A week in the South of France Sept 2014

Jul 25th, 2014, 11:25 PM
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Join Date: Jul 2014
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A week in the South of France Sept 2014

Looking for some advice on where to spend our precious 9 days in the South of France for the first time. We'll be there between 18-27 Sept 2014 and have never been there before. We're getting the train from London to Paris and then hoping to get a train down to the coast. We're also hoping to avoid getting a rental car (not keen on driving on the other side of road as we're from NZ!), could we get around via train/bus adequately from place to place? Open to ideas but probably looking for a base to stay for the week then travelling to and spending a day in a different place each day if possible. We're not party extravagant people, just looking for a nice quiet relaxing look around. We also don't speak French, is that going to be a problem? We will learn a few basics before we go though, but I don't hold out much hope with our accents being understood! Thanks for any advice or tips you can give us.
xschic is offline  
Jul 26th, 2014, 06:12 AM
Join Date: Sep 2007
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I think you would do well to learn a few phrases in French, the ones contained in the appendix of any decent guidebook will be sufficient. My experience after living a year in France is that having those few simple phrases will make a great deal of difference in your experience. There was a lot of interest last year when a cafe in Paris posted two prices for coffee. The price for ordering coffee without saying "Bonjour" was twice as much as one asked for after a simple greeting.

But, once you have gotten past the first few phrases, there will be no problem without knowing more.Incidentally, most French cannot distinguish between Scots, English, and Americans. I think it unlikely they will pick up a Kiwi accent.

Now the bad news. If you use trains only, you will be limited to the coast for the most part. I am not fond of Cannes, a town where conspicuous consumption seems to crowd out any feel for the realities of local life. The same goes for Monaco. Nice is more comfortable, and has several good museums and many good local places in which to eat. The smaller towns along the coast, such as Villefranche-sur-Mere are more interesting to me, but unless one is going to stay on the beach for a day, you may find the need to be aware of the train schedule and how long it will take you to get to the station to be an impediment to enjoying the day.

I don't know of anyone who has successfully used the local bus system for local touring. You should find Stu Dudley on this board and ask him if he can be helpful. He is the only one I can think of who might have the knowledge to help you. On the other hand, driving a car with left hand drive is not that big a deal for all our right hand drive friends. Be certain to rent a car with an automatic transmission so that you don't have to be distracted with shifting with the right hand. (All rental cars have a/c, an essential in September.)The majors all have rental stations at the Nice Gare.

I would consider Moulins or Grasse as a base near Nice. Either location will be convenient for touring both on the coast and in the interesting villages in mountains. Search on both locations in this board and you will find a lot of good local information.
Jeff801 is offline  
Jul 26th, 2014, 07:55 AM
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Local bus system, esp. from Nice (frequent!) is CHEAP and easy. Bus is much better than train for exploring the area IMO. You can go along the coast - you can go up in the hills - no need for a car.

Plenty of accommodations to pick from in Nice, should find something in any budget.

Plenty to do - Nice itself is nice to explore - yes several museums, lovely promenade, old town, even Russian orthodox. People watching mecca. Local markets here and there in the area on different days. Antibes has Picasso museum. My favorite is Villa Euphrisi on Cap Ferrat - also a Greek villa there that I have not been to (yet

Monaco and Cannes are too chi chi for me - but many other delights in the area. Antibes and I think Ville france have sandy beaches, the one in Nice is pebbles. Enjoy!
suec1 is offline  
Jul 26th, 2014, 08:16 AM
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We're getting the train from London to Paris and then hoping to get a train down to the coast. We're also hoping to avoid getting a rental car (not keen on driving on the other side of road as we're from NZ!), could we get around via train/bus adequately from place to place?>

Well yes most places that first-time visitors to the area will want to go to. The French Riveria has a train line that hugs the coast from St Raphael to the Italian border - hop all along it to places like Cannes (sideline from there to Grasse), Antibes (wondrous old town), Nice, Menton, etc. And there is a dense bus system leading you into hills to dreamy hill towns like St Paul-de-Vence, Vence, Eze, etc.

The heart of Provence for tourists is around the Avignon/Arles area where there are so so many neat things to see and do - those two ancient towns itself (Avignon's Palace of the Popes is incredible!) - like Les Baux-de-Provence, the Pont du Gard (Roman aqueduct still bridging a river), Nimes (stellar Roman remains) and St Remy-de-Provence, where Van Gogh put himself in an asylum after slicing his ear off is fit in Arles - he painted many now famous paintings there and there are now reproductions of those works set up in the exct locals he executed his canvasses in - ditto for Arles, where he lived for a spell.

All those places can be reached by public transportation and getting there from London is very fast - take a train to Lille-Europa and switch to a French TGV train to Avignon -about 5 hours all told I'd say.

Avginon to Nice is also easy by train. For lots of good info on French trains check www.seat61.com - excellent dope on getting from the U.K. to places in southern France; www.ricksteves.com and www.budgeteuropetravel.com.
Check www.voyges-sncf.com for discounted tickets (severe restrictions however on changes or refunds so be sure of you times and dates but can save a ton over just showing up - www.capitainetrain.com has the same fares and same trains and is reporteldy easier to use for foreingers. RailEurope UK - now Voyages SNCF UK I believe also I think has about the same fares.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 27th, 2014, 06:38 AM
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We spent 6 days in Provence area. Based ourselves in Avignon for 3, had a car and took day trips to some of the smaller villages. Then took the train to Aix en Provence. A day trip to Marseille by bus while there. I understand that some of the smaller villages are accessible by local buses, if driving is an issue. Also recommend Capitaine(as mentioned above). Used them and it was user friendly and great customer service.
kakt is offline  
Jul 27th, 2014, 06:46 AM
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Avignon, Arles and Nimes are all very pretty and easy to get to by train
bilboburgler is online now  
Jul 28th, 2014, 06:14 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
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Hi xschic, I'm a Kiwi too now living in south of France myself. How many people are you traveling with, and are there any children traveling as this may affect your options and the easiest way to get around. What type of things do you enjoy - museums, beaches, art, sports? I live between Cannes and Antibes so we are right on the coast but I can suggest a few things for you if you give a few more details. P.S. I'm still getting used to driving on the other side!
LifeinFrance is offline  
Jul 28th, 2014, 07:03 AM
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I would stay in Nice and take buses to the coastal villages & sites east of Nice (Villefranche, Menton, Villa Ephrussi de Rothchild, etc), but take trains to get to the sites west of Nice (Cannes, Antibes).

I would build up some nerve/courage & rent a car for a few days to visit the fabulous small villages, gorges, & mountain ridges in the Nice Hinterland.

I have a 31 page Provence & Cote d'Azur itinerary that I've sent to over 3,000 people on Fodors. If you would like a copy, e-mail me at [email protected] & I'll attach one to the reply e-mail.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Jul 28th, 2014, 09:28 AM
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You can also get into the hinterlands of the Alps Maritimes sans car by taking the fabled Train des Peignes, a narrow-gauge train that trundles up cute river valleys into the heart of the rugged inland area north of Nice - starts in Nice - take it to a sleepy village like Annot - hikers like to take the train and walk between stations on nice footpaths - really a different slice of life than you'll find in a Cote d'Azur way overdeveloped for the tastes of many.

PalenQ is offline  
Jul 28th, 2014, 11:02 AM
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We also don't speak French, is that going to be a problem?>

Never been a problem anywhere in western Europe for me and many as many folks, especially those you will meet in the tourist indusgtry speak fairly good English and the Riviera sees a multi-national brigade of sun seekers so is used to having a lot of non-Francophones there.
PalenQ is offline  
Jul 29th, 2014, 03:01 AM
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Wow, thank you all so much for your informative replies, I'm very grateful and rather impressed! Kia ora 'LifeInFrance' we are a middle aged couple travelling without children. Not into the glitzy life (Cannes/Monaco), more the real French way of life, history, architecture, art, the beach, and good food! Want a really good look around as may look for a holiday place there in the future. Hmmm sounds like we may be better getting a rental car to explore and not be pressured by times etc. Do we need an international license or such? Also looking for reasonable accommodation, probably a place to ourselves but central for eateries etc. I just heard about AirBnB so will check that out for accommodation also. The train sounds good Palenq. kakt it sounds like a good idea, just hiring a car for 2-3 days then using train/bus to get around, thanks. Someone also mentioned looking into flying from London/Manchester over, anyone recommend that? Thanks Stu Dudley, I'll email you. General Fodors question please, is there a way to get an email sent to me whenever a new reply is added? Thanks for your advice everyone
xschic is offline  
Jul 29th, 2014, 04:42 AM
Join Date: Jul 2014
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Kia ora again. Basing yourselves in Nice is a good option as you are halfway between many towns - the trains are very good, and bus timetables are extensive enough. Look at www.envibus.fr and www.lignesazur.com for plans of the network. Buses are cheap here - you can travel from Cannes to Nice for €1,50.
Trains are faster obviously (example, the coast train between Cannes-Nice takes about 40 mins, the 200 bus takes around 1.5 hours as travels via many towns). As you are here in September you can buy a ZOU! Pass at any train station in the south, this is an all-day pass with unlimited train travel so you can hop on and hop off all day on the coastal rail line and it is much cheaper than paying individual point-to-point sectors.
Nice has many great museums, and the old town is worth a visit for the market and small alleyways.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is the next town from Nice - has a historical Citadelle with small art galleries, old port and the main beach (Marinières) is sandy enough.
Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild at St Jean Cap Ferrat and Villa Kérylos at Beaulieu-sur-Mer combine history/art/architecture and are worth a visit - especially Villa Ephrussi we just don't have anything like that in NZ
Saint-Paul-de-Vence is a popular village too and has lots of art shops plus the famous Colombe d'Or and Maeght Foundation.
Self-catering accommodation is great as you can eat when you want, but then choose to dine out also if you fancy it. Try Riviera Pebbles (a local company), AirBnB or homeaway.co.uk You can drive on your Kiwi license here short-term but it pays to get an international license before you arrive in Europe, go to the Automobile Association in NZ and they take your photo and do one for you then the translated international license is acceptable. You will still need to carry your NZ license too (the international is just the translated version in case you are stopped by traffic police). Also, because you're not from the EU, any rental companies may take a copy of your passport for I.D so be aware of that as it sometimes worries Antipodeans handing their passport over to someone to copy! Make sure you check the opening hours of the rental companies as they usually close during lunch time, and sometimes weekends. Also, fill up the tank before you take the car back or they will bill you a huge refill rate much higher than the local fuel costs.
If you love trains, the journey from Paris down to the coast is across lovely countryside, but if you intend to just use the train as transport only and not fussed about scenery, then save your time and fly from LON/MAN...Nice Airport has a nice approach from the UK you will see Antibes and other towns on descent.
LifeinFrance is offline  
Jul 29th, 2014, 04:49 AM
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"Also, fill up the tank before you take the car back or they will bill you a huge refill rate much higher than the local fuel costs."

actually, very important to READ THE CONTRACT. Some say fill up and some are starting to say empty the tank. I'd avoid empty the tank companies.
bilboburgler is online now  

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