I just got back from exploring the French Rivera and Provence region. We spent 12 days exploring the area from one tiny town to the next. The weather in October is stunning and many locals, as well as visitors, were enjoying the beaches.
We arrived in Nice via plane, but the rest of our travels were on foot, by train, and by bus. No rental car was required and we still managed to cover the area from Nice to Barcelona, Spain.
I won’t mention the hotels we stayed in because we travel ultra cheap and most would find the accommodations subpar. But we travel for the experience and not the room, so any comfortable bed will do.
Recommendations for Traveling the French Riviera and Provence Region:
- Hike Castle Hill in Nice. The vistas are stunning and worth the climb and you’ll pass by the château de Nice. It was an easy 10-minute climb but if you’re not up to it, there are buses or you can drive to the top.
- Also in Nice stroll the Promenade des Anglais which runs along the waterfront. Check out the hotels, the locals, and walk along the beach. It’s a paved walk so an easy hike of about 4 miles.
- Old Town Nice is packed with small, old streets and buildings. Narrow, winding paths and squares create some amazing nooks and crannies to explore.
- Monaco is a small city with a little bit of shopping, lots of expensive yachts, and a casino. It’s definitely for travelers with cash to spare. The Monte Carlo Casino is only open to people appropriately attired who can pay the entrance fee. Monaco would be on the skip list for us next time.
- Cap Ferrat is beautiful, a small little port town with fishing and pleasure boats. The main draw of the city is you can walk to Villefranche-sur-Mer which is a mere 40-minute walk away. You’ll stroll along the beach and see each city from a distance.
- Villefranche-sur-Mer is a very small town which has plenty of restaurants along the bay for the cruise ship visitors. It’s a hill town with lots of stairways between the buildings. Waterspouts along the way which have been producing water for the city since ancient times are available to fill your water bottle.
- San-Tropez was stunning, but we had very little time there because of the bus schedules so I recommend driving or plan a very long lunch or dinner. It’s a bit more of a tourist town than then rest, but that means more services as well. There is an amusement park nearby and a castle. It’s quite a distance from Nice – by bus and train it took almost three hours. Driving would save you some time. The trip cost us about 30 Euro each way.
- Cannes is for those who are interested in the movie festival but otherwise there’s not much going on there. It’s more modern than its surrounding cities and one we would skip next time. They do have some of the only sandy beaches along the coast though so if you’re looking for a barefoot beach, that may be the place for you as the other beaches in the French Riviera are rocky.
- Antibes was probably my favorite city in the region besides Nice. I love the natural beauty and the cool old village located on cliffs which tapered down to sea level.
- Avignon is a beautiful town which still has almost fully intact city walls which date back from the 14th century. They form a ring around the whole of the old town. The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) is a great place to visit and on the day we were there hundreds of people were dressed in period garb. We never did figure out what they were up to. The Palace of the Popes has walls in some places up to 18’ thick. Hike through the Jardin du Rocher des Doms Park where you’ll find cool views of the city as a reward for your efforts.
- Orange has the most well-preserved ancient Roman theatre but is otherwise unremarkable. It also has a beautiful Triumphal Arch of Orange. It is a good connection point to reach Pont du Gard which is a part of an aqueduct which was built in the 1st century. Most of the aqueduct is gone, but the Pont du Guard still stands. It’s a beautiful spot to check out ancient Roman technology and makes for stunning photos. There is a fee to visit the historic location, but it’s worth the entry fee. There is a museum, ice cream shop, restaurant, and park area to make use of while you’re there.
- Nimes has one of most amazing garden and public areas where locals were playing bocce ball and chess and just generally enjoying the day.
- Arles features one of the most well-preserved Roman Amphitheaters still in use today. The nearly 2000-year-old Arles Amphitheatre (Arènes d’Arles) has been in continuous use for centuries and during our visit there we saw the Bull Games where the players must snatch the prize from the bull’s horns. It’s part athleticism and part showmanship and thankfully the bulls are not harmed. There is also a large Van Gogh museum as Arles was one of his favorite painting spots where he painted over 200 paintings. One of the buildings he painted is still there.
- Vaison-la-Romaine is easily accessible from Orange and probably the smallest city we visited. We happened to arrive on Market Day and were rewarded with every street being filled with vendors selling local food, pottery, jewelry, and more. The Market took up the entire city and was busy even in the rain. There are also some of the most unique ancient Roman ruins to explore then climb through old town and when you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with an amazing sweeping view of the surrounding vineyards. Near the bus stop, there’s a winery called Cave la Romaine where they sell wines from each of the tiny surrounding towns. The prices are very inexpensive (about $5 Euro) plus free wine tasting. Stop on your way in or out of town.
Travel Tips for the French Riviera and Provence Region
- In the Provence region, a rental car would give you a lot more freedom to travel at your own pace and allow you to travel to areas which don’t have daily bus service. Most of the hotels in Provence have parking available for a nominal fee.
- Best Time to Visit: Travelling in October the weather is in the mid-70’s and comfortable but many of the business were closing for the winter. September may be a better time since it is past tourist season but before winter closures.
- Pack Light: A week’s worth of clothes, a camera, and a backpack are all you need. Bring a clothesline and laundry soap and wash your things in the sink. Travelling light lets you move from town to town on trains and buses with ease.