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provence and the cote d'azur - detailed itinerary

Arles France Avignon France Luberon France Aix en Provence France Gorges du Verdon France Cote d'Azur France
  Arles Avignon Luberon Aix-en-Provence Gorges du Verdon Cote d'Azur
 

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Day 1 - Arles
Take the TGV from Gare de Lyon station in Paris. Your journey to Avignon takes about two and a half hours.

Because train service to Arles is limited, it's actually quicker to take the TGV to Avignon and drive to Arles. Pick up your rental car at the rail station in Avignon, and take N570 south to Arles. The rental car agent can give you directions. The 22-mile drive should take about 45 minutes.

Since all of our recommended hotels in Arles have garages, you'll be able to park at your hotel.

Arles made the big league in 306 A.D. when Constantine the Great made the city his second capital. But today the city is best known for its association with Vincent van Gogh, for it is here that the painter expressed his genius.

Once you settle in, get your bearings with a stroll through town. For great people watching, snag a table outside at one of the many cafes on the Place du Forum. Relax, have a drink and try to comprehend that van Gogh may have painted "Starry Night" from this very square.

When hunger calls, you can just cross the square. The Brasserie at the Hotel Nord-Pinus, and Le Vaccares are both good choices on the Place du Forum.

If you're in the mood for something a little quieter, Lou Macques in the Hotel Jules Cesar is outstanding, and commensurately priced. Vegetarians ? or those craving fresh salads or pasta ? will enjoy La Vitamine.

After-dinner options are few. But Le Cargo de Nuit usually offers some kind of music and Le Café van Gogh often has live bands.

Day 2 - Arles
If it's Wednesday or Saturday, head to the market for your breakfast. In addition to fresh flowers, produce, wine, and all sorts of Provencal delicacies, you'll likely end up with wonderful photos. Like most French markets, it's over by noon.

Arles is relatively compact and you should have no difficulty walking to all the sites. A Global Billet costs 14EUR and includes admission to most all of the Arles attractions. You can buy it at any of the included stops and it pays for itself quickly if you visit the Ancient History Museum.

For a great overview of Arles, start your day there. To get to the Ancient History Museum (Musée d'Arles Antique), you can walk 20 minutes along the Rhone River.

The museum has models showing Arles' Roman monuments in their original states, jewelry and other artifacts, and an impressive collection of Roman Christian sarcophagi.

Head back to town and visit the Roman Arena (Amphitheatre), built in the 1st century A.D. Today, the the 20,000-seat stadium is used for bull fights. You can see its towers from almost anywhere. For wonderful views of Arles, climb one of them.

Also dating from the 1st century, the Roman Theater (Theatre Antique) is the concert stage for the Festival d'Arles. Not much remains of the original structure, but the park-like setting is pleasant.

Take rue de Cloitre to Eglise to St-Trophime. The 12th-century Romanesque portal of this UNESCO World Heritage-designated church is magnificent. A chart inside the church will help you decipher the carvings. The cloisters adjacent to the church are the loveliest in Provence.

After exploring the church, take in the sights and sounds of the place de la République. From here, it's a brief walk along the rue de la République to the Museon Arlaten. This folklore museum is filled with costumes, furniture, dolls, and other everyday objects from Provence.

For lunch, why not visit a charcuterie (French delicatessen) for picnic provisions and head out to Les Alyscamp. Though it's something of a hike, with its stately poplars and broken tombs this Roman cemetery is very inspirational; both van Gogh and Gaughin painted it.

Those who would like to explore more Roman artifacts can visit the Cryptoportiques ? an underground gallery dating from 30 B.C. ? and the Palais Constantine with its well-preserved 4th-century baths.

Art lovers can visit the Musée Réattu which contains a number of drawings by Picasso. The museum is housed in a priory built by the Knights of Malta in the 15th century.

Another pleasant option is to take one of the self-guided walking tours, particularly the van Gogh tour. Maps are available at the tourist information office on esplanade des Lices. The tour will lead you to Espace van Gogh, the hospital where he was treated after cutting off his ear. Although you will not see any of his paintings here, you'll recognize the courtyard gardens from his "Le Jardin de l'Hotel-Dieu."

That evening, enjoy a Provencal specialty such as Daube ? a stew made with red wine and beef or lamb ? or gardianne ? a bull and olive stew.


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Day 3 - Avignon
If you're here during the summer, you'll need an early start this morning to beat the crowds. So have a light breakfast at your hotel, or visit the local patisserie for fresh croissants. And be sure to wear sturdy shoes.

Drive about twenty minutes via N570 and D5 to Les-Baux-de-Provence, one of the most dramatic places in France. The village itself is barely discernable from the craggy 800-ft rock it clings to.

During the 11th and 12th centuries, a series of fierce feudal lords ruled from the citadel here, which Richelieu ordered destroyed in 1632. Today, Les Baux is divided between the ruins of the ancient city ("La Ville Morte") and the village ? where shops, galleries, and cafes line the cobblestone streets.

Begin your tour at the Hotel de la Tour du Brau. This 15th-century mansion serves as the gateway to the citadel complex. Among the ruins, you'll see the remains of the Saracen Tower and the chapel of St-Blaise, where you can watch a slide show about van Gogh, Gaughin, and Cezanne.

There's lots to see in the village as many of the 16th-century mansions now house museums. The Yves Brayer Museum displays the paintings of its namesake ? Les Baux's most famous native. And the Musée de Santons offers old woodcarvings of the Saints.

The Church of St. Vincent (Église St-Vincent) has modern stained-glass windows donated by Prince Rainier of Monaco. The views from the square in front of the church are terrific.

A short walk along Route du Val d-Enfer takes you to the Cathedrale d'Images. Carved from the surrounding stone, the church offers a multimedia presentation in which the walls, ceiling and floor become a three-dimensional screen.

Have lunch in one of the village's cafés or splurge and dine at the superb L'Oustau de Beaumaniere.

After lunch, continue up D27 for about a mile. You'll be rewarded with unforgettable views of Les Baux, Arles, and the Camarge. If you'd like to sample some of the local wines ? classified as Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence ? return to the main road and follow the "route des vin" signs.

Otherwise, take D5 north toward St-Remy-de-Provence. The Roman city of Glanum is en route. Park in the lot off D5 south of town. The Mausoleum and Triumphal arch here are incredibly well preserved. Pop into the visitor's center across the street for a map and brochure.

To see treasures unearthed at Glanum, visit the museum (Musée Archéologique) at the Hotel de Sade, in St-Remy, a couple of miles down the road. Be sure to save time to do a little shopping in St-Remy before the half-hour drive to Avignon. Herbs, colorful Provencal fabrics, and gourmet treats are the specialties here.

Follow the "centre ville" signs into Avignon, your base for the next three nights.

In 1309, French Pope Clement V decided that Avignon was more to his liking than Rome. For the next seventy years, the Popes resided here, making Avignon one of Europe's most powerful cities.

Today, Avignon is something of a cultural capital with abundant opportunities for enjoying the fine and lively arts. Settle into your hotel, then make your way to the Place de l'Horlage (Clock Square). During the season, buskers perform in the square. But any time of year, you'll find lively bistros and lots of activity.

Find a Brasserie that strikes your fancy. Or for something different, visit Le Grand Café in La Manutention. Part of an entertainment complex in an industrial factory setting, this hip bistro is popular with Avignon's stylish young movers and shakers.

Day 4 - Avignon
There's a market in Avignon every day but Monday. Ask the Concierge at your hotel for today's location. There's no better way to start your day in France.

Your first stop should be the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). Most of the opulent furnishings returned with the Popes to Rome. But the architecture, frescoes, tiles, and tapestries are remarkable. There are actually two palaces: the old (Palais Vieux) and the new (Palais Nouveau). Chances are, you'll be guided through on an English-language tour.

Highlights of the older palace include the Consistory with its 14th-century frescoes by Simone Martini, the Chapelle St-Jean, the Grand Tinel or banqueting hall bedecked with Gobelin tapestries, and the Stag Room, noted for it's exquisite frescoes and floor tiles.

In the newer palace, visit the two-nave Grande Audience and Chapelle Clementine.

The Cathedral Notre-Dame-des-Doms is just across from the Palais des Papes. The 12th-century Romanesque cathedral was dwarfed by the palace, so it was rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries. Today, it's an interesting combination of architectural styles.

After you tour the Cathedral, wander through the gardens along the promenade du Rocher-des-Doms. From here, you'll enjoy splendid views of the palace, the Rhone, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon across the river, and Pont S-Bénézet, the bridge described in the children's song, "Sur la pont d'Avignon."

For lunch, try Hiely-Lucullus at 5 rue de la République or La Fourchette at 7 rue Racine for a great Provencal lunch.

After lunch, art lovers have several good museums to choose from. La Foundation Angladon-Dubrujeaud (open Wednesday through Sunday afternoons) is housed in the home of Parisian fashion designer Jacques Doucet. His collection includes works by Cezanne, Degas, Sisley, and Modigliani.

Musee du Petit-Palais at Place du Palais contains 13th- to 16th-century Italian paintings. Highlights include Botticelli's "Virgin and Child" and works from the Venetian school by Carpaccio and Bellini.

Housed in an 18th-century mansion, the Musée Calvet offers a nice collection of French paintings, particularly from the Romantic period. You'll find work by Manet, Daumier, David, and Corot here.

The Musée Lapidaire has an odd assortment of antiquities ? Greek, Etruscan and Roman artifacts. And the Musée Louis-Vouland contains beautiful fine arts from the 17th and 18th centuries, including Aubusson and Gobelin tapestries, Sevres porcelain and other exquisite objets d'art.

If shopping is your weakness, you'll find wonderful antiques, fabrics and housewares. The nicest shops line the rue de la République and the rue des Marchands off Place Carnot.

To step back in time, cross the Rhone and explore Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. While Avignon served as the Papal court, many powerful cardinals built their homes here. Today, the pace is slower ? and quieter ? than in Avignon. Visit the Chartreuse du Val-de-Bénédiction (France's largest Carthusian monastery), Fort St-André, and climb the Tour Phillippe le Bel (Tower of Phillip the Fair) for wonderful views.

For dinner, why not splurge at Brunel, Christian Étienne, or La Cuisine de Reine.

Day 5 - Avignon
Tailor the day to suit your interests.

If it's Sunday and antiques are your hot button, make an early morning bee-line to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, 14 miles east of Avignon. One of the best places in France to shop for Brocante ? affordable old treasures lacking the pedigree of serious antiques ? Isle sue Sorgue is a flea market afficionado's paradise.

At L'Isle aux Brocantes 40 antique dealers sell all sorts of interesting things.

Assemble a picnic lunch with supplies from the food market, or dine in style at the Michelin-starred La Prévoté ? just be sure to make reservations well in advance.

Not far from Avignon, the Southern Rhone Valley is distinguished for its big, bold red wines. The best known of these is Chateauneuf-du-Pape, created from several of the region's 13 different grapes, notably Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah.

Those who enjoy visiting wineries ? and tasting wines ? should leave Avignon on N7 and then take the D7 west towards Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Domaine de Mt-Redon is a lovely stop. You'll find more caveaux de dégustation along D92 en route to Courthézon. Don't miss Chateau de Beaucastel, where you can taste both reds and whites.

If time permits, the villages outside Carpentras, especially Gigondas, offer many additional opportunities for indulgence.

History buffs won't want to miss the Pond du Gard, the spectacular three-story aqueduct constructed more than 2,000 years ago. You can park on either side of the river, though break ins have been reported on the north side. And if you bring your bathing suit, you can cool off and see the Pont from a unique perspective ? underneath it.

The Pont du Gard is definitely part of the tourist trail, so if you want an enjoyable experience, try to get there early in the morning or late in the afternoon. To get there, just follow the signs for Nimes.

The Chateau at Tarascon is an interesting stop en route.

The other outstanding Roman attraction in the area is the theater in Orange, 19 miles north of Avignon. The best-preserved Roman theater still in existence, it seats 10,000. The Triumphal Arch in Orange is also well worth seeing, though the traffic between you and an up-close view can be rather daunting.

The streets surrounding Orange's Hotel de Ville (city hall) are lovely for a stroll.

This evening, if you didn't spend the day tasting, be sure to sample some of the region's stellar wines with dinner.


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Day 6 - Luberon
Today, explore the villages of the Vaucluse or "closed valley," made famous in Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence."

Drive 40 minutes to Fontaine de Vaucluse. Surrounded by rugged cliffs, this natural fountain blasts up to 19,000 gallons a second from its brilliant green pool. The water tumbles down a gorge toward the village where there are several riverfront cafés along the Sorgue.

In the town, Moulin Vallis-Clausa, a working paper mill, offers informative tours and there's a small library and museum dedicated to Petrarch, who lived here for 16 years.

A 3-mile drive up the road will take you to Saumane de Vaucluse where you'll have splendid views of the Provencal countryside. Another 15 minutes or so takes you to Gordes, one of the loveliest "perched" villages in the Vaucluse.

Gordes is not as unspoiled as it once was. These days, its cobbled streets are lined with stylish boutiques and galleries. But the town is undeniably charming and it boasts several wonderful places to stay.

You can tour the Chateau that towers over the town. Oddly enough, its museum contains a good selection of pop art. And there's good shopping here.

If you're not staying in Gordes, you may want to have lunch here. Comptoir du Victuailler and Ferme de la Huppe are both excellent choices, though you will probably need reservations at either one.

Outside Gordes is a French Regional Park. The foothills here offer outstanding walks.

Leave Gordes for Roussillon, where a natural vein of ochre tints the entire town shades of rose. Possessed of one of the most picturesque village squares in all Provence, Roussillon is a great place just to be. Hike up to the summit for unforgettable views ? and photographs.

The next stop after Roussillon is Bonnieux, another good place to overnight. Climb the stone steps through the tiny houses to the 12th-century church. From the grounds, you'll be able to see a cedar forest, Beise Lake, and on fine days, the Mediterranean.

If you stay in Bonnieux, have dinner at your hotel or at Le Fournil, romantically set in a deep grotto.


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Day 7 - Aix-en-Provence
From Bonnieux, it's just a one-hour drive to Aix-en-Provence. Sophisticated, vibrant, and charming, Aix is known as the "city of a thousand fountains." It's culture is influenced almost as much by the 40,000 students who attend the University as by its history.

The center of activity here is the lovely main boulevard, Cours Mirabeau. On one side of the street, you'll find stylish shops and smart boutiques, on the other 17th- and 18th-century mansions. A stroll here under the plane trees, past the sparkling fountains, is surely one of the highlights of a visit to Provence.

Duck into Bechard at 12 cours Mirabeau. This century-old bakery has incredible pastries and calissons, a local specialty of almond paste and glazed melon.

You'll have no trouble finding a place for lunch among the cafés and bistros lining Cours Mirabeau or in lively place de l'Hotel de Ville. Don't miss the flower market here.

For architectural diversity, it's hard to top the Cathédrale St-Sauveur. The baptistery dates from the 5th century, the two naves are Romanesque and Gothic, and the ornate portals are from the 16th century. The highlight of a visit here is the Burning Bush Triptych painted by Nicolas Froment in the 15th century.

Not far from the Cathedral, the Musée des Tapisseries (Tapestry Museum) displays three sets of 17th- and 18th-century tapestries. Also in the old quarter is the Musée du Vieil Aix (Museum of Old Aix). Housed in a 17th-century mansion, it specializes in traditional Provencal art and decorative objects.

The 12th-century Église St-Jean-de-Malte is in the newer part of town ? the Quartier Mazarin ? on place St-Jean-de-Malte. The church was once the chapel of the Knights of Malta. Across the square, the former palace of the Knights is now the Musée Granet. During the 19th century, the building housed the École de Dessin (Design School) which awarded Cézanne a prize in 1856.

There are eight paintings by Cézanne in the museum, as well as several drawings and watercolors. The collection also includes works by Rubens, David, and Ingres, plus Roman antiquities.

For the quintessential Provencal dining experience, reserve a sidewalk table at Brasserie les Deux Garcons. The waiters in starched white aprons and blackboard menu seem little changed since Cézanne, Émil Zola, and Jean Cocteau were regulars here.

If you prefer something a little more low key, try Le Bistro Latin for fresh unpretentious food that's immaculately prepared. Or splurge at La Clos de la Violette in a lovely villa a short cab ride from town.

Thanks to its large student population, Aix offers more nightlife than Provence's other cities. The Scat Club and Hot Brass both offer live music ? jazz, blues, and R-and-B ? and a convivial, arty ambience.

Day 8 - Aix-en-Provence
There's a food and produce market on place Richelme every day, so why not start your morning there. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, there's a fun brocante market on Place Verdun.

Aix's most famous son, Paul Cézanne, was born in Aix and spent the last 35 years of his life painting here. You can visit his atelier just north of the old town loop, or retrace his steps along the Route de Cézanne.

This three-and-one-half-mile walk winds through the countryside between Aix and the village of La Tholonet. Along the way, you'll pass dozens of places where Cézanne set up his easel, often to paint Mount Ste-Victoire. The tourist office at place Général-de-Gaulle can direct you to the start of the walk, which is well marked with signposts.

Reward yourself with a glass of pastis in one of La Tholonet's cafés before hopping a local bus back to Aix.

Aix has perhaps the best shopping in Provence, so set time aside this afternoon to stroll the side streets off cours Mirabeau. Rues Clemenceau, Marius Reinaud, Espariat, Aude and Maréchal all have lovely shops worthy of exploration. Santons ? carved nativity figurines ? are especially nice here.

Aix is blessed with many great restaurants. Tonight, try Tratorria Chez Antoine Cote Cour for Italian with a Provencal flair. Or Chez Maxime for meats grilled over an oak-burning fire.


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Day 9 - Gorges Du Verdon
Sleep in and enjoy a leisurely breakfast before driving an hour and a half to the Gorges du Verdon.

Often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of France," the gorge is a place of astonishing natural beauty. The emerald green Verdon River has carved a magnificent canyon from the surrounding limestone crags. In places, the steep cliffs descend 2,297 feet to the river below.

The charming village of Moustiers-Ste-Marie serves as the western gateway to the gorge. If you're spending the night here ? and we think that you should ? settle into your hotel and then explore the town.

Nestled beneath towering cliffs, Moustiers is bisected by its own mini-gorge ? a rushing mountain stream that cascades through the town. It's best known for its faience (white-glazed, decorative pottery), and there are many places to buy good examples.

But the real appeal here is physical. Climb the steep Way of the Cross path up above the village and you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of the red-tile village roofs and the Lac de Ste-Croix.

There are numerous hiking trails above the town, each more beautiful than the last. The tourist office in the town can give you all the specifics.

If you prefer less strenuous sightseeing, go for a drive, when you leave Moustiers, head south. The road winds past the gorgeous, turquoise Lac de Ste-Croix before reaching the southern rim of the canyon. Known as the Corniche Sublime, the drive offers one breathtaking vista after another. Best of all is the Balcons de la Mescia, where the Verdon converges with River Artuby.

There are two other towns along the gorge with good accommodations. Trigance is about two-thirds along the north rim and Castellane is the Eastern gateway to the canyon.

Wherever you stay, dine at your hotel this evening and turn in early so you'll be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning.

Day 10 - Gorges du Verdon
The day is yours to explore the canyon whichever way you'd like.

You can drive all the way around the gorge in 82 miles. There are many beautiful stops en route, so plan on taking the entire day to do so.

The loop road that starts just north of La Palud-sur-Verdon runs right along the north rim and provides some of the best views. The northern part of the loop is one-way, so you mustn't start directly east of the village.

Other highlights of the drive include Point Sublime, Pont de l'Artuby ? a graceful bridge spanning the abyss, and the village of Aiguines which has a 17th-century chateau with views of the lake.

Hikers can choose from brief jaunts to all-day treks. Several Sentiers de Grande Randonée (GR) trails ? the French equivalent of National Scenic Trails in the United States ? are available. As a rule, these trails are well-marked and well maintained.

There are also numerous local trails to choose from. Two from Point Sublime lead to the bottom, where, depending on the level of the water, hikers can reward themselves with a cooling plunge in the river. Count on at least half a day for either of these hikes.

Water lovers can experience the canyon any number of ways. White-water rafting, canoeing, floating, kayaking, and white-water swimming are all available. Trips range from two and a half hours to all day.

There are several adventure travel companies in La Palud sur-Verdon and Castellane where you can make arrangements.

The water level in the Verdon varies dramatically, so if you plan to explore independently, make sure you find out what the current conditions are before heading out.

After a full day enjoying the great outdoors, chances are you'll be ready to turn in early after a quiet dinner.


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Days 11/12/13 - Cote d'Azur
Hit the road early this morning for the drive to the Riviera. Known as the Cote d'Azur, the stretch of coastline from Nice to Menton is recognized the world over for its beauty and joie de vivre.

Because it is a major transportation hub with good air and rail service, Nice is the best place to end your trip ? you can return home or travel to your next destination easily from there.

The Riviera is so compact that you can choose almost any place along the coast as your base and still see all the sights. Bear in mind that traffic can be heavy during the spring and summer, so brief distances may take longer to cover than you would think.

If glamour, designer boutiques, and sophisticated nightlife are what you're looking for, base yourself in Cannes, Nice, or Monte Carlo. But be prepared to part with some money ? you'll pay for the privilege of staying here.

If you'd prefer something a little quieter and more low key, choose Antibes, Villefranche-sur-Mer or Le haut-de-Cagnes, one of the hilltowns overlooking the sea.

Public transportation is frequent and easy to manage, so depending on where you stay and where you want to go, you may be able to turn in your rental car.

Regardless of where you choose to stay, if you'd like to see Cannes, it makes sense to start your Riviera explorations there. An hour and a half from Castellane, Cannes is best known for its Festival International du Film. The city is cosmopolitan, bustling, and, yes, expensive. And it's great for star gazing (the Hollywood kind), power shopping, and gambling ? Cannes has not one but two glittering casinos.

There's not really much to see in Cannes. And the beaches ? for which you will have to pay ? are not the Riviera's best. But the main boulevard, Promenade de la Croisette, is lovely, lined as it is with flowers and palms. At the Vieux Port (old port), you'll see colorful fishing boats and luxurious yachts. And the views from Le Susquet above the port are well worth the climb.

Cannes, understandably has some of the best ? and most expensive restaurants on the Cote d'Azur. When money's no object and you're willing to truly dress for dinner, try La Palme d'Or in the Hotel Martinez, La Belle Otero on the 7th floor of the Carlton, or Villa des Lys in the Martinez. For great food and nice ambience without breaking the bank, consider Bouchon d'Objectif. And for something less formal, Montagard is great for vegetarians.

Car lovers should plan to visit the Musée de l'Automobiliste in nearby Mougins. One of the best collections in the world, the museum displays more than 100 rare automobiles. If you did extremely well in the casino, consider lunch at Le Moulin de Mougins. Since this is one of the top 20 restaurants in France, don't even think about arriving without a reservation.

North of Mougins, away from the coast, is Grasse, the perfume capital of the world. Nearly 75% of the world's essences are produced here from the petals of violets, carnations, jasmine, and other fragrant flowers. You can tour three perfume factories here. Parfumerie Fragonard is the best of the batch.

And if you are a fan of the painter Fragonard you can see a nice collection of his work at the family villa in Grasse.

For a special lunch, visit La Bastide St-Antoine. For excellent bistro fare, try Arnaud's off the Place aux Aires.

Just across the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels) from Nice, Antibes offers a little harbor filled with fishing boats, markets bursting with fresh flowers, and sandy beaches that are among the most appealing on the coast. Base yourself here if you prefer waterfront strolls to grand casinos.

There are several good restaurants to choose from here. Although the menu at La Bonne Auberge is less ambitious than in years past, it's still a solid choice for classical cooking. The wood-burning oven at Le Brulot does wonderful things for pork, lamb, and seafood ? and it's relatively inexpensive. Another affordable option is La Taverne du Saffranier for Provencal bistro cooking.

Even if you don't stay in Antibes, it has several worthwhile attractions, notably the Musée Picasso. Housed in the palatial Chateau Grimaldi, once the home of Monaco's ruling family, the museum contains 300 creations by Picasso, plus work by Calder, Miro, and Leger.

While you're in the neighborhood, visit Cap d'Antibes, the tiny peninsula just south of Antibes. Home of the legendary Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc, Cap d'Antibes has hosted stars, royal, and artistic luminaries since the 19th century.

To see exactly what the attraction is, walk from the Plage de la Salis in Antibes three-quarters of a mile to the Phare de la Garoupe (Garoupe Lighthouse). The views of the sea over the thick pines will take your breath away and remind you of what the entire coast was once like.

Six miles inland from Antibes, Haut-de-Cagnes is a fine destination for those who wish to stay away from the coast in one of the Riviera's hill towns. You can tour Les Collettes, Renoir's lovely home, and explore Chateau Grimaldi, a fortress dating back to 1309.

Excursions to Vence and St-Paul-de-Vence are mandatory for modern art lovers. In Vence, 14 miles north of Nice, the Chapelle du Rosaire was decorated by Matisse. Brillaint shades of blue, green, and yellow stream though his stained glass windows onto the chapel's white tiles. Matisse himself considered the church his masterpiece.

The Old Town of Vence with its ochre Hotel-de-Ville (city hall), 15th-century square tower, and beautiful fountain is very attractive in its own right. The Cathedral has an interesting mosaic by Chagall. And the town market on Place du Peyra is especially good.

You can get a great lunch of spit roasted meat or seafood at Auberge des Seigneurs.

Four miles southwest of Vence, St-Paul-de-Vence is the most visited of the Rivera's hill towns. Get there early or late to avoid the crowds.

Cars are prohibited within the city. So plan to explore the antique shops and art galleries that line rue Grand on foot.

The main attraction here is just outside town on a forested hilltop. Foundation Maeght is one of the preeminent modern art museums in Europe. Calder, Miro, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Braque, and Leger are all represented in this splendid gallery that fits into its natural surroundings beautifully.

St-Paul's other big draw is the Colombe d'Or. Luminaries from Picasso to Kipling to Yves Montand and Simone Signoret have dined on its terrace or amid its fantastic art collection. Come for the romance, come for the scenery, but don't come for the food.

Nice has much to commend it, but you should base yourself here only if you realize that it is France's fifth largest city. Some of the best museums in Southern France are in Nice, and if you plan to visit several, the Carte Passe-Musée is a good investment. It includes admission to the seven of the city's better museums.

Begin your sightseeing of Nice from the promenade des Anglais. This wide boulevard lined with grand cafés and swank hotels runs along the beach for four miles. If your feet wear out, you can take the Train Touristique de Nice, which stops at all the sights every half hour.

For a splendid view of the area, take the elevator up the steep hill known as the Chateau or "the Rock." Then stroll through the gardens. Nice's old graveyard ? the fourth largest in Europe ? is at the north end of the Chateau. East of the Rock is the Harbor, a great spot for a drink or a bowl of bouillabaisse.

Vielle Ville, the old part of the city, is the most charming place to wander. Make sure you include an early-morning visit to the flower market on cours Saleya. From there, wind your way through the narrow streets, exploring whichever chapels strike your fancy.

The Musée d'Art Moderne is in the neighborhood, as is the Opera, designed by the architect of the Paris Opera.

Must-sees in Nice include the Cathedrale Orthodoxe Russe St-Nicolas a Nice, the most beautiful Russian Orthodox church outside of Russia; the Musée de Beaux Arts; and the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire Palais Massena, housed in a fabulous Belle Epoque villa.

Two outstanding museums make a visit to the Cimiez quarter worthwhile: the Musée Matisse and the Musée National Message Biblique Marc-Chagall. The former has an extensive collection of the modern master's work. The latter is simply stunning, particularly the concert room with its brilliant stained-glass windows.

Golfers can play the oldest course on the Riviera, at Nice's Golf Bastide du Roi. If tennis is not available at your hotel, try the Nice Lawn Tennis Club. And of course, all manner of water sports ? including windsurfing, parasailing, and jet skiing ? are available at the beach.

Fortunately, some of Nice's most enjoyable restaurants are also affordable. L'Olivier offers updated, lighter entrees which make the most of local ingredients. Although it has no phone and doesn't look like much, La Marenda is the best bistro in Nice. Stop by in person to make a reservation. And for Provencal cooking in a hip, casual atmosphere, try Le Safari. If you can nab a table on the outdoor terrace, so much the better.

Spend an evening at the Casino Ruhl, where you can watch a Vegas-style revue in the Cabaret before you hit the tables. If you prefer something quieter, try Le Relais American Bar in the Hotel Negresco or Piano Bar Louis XV.

When you want to dance, there are lots of choice including L'Ambassade, near the Hotel Ambassador, or Disco Butterfly. Gay travelers will also find lots of options here. Best known of Nice's gay clubs are Le Blue Boy and L'Ascenseur.

There are three roads leading to Monte Carlo: the Basse Corniche, the congested coastal road which runs right through the main streets of the Riviera; the Moyenne Corniche, which offers great views and winds through several picturesque towns; and the Grande Corniche, the high road where you'll make great time but see little en route.

Physically six miles east of Nice along the Basse Corniche, but psychologically light years away, Villefranche-sur-Mer is a lovely little fishing village. If you stay here, you'll enjoy the best of both worlds: narrow, cobbled streets, a picturesque harbor, and a laid-back atmosphere 15 minutes from the pleasures of Nice or Monte Carlo.

Jean Cocteau decorated the 14th-century chapel here and Somerset Maugham camped out at the Hotel Welcome. Explore the rue Obscure, which looks like it belongs in North Africa, wander the waterfront, and keep an eye out for Tina Turner who owns a villa here.

For impeccably fresh seafood, or a well-priced bouillabaisse, dine at La Trinquette or La Mere Germaine.

East of Villefranche, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is arguably the most exclusive resort on the Riviera. The tiny peninsula has attracted the rich and famous since the remarkable Grand Hotel de Cap-Ferrat opened in 1908. Even if you stay elsewhere, you can still use the beach here for a fee.

St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is worth a visit if only to see the Musée Ile-de-France ? the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Explore the seven themed gardens with their breathtaking views and admire the exquisite collection in the legendary Cote d'Azur villa.

Have lunch at Le Sloop in the Nouveau Port. You'll get fresh seafood well prepared, a nice view of the harbor, and a good selection of local wines, all reasonably priced.

The tiny principality of Monaco is a mere 13 miles from Nice. It's ruling family, the Grimaldis, is the oldest in Europe. Needing an additional source of revenue and not wanting to further tax his subjects, Charles III opened a casino in Monte Carlo in 1856. The rest, as they say, is history.

Even if you don't intend to gamble, do visit the casino. Its gilt, rococo splendor impresses even the most jaded. Jacket and tie are required in the back rooms and you'll need to bring your passport.

While you're there, visit the Opera, which is part of the casino complex. Its gold leaf chandelier weighs 18 tons. Also in Monte Carlo is the Musée National which has an interesting collection of dolls and mechanical toys.

The Palais Princier, residence of the royal family, is located across the harbor in Monaco Ville, the older part of the city. During the summer, you can tour the palace and watch the changing of the guard at 11:55AM. Inside the palace, the Musée Napoleon contains many souvenirs and personal items belonging to Napoleon.

The city's aquarium ? the Musée de l'Oceanographie ? is one of Europe's best. If you're interested in marine life, plan to spend a couple of hours here.

The Prince was an avid car collector and you can see more than 100 automobiles ? from a 1925 Bugati to a 1986 Lamborghini ? in his collection at Collection des Voitures Anciennes.

Monte Carlo Beach is, ironically, actually in France. If you want to surround yourself with the beautiful people, this is the place, though by the time you pay for the changing room, a locker, and a mattress, a day at the beach here can be pretty spendy.

Plage de Larvotto, Monaco's free beach, can be reached by escalator from the Place des Moulins.

Monaco offers some culinary diversion for those who've had enough Provencal cooking. Visit Le Texan for Tex-Mex, burgers and killer margaritas. Stars 'n Bars has other American specialties in a sports bar setting. And Rampoldi offers Italian food with a French twist.

Savor your last night on the Cote d'Azur by doing whatever you'll miss most ? watching a Mediterranean sunset from a shady terrace, dining in a three-star restaurant, or playing twenty-one in one of the world's most glamorous casinos. If you're very lucky, maybe you'll win enough to come back next year and do it all over again.