Exploring the south of France will sweep you off your feet in the most wonderful way. We found ourselves making our way through a number of small Provincial towns we had never before heard of on our way to the Riviera. This was a portion of our mega-journey as a continuation of our Bordeaux to Lyon segment, but would be a wonderful Couple’s trip itinerary on its own.
The first town we stayed in was Avignon. This ancient city was once the center of Papal power before it was moved to the Vatican.
The oldest part of the town is surrounded by a medieval rampart wall creating the sensation of stepping back in time. The town itself can be explored in one day, including a stop at the Papal palace where you must invest the 2€ for the audio guide to get the most out of it.
Make sure to venture across the river for a different perspective of the 900 year old bridge (Pont de Avignon) which at one point had an impressive 22 arches. The city stopped maintaining the bridge in the 1600s after finding it too costly to repair each time the Rhone would flood. There are 4 arches remaining.
If you visit in May or June, Avignon is a great base for you to explore the nearby lavender fields and even more villages like Aix-en-Provence.
Pont Du Gard
The Pont Du Gard cannot be missed! It is one of the best preserved Roman Ruins in the world.
The ancient Roman aqueduct is about 40 minutes outside of Avignon by public bus for a mere 1.60€. Museum Tickets are about 9-12€ depending on whether you want to walk along the top of the aqueduct or the first level. To reach an ideal photo op, cross the aqueduct to the far side, follow the path to the right, and soak in the view from the cliff.
Plan to spend a half day there, as there is museum the transports you into what life was like during the construction of the aqueduct. Pack a picnic and dine alongside this tremendous part of history.
Arles is about 50 minutes south of Avignon by train. This small town carries an abundance of charm in its castle walls and narrow streets. The center of town is dominated by an ancient Roman amphitheater and an arena still used for bull fighting today!
An affordable and fun way to explore the city is to take the Van Gogh walking tour. The famous painter spent significant time in Arles and many of his works are inspired by local architecture and landscape. Purchase the the 1€ Van Gogh tour map at the tourist office to get started on the walk. There are 9 stops and each one it set up with an easel of the painting inspired by that location, carefully placed right where he would’ve been sitting.
A local food you must try is their fresh bull meat, just look for the word “Taureau”. This may come in the form of a stew or steak and most restaurants will have it on their menu.
The second largest city in France feels lively after spending time in the French countryside.
Feeling up for a climb? Venture to Notre Dame de la Garde cathedral. The church dominates the hill that overlooks the city. It closes at 8pm so if you want to see inside, make your way up early in the day. From the church, it is an easy stroll down the hill to the Old Port. Lines of sailboats fill the harbor surrounded by an abundance of small cafes and restaurants. This is the ideal location to enjoy the sunset.
On the other side of the Old Port, lies the oldest section of town. The narrow alleyways and graffiti walls give this section a unique character all its own. Spend a few hours and just get lost.
Be sure to try fresh fish, mussels, or shellfish at one of the local restaurants as Marseille is known for its seafood.
Getting around: The metro is very convenient and is extremely easy to use, with a ride costing 1.60€.
It is easy for someone to understand why it was nicknamed “Blue Coast” when you’re traveling along the “Côte d’Azur” from Marseille to Nice. Nice is the epitome of the French Riviera with this beachside city having a little something for everyone. With miles of pebble beaches, shopping, and fine dining, you won’t be bored.
Spend a day wandering the old town, the park, and the promenade along the shore if you have the time.
For something unexpected, visit the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the largest Russian Orthodox church outside of Russia. It is about a 15 minute walk from old town.
If you still have any life left in your legs, hike up castle hill for the best view of sunset and the entire city. Make sure to stop and see the waterfall which cascades over the remnants of the original castle. If you get tired of walking, the bus system in town is very simple to use and there are maps at each stop. You can pay 1.50€ on the bus for a journey and any connections for up to an hour.
Try these two foods while in Nice:
- A chickpea crepe called Socca – a very typical snack
- Salad Nicoise (pronounce Knee-Swah)
From Nice, you can easily take a day trip to Monaco if you’re interested in experiencing its lavish aura.