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Provence to Alps d'Azur

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HI Everyone
We are in the midst of our trip of 5 days Provence and are thoroughly enjoying our stay at St Remy. We have a hire car and need to make our way to a small village (le Bar sur Loup, another 5 days in a Gite) about 90 mins north west of Nice, taking an overnight stay somewhere. I'm thinking of staying east of Aix as we will visit there to see the Cezanne art gallery, and the Cezanne studio. Any suggestions for an overnight stay in a small hotel further east appreciated. I am coeliac so travel with my own breakfast and usually lunch, but can be persuaded...

The other query I have is in relation to day trips around Le Bar sur loup; where we have 5 days. We will visit the Côte d'Azur one day but will be free the rest of the time. Our interests vary from art and architecture to small walks and lunches. Any suggestions greatly appreciated.

With thanks

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    This is from my 35 page Cote d'Azur & Provence itinerary. If you would like the entire itinerary, e-mail me at [email protected] & I'll attach one to the reply e-mail.

    Villages overlooking the Var River ½ day
    This route is difficult to follow if you are using the #527 map. Try to get the #115 map to make things easier for yourself.

    Some of the villages on this route are described in the Green guide under Vence – Excursions.

    The N202 follows the Var River inland from Nice. Several years ago the N202 was re-named the D6202 - but they are the same road and sometimes that's confusing.

    If you are basing in St Paul, head north & go to Vence. When you get to the intersection where the “old” village is to the right & Tourrettes/Grasse to the left, go straight to St Jeannet (follow the signs). It’s marked as exit # 3 on the Michelin green & red guides. There is a grocery store on your right just after you go straight through the intersection. Follow this route to St Jeannet. This is a pretty drive. St Jeannet is a perched village, and you will have to turn left to get up to the village. There is a restaurant, hotel, and grocery at the intersection where you turn left. Follow the road uphill – there are a couple of switchbacks. When you get to St Jeannet, park your car in the large lot & walk into town & explore. There are some good vistas. Just as you enter the older section of town (the first 100 yds from the parking lot aren’t attractive) there is a simple restaurant with outdoor tables & nice views – a good lunch location.

    All of the following villages are not "dressed up" for the tourists - just functional medieval hilltop villages which have changed little over the centuries. If you do not have a half-day to devote to exploring all of these villages on foot, my wife & I have put "ratings" on each village - the higher the number, the more we liked the village.

    Return down the hill from St Jeannet, & take the D2 to Gattieres 5. Park in the large lot just north of the main entrance into the village - on the east side of the road. Walk into town, passing the Post Office and Mairie on an asphalt (in '14) road which soon becomes cobblestones. Find the fountain in a pleasant square & wander about 20 minutes in the village.

    Take the D2209 to Carros Village 7 – not the horrible modern town of Carros, unless you want to pick up a McDonalds hamburger (at the other end of Carros before you go over the Var bridge). When you get to Carros Village, access & parking is on the "other" side of the village from the main access road. Follow the sign just past the village on the D1. There is a great view of the Alps on a clear day. We saw snow in early June.

    Continue on the D2209 to le Broc 4 & explore this village.

    Continue north on the D2209. Just before the D2209 reaches the Var River & connects with the N202, go straight on the D17 toward Gilette & Bonson. Take the loop to Bonson 6 (D27). Make sure you walk up to the clock tower - great views. Drive through Bonson & continue on for a couple of kilometers until you reach the small road that goes to Gilette 8 (D227) & take it to Gilette, where it merges with the D17. This was our favorite village in the area. There are a few cafes in town. Take the D17 back to where you started the loop at the Var river/N202/D6202 intersection & then take the N202/D6202 north. To actually go "north", you'll have to drive over the bridge on the Var River, and turn right (south) and then drive a short distance to a roundabout where you can then head north on the N202/D6202

    Go north on the N202/D6202. You will see the town of Bonson perched high up on your left. Notice on your map that there is a road on the east (N202) and on the west side of the Var River. Continue north to where the two roads intersect, and then go back south on the road on the west side of the Var.

    Stay on the N202/D6202 south. As you follow the Var south, look to your right & see the villages of Carros Village & Gattieres that you visited. The best way back to St Paul is to follow the N202 & get on the A8. Get off the A8 near Cagnes, at the exit #48 that says either St Paul or Vence and follow the signs back to St Paul.

    I’ve driven through Cagnes dozens & dozens of times & I still get lost. If you want to visit the Haute de Cagnes*, take the D336 to Vence, and then when it joins up with the D36, head south to Haute Cagnes. Look for a parking garage on your left. It’s an “automated” garage where you park your car on a ramp & a door opens & then your car is sucked inside (without you) & parked on some kind of revolving track. After your car is parked, walk up the stairs & find the old section of Cagnes. There are some decent restaurants in Cagnes. We’ve eaten at Josy-Jo* (a Michelin 1 star) but didn’t like it. Cagnard seems too “upscale” for us, so we never tried it. We have dined at Restaurant les Peintres several times & have enjoyed it – the view is nice. This restaurant is on Montee de la Bourgade, where Haut Cagnes descends into Cagnes. There are several other “good looking” restaurants on this street. At the Place du Chateau there are several “pizza” restaurants, & it’s a good place to sit outside.

    Return to St Paul

    Deeper into the Nice Hinterland allow a full day
    There are dozens of cute perched villages in the area behind Nice. This gets you up into the “serious” Alps and driving to these villages is the best part - fantastic gorges and breathtaking views galore. Sometimes the perched villages offer a more interesting eyeful from the “outside” rather than from the “inside” maze of passages & steps.

    Get on the N202/D6202 (same road - re-named several years ago) following the signs to Digne . If you’re departing from the St Paul area, follow the route described in the Villages overlooking the Var section of this itinerary.

    When you reach the D2565, turn right and head up through the Gorge de Vesubuie** toward Lantosque. This entire drive is beautiful – you will want to get out of the car several times to “take in” the scenery. Explore Lantosque a bit. If my memory is correct, the best view of this town is from the north, a few kilometers past the village. Continue on the D2565 to St Martin-Vesubie.

    Explore St Martin-Vesubie* This is a very attractive town. It’s a good spot for lunch and there are several shops for browsing. It has a very interesting river that runs down the middle of the main street in town.

    You might notice that your green guide says that le Boreon is a ** attraction. It’s actually a starting point for many hikes into the higher mountains in this area and not really a “place” to visit.

    Re-trace your route back the way you came, toward Lantosque. Just before Lantosque, where the D70 hits the D2565 (that you are on) turn left on the D70 & drive to la Bollene-Vesubie. I have this town circled on my map, but I don’t recall if it’s a “get out & explore” town.

    Continue on the D70 & then turn right (south) on the D2566. Pass Peira-Cava (don’t stop). Continue on to where the D21 intersects with the D2566 & take the D21 east.

    If you don’t know the meaning of the French word “Lacets”, you will soon find out. There are 16 of them on this road. Take the D21 to Luceram.

    Explore Luceram*. This is one of our favorite towns in the area. Wander around as much as possible. This village is in a remarkable setting. If you think that you are in a deserted village, notice the number of satellite dishes perched on buildings. Be sure to walk up to the church for expansive views

    When you finish exploring Luceram, take the D2566 which heads west of the village – not the D2566 heading south. You may pass a parking lot close to town with an OK view of Luceram - but this isn't the view. Continue past this lot and also past the sign indicating that you are leaving Luceram. Drive on some switchbacks for about another 1/2 K. The town will disappear and then appear again. On the 115 map there is a "view" icon to designate the location of the view. After you experience this great view of Luceram, turn the car around & return to Luceram and then head south on the D2566 to L’Escarene.

    Explore L’Escarene then take the D2204 northeast toward Sospel.

    Explore Sospel*. This is another very cute town. There’s a little more commerce here ( good, not ugly commerce). The last time we were here, they were filming a movie & everyone was dressed in Medieval clothes. Oddly, they didn’t look out of place (which gave us a chuckle). Notice the buildings on the riverfront. Take time to explore this town thoroughly.

    Return to Nice. The best way is to retrace your route through L’Escarene, and then take the D2204 to Nice where you pass under the A8 and then loop to the right to get on the A8 toward Cannes. Get off at exit # 48 – St Paul/Vence.

    Villages we have visited that didn’t appeal to us, are Coaraze and Contes. A village we liked but did not include on this itinerary is Levens.

    Another day

    Further information about the following can be found in the Michelin Green Guide for the French Alps.

    In early July of ’07, we stayed in a Gite just outside of the old town of Entrevaux*, and explored the beautiful canyons, mountains, and small villages in the area quite thoroughly. Entrevaux is only 1 hr from Nice along the Var River. The town of Entrevaux is quite remarkable. Look up Entrevaux in the Michelin Green Guide for the French Alps and you’ll see a picture of the town. However, it’s more dramatic than the picture shows. There is a huge rock spur that sticks up along the northern bank of the Var River. A Citadel sits on top of the spur, with a fortified zig zag wall (built by Vauban) running down to the medieval village below – it’s quite a sight to see. For the best view of Entrevaux and the surrounding area, drive into the large parking lot (looks like a strip mall) that’s opposite the drawbridge entrance to medieval Entrevaux – on the opposite side of the N202. The entrance to the lot is at the extreme west end of the lot. Immediately to your right as you enter, there is a restaurant/café and then a very steep road heading uphill just after the restaurant. Follow this road up & up – admiring the views of Entrevaux as you climb. There are several areas to pull out & take a picture – which you’ll want to do. Keep going till you can’t see Entrevaux anymore and then return to the “strip mall”, park the car, & walk over the drawbridge into the medieval village. There are a few cafes for lunch there, but there are better ones just east in the town of Puget Theniers (village not worth exploring). You can take a scenic train from Nice to Entrevaux, but you can’t explore the canyons without a car.

    Next, drive through the very scenic gorges in the area. We made several drives along these gorges – taking advantage of the sunlight at various times of the day. These gorges are quite spectacular and different from the gorges closer to Nice. The sheer walls are red slate – a very dark red-rust colored rock. From Entrevaux, take the N202 west then head north on the D902 (which changes to the D2202 when it crosses into the Alps Maritimes dept) through the Gorges de Daluis**. The views are better going north than south. As you exit the gorge at Guillaumes, head east on the D28 to Valberg, then on to Beuil. Drive south through the Gorges du Cains*** on the D28. Visit the cute village of Riguald near the south end of the Gorge. When the D28 hits the N202, take the N202 east to Touet sur Var*. You will see Touet perched up above the road, but you’ll have to drive past the town to find the access to the town. Drive up to Touet & explore this picturesque village. Continue east on the N202 & then take the D26 to Villars sur Var. This town has some very interesting passageways. After visiting Villars, continue north on the D26 and visit the cute town of Bairols, and then the town of Clans. These are all miniscule villages, and you’ll be surprised that they are even inhabited today – we enjoyed visiting them. Continue north on the D2205, then east to St Martin-Vesubie* (see “Deeper” above), and then return to Nice.

    Other villages that we’ve visited & enjoyed in the area are Annot*, Roubion*, Meailles* (more picturesque from the outside than inside), and especially Colmars* (old town** plus fort),. Castellane* is a popular town and a center for exploring the Gorge du Verdon. It has good “bones” but is very touristy. The main street through town has some of the tackiest stuff that I’ve seen this side of Mt St Michel. Villages that were mentioned in various guide books, but we didn’t find that interesting were St Sauveur sur Tinee, & Roure.

    After visiting Annot, Meailles, and Colmars, we took a very scenic drive east from Colmars over the Col des Champs* on the D2 which changes to the D78 when it crosses from the dept of Alpes de Haute Provence into the Alpes Maritime dept.

    Stu Dudley

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