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Quick visit to French Riviera, Provence, and Paris (with photos)

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Jun 14th, 2018, 02:33 PM
  #1
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Quick visit to French Riviera, Provence, and Paris (with photos)

In May 2017, I spent 16 nights in Slovenia, northern Italy, and France. I took the train all the way from Venice through Italy and France up to Paris with stops along the way. I've already posted trip reports for the Slovenia and Italy portions:

Italian Riviera: Trip Report Three nights in the Italian Riviera: hiking in Camogli with day trips - Fodor's Travel Talk Forums
Slovenia, Trieste, Venice: Trip Report Return to Slovenia and Venice plus Trieste - Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

This tardy report covers the (brief!) France portion: French Riviera, Provence, and Paris, which was my departure airport to fly home to the US at the end.

If you seek a trip report raving about the delights of the Riviera and Provence, offering restaurant and museum tips, this probably isn't the report you are looking for! I travel solo, mostly to take pictures and explore towns; I visit few museums, and I'm not a foodie! In addition, I didn't really fall in love with this part of France, though I've always loved Paris. I urge you to take a look at the pictures, though – I spent a lot more time on them than you would imagine.

FYI, one odd inspiration to visit the South of France (beyond hearing about it for years from other travelers) was a 1998 action film called “Ronin” starring Robert de Niro and Jean Reno and directed by John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate”). This is an entertaining and satisfying (if not particularly deep) action film, shot almost entirely in the places I wound up visiting. I've seen the film numerous times. Frankenheimer loved France and was familiar with all of these places. There is some great photography in the film (car chases especially), and if you love France, you might enjoy seeing the photography, though the film is fairly violent in parts.
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Jun 14th, 2018, 02:35 PM
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Nice (3 nights)

Photos: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,LM...ce-france.html

I stayed at the Hotel Du Midi close to the train station. The station is a good 15-20 minute walk from the beach and the old town – which is where most people would want to stay if they don't need the proximity to the train - but I was planning day trips by train to various Riviera towns, so staying near the station made some sense (and was a little cheaper than staying closer to the old town). There is a tram that takes you most of the way between the train station area and the old town and beach. The area around the station is nothing special but not dangerous or anything. Nice is a vacation town, and there are other tourists all over the place.

I honestly didn't expect to like Nice much, one reason it took me so long to visit after numerous trips to Europe, but I was passing through and thought I'd give it a chance. (Being on the ocean is a plus for me, though, as I love the sea.) Indeed, I didn't fall in love with Nice, but I liked it more than expected. It is laid back and feels a bit “conventional” but also has a pleasant, relaxed feel to it, and the old town has some charm and character. It's a relaxing, easy town to enjoy. Although I'm not dying to return, I can easily imagine stopping here again someday as a way point to or from somewhere else – I can think of worse places to be.

In Nice, mostly I wandered around the beach and old town areas – and took pictures. Two of the days were largely occupied by day trips.

Though I'm not a “museum person,” I still saw the small Chagall museum. It was OK – not the highlight of my trip or anything, but it is well regarded by art buffs, and I can see why.
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Jun 14th, 2018, 02:36 PM
  #3
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French Riviera day trips: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monaco, Antibes, and Cannes

French Riviera Town Pics: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,LM...h-riviera.html

One day I visited Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco, both in the same direction, taking the scenic #100 bus. I loved the feel of Villefranche-sur-Mer. Monaco, not so much. I found it fairly charmless for some reason and couldn't wait to leave (I was not dressed for the casino anyway so didn't bother to go down). I took train (faster, not scenic) back from Monaco to Nice.

Another day, I headed in the opposite direction, first to Cannes and then, on the way back, stopping in Antibes. I was well aware that the Cannes film festival was in full swing in and went anyway, just to look for celebrities and enjoy the excitement, but I didn't see any famous people, unfortunately, nor did I try to get into any screenings. Antibes is a nice town (lots of yachts), and I enjoyed a quick stop at the Picasso museum there (he spent some time there).

Overall, I didn't fall in love the French Riviera – I much prefer the Italian Riviera, which seems a bit more modest, not so upscale. Villefranche-sur-Mer and Antibes are both nice towns, and Nice was nicer than expected. (How can you be “nicer than Nice?” LOL.) Cannes looks like a nice town too – if I could guess what it's like without the craziness of the film festival.
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Jun 14th, 2018, 02:38 PM
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Provence: Arles (2 nights)

Arles photos: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,LM...es-france.html
Avignon photos: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,LM...on-france.html
Pont du Gard photos: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,LM...,0-france.html

(Wow, spent a whole two nights in Provence, you say?)

Provence is well known and highly regarded by many travelers to France. For some reason, I didn't care for it much. Nothing wrong with it – I just didn't warm up to it much. It's very true that I spent only two nights and visited two (larger) towns, and many people claim the real charm in Provence is in the smaller towns (best visited if you have your own wheels). But sometimes when I visit a region I'm immediately enticed by the feel of the place and can't wait to see more. I didn't feel this kind of draw in Provence. I know many people do.

Part of my problem was that, without a car, I chose to base myself in the town of Arles, which, for some reason, I had expected to be a charming, vibrant town. Instead, it was kind of dirty and like a ghost town at night – not my favorite kind of place. (I was in town on a Sunday and Monday night, though, which I'm told might be the slowest of the week.) It's all about expectations, right? The river area is kind of run down; you can still see old remains of one of the bridges bombed during the war, never repaired. Mind you, there are some really interesting Roman ruins, but I'd seen similar ruins in Italy. I wasn't really that excited about the Van Gough connection; I did stop at some of the Van Gough spots – trying to navigate around the Chinese tour groups who all seemed to want a selfie in front of the scene of some famous Van Gogh painting.

Besides Arles, I also visited Avignon and the Pont du Gard, both in one day. I had also hoped to squeeze in a quick visit to the town of Uzès (near Pont du Gard), but that didn't quite work out.

To visit the Pont du Gard by public transportation, the easiest way is to take a bus from Avignon. There are direct trains between Arles and Avignon. So I took an early train from Arles to Avignon and immediately caught a bus to the Pont. (In Avignon, the bus station is adjacent to the smaller Centre station in town.) Uzès is on the same bus line not much further on from the aqueduct, but the bus schedule in May was a bit limited. I wound up spending more time than expected at the Pont du Gard so decided to head back to Avignon afterward instead of venturing up to Uzès.

The Pont du Gard, an old Roman aqueduct that is still standing, turned out to be the highlight of Provence for me. It's truly amazing. (It may help that I happen to love bridges in general.) In May, the bus drops you about half a mile from the parking lot – still a fairly easy walk in. (In summer, I think it drops you right in the parking lot.) There's a great little museum at the entrance, explaining the history of the aqueduct and the Roman occupation of the region. There was also an English-language tour through the top of the aqueduct (the only way you can walk through). All of this took more time than expected – it's more than just walking up to the aqueduct and admiring it, then leaving.

People were even floating down the river or taking kayaks under the aqueduct, which could have been fun. Others had picnic lunches. You could really make a fun, leisurely day out here.

My biggest disappointment with the Pont du Gard was that the sun wasn't really out, and I wasn't happy with the light for my pictures. Oh, well – at least it wasn't raining!

After the Pont du Gard, I took the next bus back to Avignon and spend the rest of the day there. I walked around the outside of the Palace of the Popes (didn't go inside), out to the old Pont d'Avignon (half standing), and across the river to view the town from there. Even though Avignon was more touristy and obviously much newer than old Roman Arles, I liked the feel of Avignon much better and regretted not basing there instead of in Arles (which is still worth at least a day trip, mind you, just not somewhere I enjoyed at night).

At this point, let me admit that I had originally planned a third night in Provence, probably in Avignon. But, because I hadn't really warmed up to Provence, I made a split decision to dump my last night in Avignon and head to Paris a night early instead. Had I planned things better at the outside, three nights could have worked better for me: I should have spent the first two nights (maybe all three) in Avignon and day tripped to Arles. I could have seen the Pont du Gard and probably Uzès in the same day. Maybe I could have even fit in a side trip to Nimes or another town. In any event, by the time I had seen the Pont du Gard, it just seemed easier to see Avignon that afternoon and move on. I readily admit that this was poor trip planning on my part.
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Jun 14th, 2018, 02:40 PM
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Paris (3 nights)

Paris photos: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,LM...is-france.html
Jardin du Luxembourg photos: http://www.portlandbridges.com/00,LM...is-france.html

I took a TGV train from Arles to Paris (booked near the last minute so not cheap) and wound up with three nights in Paris instead of two as originally planned, as described above. I'd been to Paris a few times before – it was my “first love in Europe” back from my first trip to Europe in 2000, but I hadn't been back since 2013 (which was a rainy trip that left a bad taste in my mouth).

There was really nothing new I wanted to see in Paris by this point, just go back to favorite spots. Two nights would have been enough; three nights let me enjoy myself at a leisurely pace.

Instead of three nights in one hotel in Paris, I wound up with three one-night stays! Yuck, why would you do that??? Well, here's why: I had a free Hyatt hotel award night to use (expiring) and had booked that for the final night near the airport before my flight home the final morning. I originally had just one other night, so I had a place near the Notre-Dame (in the 5th arrondissement) picked out, at a good price. When I added an extra night to Paris, this same hotel was really expensive for the additional night, so I found another hotel in the 5th nearby. Honestly, it was less of a hassle for me than it probably sounds.

I wound up staying in these three hotels, in order:

Hôtel Cujas Panthéon (in the 5th, really close to the Jardin du Luxembourg)
Europe Saint Severin-Paris Notre Dame (also in the 5th, close to the Notre-Dame)
Hyatt Regency Paris - Charles de Gaulle (airport)

I booked both of the first two hotels near the last minute on the hotels' own websites for really good prices – each 80 Euros (I guess they weren't heavily booked those nights). I would stay at both again, especially for the price I paid. I'd say both were in good locations but the Saint Severin was in an especially great spot – in the touristy 5th (I'd always wanted to stay in the 5th or 6th arrondissement), easy walking distance to many spots and close to RER B to the airport the last day. Mixed reviews of Cujas Panthéon made me nervous, but the hotel was quite nice, and I enjoyed the proximity to the lovely Jardin du Luxembourg, perhaps my favorite spot in Paris; I managed to visit the beautiful garden several times while in Paris and really got my fill of the place.

Paris was HOT at the end of May 2017! I'm glad all my hotels had air conditioning! I visited the Eiffel Tower a few times, both during the day and at night (yeah, claiming to love the Eiffel Tower may make me look like an uncultured rube, but I LOVE it!), the Arc de Triomphe, Parc Monceau, Sacre Cour and Montmartre, and of course the Jardin du Luxembourg. I walked around the 17th arrondissement (on my way to Park Monceau) to reminisce about my first trip to Paris in 2000 and walk past the original hotel I stayed at then, when I knew next to nothing about Paris and lucked into a great hotel deal there. I still love the 17th – it's much less touristy than other parts of Paris and has a prosperous but local feel to it. Someday maybe I'll stay there again! The old hotel I originally stayed at in 2000, then a Quality Inn, has become quite an expensive boutique hotel since then.

I also walked along the Seine in the morning and evening, taking pictures all along, getting a few good shots of the numerous unique bridges across it. I must say, the Saint Severin hotel was in a great spot for that.

I've always enjoyed riding Paris's Metro trains, but for some reason there was a lot of construction on the Metro and the RER while I was in town, and I kept having mishaps with trains stopping at stations and everyone having to get off...or trains NOT stopping at expected stops and forcing me to get off elsewhere. I used Google Maps on my phone to guide me to public transportation in Paris, and of course it had no knowledge of any of these issues. I'm told other apps may have better information, which might have saved me some trouble!

My worst RER experience though was at the end of my trip, when taking the train to CDG the final evening (to the airport hotel). I left my bags for the day at the Saint Severin, then in the evening dragged my bags the short distance from the hotel to the Saint-Michel RER station to pick up the RER B to the airport...and waited and waited for a train. What was going on? Finally the train we had been waiting on departed but got stuck before Gare du Nord for quite a while – some emergency, we were told, but not much information was given (none in English – I had to ask locals what they announcements were telling us, which was “not much.”) Although I wasn't flying out until the next morning, I wanted to get to my airport hotel so I could get some sleep before the long travel day the next day.

Finally our RER train left Nord and the train traveled a few more stops...and stopped AGAIN, this time for about a half hour. I was getting frustrated – no one seemed to have any information about the delay, and I was tired and hoping to get to bed. I had never used Uber before but was in process of installing it on my phone when the RER train FINALLY started to move again! By the time we got to the airport, I had to wait a long time for the next hotel shuttle, because by this late in the evening (past 11pm), they were running on a limited schedule. I finally got to the hotel where I spent barely a third of a day total before checking out for my flight the next morning. The Hyatt was convenient and nice enough for what it was.

When I got on the hotel shuttle in morning back to the airport, I checked my phone – and realized my Delta flight to Seattle (with a connection to Portland) was delayed by four hours! Great. Fortunately, when I got to the airport, I was able to change my flight with a Delta agent there and fly through Salt Lake City instead, getting home to Portland only about an hour later than originally scheduled.

I had arrived at CDG about three hours before my original flight's departure, but I encountered no delays or real lines – it took me an hour total to get from the shuttle to my gate, and that included not just security and passport control but the time to change my flight and catch a little train out to my gate! Delays at CDG seem to depend on how busy the airport is when you arrive; a woman sitting next to me on the flight to Salt Lake City arrived an hour after I did and said there were long lines by the time she got there and barely made her flight! I guess I arrived at just the right time, right before the airport got busy.

In summary, I'm glad I finally got to see the South of France, but my brief visits to Nice and to Arles didn't exactly endear me to this art, and I am not dying to go back soon. We all have different likes and tastes – and mine seem to go against the popular grain. So be it.

It's always great to go back to Paris every once in a while – but I doubt I'll be back for a couple of years, probably as a stop at the end of a future trip.
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Jun 14th, 2018, 03:11 PM
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Nice photos, and good report.

I really think it's hard to enjoy Provence without a car. Even with one on our trip in 2011, I preferred the Dordogne to Provence, but I didn't see all of Provence in my short time there (based in St. Remy). I would like to have spent more time in the Luberon hill towns. We decided to pass on Arles and Avignon, given our limited time, which I think was the right decision.
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Jun 14th, 2018, 04:34 PM
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Wow - your photographs are fantastic!
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Jun 14th, 2018, 09:28 PM
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In September, we were in Arles, and I would have to agree with your perception of the town. Avignon gets a bit of a bad rap here because it's seemingly difficult to get in and out of, but I would say we enjoyed Avignon more than Arles. Lots of dog poop everywhere in Arles, never a good first impression. We were also there Sunday and Monday, though.

After Arles we went to stay in the area around Vaison la Romaine, which is very picturesque but requires a car to really enjoy the small towns and countryside.

Thanks for the report, and the photos, always enjoy your point of view.
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Jun 15th, 2018, 08:32 AM
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Thanks, folks!

twk, I'm sure I would have enjoyed Provence more with a car. But would I have LOVED it? If not, it didn't seem worth the extra expense (or time to explore everything) - I looked into renting a car and it was more expense than elsewhere I've been in Europe. (Probably spoiled by cheap car rental prices in Slovenia and Croatia.) I was hoping to get a taste for the area while passing through, and if I really loved what I saw, I could plan a trip back in the future and see more, probably with a car. But I don't think that's in my future.
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Jun 15th, 2018, 01:09 PM
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As always, wonderful shots, Andrew. Thanks for sharing them. DH and I took the trains most of the time on our trips but walked (or taxied as age caught up) to the old centers which, as you know, weren't always near the gares.

About the big frying pan in your Camogli shot--were you there when the festival was on? If I missed that info, it's because I looked at photos more closely than words....
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Jun 15th, 2018, 02:05 PM
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Thank you Andrew. Wonderful pictures and I enjoyed your impressions.
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Jun 15th, 2018, 03:57 PM
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Great pictures as always. We just got back from a similar trip: Paris, Toulouse, Arles, Avignon, Nice and Marseille. We have some virtually identical shots as yours—particularly from Villefranche-sur-Mer. I liked Arles—the only negative was the mosquitoes—I got eaten alive.
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Jun 15th, 2018, 05:09 PM
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Thanks again, everyone!
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Jun 15th, 2018, 05:10 PM
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Originally Posted by TDudette View Post
About the big frying pan in your Camogli shot--were you there when the festival was on? If I missed that info, it's because I looked at photos more closely than words....
No, I wasn't there during the festival. That frying pan is always on display the rest of the year, I guess. I'll bet it's crazy during the festival.
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Jun 15th, 2018, 09:18 PM
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Andrew, what gorgeous photos!

I enjoyed reading your report very much; we will have our first visit to south of France in early October. We'll be in Aix 3 nights and although we mostly use trains, may get a car for a day or so to see the smaller towns. We then have 2 nights in Nice, of which I have a vague impression of fading glory (based on photos, images, travel stories). Thanks for your insights.
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Jun 15th, 2018, 10:15 PM
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Hi Andrew!!

Ah, I love to see your trip reports... and your photos! Stunning and lovely and impressive, as always. What a treat for us all!!

I spent about 5 nights in Arles without a car some years ago, and I quite liked it!! But then again, I love Roman ruins and antiquities, and I spent a few days just immersing myself in that. I also was on the hunt for Provençal fabrics, so I enjoyed several hours scouring the small, winding streets for interesting shops. Unfortunately, those shops all sold basically the same stuff.

Funnily, the very same movie -- Ronin -- prompted my visit there. The scenes in the movie were stunning, and I found the town very similar when I went. I really liked those ancient winding streets, the sun glaring off the ruins.

I took one tour while I was there, a small-group tour in a van with four other people. We visited the towns of Gordes, Roussillon, & Les Baux.

Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your journey with us!!

((Yikes on the Paris hotels!!))

s
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Jun 16th, 2018, 08:41 AM
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Thanks, swandav2000! Glad to hear I wasn't the only one who appreciates "Ronin." As I said, I didn't dislike Arles itself, just the fact that (for me) it was like a ghost town at night.
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Jun 16th, 2018, 10:14 PM
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Yes, that's a difference between us... I have difficulty being interested in going out after dark, but then again I've been getting up at 05.30 for most of my very long adult life, lol.

But... you did say it was "kind of dirty." I found that, too, but I find that with most places I visit in France, and I always thought I felt that way because I've lived in sweet, swept Germany for so long. So I take that "kind of dirty" aspect that I find of France as a kind of earthiness, a kind of flavor, a kind of palpable embracing of and celebration of life. So then I kind of stop noticing it.

Anyway -- thanks for the great photos!

s
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