South of France Travel Tips?

By Kate Riley September 5, 2017

Hello friends! Good news, I finally finished my powder room makeover, the new wallpaper looks amazing! I’m taking pictures today and I’ll share the final result with you tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I’m preparing to take off on another trip. Two months ago I was browsing air fares (dangerous!) and spied super affordable flights to France. $300 each way, it was such a great deal, I couldn’t resist!

I’ve dreamed of touring the south of France for decades and I’m finally headed there, I leave Saturday. I have no fear of traveling alone and this trip is yet another solo adventure. I’m landing in Bordeaux, staying for a few days, then I’ll be taking trains from town to town, stopping in Biarritz, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nice, and Monaco. It’s a lot to see in 10 days so I’ll be on the go-go-go!

I do this on the cheap as much as possible. I find inexpensive B&Bs along the way. In Provence I reserved a tiny Airbnb studio for my stay. I like to walk around all day, exploring, people watching, and taking pictures as I go. I always pack super light on trips like these, just one carry on and a tote bag with my all my travel essentials. I’m sure I’ll have a lot of great photos to share on my return!

This is just a glimpse for me, I don’t have too much time to immerse myself, but I was curious, for any of you who have visited the towns along the Cote d’Azur, what were your favorites? Are there any not-to-miss vistas? Charming shops or cafes? Do share!

P.S. Last week I started the Outlander series, Season One. I’m also reading the first book, and I’m taking it with me on my trip. The story is so good and it’s pushed Scotland to the top of my travel list!! Season Three premieres this weekend but I can’t watch until I’m totally caught up! Are you a fan?

56 comments

  1. Check out ‘Jenna Sue Design Blog’…she was just in the south of France and her posts might be helpful!

  2. I love St. Paul de Vence. Personally, I would skip Monaco and have more time for the towns near Nice. Also, Cassis is a wonderful fishing village, south of Aix-en-Provence. I did a study abroad program in college in Avignon and have travelled back to the area many times. Enjoy!!

    • I second the village of St. Paul de Vence. Monaco doesn’t take much time to see and is very touristy. The palace is worth a visit but then head to St. Paul de Vence. You won’t be sorry. We went 3 years ago and I am still enchanted by it’s beauty. It’s hilly with lots of steps but so worth the walk around the streets. There is a tiny gelato shop to treat yourself after all the exercise.

  3. LOVE Outlander!! I’ve watched both seasons several times and read some of the books. Makes me want to go back to Scotland! Can’t wait for September 10th!!

  4. I have been to Aix en Provence and it is a charming town. Unfortunately I dont remember names of cafes etc. I remember walking through a quaint street market with rows of shops and food! Enjoy!

  5. You might check Jennasuedesign.com. She’s just been there recently and has a lot of info on out-of-the-way places to see.

  6. Grasse, France is the fragrance capital of the world! It’s about an hour and half train from Nice. I’ve never been but it’s on my list and it looks so charming and beautiful.

  7. One of my top-top recommendations in Marseille – a home and interior and much much more shop Maison Empereur http://www.empereur.fr/ at 4 Rue des Récolettes. It is impossible to leave with empty hands – I wanted everything there! And right next to it is a great seafood place Toinou – basically a canteen but with seafood platters and great provencial wines where locals go for huge plateaus with oysters, shrimps, clams. Address is 3 Cours Saint-Louis.

    • Hello Ksenia, I have been to Marseille, a charming seaside town, but it’s been years! I stopped there for an 8 hour day trip when I was on a Mediterranean cruise about 15 years ago, and I bought myself a beautiful vase, I still have it. After I had an amazing seafood lunch, how lovely we had a similar experience!

  8. You can easily hop a train from Bayonne to San Sebastian, Spain and do one of the Tapas Tours (Pinxtos in Basque). Not to add another stop on a tight itinerary but San Sebastian’s rep as one of the top food cities in the world is well deserved. And the city is stunning.

  9. St Paul de Vence is a must go.
    Grasse is ugly ans covered with ads tout bring tourists to a cheap fragrance shop.
    In nice, promenade des anglais of course. Go until the very end, take a look at the Old City and don’t buy anything there. Best ice are not in fennichio but try the shop on the other side of the plaza, much better. In any case, always look for the word “artisan” on the shop. “Home made” only means that the guy mixed the industrial shit at his home.
    Best “socca” ever in nice (a must try) is at Pipo, close to the old harbour of nice. Look on Google for the address and take time to go there.
    Next, do not miss eze. There is a fragrance factory dedicated to tourist if you really want to do that but the old city is just amazing. You can try to stop on the way to “Laghet”, an ex-voto church dedicated to Mary. Even if religion is not your thing, it a nice place to see.
    Monaco is not interesting, except for the oceanographic museum, the gardens of Grace. The castle is funny essentially when guards are changing.

    Don’t expect anyone speaking English, we don’t understand why people can’t speak French. Pardon us in advance for ride waiters, late or cancelled trains and any strike you may encouters during your trip.

    Good trip.

  10. Kate, if you have time when in Bordeaux be sure to venture out of town to the wine village of St Emilion and to the bastide villages of Monpazier (gorgeous) and Monflanquin. All are very different to what you will see in the South. I have lived in France and returned 7 times and I think that this region is my favourite. There is so much to see in the South and others have made great recommendations but I would add the towns of the Louberon (heart of Provence) to the mix. Whatever you do it will be wonderful!

  11. I spent a week in Arles years ago and remember it very fondly. There are a ton of things to do, and at the time there was a pass you could purchase to get a discounted admission on something like 12 or 14 attractions — an arena, amphitheater, and cemetery dating from Roman times; the home of Vincent van Gogh, etc. Check to see if there are any shows in the arena — we saw an undescribable performance art show involving horses, bulls, and percussionists! You can also get down to the beach town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer which is a nice alternative to the Cotes d’Azure for people with non-2% budgets. :)

    • I second Arles – there is a walking tour of the scenes that Van Gogh painted. There is a poster of the painting near the scene. Loved Arles, St. Paul de Vence and the outdoor market of Nice. Enjoy!

  12. So excited for you. Sounds like a nice adventure I would love to take too. Will look forward to your photos and your post about your trip. Enjoy…

  13. Sounds like an awesome trip! Can’t wait to hear about it! We are looking at going to the Monaco GRand Prix and then onto northern Italy to wine tour next year!

    I read all of the Outlander books and it took me about six months! I’ve also watched the series and it is well done, BUT nothing ever really compares to the books. That said, I’ll be watching the series as soon as it is back on!!!

    • The series follows the books pretty closely so far but you’re so right, more juicy details always in the books!

  14. If you can fit Cassis and a boat trip to see the calanques you would not regret it! We have been to all of the other cities but Cassis was by far our favorite.

    • I’ve read about Cassis and I have an extra day to squeeze it in, thank you for that suggestion!

  15. What an amazing adventure! The Husband and I visited Nice and Marseille for our honeymoon (almost 12 years ago!). I definitely second the recommendation to go to a medieval village. We visited St. Paul de Vence and Avignon, and they were both amazing. Most of all…have fun!

  16. I was lucky enough to live in Antibes for a few years which is beautiful (and home to several super yachts if thats your thing), there used to be an amazing crepe restaurant ‘La Creperie du Port’ which Im certain is still there and the musee Picasso is also located in Antibes, that whole coast is lovely and the train journey along the coast has some stunning views. In Nice old town there are some amazing seafood restaurants and delicatessens. I agree with others that have recommended St Paul de Vence. I also agree with your previous poster about trying Socca (its delicious) its usually available at the markets and that Monaco isn’t very interesting (except when its the Grand Prix) except to swimming at the Stade Nautique Rainer lll – an amazing outdoor pool overlooking the port of Monaco.
    I hope you have an amazing trip, I do still miss living there.

  17. My husband and I love France especially the southern countryside. We went for 3 weeks 5 years ago rented a car and just drove all over. Nothing booked.
    We bought the Michelin guide to France and stayed in bib hotels and ate at bib gourmands. Affordable prices and the best lodging and food. We were never steered wrong. We ended up in several small towns and met some amazing people. Just an incredible experience. Like others have said there’s a lot of places more in the countryside with no English. I’m lucky enough to have enough French that I can get by but be sure to have an app handy if you want to book places off he beaten path to stay at.
    Sounds like an amazing adventure.

  18. You’ve got an opportunity to teach us the art of traveling light. I’d love to see all your gear and clothing for this trip laid out before it’s packed into your bags. It’s so interesting to me when people can whittle it down to the bare necessities but still look stylish. even though i’m married to a retired airline captain and we did a few million kms of travel over the years, I never could be ruthless or sensible enough. ALWAYS brought more than i needed. and regretted it every time! Thanks Kate. Oh, and as my husband has drummed into us while traveling (sometimes to far-flung and politically unstable destinations) always be situationally aware…of your surroundings, exits, and people around you. Have a wonderful trip!

    • Thank you Deeda for that, I’ve always got my guard up when traveling alone and I never tell people that when I encounter them! I do pack extremely light, that’s a great suggestion to take a photo of it all, I’ll keep that in mind!

    • I was debating between Arles and Avignon, now you’ve got me thinking I should go to Avignon instead?!

      • After my solo tour of Nice to Avignon, I hopped on a river cruise with a friend that took us to Arles. It is beautiful too, and the connection to Van Goph… Oh the dilemma. :D

        From Avignon I took a roughly 2euro local bus out to Oranges (don’t bother booking a $$$ bus tour) – its Théâtre d’Orange is considered the best preserved Roman theatre in all of Europe. Stunning. Food for thought. But sadly, one can’t do it all!

  19. The South of France has been on my bucket list for decades also. I can’t wait to see your photos and read about your trip.

  20. Yes, Ez is so very beautiful to explore. My husband and I sat in a super wonderful restaurant right on the Cote d’Azur in 2004 for two hours enjoying the view and the food. At first we thought that the waiter was rude by saying we should know French, but then we agreed with him and then he was funny, helpful and kind to us. That whole area is just so beyond beautiful! We’ll never forget it! (Plus we were celebrating my being off treatment and cancer-free. :)

    • Congrats on being cancer free Karen, wonderful news! :) Thanks for the thumbs up for Eze I’m definitely stopping there too

  21. Your camera will love Eze! So picturesque

    In Biarritz, MUST eat at Saline Ceviche Bar – such an unusual menu & still one of my favorite meals ever. The town is also famous for surfing if looking for something to do :)

    Enjoy!

  22. Kate,

    When you left your law career to become a self employed blogger, decorator, fabric designer and property flipper you layed the groundwork for controlling your own life and how to spend your time. You are certainly seeing a lot, working hard and enjoying life. Kudos my lady.

    my lady!

  23. Have a great time! I envy your freedom (Can I stow away in your suitcase??). I’m sure your trip will be amazing.

    And yes, I’m addicted to Outlander. I got a bit bored by the formula after the first few books but I find the series to be so visually captivating, its hard not to love. The costumes alone in the second season are drool worthy. A good bit of it takes place in France so you might want to catch up on season 2!

  24. Hi Kate,
    My parents lived close to Avignon for 22 years. We visited most summers and toured the region. Favorite towns:
    1. Cassis, on the coast just west of Marseilles. Eat some lovely seafood at one of the restaurants along the harbor, then take a boat to tour the calanques (beautiful, steep inlets with clear green water where you can see roman ruins). This area has some of the best rose wine.
    2. Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Just north of Avignon is my favorite wine area (the Pope’s favorite as well). You have a lovely view of all the vineyards and the Rhone river from Le Verger des Papes (my favorite restaurant).
    3. Towns in the Luberon – Lourmarin (Friday market), Menherbes (Thursday market), Bonnieux (Friday market), Lacoste (Tuesday market), Gordes (Tuesday market) – you can’t go wrong with any of these beautiful towns. Make sure to go on a market day. Buy a picnic so that you can feast on the lovely cheeses, meats, breads, and olives. They also have wonderful lavender products.
    Bon Voyage!
    -Catherine

  25. It intrigues me that you are traveling alone…as I’m tempted to do that myself. Several girlfriends and I travelled to Provence in 2011. We did a day trip to Avignon. However if you stayed there instead of Arles you are very close to L’Isle Sur-la-Sorgue, which has a wonderful market day and a lovely town, and then Gordes which is a hillside town where part of My Year in Provence was filmed. We ate at the restaurant in the movie. Our home base was St. Remy…where we did a walking tour of the Van Gogh. We stayed in Aix de Provence as well and did a self guided art tour of the many French artists there. We did the little trolley tram train thing tour around the town. Loved where we stayed. But sounds like you have that booked. A day trip to Cassis was fun and as someone else said.. see the Calanques. We did a short hike while there on an overlook and also took a boat tour which was fascinating. The guide gave a great historical tour. And the colors of the city are so wonderful! I’m so envious…would love to go back. the food is so wonderful too. Be sure you check when the markets arrive at each town in order to plan your day trip if that sort of thing interest you.

  26. Ah, it sounds wonderful! I studied French in high school and college to the point that I had decent basic conversational skills, and I like to think that with a bit of refreshing I could scrape by if I visit someday. Of course I ended up living in San Diego so I hear lots of Spanish and some Tagalog but no French! With a 1 and 4 year old and a recent house purchase I expect it will be 7-10 years before DH and I (or just me!) could actually afford and get away to travel in Europe. I managed to visit Scotland, Turkey, Japan, and Australia when I was in my 20’s and untethered. Now I also have a bunch of pesky food intolerances which make travel that much harder, but I can definitely park somewhere for a week and just cook all my own food as I get to know a smaller area well. Looking forward to the day!

    I’ve read all the Outlander books and re-read them- what great yarns. When I can get it for free I’ll watch it too and see how they did. I love the swashing romance of the first couple books, but I really love older Claire as she hits her 40s-50s. (Jamie gets a bit less interesting IMHO though still yummy and way more articulate/verbal than any guy I ever dated lol)

  27. Stay at Villa Saint Exupery Hostel in Nice, I used to work there .They will give you maps and full rundown on what to do for free :)
    Enjoy Nice and the coastline, it’s so beautiful and definitely doable on a budget.
    Just don’t expect waiters to rush you through your ordering and meal experience – people take their time and enjoy their relaxation. I think that’s where foreigners start to think waiters are being purposely rude but really it’s just that they don’t hover over you 3 seconds after you sit down. Don’t eat in the cours saleya – tourist central. Chez Pipo, Bistro d’antoine and Merkado is a good place to sit at the bar and get nibbles if you want to socialise a bit.
    have a great time, I was just there a month ago and it was extremely warm!

  28. If you like the outdoors, I suggest hiking up Mount Victoire outside of Aix. We did a week in Aix en Provence three years ago and that is what I remember most vividly…the views when hiking.

    I hope you have better luck with bathrooms than I did. I like to drink a lot of water wherever I am, and we would invariably be out and about and I could not find a bathroom anywhere except in a cafe where we would have to stop and order…a DRINK, of course. It got to be absurd after a while, but it is funny in retrospect. I don’t know how French bladders can possibly function with such a dearth of restrooms.

    Be forewarned that it is considered basic courtesy to greet the person at the door/front in any shop…they find Americans coming in and scurrying down the aisles without making eye contact to say “Bon jour” extremely rude.

    Have a wonderful trip. It will be memorable no matter what you do!

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