During the third week of my month-long soiree in France, I planned a week in the south with some friends from home. I took the train from Paris to L’Isle-sur-la-Sourge (with a short layover/transfer in Avignon) where I met up with friends. From there, we rented a car and eventually made our way to Nice over the course of 6 days.
I’m not going to waste my breath trying to convince you of the merits of the South of France—it’s everything you assume it to be and more. It’s one of those places that you can mould to fit your own personal vacation style—outdoorsy adventurists, beach loungers, art mongers, foodies, wine-os, social isolationists—there’s truly an offering for everyone.
Here are the places we stopped and stayed during our journey:
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (below): This was our first stop in Provence, located about 40 minutes east of Avignon by train. L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is island-like in that it’s surrounded by a mellow river, making it charmingly picturesque and walkable (you can walk the perimeter of the island in about 40 minutes). It was also french antique HEAVEN. There were so many antique shops on and surrounding the island, adding fuel to the fire of my provencal farmhouse dreams.
We stayed at this lovely B&B, run by the most adorable and friendly proprietor and perfectly situated by the side of the river. Other reccos here include dinner al fresco at Le Jardin du Quai, vegan/GF baked goods from Vert Bouteille, and wine and cheese at Chez Stéphane.
Gordes (below): Having rented a car, Gordes was an easy day trip from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (30ish minute drive). It's a stunning hillside town overlooking the Luberon valley. Had we been feeling spendy, we would have shelled out to stay at La Bastide de Gordes, but alas we settled for a glass of 6 euro rose at a restaurant terrace next door. Even for just a couple hours, Gordes is well-worth a visit for the views alone.
Chateau La Coste (below): We made an afternoon stopover at Chateau La Coste on our way from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to Aix-en-Provence. The grounds here are one part winery and one part modern art and architecture mecca (a winning combination by my book). The self-guided walking tour is a great way to explore the property (with a rosé roadie) and you'll stumble upon installations by art and architecture greats like Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Alexander Calder, and Louise Bourgeois (to name a few). There's plenty of dining options available that require advance reservations, but the outdoor terrace is a perfectly pleasant spot to sit and order bottles of wine in a more casual setting..
Aix en Provence: We only really spent the evenings in Aix as we were out and about embarking on day trips during the days, but the little time we did spend wandering the streets was entirely delightful! While we didn't have a chance to eat anywhere but mediocre tourist traps, these spots came recommended: Maison Nosh, La Cita, Les Vieilles Canailles.
Cassis (below): Cassis is a coastal village close to Marseille and about a 40-50 minute drive from Aix. The town itself is stunning, but hiking to the calanques is what really makes it really worth visiting. We parked along the street in town and then followed the signs for the hiking path. The hike was maybe a mile or two to get to the first calanque and views along the way were incredible. Bring food and plenty of water because there's no sort of refreshment situation once you're on the trail.
Antibes (below): We stopped quickly in Antibes for lunch, during our drive from Aix to Nice. We only spent a couple hours there but the streets were picturesque and the beach scene appeared to be, as the French say, légitime.
Monaco: The afternoon we arrived in Nice, we took the train to Monaco to do some exploring and check "visit a micro-country" off the bucket list. Monaco boasted outstanding views, beautiful architecture, but proved difficult when wanting to find a place to grab a bite and a drink (we ended up at a Four Seasons, drinking 20-euro martinis, overlooking a giant sand dredging operation). Cool spot, but do some homework prior to have some aim to your visit.
Nice (below): I can't tell you why but for some reason I had lower expectations for Nice and I was so pleasantly surprised. The architecture was impressive, the beaches were gorgeous, and the sunsets...UNREAL (and that's coming from a Southern Californian). One of my favorite parts of the entire trip was an evening walk where we became mesmerized watching the local cliff jumpers doing acrobatics into the ocean as the sun went down. The light was surreal and made it feel as if you'd been transported into a Monet painting.
We stayed in the Old Town (which I'd recommend) where there was so much within walking distance and no need for a car (between trains and Uber, it was plenty easy to get around).
Villefranche-sur-Mer: Adorable little seaside town right nextdoor to Nice. Our train made a stop here on our way to Monaco and we were so charmed by the look of it that we stopped and had dinner there on our way back.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat: Paloma Beach came highly recommended by a couple friends and it did not disappoint. It encapsulated everything I had imagined in my dreams of the South of France. We took an Uber from Nice (about 40 mins) and while it was a little pricey, it was well worth not having to navigate the winding and narrow streets ourselves (plus you got to gaze out the windows at some of the most breathtaking views). There are a couple of beach clubs that you can make a reservation at to secure yourself a lounge chair and towel, but slumming it on the beach (which was what we did) was perfectly pleasant as well.