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Two weeks in Provence - Where is the best "staging area"?

Two weeks in Provence - Where is the best "staging area"?

Old Sep 28th, 2014, 04:05 PM
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Two weeks in Provence - Where is the best "staging area"?

My wife and I want to visit Provence next summer. We have never been before. We have two weeks, and would welcome any advice on how to get the most out of the area, including what town or department we should "stage" from. Also, we would like to see Monaco and Cannes, so would love to hear from you about that as well. I assume that the best airport to fly in and out would be in Marseilles?
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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 04:57 PM
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Flying into Nice is another option.

Our first trip, we spent 5 nights in Nice; then rented a car and headed to The Luberon area where we spent 2 weeks in a lovely gite. We then went on to Montpellier for 4 nights and then on to Paris.

We did this in late Sept and the trip was wonderful!

I started a trip report but got lazy and didn't finish, but it has some good info.

Summer will be different as it is more crowded.

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Old Sep 28th, 2014, 08:51 PM
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Cannes is in the eastern part of Provence, part of the Côte d'Azur. It's primarily a resort town, but many people love it; we prefer Nice, as there's more to see both along the coast and away from it in the mountains. I recommend splitting your trip between eastern and western Provence, with a week in each area.
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Old Sep 29th, 2014, 02:26 AM
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Provence is one of my favourite travel destinations. We have been there at least 20 times if not 30. And I could come again and again.

Provence (originally the Roman "Provincia Narbonensis") is a pretty large region and, as Underhill has suggested, it makes sense to stay at two locations: one in the Western Provence and one on the Côte d'Azur. It depends a little on the kind of accomodation you choose. If you stay in a hotel, you are more flexible and you may even choose three locations: one near Avignon, one in the Luberon and one on the Côte d'Azur. If you opt for a vacation rental, you usually have to rent it from Saturday to Saturday, so you will stay one week in the West and one week in the East.

Now, what to expect?

Provence has some things in common: Mediterranean scenery with Aleppo pines, cedars, olive groves, lavender fields, vineyards and picturesque villages, built from limestone. There are small, winding roads which are very scenic to drive.

Since Provence had been a Roman colony, you find a lot of remains of this time, with the highest concentration in Western Provence, but also a few Roman monuments on the Côte d'Azur. But there is also a good Medieval heritage. And you have the beaches and yaught harbours.

The cuisine is, of course, mediterranean, made with local olive oil, the famous "herbes de provence", with local grown vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and a lot of seafood. Since summers are warm, the locals prefer to drink chilled rosé wine which is made throughout Provence.

What so see in Western Provence:

Within the triangle between Orange (in the North), Montpellier (Southwest) and Aix-en-Provence (Southeast) you find the highest concentration of both Roman and Medieval heritage. So, it is strategically wise to base yourself in the center of this triangle which would be near St. Remy, Les Baux or Tarascon/Beaucaire. Arles would still be a good location, especially if you prefer to stay within a town. From such a base, you can easily drive starlike to attractions like

- Nimes: a pretty large city which resembles somewhat Paris (with boulevards and stree cafés) and with the best Roman ruins you can see in the region if not in all Europe. The amphitheatre is breathtaking and also an almost completely preserved Roman temple. There is an archeological park and the distributer where the aquaeduct which is now Pont du Gard ended.

- Arles: a small town with a fine cathedral, another amphitheatre and more Roman heritage.

- Avignon: a large city with medieval history, mainly the mighty palace where the Popes resided during the time of the great schism. There is also the picturesque ruin of the bridge on which the people used to dance, as sung in the well-known song "Sur le pont d'Avignon...".

- Pont du Gard: a breathtaking, well-preserved Roman aquaeduct in a beautiful scenic setting.

- Orange: more stunning Roman remains, including a most impressive Greek theatre and a triumph arch.

- Les Antiques: two more Roman ruins, just roadside.

- Les Baux: a ruined medieval villages, very picturesquely on a bluff within the scenery of the beautiful Alpilles range.

- Aigues-Mortes: a completely walled medieval town at the seaside.

- Camargue: ride on horseback through marshes and see wild flamingoes!


From a base within the mentioned triangle, you can also easily visit the Luberon, but you may change your base a little eastwards. Luberon is a barren mountain range, and landscape is more arid than in Western Provence.

You do not find much Roman things here, but lavender fields and some more curiosities, like Gordes, a picturesque village with odd stone huts on the surrounding fields, or the Colorado de Rustrel, a canyon made of ocre.

Côte d'Azur:

Here you have the rugged coast with very dark blue seawater and incredibly scenic coastal drives. The most spectacular coastline is between St. Raphael and Cannes - easily accessible by the Corniche d'Or, a scenic road with many pullouts and secluded coves which offer spectacular swimming opportunities.

The other scenic highway (in fact three of them) are between Nice and Monaco, with stops either at La Turbie (a most impressive Roman monument on the highest of the three corniches) or in Eze (a perched village on the middle corniche).

I personally consider Monaco a worthwile destination, because of the Prince's Palace, the Cactus Garden, Jacques Cousteaus Oceanographic Institute and the Casino.

Nice is a large city with a plethora of first-class art museums, the Chagall Museum certainly the best one among them.

There are more museums devoted to classic modern art in the region: Fernand Leger in Biot, Picasso in Antibes, the Fondation Maeght in St. Paul with works of Miro, Giacometti and outstanding temporary exhibitions.

In the hinterland, you find many picturesque perched villages.

But where to base yourselves on the Côte d'Azur? Again, it depends on the type of accomodation you choose. You can stay in Nice with big-city feeling. You can stay on the beach in Cannes or Juan-les-Pins. Antibes makes a good base because it is located in the middle.

If you want to stay at a scenic part of the coast, choose the section between St. Raphael and Mandelieu, e.g. Agay, Antheor or Theoule. It is breathtaking.
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Old Oct 4th, 2014, 04:57 AM
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Thank you for these responses, all of them. They are fantastic! Thanks especially to traveller 1959 for taking such time to provide all those details of this wonderful area of France.

Any thoughts on which vineyards to visit while in Western Provence?
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Old Oct 4th, 2014, 05:24 AM
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Great info traveller1959
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Old Oct 4th, 2014, 07:20 AM
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traveller1959 did provide a lot of help.

Some more thoughts. Will you be driving? A car is really necessary for Western Provence but not along the Cote d'Azur, where you can get around by train or bus. Especially from Nice which has good transportation connections.

The lavender fields in Provence bloom in late June and July and are something to see if your visit overlaps this time period. Worth rearranging your itinerary to see (and smell).

The Village of Bories is near Gordes, but Gordes itself occupies a stunning site on a hillside.

Other towns of interest: Roussillon, a "red" village near an ochre "mine," and Les Isles-sur-la-Sorgue. Some like the latter for the antiques market but I just like the way different channels of the Sorgue River have been threaded through the town. (Originally to run water wheels for power but now just scenic.)

I also liked Aix-en-Provence, really a great town to relax in, but also for a good market, the many fountains, and the reminders of Cezanne. The markets in Provence are to me one of the attractions. You can get a snapshot of Provencal cuisine sources and buy less expensive Provencal linens.
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Old Oct 4th, 2014, 07:53 AM
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What? No mention of Vaison-la-Romaine?

We've just concluded our 4th trip to Provence, etc, so when you narrow down your interests and targeted towns, we've some suggestions on lodging
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Old Oct 4th, 2014, 08:11 AM
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St Remy makes a wonderful base for Avignon, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Arles, Luberon, etc. Some people split the time and also base in one of the Luberon villages but it's less than an hour drive so very doable for day trips.

Aix deserves at least a couple days plus it would be a good base to day trip to Marseille, etc.

Nice is the best base for the Cote d'Azure, especially if you don't want to drive in that area. But Vence (not St Paul de Vence) is also a good base.

Here's a trip report I did from a couple years ago. http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...swiss-alps.cfm
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 06:53 AM
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My wife & I have spent 20 weeks vacationing along the Cote d'Azur & 20 weeks in Provence. We were in these regions for 4 weeks this year. I developed a 33 page itinerary that describes our favorite villages, scenic drives, markets, sites, etc. If you would like a copy, e-mail me at [email protected] & I'll attach one to the reply e-mail. I've sent it to over 3,000 people on Fodors.

Stu Dudley
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 09:37 AM
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Monaco and Cannes are not the true Provence.
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 12:47 PM
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Maybe not true Provence, but true love!
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 12:53 PM
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>>>What? No mention of Vaison-la-Romaine?
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 01:01 PM
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We loved St. Remy and Isle Sur la Sorgue. We stayed in a Gite just 4 km outside of St. Remy and found it to be perfectly situated for wandering about Provence.
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 03:22 PM
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>>Vaison....Secondly, it is heavy-duty archeology and could be saved for a second trip.> Luberon is a barren mountain range, and landscape is more arid than in Western Provence.
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