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IzabellaBella May 4th, 2014 06:18 AM

Itinerary Questions (Nice, Provence, Bordeaux and Paris
We are going to France in July. Here is a plan I have devised. We have not booked any hotels yet so changes can be made.

We will fly into Nice stay around the area for a few days visiting villages and cities in the French Riviera. In Nice we will rent a car to then move forward and drive to the Provence region. We plan to stay in Aix en Provence and plan to visit St Remy and Eygaliers and the surrounding areas for a few days. We will have a car - or so we plan. From the Provence area, we plan to leave the car or drive to Marseilles and leave the car there. From Marseilles, we will head directly to Bordeaux by train where we will stay for a few days. From Bordeaux we will make our way to Paris. When in Paris, we will take a few day trips to the Loire Valley and Versailles.

A few questions:

Is it difficult to drive from Nice to the Provence region?
Is it difficult to drive around the Provence region?
Should we stay elsewhere than in Aix en Provence.
We do not plan to visit Avington. Should we?
I new suggestions on renting a car and having the option to drop it off in Marseilles.
We would like to visit lavender fields, farms and vineyards in the Provence region. Any suggestions?
What can we do in and around Bordeaux?

PalenQ May 4th, 2014 07:04 AM

The Avignon area has so so much to see and do in a compact area - not only is Avignon IMO one of the most dreamy looking cities in France but it's Palace of the Popes is worth it alone

Easy day trips - Arles - Van Gogh's and Cezanne's many paintings of local scenes are now marked by copies set up in place where they were painted - just a nice old smaller city than Avignon that many like as a base.

St-Remy-de-Provence - a smaller yet town that many love as a base - here is the insane asylum Van gogh self-committed himself to after slicing off his ear in Arles - again he put many bucolic scenes around the asylum on canvass and they are niceley put up copies of them where he painted them

Near St-Remy is famous Les Baux - the dead city topping o large plateau - one of the nicer ruins in France

And the Pont du Gard - an intact Roman aqueduct that is about the best Roman relic outside of Italy

and the fabled Camargue and its wild horses and flamingos - numerous group horse rides can be done into this wild national park

andone and on - Uzes one of the sweetest old towns anywhere

vs Aix which has much fewer astounding day trips the Avignon-Arles area is the epicenter of tourist Provence for good reason. Don't neglect it - should b your number one priority IMO.

drop your car off in Avignon's TGV station and be only about 3 hours by TGV train from Paris or CDG Airport.

check for Fodorite Stu Dudley's excellent detailed itineraries he offers Fodorites.

IzabellaBella May 4th, 2014 08:14 AM

Thank you Paleness Q. We may visit Avington after all. I did a bit more reading on the town.

Christina May 4th, 2014 08:18 AM

It isn't hard to drive around PRovence, except right in the major cities, of course, I'd avoid that (ie, Avignon or Aix). I do think Avignon is a nice city and important historically, so not sure why you don't want to go there, but it's your vacation. Maybe you don't like cities, or don't have enough time. I don't think Aix is the best location for visiting Provence as a whole, no, it's not central enough.

You can see vineyards just be driving around Provence, there isn't anything special you need to do -- if you are in the Luberon area. Not sure what you mean about visiting farms. You will see them from the roads, but I don't know anything about personally visiting people on farms.

Bordeaux is a pleasant city for a few days, it has an easily walkable center and several itneresting museums. If the weather is good, you can take a boat trip on the river. The ytourism office websites has good suggestions on this

Sassafrass May 4th, 2014 08:25 AM

How many days do you have for this trip, not including time getting to Europe?

I like Aix very much, but it is not the best base for day trips in Provence. I suggest you get a good guide book for each area you are planning to visit, especially one for Provence.

IzabellaBella May 4th, 2014 08:27 AM

Christina, what do you think would be a good base town in Provence area? We want to be able to drive around during the day, but in the evening, leave our car and be in an area where we can walk quaint and charming streets having the option to grab a bite to eat and walk back to out hotel/bed and breakfast

IzabellaBella May 4th, 2014 08:31 AM

Sassafras, we have 16 full days, not including travel to and from Europe. I plan to post an actual itinerary once I have a better idea so that I can get feedback there. The current plan is fly into Nice, have 3 full days, may cut to 2, then head to Provence for 3 full days. From Provence head to Bordeaux although it seems it will be difficult to get there from Provence. From Bordeaux head to Paris for 5 full days

HappyTrvlr May 4th, 2014 11:31 AM

I would cut out Bordeaux and add those days to Provence and Nice. We spent ten days in Provence and barely touched the surface. If you want a smaller town in Provence , look at St-Remy. We've also stayed in Gordes and Les Baux.
Don't spread yourselves too thin. It is better to visit fewer places and enjoy them, not rushing around without a good feel those locations.

Sassafrass May 4th, 2014 11:39 AM

Since you also want to see a bit of the Loire Valley and Versailles, as well as Paris, I agree with HappyTrvlr to cut Bordeaux. PalenQ is absolutely right about how much there is to see and do in Provence, and it is all beautiful.

mamcalice May 4th, 2014 11:52 AM

I agree that, for the amount of time you have, it would make a lot of sense to drop Bordeaux. As for Provence, consider using a smaller town as a base. St. Remy is a good base. While I like Aix, we find Avignon much more agreeable.

IzabellaBella May 4th, 2014 12:02 PM

PalenQ and Sassafrass, can you give me some examples of the things I can do in provence? Specifics would be appreciated. I find many people on these forums say that there is a lot to do, but don't give specifics i.e. Restaurant, vineyard names, hotels, bed and breakfasts

StCirq May 4th, 2014 12:13 PM

People don't always give specifics because there are probably 10,000 guidebooks that do, not to mention the fact that every city, town, and village has a website with comprehensive information for tourists. If you haven't looked at those websites or read a couple of guidebooks, this would be a good time to do that.

IzabellaBella May 4th, 2014 02:07 PM

I have 4 books and have looked online. I'm looking for others opinions rather that rick Steve's, for which he is paid to mention many of the places he does in his books.

Sassafrass May 4th, 2014 06:44 PM

IzabellaBella, I wish your two threads could be combined since I wrote my suggestions for an itinerary on the other thread. Anyway, StCirq is right about there being so many places in Provence, but the other thing is everybody has different interests and travels differently. You might look up some trip reports on Provence.

We travel pretty slowly these days, so I doubt mine will be of much value, but you are asking for opinions. We spent a couple of days in Aix and returned for another at the end of the trip, three in Aigues Mortes (Probably nobody else would do that, but we loved it.), and several in Arles in a tiny little rented house, shopping at the market and pretending we lived there. We were not feeling well and did not rent a car, so did not get to many of the major sights - must go again. We did easy day trips to Avignon and to Les Baux by train. We had also been to Aix and Marseille on a cruise. We flew in and out of Marseille.

Camargue region & Aigues Mortes: an interesting area for nature (wild horses, flamingos, cowboys, bull farms, boats, salt flats) and history (start of the crusades); touristy during the day, totally quiet at night. We stayed within the walls of the city and it was fantastic (look at some pictures), one of our favorite travel experiences - would do it again. We had planned for one night and extended to three. Food from the area - bull steaks, etc. too strong for me, but DH liked them, excellent flans, good salads, poor fish (IMHO).

Arles: great combo of Roman colosseum (still in use) and other ruins together with Van Gogh's art and time there. A bit gray and gritty, but worth time and easy to do day trips from there. Best pastries and breads on the whole trip. If you decide to go, look for a tiny boulangerie/patisserie on the left as you walk from the train station into town. Meat and vegetable tarts were excellent, but citrus tarts were amazing - and I tried them everywhere. No where else were they as good - Flaky pastry, thin wash of chocolate, lemon filling, fresh fruit on top.

Avignon: beautiful city with lovely walking areas, wide boulevards with many outdoor restaurants and vistas overlooking the river, plus Palace of the Popes. It looks quite upscale compared with Arles. Wide variety of reasonable priced foods.

Aix: gorgeous town with great plane trees shading the main streets, pretty squares. Easy walking over most of the town, market someplace every day we were there, nice small shops, lot of great food of Moroccan influence, my favorite food of the trip. Artist of interest - Cezzanne's studio, etc. Could easily day trip to Marseille.

Les Baux: so beautiful, just look at some photos and know you will want to go. It would be a wonderful place to stay a night.

So many places I wanted to go and did not: Uzes, Pont du Gard, St. Remy, Roussilon, etc., etc. Look at posts by Stu Dudley. He spends weeks and weeks in Provence.

From your other post: Bruges is absolutely charming and pristine, like in the old picture books of castles and things for children. It has beautiful buildings, cobblestones, horses and carriages, windmills, and a river right through with boats. If you booked three nights, you could do the one day to Ghent but stay in Bruges. Ghent is a real city, though with a walkable city center and a river with old buildings and restaurants along the water. Though not pristine, it also has considerable charm.

By the way, he may do many things people do not like, but I do not believe Rick Steves takes any payment for mentioning hotels and other places.

IzabellaBella May 4th, 2014 07:51 PM

Thank you Sassafrass. DH and I like to take our trips slow at times as well, that is why we would just like to rent a car when in Provence and drive around aimlessly, yet with some sense of direction. We don't need to stick to a specific itinerary by any means. We took a long walk in Florence and ended up getting lost after walking straight for a very long time. To this day, it is our best memory.

Maybe he does not get paid, but I find sometimes it is difficult for me to follow some of his suggestions. I don't always find what I'm looking for in his books - planning Italy was far easier than France.

Sassafrass May 4th, 2014 08:30 PM

I think it depends on who is doing the co-writing with him. Unlike some, I enjoy his books, but always use a couple of others as well as internet.

Italy does have "the big three" to concentrate on, with easy train connections between, and everybody has their own images of Italy from history books and movies. However, the more you travel in Italy, the harder it is to narrow the choices.

Often, the best tips are some little thing someone writes here on Fodors. I do not even remember what it was, but I had already done a lot of reading about Aigues Mortes and StCirq wrote something that made me certain it should be a priority for me.

I hope you can make your trip exactly as good as you dream it to be.

PalenQ May 5th, 2014 12:12 PM

Folks like to pan Rick Steves and IMO it is kind of an envy and often from veteran travelers who know everything.

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water - Steves books have a wealth of good info even if very prescriptive - but that is what many folks are looking for - a recipe for doing it.

Christina May 5th, 2014 12:42 PM

I don't think it has anything to do with envy, whatever that means. Most people aren't in the book-writing business to envy someone like that who might sell a lot. I just think he is a personality that attracts criticism because he is more the face for his books than any other publisher, so he is one person you can disagree with and you "know" him given he's on TV all the time.

I think he serves a good purpose for neophytes, and can't argue with that. Some people really need that when starting out, and it's great. I also think he does some countries better than others (I don't think he does France as well as Switzerland, for example). Someone needs someone to tell them what to do and limit the choice of hotels to only 6 in one area, etc. His books aren't quite that bad, but they do limit things.

I just read guidebooks and decide for myself what I'm interested in doing based on my interests. I think most people should be able to do that. A lot of people name things for tourists to do that I'm not that interested in, for example, I'm not that interested at all in Roman ruins. I don't go to France to see Roman ruins. Sure, I've seen Pont du Gard once but not after having been there several times, but that's just because that wasn't top on my list of interests. I also am not at all interest in shopping and markets, whereas others what to visit them all the time, even when they aren't going to be buying food anyway.

I did like Steves books for Switzerland pretty well, actually, and he described their rail system. I have never used him for accommodations, though, as we have different tastes and since he lists only his favorites, they tend to then turn into places tons of Rick Steves' followers stay. Not what I am looking for. Take a look at rue Cler some day.

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