Verne --> La Ciotat
    • Day 12: return car , take boat through the calanques from La Ciotat, then bus --> Marseille, 1st of 4 nights in Marseille
    • Days 13 - 15: Marseille with one half-day trip to the Frioul archipelago
    • Day 16: Bus to Aix-en-Provence; 1 night
    • Day 17: Aix, then train --> Avignon, 2 nights
    • Day 18: Avignon
    • Day 19: Avignon, then train --> Arles, 2 nights
    • Day 20: Arles
    • Day 21: Pick up rental car --> Abbaye Montmajour --> Eyragues --> Monastère St-Paul de Mausole --> the Carrières de Lumières --> Les Baux --> Mausanne-les-Alpilles, 1 night
    • Day 22: --> La Camargue --> Aigues-Mortes, 1 night
    • Day 23: --> Tarascon --> the Pont du Gard --> Uzès
    • Day 24: Uzès --> the Grotte Chauvet (Chauvet 2) --> the Pont d'Arc --> the Gorges d'Ardeche --> L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, 1 night
    • Day 25: --> Village de Bories --> through Gordes --> Roussillon --> Pernes-les-Fontaines --> Chateauneuf-du-Pape --> Orange, 1 night
    • Day 26: Orange --> Lyon, return car, 4 nights in Lyon
    • Days 27 - 29: Lyon
    • Day 30: Bus to Annecy, 1 night
    • Day 31: Annecy, then bus --> Geneva (which I have visited before, so no time in the city)
    • Day 32: Flight (direct) to DC
    I saw a lot! I was tired by the end of the trip, but I enjoyed every exhausting, exhilarating moment.

    To be continued…
    Next up: What I liked most

    Last edited by kja; Jul 14th, 2019 at 05:39 PM.
    kja is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 05:58 PM
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    Kja, wow! Impressive. It's so nice to acknowledge the folks that helped you in planning your trip. Your Mom did a good job of raising you. Good manners and civility are in such short supply nowadays. Joining you on this fast paced adventure.
    Treesa is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 06:21 PM
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    Wow, I don't think I could keep up with you, but more power to you! I'm interested in the whole report!
    SusanP is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 06:46 PM
      #18  
     
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    Looking forwand to reading your opinions on all the places you visited. With the exception of the Carmague I have been to them all...over multiple trips, not in 1 month. Speed travel meet slow travel.��
    yestravel is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 09:16 PM
      #19  
    kja
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    Welcome Treesa & SusanP!

    I realized some years ago that even if I travel for a month a year, every year, I won't make it to all the places on my "A" list until I'm 105 -- and I seriously doubt that I'll be able to do that. So for as long as I'm able, I'm willing to take full advantage of every moment I can devote to travel. It makes for some busy days, but I'm fortunate enough to have a job that isn't overly stressful, which means that I can relax and recover at home afterwards, basking in the glow of so many new and wondrous memories.

    @ yestravel: I think you would enjoy La Camargue if it ever fits into one of your trips. In the meantime, I'll look forward to hearing whether my opinions of various places match or diverge from yours.
    kja is offline  
    Jul 14th, 2019, 09:34 PM
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    Also I will be reading along with you! I can’t wwait!
    harry369 is offline  

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