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So you want to visit Nice and Provence!
HERE is a mid range itinerary that will get you the biggest bang for the buck! There is so much to see and history to absorb that you could spend months touring around the triangle from Aix to Apt to Avignon. This gives time to recover from jet lag, relax and allow for a leisurely pace before having to pack up and head back.The Department or county called Vaucluse is well suited to tour and the area around Apt is simple because it is not too touristy yet has lots of easy drives to the big tourist attractions – the beautiful and famous villages such as Bonnieux, Isle Sur la Sorgue, Gordes, Roussillon, Aix, Avignon, Carpentras, Orange, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Beaux – St Remy, Pont du Gard and the Apt market [Saturday morning]. That about says it all – there is enough for at least 2 weeks!
So where to start? Nice is a good bet with a very simple airport. Downtown is a 4 euro bus ride on #98 from Terminal 1 – pay when you get on the bus and get off at the stop closest to your hotel. Ask the hotel when you make a reservation which stop to use. A taxi is about 35 Euros.
A good hotel is the beautiful Hotel Clarion Aston on Ave. Felix Faure overlooking the park Massena with great gushing fountains. This hotel is just between the entrance to Old Nice on one side and modern Nice with pedestrian streets and shopping on the other side and the beach three blocks in front. There are many hotels in Nice to choose from but not many are close to the old town which is where you want to be! The Beau Rivage Hotel and Hotel Massena are other possibilities. Rooms are around $300 but you may find a special or choose an upgrade. Just be careful you don’t end up a long piece from OLD NICE.A WORD ABOUT FOOD:
Lets talk about food a bit now as it is very dear to everyone’s heart – French or not – and now you must face the challenge! Experienced people know it can bring a lot of joy followed by grief so beware! Breakfast should be simple and so skip the hotel breakfast offerings as too large and too expensive – choose instead a sidewalk café. Mornings are a little late – rarely does anything open before 8AM and remember lunch is not far away. Lunch is sacred to the French lifestyle and family. It is from 12:00 to about 1:30. After that the staff will probably refuse you a place. In larger towns you can find something but beware in the countryside! Lunch in a traditional restaurant or café will normally offer some special – a menu – of 2-3 dishes and maybe a glass of wine for some reasonable price. Choice is limited and quantities are large and it will take at least an hour to do it justice and normally longer. Don’t expect them to bring a bill when you are finished either – you should ask for your ‘addition’ when you are ready to leave. Tips are becoming more common but not everywhere – something 3%- 5% left on the table will do fine for good service. Dinner starts 7:30 or 8:00 and you will not get served sooner so enjoy an aperitif at a sidewalk café or bar – try the local favorite – a pastis! Most places worthwhile will require a reservation even if not full as the Chef plans quantities based on reservations. Also tables are rarely turned over – one sitting per night is the norm.A WORD ON WINE:
Wine should be simple. Most of the wine offered in carafes at less expensive places is very good. Local bottles are about twice the price of a carafe and you may see some familiar names at much higher prices. For a local meal local wine makes a great match. The big name wines usually are not ready to drink for 7-10 years so unless you are prepared to spend $50 or more stay with the young local wines. A ‘pichet’ of water is fine and free! Bottled sparkling water such as Badoit and Perrier Blue are popular because the ‘bubbles’ are small and considered more suited to food.OK Back to Nice - Restaurants to consider are Miranda, Café L'Escalinada, Tire Bouchon and Le Bistro d'Antoine all within a couple of blocks in central part of old town. There are dozens of bars on the sidewalks for sitting and just watching. Place Rossetti is a must for ice cream at Fenocchio Glacier with its 90+ flavors. After dinner try a ‘marc’- the local firewater - at a bar while enjoying the great street show with many different characters competing for attention. The weekend show at the casino is a great buy and fun. About 65 Euros for a good dinner with wine and the show!
Nice has an excellent selection of inexpensive restaurants, cafes and lots of street food like pizza, socca, crepes and ice cream to die for! All are found in the Vieux Nice or old town. There is a very pleasant roof top bar at the Hotel Aston which is normally quiet and a great place to enjoy a cocktail with a great view. Almost everything you need or want to see is around this area and within walking distance.
The hop–on-hop-off bus tour can take you to the museums and give you a city tour which is a great way to be introduced to any town. The Cours Saleya in old town is the market area and it is beautiful every morning to have your coffee and croissants then stroll through the stalls. Don’t buy much here because you will be at lots of markets later in your trip.
The beach scene is a must – even for a stroll along the Promenade Des Anglais beachfront boulevard. This attracts the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Nice but it not a great beach for swimming as it is nasty baseball size rocks and very hard to get in and out of the sea. At the east end take the elevator to the old chateau on the high hill overlooking the waterfront for the views and gardens and don’t miss the fountain up here too. Then stroll back down to old town from the back side passing the cemetery on the way down.
Should you have a car [or manage to figure out the bus] in Nice then plan a day trip over to Monaco to see the area around the casino and harbour. There are excellent stops along the way. See the Villa Ephrussi De Rothschild gardens in Cap Ferret on the way. Return
by the upper roads behind Monaco through Eze and stop for lunch at CHÂTEAU DE LA CHÈVRE D'OR. Very special! See their web site for fantastic pictures! Another very pretty drive is along the coast to St Tropez. Don’t attempt this on a weekend in season! It can take 4+ hours one way but off season during the week you should be able to do it in half the time. If you are going one way then from St Tropez to Nice is the best route.
Leave Nice and head for the hills in a lease/purchase car from Renault or Peugeot which gives you a brand new car with full coverage and works for stays over 21 or 17 days respectively. See www.renaultusa.com for details or just rent a car. You might find it easier to return to the airport [via bus #98 stop across from Aston Hotel] as the car companies will pick you up there. You probably don’t want the car in town as parking is expensive – about 20 Euros a day.
Driving tip – THE CAR COMPANIES will give excellent directions to get to the Peage or toll roads. Road signs in France are excellent BUT you must look at a map setting out and writing down the names of towns along your route as signs are geared to town names – not road numbers! So you will be driving towards town names and they change as you go along obviously. Know several towns along your route to keep you going in the right direction.
The first toll booth you come to leaving west from Nice is about 20 gates wide and you must look at the overhead signs. Some to the right are for trucks only, some to the left for pass holders – go to ones with a picture of a man on it and have some Euros handy to pay. Later, you will find ones that give you a ticket only – you pay when you get off depending on how far you have gone. You will also find ones late at night that take your ticket and you pay cash with no one on duty. The roads are wonderful, easy to drive and safe. Lots of rest stops along the way and don’t drive in the fast lane except to pass and if you miss an exit don’t worry too much - likely will be another one shortly that will get you where you want to go too. Remember www.Michelin.com has a route map producing feature for free that can be very helpful.
Another solution is to take the train or bus service to Aix or Avignon and car rentals are usually right there. Get driving directions from the car rental company and remember the free Michelin route maps!
SO WHERE ARE YOU STAYING?There are several hotels in and around Gordes that cater to a visit of a couple of days. They are expensive and and after a couple of days the food is too much and you are ready to go home, put your feet up and have a simple meal and a night off! Try renting a home – a gite or a villa and they come in all sizes and prices. Check-out www.vrbo.com and search Google for house rentals in France – Provence – Vaucluse for example. An easy and very satisfying rental would be anything in Goult because the village is small and pretty with 2 butchers, bakery, several restaurants, small grocery store, good parking, not to touristy and convenient to everything! This means there can be days when you don’t need to get in a car and drive anywhere. House guests can amuse themselves and you all develop a ‘relationship’ with the village and its people. This is a rewarding experience.
Bonnieux is another possibility – make sure rental is in town – not a couple of miles away unless that is what you would like. Also Bonnieux is built on a steep hill side so you will need to be somewhat fit.
Gordes, Roussillon, Apt rentals are mostly out of town. This is fine if you are prepared to drive everyday to town to shop, to get those famous croissants for breakfast or to go to a café or out to dinner. Guests are dependant on you to take them out and that entails everyone getting ready and doing roughly the same things in town. So being within walking distance has advantages as you can see. The large country homes with pools and calm setting are always a drive away.
MARKET DAYS – START AROUND 8AM AND FINISH AROUND NOON.
SaturdayApt 84400 - Marché - through the entire town center, and it takes all morning to see it all; come early to get a parking place or after 11am when people start to leave. One of the biggest and best.
Coustellet84220 Crafts and food market – particularly interesting.
L' Isle-sur-la-Sorgue 84800 - Brocante, busy antiques market – fun!
MondayForcalquier 04300 – Marché is an interesting town – worth the visit and be sure to climb up to the top and check out the fountain!
TuesdayGordes 84220 – Marché and beautiful town. Plan a late morning visit. Park in town up the hill – you will be directed there. Buy the worlds best honey from Mr. Peyron’s shop right in the main square. The hard lavender honey is the best ever! Lunch is a must – your choice.
WednesdaySault 84390 – Marché. A collection of different things here. Beautiful drive up through St Saturin de Apt and on through the Gorge du Nesque to Carpentras. A long day but very good scenery.
Aix-en-Provence13100 - Brocante, Marché; Place Verdun. You have to visit Aix so this is a good day for it! Pretty easy to get into Aix – there is only one exit to Centre Ville so follow it in to the huge fountain with the dolphins and look for the underground parking garage signs close by.
Roussillon 84220 – Marché is a smaller and easier and a must see some day as well. Park in town – entrance up the hill across from the market to public lot. Go see the ochre mines when here.
Bonnieux84480 – Marché. This is a ‘must visit’ town – see the views from the top street and the old church above the village. The roadside bar ‘Sportive’ near the top serves a great pizza after 7:30 at night. Park close-by or lots of parking past the town center up to parking lot as you are leaving towards the old church.
Lourmarin84160 – Marché is past Bonnieux and a ‘must see’ town. The market is very upscale and very busy so try and arrive about 11 and some of the shoppers will be leaving and you might get a parking place in the field below the Chateau. Suggest lunch at ‘Le Rec’ with a great terrace and good food. Lots of choice in this touristy town.