Provence and the Cote d'Azur - travel notes

      architecture    art    food and wine    history   
      This itinerary originates in Paris and ends in Nice. If you haven't been there before, we suggest you spend at least three nights in Paris either at the beginning or the end. For a list of our recommended hotels in Paris, click here.

      Day 1
      The French National Railroad, (SNCF), offers high-speed rail service between Paris and Avignon. A TGV leaves Paris Gare de Lyon station around 7:00 each morning. The two-and-one-half-hour trip costs between 40EUR and 90EUR one way, depending on the class of service and the time of departure. Schedules, fares, and reservations are available at, or

      Pick up your car in Avignon. We encourage you to get an International Driver's License before you leave home. They are available at most AAA offices, $10 for members, $15 for non-members.

      The best deal we found for rental cars in France was through Auto Europe. They work with all the rental companies to find the best deals, so their rates are very attractive. Contact them at

      For very specific information about driving in Europe, including translations and road signs, visit You'll find detailed driving directions for France at

      For personality, it's hard to beat Grand Hotel Nord-Pinus. Right on the lively Place du Forum, the hotel has a romantic past ? Cocteau, Picasso, and Hemingway have all visited. It's décor is colorful and eclectic and the overall ambience is charming, though the more conservative may prefer the more sedate atmosphere of the Jules Cesar. Another plus is the excellent, stylish brasserie. Street noise can be a factor, so if you turn in early, request a room over the courtyard.

      The Hotel Jules Cesar is housed in a 17th-century Carmelite convent, though you wouldn't know it. Today, it's strictly a four-star affair with all the expected amenities including a pool and lovely cloister. The restaurant is one of the best in town.

      Once the private home of the Counts of Arlatan de Beaumont, Hotel d'Arlatan enjoys a quiet location easy walking distance to all of Arles' attractions. The 15th-century stone house is beautifully decorated and the inner courtyard makes a lovely spot for breakfast.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Arles, click here.

      Day 3 - Avignon
      Though expensive, La Mirande is likely to please even the most jaded traveler. Elle Décor describes it as, "one of the most refined and harmonious hotels in the world." In a 14th-century Cardinal's Palace transformed in the 17th century into a town house, La Mirande is beautifully decorated, and located ? the Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace) is across the street.

      Hotel d'Europe is somewhat less expensive but charming alternative. This 16th-century home has been a hotel since 1799 and has welcomed Napoleon, Victor Hugo, Tennessee Williams, and numerous other luminaries.

      The Cloitre Saint-Louis was originally a 16th-century school for Jesuits. Remodeled in 1990 by architect Jean Nouvel, the hotel now combines modern design with the lovely architectural features of the original building. It's not for everyone, but it is a good value. In summer, the outdoor, rooftop pool is a plus.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Avignon, click here.

      Day 6 - Gordes
      Travelers to the Vaucluse may overnight in Gordes, Roussillon, or Bonnieux. Gordes offers more choices ? in more price ranges. But the recommended hotel in Roussillon is outstanding.

      In Gordes, Ferme de la Huppe has 9 rooms in an old stone farmhouse and its outbuildings. The property has a beautiful swimming pool and courtyard garden. And a well-run restaurant.

      Part of the Small Luxury Hotels group, Hotel les Bories offers several different types of rooms. Original rooms are in the farmhouse. Rooms in the new wing provide either a balcony or a patio off the garden. Regardless of which room you choose, you'll enjoy an indoor and outdoor pool, tennis, fitness center, and good restaurant.

      Also in Gordes, Domaine de l'Enclos is a five minute walk from town. Made up of several small stone cottages, this sophisticated inn has a pool and wonderful views.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Gordes, click here.

      A typical Provencal farmhouse overlooking the Luberon, La Mas de Garrigon is a charming place to stay in Roussillon. There's a swimming pool and a nice terrace for lunch. Those looking to get off the tourist trail might prefer staying here to staying in Gordes.

      For our recommended hotel in Roussillon, click here.

      Housed in an 18th-century abbey, Hostellerie du Prieuré is right in the center of Bonnieux. It has a nice garden in which to relax and a good restaurant, but alas, no pool.

      Le Clos du Buis is another good value in Bonnieux. This spic and span little inn has a swimming pool, a garden, and good views of Mont Ventoux.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Bonnieux, click here.

      Day 7 - Aix-en-Provence
      Aix is blessed with several fine hotels. The nicest of these is Villa Gallici. Created by three partners, (two of them decorators), this is a wonderful property ? stylish, elegant, understated. Each of the rooms is well-appointed and beautifully decorated. There is a lovely terrace and an attractive swimming pool. It's significantly more than our other recommendations, but it's virtually guaranteed to impress.

      A very good value in the heart of the old town, Hotel des Quatre Dauphins is small but comfortable and very nicely located

      For those who prefer to be away from the bustle of the city, Mas d'Entremont is a stone farmhouse just outside town. The beautiful gardens, swimming pool, and restaurant combine to create a pleasant place to stay.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Aix-en-Provence, click here.

      Day 9 - Gorges
      Three-star chef Alain Ducasse has created a perfectly charming hotel just outside the lovely little village of Moustiers-Ste-Marie. Guests at La Bastide de Moustiers receive exemplary hospitality and incredible food amid lovely surroundings. Each of the rooms is individually decorated, and there is a swimming pool.

      In the heart of Moustiers just above the bridge, Hotel Le Relais is a less expensive alternative. The small rooms are neat and tidy, and the restaurant serves good country cooking.

      Part of the prestigious Relais et Chateaux chain, the Chateau de Trigance is located about two-thirds of the way between Moustiers and Castellane. Built in the 11th century by the St-Victor monks, the castle offers an authentic, if imposing medieval experience. The restaurant enjoys a solid reputation.

      Castellane has the most adventure companies and many rafting trips leave from there. Outdoor adventurers will get the most from the gorge by overnighting there. We have not inspected the hotels in Castellane and cannot vouch for their quality, but the two we listed will probably be acceptable for adventurers.

      For a list of our recommended hotels near Gorges, click here.

      If you are interested in a rafting adventure in the Gorge, you can obtain more information by visiting,, or For those who want to raft the river, staying deeper into the gorge will be more convenient.

      Day 11 - Cote d'Azur
      There are hundreds of places to stay on the Cote d'Azur and the area is small enough that you can explore it all from almost any base.

      If you want glamour, luxury, lots of nightlife, and world-class shopping, you'll like Cannes, Nice, or Monte Carlo. There are more ? and better ? affordable accommodations in Nice than in Cannes or Monte Carlo.

      Those seeking a less glitzy, more laid-back experience will probably prefer Antibes, Villefranche-sur-Mer, or one of the hill towns.

      Cannes has a seemingly endless supply of "palace" hotels and if this is what you are looking for, you should have no trouble finding one. We recommend the Carlton Intercontinental, The Majestic, or the Splendid.

      For travelers who want to stay in Cannes, but don't want to spend several hundred dollars a night, the Hotel Villa de l'Olivier is a very good value. Built as a private villa in the 1930s, today the hotel has a kidney-shaped pool, luxuriant gardens, and a good location.

      Another affordable choice is the Hotel Moliere. It's a mere 100 meters from the beach and many of its 24 rooms have terraces.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Cannes, click here.

      Further down the coast, Hotel Mas Djoliba is a great buy. This cute Provencal farm house is set amid beautiful gardens between Antibes and Juan-les-Pins. It has a pool and a restaurant.

      In Juan-les-Pins, sort of a suburb of Antibes, Hotel Juana has an abundance of F. Scott Fitzgerald style. Originally built in the 1920s and recently refurbished, the hotel has a sandy beach, a marble pool, and a shady grove of pines.

      Two miles south of Antibes, Hotel Imperial Garoupe is less spectacular and less intimidating than its neighbor, the Hotel du Cap-Eden Roc. In a pine grove 50 yards from the beach, the Imperial Garoupe has all the style you'd expect from a member of the Small Luxury Hotels chain.

      For a list of our recommended hotels near Antibes, click here.

      Nice also has it's share of grand hotels, but we've found several with lots of personality.

      Once the villa of the Belgian author, Palais Maeterlinck occupies 9 secluded acres outside of town. While the rooms are undeniably luxurious, it's the olive trees and cypresses surrounding the terraces and pool ? as well as the views of the sea below ? that distinguish this property. It's as expensive as most of the Cote d'Azur five-star hotels. But with only 39 rooms, it's much more intimate.

      Set in a three-acre park, the Chateau des Ollieres offers every modern amenity ? including Internet access and e-mail modems ? in a Belle Epoque villa. Built as the residence of a Russian Prince, it has only eight rooms and is a five-minute walk to the Hotel Négresco.

      For unrivalled views, La Perouse is the clear choice. A former prison carved from a seaside cliff, the hotel lobby is reached by an elevator.

      The Windsor is an artistic, post-modern fantasy. With it's Buddha and cartoon murals, it's probably not for everyone. But after half a dozen stone farmhouses, it could provide a welcome change of pace.

      The Gounod is the value winner in town. Guests here can use the pool, sauna, and other facilities at the Splendid, next door. For the money, the hotel is attractive and nicely-located.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Nice, click here.

      If the idea of staying at a hotel which has hosted everyone from Somerset Maugham to Richard Burton to Michael Douglas appeals to you, we recommend the Hotel Welcome in Villefranche-sur-Mer. Situated smack dab in the center of town and on the water, it offers the best of both worlds ? and terrific views. Most rooms have balconies, be sure to request one.

      For our recommended hotel in Villefranche-sur-Mer, click here.

      For those who want to get away from the crowds of the Cote d'Azur, The Cagnard in the hilltown of Haut-de-Cagnes is an excellent alternative. A member of the Relais et Chateaux chain, its 13th-century medieval ambience is the perfect antidote to the Riviera's brass and glass.

      For our recommended hotel in Haut-de-Cagnes, click here.

      If you want to stay in Monte Carlo, you may want to stay at either the Hotel de Paris or the Hermitage. The former is the address in town. Perhaps the address on the Cote d'Azur. Located on the Place du Casino, this Belle Epoque palace has 200 rooms, a state-of-the-art spa and one of the best restaurants in the city. If you have to ask the price, keep looking.

      The Hermitage features an Art Nouveau steel-and-glass dome designed by Gustav Eiffel. The rooms here vary quite a bit in terms of size and location. Be specific when making reservations or you may be let down. The public areas are sure to impress, however.

      Slightly less expensive, the Monte Carlo Beach Club is actually on the French side of the border. Smaller, less formal and more oriented toward the sea, this is a lovely property.

      For a list of our recommended hotels in Monte Carlo, click here.

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