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Seeking comments on our itinerary: 5 weeks in southern France

Seeking comments on our itinerary: 5 weeks in southern France

Nov 2nd, 2006, 10:40 AM
  #1  
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Seeking comments on our itinerary: 5 weeks in southern France

Hello to all,
Since I'm already trying to pick out places to stay, I really need to post my working itinerary and get the benefit of your advice. We're looking at about 5 weeks in April and May. A bit of background: we've been to this area--though that was 15 years ago--and have visited Avignon, some of Arles, Pont du Gard, Aigues Mortes, Carcasonne, Albi (only the cathedral), Cahors (only the bridge), Sarlat (not long enough), and Lascaux II. My husband is older (77) than I am (66) but has always insisted on doing all the driving, though my plan is to begin doing more this trip. Neither of us has the slightest innate sense of direction, so we rely on maps and printouts, making driving somewhat stressful. My husband has severe vertigo. I don't, but really don't want to try driving steep narrow roads with sheer drops on one side (my husband doesn't even want to be a passenger on such roads--I'd happily be a passenger, and he'd probably come along, but not happily.) So in some cases we'll use canned excursions or maybe hire a driver, but some things we'll skip; please warn me if I've included drives that will cause us problems. Here's the plan:
Fly to Nice, arriving Thurs 12 April. Stay 5 nights, taking minivan tours to surrounding areas.
Tues 17 April, train to Arles. Stay 4 nights, taking side trips (public transportation) to Stes-Marie-de-la-Mer and Nimes.
Sat 21 April - pick up a car in Arles, drive to Gigondas or Vaison la Romaine. Stay 4 nights, exploring Orange, the Dentelles, and the Luberon (I have some worries about the Luberon and need a not-too-fraught route--or maybe look at hiring a minivan).
Wed 25 April - drive to Pezenas and spend 3 nights, to include a day trip to Montpellier and a drive to St- Guilhem-le-Desert, Grotte de Clamouse, and Grotte de Demoiselles.
Sat 28 April - Collioure for 4 nights. Day trip to Perpignan, visit some Cathar castles (I know I have to pick carefully).
Wed 2 May - Drive to Albi for 4 nights. Day trip to Toulouse and a drive around some of the Bastides.
Sun 6 May - drive to Figeac for 2 nights, day trip to Conques (I have some worries about this. Maybe I should skip Conques?)
Tues 8 May - drive to Chateau de Mercues near Cahors (if I can get reservations), spend 2 nights there, visit Pech Merle and St-Cirq-Lapopie.
Thurs 10 May - drive to La Roque-Gageac for 5 nights, drive around Dordogne Valley, day trip to Sarlat, visit Font-de-Gaume, maybe Abri de Cap Blanc, visit Grotte de Rouffignac and the museum at Les Eyzies.
Tues 15 May - drive to St-Emilion, spend two nights exploring city and some wineries.
Thurs 17 May - drive to Bordeaux, return car, spend 4 days exploring city and wineries.
Mon 18 May - fly home (Washington DC).
I'm sorry the posting is so long, but I'm really interested in any advice. Thanks in advance (and thanks for all the help I've gotten from your previous postings and Stu's notes!)
Carolyn
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Nov 2nd, 2006, 11:16 AM
  #2  
MaureenB
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My daughter and I were in Nice this past May and really enjoyed it. It's very beautiful to walk along the promenade in the evening, with the city lit up on the hillside. And old Nice is great for strolling, shopping, dining.

You can easily take a city bus to see the Villa and Jardins Effrussi de Rothschild mansion on the hill, and the Greek estate, then walk down to St. Jean Cap Ferrat, and bus back into town. It's about 1.30 EUR each direction.

I also recommend taking the train to Antibes. It's about 30 minutes by train, which lets you out close to the marina where there are some beautiful yachts. From there you can easily walk into the charming little town, or up and along the sea wall. It's very pretty there.

You can find my trip report of Nice by clicking on my screen name above. I list restaurants we liked, and info. about the Hotel le Grimaldi which we would recommend. Have fun!
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Nov 2nd, 2006, 12:13 PM
  #3  
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Thanks, Maureen. I checked the Hotel Grimaldi and sent them a request for a reservation!
carolynk is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 05:16 PM
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Carolynk, I hope you get some answers to this, as I am interested in the same thing - avoiding narrow, steep roads with drop-offs! I'm a few years older than you, and have taken some solo driving trips in the past few years. Doing the driving and navigating both can be scary. However, I've managed OK. I was concerned about the Lot Valley, but that was fine, (although I didn't go to Conques). All around the Dordogne was fine, too. I had a few scary moments driving around Provence, but I'm not at all used to hilly terrain, being from Florida, nor to manual cars (at least not in the past 40 years), so I had to adjust to that.

Those places you mention in the Lot and Dordogne won't be particularly difficult driving. The Luberon towns a little more so. I don't know about the "Grottes" and the Cather castles - I haven't had the nerve try those, but would love to. Hope someone will have some answers for you.
Sue4 is offline  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 05:49 PM
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Do you have my 20 page Provence itinerary, my 35 page Languedoc one, and my 20 page Dordogne itineraries?? If not, e-mail me at [email protected] & I'll send them to you.

Unless you go up into the Luberon mountains, the valley is pretty flat. The drive from Gordes to Senanque Abbey might be a little troublesome, however. The road is only 1 car-width wide with "garages" you can pull into if you encounter another car in the opposite direction.

I would spend more time in the Dordogne and a lot less in St Emilion & Bordeaux.

Try to get the excellent walking map of Figeac. You'll be there on a Sunday & Monday when the tourist office (and most or all shops) will be closed. Perhaps e-mail the tourist office & have them mail you one before you depart. It's an excellent walking route.

I don't remember any difficult drives to/from Conques.

Don't go over the Millau bridge!!!

Stu Dudley
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Nov 2nd, 2006, 07:15 PM
  #6  
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Stu, thanks so much! I do in fact have your three itineraries (thanks again). Since we have driving issues, I wanted to spend a bit less time driving and really didn't know what the terrain you were talking about would be like. (Wiggly lines on a Michelin map could be switchbacks, or just a really wiggly river.) I don't have any feel for how long it takes to cover the distance, either. I'll take another look at how I've allocated our time, though. That might get us into Figeac on a different day (but I was also trying to avoid problems with May holidays--do you think the tourist office in Figeac would be open on May 8th, for example?)
Carolyn
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Nov 2nd, 2006, 07:23 PM
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We loved driving over the Millau bridge, a must as far as I am concerned and to go to Albi, you must visit the Toulous Lautrec museum.
cigalechanta is online now  
Nov 2nd, 2006, 07:36 PM
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Oooh, that sounds nice.
I'd second StuDudley on the Dordogne.

We found the roads around there excellent. If the Michelin map shows a squiggly line, though, you're probably in for some switchbacks.
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Nov 2nd, 2006, 07:48 PM
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If you see the squiggly lines, you know that travel will take much longer. They take up alot of time should you be on a time clock. I think if you both worry about the roads avoid the hill top sites and the squiggly lines as he has vertigo, as it can have an effect IMHO. but there is so much beauty wherever you are high or low, that you won't miss much tht Southern France has to offer.
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 06:32 AM
  #10  
 
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E-mail the tourist office in Figeac.
[email protected]

I bet they could mail you a copy of "the Keys to the City" walking tour. Make sure you ask for an English copy. If not, ask if they will be open on the days you will be there.

Shopping is not that great in Figeac, so you won't miss a lot by being there when the stores are closed. Also, the things I like most about Figeac are not found along the shopping streets.

There are two restaurants listed in my Michelin guide. Both are closed on Sunday, and one is closed on Monday also. One is open for Sunday lunch, however (it's the one in the expensive hotel there).

You could drive through the valley of the Gorge du Tarn without going up on any bluffs above the Gorge.

Stu Dudley
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 10:03 AM
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Stu: I can just overnight in St-Emilion and cut a day from Bordeaux. Would you recommend adding the two days to Roque-Gageac, since there's so much to see in the Dordogne, or adding one there and one to Pezenas to see some of the Gorge du Tarn? (I could free up another day by cutting Stes-Marie-de-la Mer, actually, to add that day to Pezenas.)
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 11:27 AM
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I would add all I can to the Dordogne. Pezenas is nice, but I don't think that area is worth 4 days, considering that you don't want to drive into the Cevennes because of the heights.

You could drive through the Gorge du Tarn to the Lot river, and stay in one of my favorite areas - around Estaing. Lots of pretty villages & scenic areas. It would also give you easy access to Conques & Figeac.

I would cut Bordeaux & St Emilion. I have not visited Stes-Marie-de-la Mer, so I would not want to comment on it specifically, but I have toured the area a little & it's not one of my favorites.

Stu Dudley
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 12:06 PM
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Regarding the Chateau de Mercues. We've never stayed there, but we walked through the hotel once to "check it out" & we've also driven past it on a few occasions. As I remember, it sits high on a bluff. I don't know if your husband would have a problem staying there with his vertigo. Perhaps launch another post & see if anyone could shed some light. I would not rely on the hotel to give you advice.

St Cirq Lapopie might be a problem also, but I think your husband could stay away from the clif near the castle quite easily.

Stu Dudley
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 12:34 PM
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My husband should be OK on a bluff, provided we don't have to do the narrow- road-with-a-drop thing to get there. He likes views. I was wondering about St-Cirq-Lapopie, but I think climbing is likely to be more of an issue.
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 01:12 PM
  #15  
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Stu--Estaing seemed a bit far from Figeac for a day trip, so I did a search on Conques--thinking maybe staying there would be a better option--and found Ira's description of his stay in Conques with his Lady Wife, who also has serious vertigo problems. Now I remember why I thought Conques would be iffy. Possibly we'd be better off staying in Figeac and substituting a drive along the Lot for the trip to Conques.
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 02:38 PM
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I don't recall anything in Conques that might be difficult for sommeone with vertigo - but I don't have vertigo. Check a few other sources & if I have time, I'll re-read Ira's report - or you post the portion here so I don't have to look it up. When we had dinner with Ira in the Dordogne, I remember him saying that his wife would not go up one of the towers at Castelnau Chateau.

Conques really shouldn't be missed if you are in the area.

Stu Dudley

Stu Dudley
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 03:05 PM
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I highly recommend Vaison la Romaine, the town is an intriguing combination of medieval and Roman. And, the pizzeria near the entrance to the old town is one of the best. Market day in Vaison is also a lot of fun. Gigondas is cute, but much smaller.
We also thoroughly enjoyed St. Emilion. If you are red wine lovers, this is the town for you. In fact, the town offers very little other than wineries and wine stores (and don't miss the ecole su vin with free wine-tasting every afternoon). The nearby vineyards are outstanding, and, unlike Bordeaux, the vineyards here are still small, family-owned operations that are a real joy to visit.
Enjoy!
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 03:09 PM
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I completely agree that Conques is not to be missed if possible. It's a beautiful village (in the process of emptying out to make room for the souvenir stores and tourist accommodations, but still beautiful). The cathedral is a Romanesque masterpiece, and if you can arrange to be there at night (there is a lot of good accommodation and eating possibilities), the cathedral's gallery (second floor) is opened up and the organ is played and with special lighting the capitals and other carvings are just beautiful. You can just wander around to your heart's content.

I can't comment on the driving because I was walking (walked from LePuy to St. Jean Pied de Port), but we did take time to see the sites, and thought the caves at Peche Merle were definitely worth a visit. We spent a night in St. Cirque, but here again there's a beautiful village with large numbers of tourist accommodations and very few residents left.

From Figeac, we walked along the Cele River and there are many beautiful little villages (Espanhac and Marcilhac were my favorites), and my notes say that walking through the Cele valley from Figeac to Cabreret (where Peche Merle is) was a little over 60 km. Which would be an easy drive. Not very touristy at all, but very pretty.

Our route also took us through Estaing, and it's a beautiful town. More of a "real town" like Figeac than a tourist town. I'd recommend a stop there, too.
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Nov 3rd, 2006, 03:19 PM
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ireynolds, please write your trip report because there are alot of walkers, hikers here who would enjoy it.
cigalechanta is online now  
Nov 3rd, 2006, 03:30 PM
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While in the Arles area, I'd switch out Stes-Marie-de-la-Mer for Uzès, which is a lovely little town and not far past Nîmes.
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