Need help with Provence itinerary

Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 10:40 AM
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Need help with Provence itinerary

We are two couples in late 50's travelling to France in August 2016. We plan to be in Provence from 13th - 18th August (5 nights), after having spent time in Paris and Nice. I know this is a horribly busy time with crowds, but the dates are not negotiable unfortunately. We will be having a car. A tentative itinerary is given below, on which we would like critiques, changes and suggestions. We are not the beach types or the hiking kinds. Prefer idyllic villages, scenery, and markets, food, wines etc.

Thinking of basing ourselves at St Remy for the entire 5 days, to avoid living out of a suitcase, and do day-trip from there. But are flexible on this proposition.

Day 1 : Start driving from Nice in morning. Drive to Cassis, spend time there, and then on to Aix, and end up at St Remy by night. Doable ? Would you recommend covering Gorges du Verdon instead of Cassis (doubt if we can cover both, along with Aix) ? Should we spend the night at Aix ?

Day 2 : Cover St Remy, and nearby villages of Les Baux, Maussanne les-Alpilles and Mouries. Too much for 1 day ? Please advise on what to delete.

Day 3 : Arles & Camargue

Day 4 : Avignon, Villeneuve les-Avignon, Orange, Chateauneuf du pape, Carpentras; I know this is way too much. Please help select from these nearby destinations

Day 5 : Luberon villages of Apt, Gordes, Roussillon, St Saturnin-les-Apt; again, please help us select.

Kindly offer suggestions, as we are totally open to ideas.Thanks in advance.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 10:56 AM
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Day 1 is way too much no matter what route you choose. Aix deserves some serious time, as does Cassis.

Days 2 and 4 are impossible unless you are looking at drive-by scenarios, which is the antithesis of what Provence is all about, and most of these places will be less than idyllic" at that time of year. Plus in August the roads will be crowded and parking will be at a premium.

Day 3 - it is entirely possible to spend an entire day in Arles. Same with Camargue. Again, you'll just be rushing around. In crowds and traffic.

I'll let the Lubéron experts weigh in on Day 5. I have always given myself 4-5 days just for that part of France - I dont know what one can expect to jam in in a single day.

I would urge you to stop thinking along the lines of "covering" places. Provence is all about lingering and savoring places.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 11:18 AM
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StCirq, we are well aware that all the places listed in our query cannot be done. The purpose of the question was to seek advice on which places to delete on each day, so that the itinerary becomes doable. We have tried to club all locations in a general region on each day, knowing that we cannot cover ALL in that day. Please help us decide which ones are more interesting.

For starters, between Gorges du Verdon and Cassis, which one would you choose ?

Out of the 4 villages listed on Day 2, which ones would you recommend for a doable day ?

And so on, please...
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Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 11:24 AM
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Day 1: I have a better idea. From Nice, take the autoroute to Mandelieu-La Napoule. Drive the coastal road D1098 via Theoule-sur-Mer, Antheor, Agay, St. Raphael to Frejus.

The calanques there are even more scenic than those near Cassis and you will see them from the road and from the many roadside viewpoints. The most scenic section is the wilderness area between Le Trayas and Antheor. Stop at the pullouts, make your photos, and walk down into some of the coves.

In Frejus, drive on the autoroute again. Whether you stay overnight in Aix or not, is up to you. Do you want the hassle of another check-in/check-out procedure in a hotel or not? (I would drive through to St. Remy - there is more than enough to do in this area.)

Day 2-5: Too many destinations for the time you have. And you even missed the very best ones. Let's see what you can do:

Day 2: Drive to Nîmes (the very best Roman ruins, then to the medieval town Uzès, then spectacular Pont du Gard, then back.

Day 3: Drive to the Camargue, do a horse-ride through the marshes, and on the way back you may stop in Arles and see what you can do there.

Day 4: Drive to Avignon and visit the Palace of the Popes. Then return and, if time is left, see a bit of the attractions around St. Remy, like Les Antiques and Les Baux.

Day 5: Drive into the Luberon to Gordes and Roussillion (the ocre canyon) and see what else you can do in the area.

You see, I have cancelled quite a few destinations (e.g. Orange). But I have put together an itinerary which has a bit of everything: Roman archeology, medieval times, nature, villages and scenic drives.

And a general advice: Do not overplan. For each day, select the two main attractions, start driving and see how far you get. If it is early afternoon after the second attraction, add a third destination, if it is late afternoon, drive home. Better enjoy fewer attractions in depth than maximizing the number of attractions.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 11:38 AM
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hi indiancouple,

Nice to see that you are now venturing to Provence, which I hazard a guess will seem very different to your trip to NZ, if no other reason than the level of the traffic which is going to be much, much worse.

I like your idea of staying in one place and touring a select few of the places you have mentioned. The trouble is that they are ALL worth seeing and by basing yourselves in one place you are actually adding to your travelling substantially by going backwards and forwards over the same roads to get to where you want to be.

So unusually, this might be a place for 1 or two night stays - something like this:

Day 1 - Nice to Aix via Grasse. Explore Aix in evening/early morning.

Day 2 - drive to and explore the Camargue. drive to Arles to arrives early evening. Stay Arles.

Day 3 - explore Arles - late afternoon drive to St Remy

Day 4 - explore Orange, Chateauneuf du Pape [? via pont du gard?] OR Avignon. Stay St Remy

Day 5 - Explore Luberon [or the area round St Remy and leave the Luberon for another trip

I wouldn't normally suggest a linear trip like this but given the places you want to see and the need to cut down the amount of time in traffic, this might make more sense.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 01:56 PM
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St. Remy is 26km from Arles. I would not change a hotel for such a short distance.
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Old Apr 3rd, 2016, 07:13 PM
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I am being hit on the head for planning too many places, when that was never the intent !! Just wanted everyone's help in cutting down to the best. Liked suggestion of traveller1959 to plan only two destinations per day, and keep the option of a third destination flexible, time permitting. Great suggestions from everyone.

As for annhig's suggestion about Grasse, we will be covering that earlier from Nice. Also, I concede that I had left out Pont du Gard, which is supposed to be excellent.

How about this as a revised plan :

Day 1 : Start from Nice early morning; drive to EITHER Cassis, OR Antheor/Frejus area, then on to Aix, and end up at St Remy at night. Long day.

Day 2 : Cover St Remy and Les Baux. If time permits, add Maussanne les Alpilles (or Les Antiques).

Day 3 : Drive to Camargue. Arles in afternoon.

Day 4 : Avignon and Pont du Gard.

Day 5 : Gordes and Roussillon.

Probably needs still more pruning. Kindly help with suggestions. Have left out Nimes, as have seen enough Roman ruins, and we will be seeing some at other places too. Need to put variety into the plan, as traveller1959 suggested. Not sure if the above plan embodies that.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 07:28 AM
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now you have lost Orange and Chateauxneuf -du -Pape!

hard cheese!
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 08:46 AM
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Now, it's easier than you think.

Day 1
..will not necessarily be a long day. Driving time from Nice to the beginning of the Corniche de l'Esterel is about 50 minutes. Net driving the scenic coastal road is about 50 minutes too + maybe 40 minutes for photo stops and short walks. Makes roughly 2 1/2 hours to Fréjus.

Driving time from Fréjus to Aix is roughly 1:30 and from Aix to St. Remy a little over 1 hour.

This gives you a couple of hours in Aix and you will arrive in St. Remy in the late afternoon.

Day 2
Les Antiques are quite impressive Roman monuments. And there are standing roadside just south of St. Remy. So, no hassle with parking, tickets etc. Just looking. Takes not more than a few minutes and you will drive by anyway. So, you will have finished your programme for the day by noon. You will even be able to include Arles in that day, giving you more time for the Camargue on day 3.

Day 3
If you have done Arles on day 2, then you have plenty of time for Camargue. I strongly recommend riding horses, it is a most rewarding experience (even if you have never ridden before). If you had visited Arles on day 2, you will have time to visit Aigues-Mortes, a completely walled medieval town.

Day 4
It is a good programme. Maybe you have time (and energy) for Uzès after Pont du Gard, maybe not.

Day 5
Walk through the Ocre Canyon near Roussillion, visit the village of Gordes and see the stone huts and you will probably still have time for some scenic drives. Enjoy the day.

Yes, you have sacrificed Orange and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. But you will see Roman ruins in Arles, Pont du Gard and Les Antiques. Orange has more Roman ruins (admittedly one of the best theatres) but is a bit out of the way. And you have better destinations in your list than Chateauneuf-du-Pape. You cannot do everything.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 09:55 AM
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Yes annhig, something has to give ! Looked like we would be better off focusing on Avignon and Pont du Gard, instead of stretching ourselves thin trying to also cover 2-3 more destinations.So Orange and Chataneuxneuf du Pape had to give !

Traveller1959, really thank you for taking the trouble to delve deep into our itinerary and give great advice. Some further advice please :
1. Our friends who are travelling with us have heard a lot about Cassis. I have noted what you have said about the scenery being prettier if we followed your advice - but in case we are pushed towards Cassis, is it doable to start from Nice, drive to Cassis, then Aix and end up at St Remy by night ?

2. We have been to Italy, and seen enough Roman ruins in Rome, Pompeii etc. Are the Roman monuments you refer to in Provence quite similar ? Are we better off ignoring the Roman monuments and ruins, or do these offer a very different experience ?

3. Any great village/town that I have left out in my revised list, which we could cover, time permitting ? I have made a note of Uzes which you recommend, which sounds good.

Already booked our accommodation at St Remy for 5 nights, at Hotel Le Vallon de Valrugues. Is it a decent place ? Can still change the booking if required.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 10:21 AM
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My two cents...Les Baux is most beautiful from afar. Getting in and out is horrible and not really worth it.

I adored St. Remy and have been trying to find a way to get back there. Mostly because our tour guide rushed us through the market, past the asylum (VanGogh) and boom we were out. I really want a better experience of the place than we got and am jealous of your multiple nights there.

That said, Aix is simply delightful. You will want to walk around and have a great dinner. Be careful wanting to drive after that. Could you perhaps stay one night in Aix and do the drive to St. Remy early in the am instead? It can be expensive but perhaps you can stay near the train station. I stayed at the Hotel Saint Christophe for one night and it was fine, plenty safe and I could get around easily. Super romantic beautiful city not like any other in Provence.

Roman ruins are roman ruins. If you aren't interested in them that's not time well spent for you.

Camargue is very interesting but it's a nature preserve. You have to find a way to get out into it, so something like the horses idea above is a good one if you want to see it.

Touring the ochre in Roussillon I thought was fantastic, and like nothing else I have ever seen. Our guide took us to the Ochre Conservatory and we all loved that tour
otroussillon.pagesperso-orange.fr/ang_conservatoire.html.

Gordes is another that is most beautiful from afar. We enjoyed our stop at L'Abbey of Senanque near there.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 10:27 AM
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Oh, and be sure to buy fleur de sel when you are around Camargue. And herbs de provence. When you get home mix them together and it will remind you of the trip. Speaking of salt, we through Aigues Mortes was pretty, easy to get around and we had a great lunch there.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 12:28 PM
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>>1. Our friends who are travelling with us have heard a lot about Cassis. I have noted what you have said about the scenery being prettier if we followed your advice - but in case we are pushed towards Cassis, is it doable to start from Nice, drive to Cassis, then Aix and end up at St Remy by night ?>2. We have been to Italy, and seen enough Roman ruins in Rome, Pompeii etc. Are the Roman monuments you refer to in Provence quite similar ? Are we better off ignoring the Roman monuments and ruins, or do these offer a very different experience ?>3. Any great village/town that I have left out in my revised list, which we could cover, time permitting ? I have made a note of Uzes which you recommend, which sounds good.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 12:35 PM
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indiancouple - my experience of Orange and Chateauneuf goes back about 35 years when I spent a free week in Orange as part of a choir singing in the amphitheatre so my memories are probably rose-tinted!

The rest of your itinerary looks great and you should have a most enjoyable time - I look forward to your Trip report which I'm sure will be as entertaining as ever.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 02:40 PM
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Orange has not much other than the amphitheatre, but it is exceptionnal.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 04:17 PM
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A few other ideas:
Gordes has a fabulous market that you will want to see. Rousillon we found was gorgeous in the evening as the sun was setting and the town felt like it was glowing. In between the marketin the morning and dinner in Rousillon, I highly recommend renting electric bikes in Bonnieux for a few hours from Sun E Bikes. This was a highlight of our trip and is such an incredible way to explore a couple of little towns.Bonnieux is a very quaint town with some great restaurants. We spent a week in the Luberon based out of the town of Goult.
L'Abbeye de Senanque near Gordes is stunning. So worth a visit.
Les Baux was great for our kids but not so amazing for my husband and I. Aix was delightful and we wished we could have spent longer there.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 05:34 PM
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Hi,

Looks like you have a good itinerary. I second the notion to not overplan -- we stayed near Les Baux this summer and there was a crazy heat wave in July. So we didn't get to everything on our list because we needed to reserve time chilling at the villa pool during the hottest part of the day!

We did one day trip to Pont du gard and Uzes. It was really spectacular (don't forget to bring your swimming togs - it was really neat to float under this three-story aqueduct!).

Another day was spent hiking the Ochre Trail in Roussillon (we went early to get parking, had a lovely breakfast of croissants and cafe au lait and then hit the trail (the shorter loop) when it opened). The landscape is is really unique and was a highlight. Just don't wear white! Lunch was outside of Gordes and we also drove to the Abbey to see the famous lavender (note traffic was quite heavy).

I agree that Les Baux was more interesting for our kids. One evening we took in the Carriere des Lumieres and really enjoyed it -- it might be of interest if you enjoy art (it is an old quarry where they project an art show). The theme this year is Chagall:
http://carrieres-lumieres.com/en/cha...ights-dreams-0

It might be a good way to get out of the heat as well.

We didn't end up going to Camargue bc of the heat wave but enjoyed Arles -- you may want to look into getting tickets to one of the shows in the arena. The arena is incredibly well-preserved.

In St. Remy we liked the market, the mausolee and les Antiques (just a quick stop -- Glanum was a bit underwhelming for us but we have seen a lot of great ruins). In Maussane les Alpilles we toured the olive oil cooperative and had a delicious lunch at Pizza Brun.

Bon voyage!
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 10:35 PM
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Wow, what an avalanche of responses! Thanks a ton everyone, and keep the suggestions coming.

Based on the overwhelming convergence of views above, it appears that Uzes is a must add-on to Pont du Gard. Roussillon and Gordes appear the best villages in Luberon, with an emphasis on the L'Abbey of Senanque. And of course, there is no doubting the beauty of Aix, Arles and Avignon. Looks like everyone has strong suggestions for Camargue and horse-riding in the nature preserve. Les Antiques will be easy to fit in. Let us also try for Aigues Mortes. And we will follow everyone's advice and not overplan.

Remember watching a theatre performance in an old Greek amphitheatre near Nafplion in Greece (at Epidavros), which was magical. Will try and get in a performance at Arles.

Annhig, I am impressed to hear about you singing in a choir at the Orange amphitheatre. That must have been some experience !
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