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jellybellymelly Mar 31st, 2019 05:29 AM

Nice, Avignon, Lyon, Chamonix, Paris, feasible without car?
Hi, there are 2 of us in our late 20s, and we don't have a driving licence, so renting a car is out. We are interested in nature / scenery, wildlife, culture, small towns. We will have around 11 days in mid June 2019, and intend to fly into Nice, and fly out of Paris. This is our first trip to France.

Have read that it might not be too safe in Marseille, so unless highly recommended, we would omit it (although have also read that the Calanques is beautiful).

Intend to break-down the itinerary roughly as follows:The route i'm concerned about is from Lyon to Chamonix and Chamonix to Paris. The bus ride from Lyon to Chamonix is 3+ hours so that's fine. What's the most cost efficient way to then get from Chamonix to Paris? Am aware that Chamonix is an outlier - therefore assessing if there is actually a feasible way to fit it in.

Alternatively, we could move on to Annecy after Lyon for 2 nights, and make a day trip into Chamonix? Annecy seems like a picturesque place.

We are fast-paced travellers, but will also want to enjoy the main sights in each place.

The alternative to the French Alps is Strasbourg, but we would very much want to see the French Alps, if transport is not too difficult.

Grateful for any views on the above.

Many thanks.

kerouac Mar 31st, 2019 06:26 AM

Marseille is an excellent city to visit. You need to get rid of Chamonix and Lyon -- your trip is much too short.

Christina Mar 31st, 2019 06:45 AM

I don't know where you read that about Marseille, it's a big city, so safety isn't any different than most big cities IMO. Not sure what you are envisioning as to why it would be different from Paris, for example. If you are careless with your belongings, and behavior, perhaps it would be a problem but it will be in Paris, also (ie, if you easily talk to strangers around tourist attractions with stupid stories or asking stupid quesitons, like if you speak English while roaming along the street, or you try to get something for nothing from street people and are willing to buy gold rings someone claims they found, or if you leaving dangling things at your side and flash expensive phones, leaving them on cafe tables on the street, etc.). I think it's a little worse around the soccer stadiujm or bd de Michelet, espeically around a match, but don't suppose you'd go there. And there are gangs and crime more in some of the suburbs like the quartiers nords, but again, can't imagine why you'd go there. If you are a tourist doing typical tourist things, like being around the port, going up to that church up high, visiting the beaux arts museum or other museums, etc., it shouldn't be a problem.

However, I think your schedule is already too crammed. Drop Chamonix, makes no sense. You can go hiking in parks in Paris, if that's what you want to do (like Parc des Buttes-Chaumont).

StuDudley Mar 31st, 2019 06:54 AM

You can do it all by train - if you eliminate 2 destinations. Chamonix is the best one to eliminate because if the difficulty/time consuming effort of getting there. And then what happens if it is totally covered in clouds & rainy. Also - only 1 day in Lyon isn't worth the effort. (so I agree with Kerouac). Drop the Paul Bocuse thing if you do go there - it was quite disappointing for us. Also eliminate most of your day trips outside of Nice. You really won't have time to do more than one. Skip Monaco unless you like places with lots of concrete, congestion, noise & glltz I've never been a big fan of Cannes. I much prefer Antibes and Menton. Reach Menton by bus & Antibes by train.

Aigues Mortes & the flimangos would rank about 15th on my list of places to visit around Avignon. Spend time in the Luberon Valley visiting Gordes, Roussillon, Menerbes, Bonnieux, Lavender fields there etc (you mentioned small villages - but I see no small villages in your wish list - except Eze which is super touristy).

My wife & I have vacationed for 43 weeks along the Cote d'Azur & Nice. I developed a 35 page itinerary that discusses our favorite villages, farmer's market, sceinc drives, sites, restaurants, etc. I've sent it to oaver 3,000 people on Fodors. If you would lke a copy, e-mail me at [email protected] & I'll attach one to the reply e-mail. Specify that you would like the Provence/Cote itinerary. I have others, including Lyon & the Alps.

Here is what we experienced with the weather when we stayed 1 week in a gite near Chamonix.=center

Mt Blanc area weather

Several times each year, people on Fodors plan short trips to visit the Mt Blanc area, and inquire about the "normal" weather in the region, and whether they will be able to see & enjoy Mt Blanc - or will it be covered in clouds. The responses (guesses, usually) are normally vague. We just returned from a week's stay in a Gite close to Mt Blanc, on a hillside in the village of Domancy - within the Sallanches Basin. Domancy is about a 25 min drive west of Chamonix. We've stayed in 65 gites in different regions in France, and this one was perhaps the best gite we've stayed in so far. Probably the most comfortable and certainly the best views. The Gite had floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides with spectacular views of the Sallanches Basin and a "postcard" view of Mt Blanc - when it wasn't covered in clouds. On Thursday this week (July 21) a stage of the Tour de France goes through Domancy on a time-trial leg of the race. The TdF will be in the region on July 22 & 23 also.

This trip was our fourth visit to the Alps, for a total of 5 1/2 weeks. It's our observation from prior trips that the weather is normally less cloudy in the morning than in the evening.

Here is what we experienced:

Saturday July 9 - we arrived around 4PM and Mt Blanc was visible - with a few clouds covering the face. We checked the weather forecast on the internet, and it was expected to be mostly sunny on Sunday, partly cloudy on Monday - with a thunderstorm in the evening. Tuesday through Thursday were to be mostly cloudy with rain & thunderstorms. We decided it might be best to take some "lifts" in the area on Sunday & Monday - before the rains started.

Sunday July 10. We left our Gite early and took the 8:40 departure on the Tramway to Mont Blanc from the St Gervais station (10 mins from our gite). This is a normal mountain train that goes to the Nid d'Aigle. We had good views of Mt Blanc with just a few clouds. The entire trip (with a 1 hr "look-around" at Nid d'Aigle) took 3 hours. When we returned to our gite around 1:30PM, Mt Blanc was perfectly clear with no clouds at all. We took lots if pictures from the gite. About 4PM we took the Mont d'Arbois cable car from St Gervais up to Mt Arbois. Mt Blanc was completely covered in clouds as were most of the high peaks around the Sallanches basin. The temperatures were in the low 90s F in Domancy today. We dined outside on our deck at the gite - admiring what we could see of Mt Blanc (very little).

Monday July 10. The weather looked pretty good - so we left our Gite at 8:15am and were on the Le Brevent lift in Chamonix at 8:45. The weather was excellent - good visibility, but a few clouds "running by" to make the pictures more dramatic. We had a hot chocolate at the cafe on top, and then lasagne and wine for lunch at 11:30. We spent around 2 1/2 hrs wandering around Le Brevent. By the time we departed, Mt Blanc and the other peaks in the area were almost 100% hidden behind clouds. This night we had dinner in Chamonix and Mt Blanc was mostly hidden in clouds. As we returned home from dinner - it was raining heavily.

Tuesday July 12. Rain all day. We rarely saw Mt Blanc. By 6PM, there were many low clouds and we could not see Mt Blanc at all, nor any of the peaks in the Sallanches basin around us.

Wednesday July 13. Very low clouds & fog. We could not see Mt Blanc, the other peaks, and even St Gervais. Rain started around 3PM, and it was 55 F for a high in Domancy.

Thursday July 14. Extremely foggy with low clouds in the AM - lower than yesterday. You would not even know that you were in the Alps. Very poor visibility. Rain at 1PM. Low fog lifted a little - but we never saw Mt Blanc. High temps in Chamonix today was 44F. Tomorrow's forecast is to be somewhat better.

Friday July 15. Weather looked OK, so we got an early start and drove through Chamonix (temp 41F) to Argentiere and took the Aiguille des Grands Montets lift. It had snowed sometime in the past 2-3 days and the temperature at the top of the lift was minus 8C, and there was 13CM of fresh show. We were cold - but the views were spectacular. Mt Blanc was mostly clear with a few clouds for dramatic effect. We spent around 2 1/2 hrs engaged with this lift - having lunch at the mid-level stop - where it was somewhat warmer. Starting around noon - Mt Blanc was in & out of clouds. When we got back to our gite in the early afternoon - Mt Blanc was entirely hidden in clouds.

Saturday July 16. Mt Blanc weather was perfect - the morning we departed (naturally). The weather forecast for the following week called for perfect sunny weather - and warmer.

In summary, we were there for around 6 1/2 days and had three half-days where we could see & enjoy Mt Blanc and four days which we could not.

Stu Dudley

StuDudley Mar 31st, 2019 07:35 AM

Also, be aware that most non-food shops will be closed in Sunday in Avignon, Antibes, and Menton (I think - on Menton). Many will be closed on Monday morning too - including the Les Halles (better than Bocuse) in Avignon. Some shops in Old Nice & the main shopping street outside of Old Nice too - but there is plenty to keep you busy in Nice.

Here is something about closings in from my Provence/Cote itinerary=left

Something to be aware of when visiting the cities, towns, & villages of Provence

In many towns & villages, shops are closed on Sunday & Monday. Some shops open on Monday afternoon. We never plan to visit a town (for shopping) on a Sunday or Monday unless we know in advance that the stores will be open. Most non-food stores in Aix, Nimes, and Avignon are closed all day Sunday, and Monday morning. While in Aix in late June ’17, I did a “survey” of 27 shops that had opening & closing days & times posted on their storefronts, and were not on the Cours Mirabeau (lots of chain stores there). Of these 27 shops, 7 were open all day Monday, 8 were closed all day Monday, and 11 were open Monday afternoon only. Only 1 shop was open on Sunday. In Avignon, of the 17 shops I surveyed, 7 were closed all day Monday, and 10 were open Monday afternoon only. None were open on Sunday. Shops in very “touristy” towns like St Paul, St Tropez, and Gordes are always open. We were recently in St Remy on a Sunday. My wife visited 11 shops that interested her (she likes housewares – no clothes or souvenirs). Two other shops looked interesting from the outside, but were closed on Sunday. Of these 11 shops, 5 were closed all day on Monday, 2 were only open Monday afternoon (around 2:30), and 4 were open all day Monday. The very touristy shops that are prevalent in almost every tourist destination village in Provence (Olivades, Souleiado, Terre de Provence), are usually open on Sunday & Monday.

Most shops & sites close for lunch – usually from 12:30 to 2:00, or 3:00, or 3:30, or 4:00. If you really want to “shop” a town, do so in the morning as soon as the stores open (usually at 10:00). If you roll in at 2:30, the shops might be closed for another hour. I’ve had numerous people tell me how disappointed they were when they drove to a town to shop, only to find almost all the shops closed – something that doesn’t happen in the US.

When stores are closed on a Sunday/Monday or for lunch, they will often pull down ugly aluminum louvered shutters over their beautiful storefronts – so you can’t even window shop. In some towns, these louvered shutters might be covered with graffiti, and the town will look like a war zone. Also, as you drive through a town around lunch time, it might seem deserted, unfriendly, & very uninviting. They’re actually closed for lunch and all the pretty storefronts will seem like abandoned buildings. These closings make it much harder to pack as much into a day as you might expect. Stores stay open late (around 8:00 or so), but most vacationers usually stop their sightseeing by then and are settling into their hotels or getting ready for dinner.

Stu Dudley

geetika Mar 31st, 2019 08:27 AM

I’d cut out Lyon and Chamonix. The old part of Marseille is interesting, as is the lovely old cathedral, I would definitely recommend a day there at the very least. Antibes too is one of my fav places on the Côte d’Azur, as well as Nice. Monte Carlo’s okay, I liked the botanical gardens very much but the actual town wasn’t much to my liking.

We stayed almost two weeks near Avignon last June and visited the Camargue. It’s a long drive and Stes Maries de la Mer was quite hot, though my niece and her friends enjoyed the town. We drove around trying to spot flamingos but no luck, though we did see quite a few wild horses.

PalenQ Mar 31st, 2019 08:52 AM

Anyway if going by train book your long-distance trains well in advance to get discounted fares -on TGV trains - local trains like along Riviera just buy as you go along. Book at - French Railways site - up to 90 days or so in advance and discounted tickets sell out early sometimes has loads on doing that yourselves online - general train info - BETS-European Rail Experts and

jellybellymelly Mar 31st, 2019 09:23 AM

First, I am very thankful for all these comments in helping us to fine-tune our itinerary.

Just quickly on Marseille, that could have been a misrepresentation, but the bottomline is that given the time that we have, we picked Nice over Marseille, to experience a greater variety of scenery, cities/towns etc.

Noted that most do not highly recommend Aigue Mortes and the flamingos-sighting (which was my priority) is not guaranteed. I will therefore omit this day tour from our itinerary. On small villages, I will be sure to find a lavender day tour which also covers some villages in the Luberon Valley.

Still trying to keep Lyon in - will it help things if I add one more day to Avignon, and do Lyon as a day trip from Avignon? Since it is a 1 hour - one way trip. But we would have to go through Lyon to get to Annecy in any case.

We are actually very keen on Annecy. I note the point that whether Mont-Blanc could be seen is really weather-dependent. And for Chamonix, our aim is to do the Aiguille du Midi cable car ride up to see the Mont Blanc, and the Montenvers Train ride to see the Mer de Glace is optional.

Grateful for further comments on the revised itinerary.
  • Nice (2 nights): old town, castle of nice, st nicholas cathedral, place massena / garibaldi. Trip to Antibes
  • Avignon (2 nights): use Avignon as a base and join a day tour to see Lavender fields and nearby towns in Luberon Valley
  • Lyon (1 night) - intend to roam around the city centre
  • Annecy (3 nights) : depending on the weather, to KIV a day trip to Chamonix? From Google Maps, it is a 2hr one way trip by Ouibus?
  • Paris (3 nights)

StCirq Mar 31st, 2019 09:24 AM

I also would cut out Lyon and Chamonix. Your information about Marseille is outdated by about 20-30 years; it's a wonderful city. Neither Cannes nor Monte Carlo holds any appeal for me, not to say your opinion would be the same. The Camargue, and Aigues-Mortes in particular, is wonderful, but with so little time in Avignon, I'd pass. I've been in the Camargue at least half a dozen times and have never seen a flamingo - there are loads of them in the coastal marshes around Narbonne, though.

StCirq Mar 31st, 2019 09:29 AM

Lyon is not a 1-hour trip from Avignon - it's at least 2 whether you drive or take the train.

jellybellymelly Mar 31st, 2019 09:33 AM

Thanks, another vote of assurance that we are unlikely to see flamingos at the Camargue.

We are not interested in Cannes or any glitzy overpriced day trips from Nice as well, so will omit those.

Note that there is another vote to cut Lyon out. We might just do so. If we do so, where should we allocate it to?

P.S: google maps seems to suggest a TGV 1 h 3 min ride from Avignon to Lyon (one way)

geetika Mar 31st, 2019 09:40 AM

Mid-June isn’t quite yet lavender season, you’ll see the hardier lavindin in the fields around Sault but it’ll probably be rather early for top blooming. We missed it too last year, much to my mother’s disappointment, she was looking forward to purple fields!

DH and I saw huge flocks of flamingos when we first went to the Camargue some 35 years back, never since. Aigues Mortes however is a charming little town, especially in the evenings after the day trippers have left.

IMO Avignon-Lyon should be a couple of hours, even by TGV.

StCirq Mar 31st, 2019 10:04 AM

You're right, there is a TGV that takes just over an hour. I was looking at the average OUI schedules ( Sorry. Actually, if you end up with an extra day, I WOULD go to Lyon and spend more time there - there's a lot to see and do (and eat)!

kerouac Mar 31st, 2019 10:14 AM

Annecy is a good place for seeing the Alps but not Mont Blanc. You can see Mont Blanc from Geneva, generally in the morning. Like most mountains anywhere in the world, the peaks disappear into the haze by noon -- and that assumes that it isn't cloudy. I have not been very lucky with Chamonix -- every time I go there, there are huge clouds everywhere and I only get a peek of the peaks for a few minutes at a time. Last time I went was probably one of the better times.

Chamonix in the summer | Any Port in a Storm

But it's still extremely time consuming to get there without a car. So, here is a report by French Mystique about Annecy:

Two Weeks at the Lac d'Annecy | Any Port in a Storm

StuDudley Mar 31st, 2019 10:56 AM

In mid June, you are likely to see some lavendin in the Luberon Valley near Bonnieux, and huge fields in the Valensole plateau. Likely the lavender outside for Senanque Abbey & around Sault will not be blooming - unless they get a very hot early summer.

In Lyon, it is a long walk from the Part Dieu train station to Old Lyon. Best to take a cab to save time and your legs. Visit the Traboules.

Old Annecy is smaller than you may think it is.

Stu Dudley

gooster Mar 31st, 2019 11:32 AM

Just to add to the extensive responses above...

Mid to late June can be dicey both for weather and snow on trails near Chamonix. It can also be fantastic. (I used to live and work near Lake Geneva, and now have a place in Nice.) I don't know the long term forecast but snow was heavy and early this year but there is a warm start to spring.. But time wise, follow the advice above and take your two days and add them back to locations where you are short. The trams and cablecars in Chamonix are terrific, in the right weather but the town is not a great place to be trapped without a car (although there is transport into Geneve).

Where and what to add may depend on your interests. What may appeal to some may not appeal to others. There are hikes and walks around the Cote d'Azur and in western Provence that may appeal, for example.

neckervd Apr 1st, 2019 06:50 AM

Go to Lyon if you have not yet seen enough Roman stuff around Avignon (theatre of Orange, Pont-du-Gard, theatre of Arles, Maison Carrée at Nimes, Glanum/Les Antiques, etc.) or if you are interested in the Centre d'Histoire et de la Deportation, in textile production and museums or just in the old city (Traboules).
Both, Annecy and Chamonix are not along the direct Avignon - Paris itinerary.
If you want to visit Chamonix without loosing a whole day by transport, I suggest to leave Avignon at 15.51 and to change at Lyon to the St. Gervais bound train arriving at St. Gervais at 20.56. Sleep at St. Gervais (only 1/2 hr by bus from Chamonix).
St. Gervais - Paris by train(4 3/4 hrs).

jellybellymelly Apr 1st, 2019 09:17 AM

Many thanks, all. We are still really keen on Annecy - it seems to be a good substitute to Chamonix for the French Alps - able to paraglide, and there's scenery of a lake / mountain up Semnoz which one could see Mont Blanc on a good day (so i've read). With our 3 nights there, I could do a day trip to Chamonix on one of the days if the weather turns out to be good.

Will definitely read up more on Lyon, but there's a chance that we might just cut that out and do 3 nights at Avignon. Also understand that lavender fields might not be at full bloom, but am quite a fan so it's a chance i'll take since I'll be in that area.
  • Nice (2 nights): old town, castle of nice, st nicholas cathedral, place massena / garibaldi. Trip to Antibes
  • Avignon (2 nights): join a day tour to see Lavender fields and nearby towns in Luberon Valley
  • Lyon (1 night) - intend to roam around the city centre
  • Annecy (3 nights)
  • Paris (3 nights)

neckervd Apr 1st, 2019 09:21 AM

Annecy is NOT in the Alps, but it's a nice small city.

StCirq Apr 1st, 2019 10:24 AM

Check out the Lyon Tourist Office website. I they are still offering the bus tour of the amazing city murals, take it.

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