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Trip to Cote D'Azur, Provence and perhaps Spain - Need Suggestions Please

Trip to Cote D'Azur, Provence and perhaps Spain - Need Suggestions Please

Jul 7th, 2007, 11:35 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2005
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Trip to Cote D'Azur, Provence and perhaps Spain - Need Suggestions Please

Hello, I am a new Fodorite, excited to join! These forums have been amazingly helpful and I thank all of you who take the time to share your views and suggestions! I figured I could use some suggestions for our trip to the South of France this August.

My husband and I spontaneously decided to head to France for 11 days. We love delving into the culture of the cities we visit, we enjoy wine, good food, walking, walking, walking!, and finding little villages to explore both by foot and car.

If you could please offer comments and suggestions to our itinerary, and answer a few specific questions, that would be great!

One thing I should also mention is that we like to see quite a bit during our travels, and we don't really mind packing up and moving around quite a bit.

Our Itinerary:

Thurs/Friday: Fly LAX to London, take connecting flight and arrive into Nice. Take taxi/bus to Villafranche for a 3 night stay at Hotel Welcome www.welcomehotel.com

During our stay in Villafranche we plan on doing day trips to Les Baux, Eze, Nice, (dinner at Bien Venue), Monte Carlo and more if possible.

Should we take buses to these cities or rent a car? We really enjoy driving through the countries we visit, allowing us to fall upon little hidden towns we didn't expect to find, but we have heard that driving through the French Riviera in the summer can be a complete nightmare.

Monday: Rent a car if we don't have one already, and head to Luberon for 2 nights. Stay at Bastide de Capelongue (Fodor's suggestion). Then head to the hotel, Crillon Le Brave for a one night stay (originally we were going to stay all 3 nights in Provence at this hotel, but I got the feeling that this place is too remote and not ideal for taking day trips).

Has anyone stayed at Crillon Le Brave? It looks beautiful on the website www.crillonlebrave.com
Should we choose just one hotel for our 3 nights in Provence?

What are the "must sees" in Provence?
I noticed that Stu Dudley is an expert on this area - actually even visiting right now. I have requested his 20 page itinerary on another post, but I have not yet received it, so if you have it, please kindly forward to me at [email protected]

The last 4 nights of our trip are open.

Our considerations:

1) Drive to Barcelona, enjoying the drive through Provence and the coast (perhaps stopping in Colliure - as suggested on another Fodor post).

Is this drive too long? Should we take a train instead? Is it possible to return our rental car on the border of France and rent a new one in Spain to avoid excessive rental fees? I am not sure if we are pushing it to do this drive, we just really love driving and seeing the towns along the way.

We have heard wonderful things about Barcelona, and thought that after time at the beach and the country, we'd enjoy some city time, which we also love.

2) Balearic Islands - I actually don't know much about this area, and have not done much research into it yet, but they look amazing.

3) Remain in Provence - Perhaps we are trying to do too much with going to Spain on this trip.

Look forward to hearing your thoughts! Thanks for reading!

caroline10 is offline  
Jul 7th, 2007, 01:17 PM
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IMO you would have a much nicer trip
without rushing to Spain.
3 nights in VF is 2 days. If you rent a car you may be able to visit a few place, but as you mentioned, the traffic is huge so taking a train to Nice and Monte Carlo would be better than bus.
Luberon is a drive from Nice ( again in summer traffic). There is a lot to see and do both in Provence and Cote .
Jul 7th, 2007, 01:41 PM
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 377
We actually just did this trip in May and one of the BIG highlights of our trip was Crillion le Brave. It's a wonderful place with an amazing restaurant inside the hotel and you can definitely use it as a base for Provence. I highly recommend it.

We also drove from Provence to Barcelona and if you stick to freeways it's about 4/4.5 hours.

We did stop off in the Collioure area and also recommend driving in that area and down the coast. Beautiful seaside villages all around.

We rented a car for our entire drive. I recommend you get a GPS unit and take that route. However that being said, I don't know about how crowded it gets in the summer, however either way you have to face the traffic.

We drove our car from Italy to Spain and the drop off fees were around $600. I will admit as well that we found Barcelona the most challenging driving situation (after Rome and NYC).

We did our leg from Eze to Barcelona in about a week. I would have liked to have spent more time in Provence (we only had two days) and less time in Eze, Monte Carlo/Nice, etc.

Hope that helps.
jodeenyc is offline  
Jul 7th, 2007, 01:43 PM
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Sorry I don't think that last part came out correctly. We thought Barcelona was the hardest driving situation. We had come from Rome on this trip and live in the NYC area.
jodeenyc is offline  
Jul 7th, 2007, 01:47 PM
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A day trip from Villefranche to Les Baux would be quite long; best to visit this fascinating place while you're in the Lubéron. You will have plenty to see in that region just with Nice, let alone Eze and Monte Carlo.

Crillon le Brave is a pleasant place to stay, but it is, as you say, a bit remote for sightseeing.
Underhill is offline  
Jul 7th, 2007, 04:58 PM
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I agree that Les Baux is way too far for a day trip. Consider a day in the back country of Nice; if you like small villages you can't go wrong - Gordon is one of the wonderful hill towns behind Nice that's worth a detour, Mougins in lovely in the evening. At this time of year, Antibes/Juan les Pins isn't worth it, Cannes just barely. Monte Carlo is good by foot, but otherwise it's just as well to get a car. Luberon is wonderful - you may want to stay longer, Arles is a good stop on the way, Colliure is great.
tamarackidaho is offline  
Jul 7th, 2007, 05:19 PM
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It's possible Stu may be traveling right now.

I agree that for 11 days there's a LOT to see just in that area of France.

The problem is the maps look so small, until you get a really detailed one.
hopingtotravel is offline  
Jul 7th, 2007, 05:44 PM
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Hi caroline,
I considered staying at Crillon Le Brave but it seemed a little out of the way. I decided to save it for another time when I could just enjoy the hotel and that area. (Wonder when that will be?) We stayed at Le Phebus in Joucas right outside of Gordes in the Luberon. It was a great location for visiting the Luberon. See their website www.lephebus.com

You could remain at Capelongue but it is a little further out.

I think you will want to be staying closer when you visit Les Baux. You might want to see my trip report. Click on my name and you will find it.

We loved Eze but did it on a separate trip. (M0naco trip)

I have not driven or even been to Spain, but this seems like too much to me. We spent a little over a week in Monaco and did some side trips in that area. This was a couple of years ago. We have just returned from 10 days just in Provence.

I had a very difficult time determining distances and time when trying to plan the Provence trip. Stu was a big help as were others. I will try to find his itinerary and send it. Look at a map and try to determine distance and time.
Happy travels!
mimipam is offline  
Jul 8th, 2007, 03:16 PM
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Thank you everyone for your input. We are rethinking Spain after all of your advice. I think I might add another night to VF and do 3 nights at Crillon and 3-4 nights in Luberon. We thought we could leave the last 2-3 nights open and make a decision at the last minute. We will save Les Baux for our time in Luberon, and we'll definitely be sure to see Gordon while in VF, as it sounds like our kind of place (thanks Tamarackidaho). I am realizing that the tiny maps that make every town look 15 minutes away, may be deceiving.

Jodeenyc - Sounds like you really did our exact trip! Thanks so much for all of your advice on the driving. How long was your trip? Do you wish you saved Spain for another trip? How many nights did you stay in Nice (or that area)? It sounds like you preferred Provence over the Cote D'Azur. BTW - I totally understood what you meant about Rome and NY

Mimipam - Le Phebus does look amazing -the building reminds me of Crillon Le Brave. Thanks for your link to your trip report, I will read it later today!

I also just received Stu's itinerary today, so I have some reading to do!
caroline10 is offline  
Jul 8th, 2007, 05:02 PM
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Hi Caroline - Our trip was two weeks driving from Rome ending in Barcelona. We were about a week in Italy and about a week in France/Spain.

We usually did three days in one place although we added one day in Eze (our base for the Riveria) and had one less in Provence (a mistake looking back) and one less in Barcelona.

I thought four days was enough for the Riveria and we could have done one less and then attached it to Provence.

I will admit that once we got to Barcelona we were spent. We ended up sightseeing for maybe half a day and spending the rest of the time around the hotel roof deck pool but you have to consider we were driving around Italy for a week before then so I would think your trip would be different.

We're in our early 30's so moving around as you mentioned wasn't an issue for us either, in fact we tend to get bored in one place for too long.
jodeenyc is offline  
Jul 9th, 2007, 09:36 AM
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Thanks Jodeen, It sounds like we have similar thoughts on traveling. We tend to get bored being in the same area as well, even though we know there is still so much more to see. However, I am realizing that Provence is much larger than I thought, and I have a feeling we will not get bored with this place!
caroline10 is offline  
Jul 13th, 2007, 06:59 PM
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Provence (which includes the Côte d'Azur) is vast, but there's a good network of fast roads if you want to cover a lot of ground. Sit down with the Michelin map of the entire region to get a sense of how much you can see in the time you have.
Underhill is offline  
Jul 17th, 2007, 04:40 PM
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So, after hearing all of your great advice and reading Stu's itinerary (on a daily basis )I have made some changes, and would love to hear some of your thoughts.

Arrive Friday - 3 nights (Fri.-Mon) Stay at Hotel Welcome in Villafranche (I have gone back and forth on this - wondering if this town has too little to do, but we kind of enjoy a mellow, relaxing start to our trips - and it seems a little more subdued than Nice.)

Monday - Head inland to Crillon Le Brave (I am wondering if we should stay one more night on the coast, as all of the towns will be shut down as we pass through Provence on a Monday.) What do you think?

3 nights at Crillon Le Brave

2 nights (Avignon or Aix En Provence) I have a reservation at La Mirande Hotel in Avignon, but can still change this.) Would love to hear your advice?

2 nights in Nice at Hotel Windsor (based on Stu's suggestion) We figured we'd end in this lively town and enjoy the coast, and good food, wine and people watching
caroline10 is offline  
Jul 18th, 2007, 04:50 PM
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Correction to my previous post - the spelling should be Villefranche.
caroline10 is offline  
Jul 18th, 2007, 06:13 PM
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Caroline-we stayed for 4 nights at the Hotel Welcome in March. We really loved Villefranche-sur-Mer. Our room was #42 which was a corner room with 2 balconies. One faced the water and the other towards the Citadel that we never got to. One day we went to Cap Ferrat to see the Villa Ephrussi and another day we took the train to Monaco and spent hours in the Aquarium. Instead of having breakfast in the hotel we climbed up the hill into town to the Café de la Paix in the square. The first two weekday mornings we had a lovely Petit Dejeuner which included a hot drink, fresh orange juice, bread, butter and jam for 6€ each. The third weekend morning was a disaster! So go on the weekdays! Also we had a fabulous dinner in the old town at L’Eschalote. Have a great time.
AGM_Cape_Cod is online now  
Jul 19th, 2007, 07:13 AM
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Just got back from 5 weeks in Provence.

A few comments:

We just spent 4 weeks in a Gite 5K from Crillon la Brave. Excellent location - the area is beautiful and not as touristy as other regions. The Hotel is majestically located in this perched village. There's not much else going on in the village, just one other restaurant & a cafe. You'll hear a lot more English than Frence. We had my 60th birthday dinner there. It was cold so we dined inside. Very nice interior to the restaurant, and the service was excellent - although they always spoke English to us, even when my wife spoke French to them (she speaks excellent French). My dinner there was the worst meal I've had in France in some time - and the dinner cost almost $300 for 2. The food wasn't bad or poorly prepared, it was just extremly boring & unimaginative. People at other tables were actually laughing as the plates were presented to them. If anyone ordered the leg of lamb, when the dish arrived it was actually just a plate of tendons, grissle, and fat with no sauce - for $36. The legs wereroasting on the open fire in the fireplace next to us, and they tried toget about 12-15 servings out of each of the two legs. I usually plan on 4-6 servings per leg when I prepare it at home. I had Camargue Bull with Bernaise sauce - and that's all it was - a piece of meat, sauce, and French Fries - no vegetables, no other adornments on the plate, no artistic "drawings" - just a plate with the meat and a small ramakin with the Bernaise, and a "cone" with the fries. It was the only restaurant (of the 21 we visited), that did not serve an Amuse Bouche. My other courses & my wife's choices were a little more interesting, but not much. It's by far the worst meal per dollar I've had in France (we dine there about 40 times each year. I'de give the Ambience of the restaurant an "A", and the meal aa "d" (only reason it's notan "F" is because there was nothing wrong with the food (except the Leg of Lamb) - it was just plain, simple, and boring food. There are some other very good restaurants in the area.

Nice is known for not having great food (IMO) - unles you're willing to pay the price. The people watching there is the best we've ever experienced. I suggest that you have dinner on the Cours at Safari (reserve a couple of days ahead) and watch the crowd.

We had a very nice dinner last year at La Mere Germaine in Villefranche. pretty good food, and the setting was lovely.

If this was my trip, I'de start in provence so you can enjoy the fantastie Sunday market in l'Isle sur la Sorgue and also the very nice Monday market in Bedoin (5 K from Crillon). Nice & Villefranche are only 5 mins apart - I would only stay in 1 location - Nice - and take the train to Villefranche for a day. Villefranche is quite small & you can "do" it easily in 1 1/2 hrs max. Nice has many more things to see & do.

Stayed at the Windsor again 2 weeks ago - about the 15th time we've stayed there. Excellent place, and very large & interesting rooms. Huge walk-in shower.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Jul 19th, 2007, 08:01 AM
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AGM_Cape_Cod: Thanks for your feedback on Villefranche-Sur-Mer. I am glad to hear that you loved the town and the hotel. We will request your room and be sure to see the sights you enjoyed!

Stu: Thanks so much for your reply – and, Happy 60th Birthday! I am glad to hear you liked the area around Crillon Le Brave, as I was worried that it would not be the best location. The restaurant at the hotel is obviously not one you would suggest, but are their any other places within 10 mins walking distance or quick driving distance to enjoy a nice relaxing breakfast or have dinner after a long day on the road?

I am going to reconsider our dates for travel to Provence (and certainly will reconsider our reservation at Le Brave’s restaurant!). The main thing I was concerned with was arriving into Nice at 2:30pm, after the travel from Los Angles, connecting in London, and being so tired, then having to rent a car and drive into Provence. Would you suggest staying Friday night in Nice and heading out on Saturday for Crillon Le Brave?

We do enjoy moving around, so perhaps we would do the following: (assuming we can still change our hotel arrangements )
Friday Night: Nice
Saturday-Monday: Crillon Le Brave
Monday-Wednesday: St. Remy (Instead of Avignon or Aix En Provence)
Wednesday-Friday: Villefranche-Sur-Mer at Hotel Welcome (For some reason we are really drawn to this town, probably because we went to Positano during our honeymoon, and it reminds us of it)
Friday-Monday: Nice at Hotel Windsor

I truly appreciate eveyone's feedback -we just want to be sure we do this trip right!
caroline10 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2007, 09:52 AM
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Here is a restaurant "find" that Kevin from Mas Perreal told me about. It's in Bedoin - 5 mins away.
Chez Hortense www.chez-hortense.com

There is another restaurant in Crillon, but when we "checked it out", the menu didn't seem that interesting. Nice views from the outside dining area.

Our top 6 recommendations for less than 20 min drive. See www.viamichelin.com for details

Chateau Mazan in Mazan. 10 K away
We stayed in the Crillon area in the same Gite for 2 weeks in '05 also. At that time Ch Mazan's restaurant was expensive & nothing on the menu seemed interesting to us. For '07 they lowered the price of their fixed price menu to 35E, and appetizer choices are crab, marinated salmon, and a crustacean dish. Entrees include Lott, pigeon (squab to Americans - one of my favorites), and cod. Very pretty outdoor setting in front of the old chateau

l'Oustalet in Gigondas - 20K away. We've dined there 3 times. www.restaurant-oustalet.fr Both interior & outside areas are very nice. Good menu

Les Florets also in Gigondas - but back "in the woods". Wonderful outside dining & nice menu.

Mas la Bonoty outside Pernes. It's a little hard to find. It's well marked, but on a dirt road that you don't think is really a legitimate road. Nice interior setting & creative menu but the outside dining area by the pool might not be that "romantic"

Also in Pernes the Michelin 1 star Au Fil du Temps. We've always "passed" on this restaurant on many prior trips to the Crillion and Luberon areas because it doesn't have an outside dining area. The weather in early June this year was quite cool, so we dined there & had a great meal.

Les Pins in Bedoin - but not in town - a little south. Nice outside dining area & good menu. We've dined there 3 times. Service can be a little slow if it's crowded.

Our breakfasts were always the same. Walk to Bedoin, I order 2 Cafe Cremes at the Bar au Cours, my wife picks up Croissants & other types of goodies at the Bakery 2 doors north of the Bar au Cours, then the International Herald Tribune at the news stand next to the Bar au Cours, and then spend 45 mins with the coffee, croissants, and paper & watch the kids walk to school, the town become alive, bicyclists heading up Mt Ventoux, etc. On Mondays, we got there at 8:00 & watched the market set up. Note the cheese vendor across the street dressed in traditional attire. This is a great spot to sit under the plane trees & have breakfast.

I always warn people about shops closing on Mondays in France. We spent most of a Sunday in St Remy. My wife "shopped" in 11 stores (she likes house decorating & kitchen stuff - not clothes, souvenirs). There were 2 other stores she would have liked to see, but they were closed on Sunday & presumably Monday also. Of the 11 shops she visited, 5 were closed all day Monday, 3 were closed only in the morning, and 4 were open all day Monday. Les Olivades/Souledado/Terre de Provence are open every day, but these stores seem to be in about 20 towns in Provence.

We flew from San Francisco, to JFK, to Madrid, to Nice then drove 2 1/2 hrs to the Crillon area. Our luggage never made it out of JFK. It's practically all freeway & quite scenic. Once you get to the exit to Carpentras, it becomes slow. Take the northern loop around Carpentras to avoid driving through town. For some reason, the approach from the west is quite slow, compared to driving from other directions.

Stu Dudley

StuDudley is offline  
Jul 19th, 2007, 10:22 AM
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Stu - This is all exactly what I was looking for - thanks so much! I have emailed our hotels to see if we can change the dates per your recommendation. It sounds like you don't necessarily think we need to stay in St. Remy, and that we can see plenty from our base in Crillon. The only reason we may change hotels in Provence, is that Le Brave is a bit expensive for all 4-5 nights. Thanks again...wonderful information you've offered!
caroline10 is offline  
Jul 19th, 2007, 10:49 AM
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Crillon is about 1 hr from St Remy, 1 1/4 hrs from Arles, 1 hr from the Luberon (Roussillon), 45 mins from Avignon, and 1 1/4 hrs from Uzes. The drive to these places is not that scenic. I think it would be a good idea to stay in St Remy & visit Arles, St Remy, Uzes, and perhaps the Luberon from there. St Remy is certainly more lively than the town of Crillon - where not much is going on except sitting on the terrace & admiring the views & the solitude. I don't think the countryside around St Remy (except for the Les Baux region and the road from Eygalieres to Maillane), is as pretty & interesting as the area south of Mt Ventoux, the Baronnies, and the Dentelles - which are all close to Crillon.

Stu Dudley
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