The last week of our summer in Paris was spent exploring beautiful southern France, specifically the Cote D’Azur and Provence. We took the TGV (very fast train) from Paris to Marseille, where we rented a car and drove along the coast and up into the mountains, taking in incredible scenery and visiting many adorable little towns. We stayed in three different cities – Saint Maxime, Nice and Aix-en-Provence – utilizing a mix of hotels and AirBnB rentals.
Overall, we had an incredible trip and it was a great way to close out our European adventure. Today, I’ll share the details of our travels, including what we saw and how much we spent!
Part I: The Cote D’Azur
After picking up the rental car in Marseille, we immediately headed out of the city to the small, coastal town of Cassis. The main draw to Cassis was Les Calanques, incredible limestone cliffs that overhang the Mediterranean Sea. We took a boat ride to get the best views of Les Calanques, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. BF and I both agreed that this was a can’t miss stop in the Cote D’Azur.
From Cassis, we took a drive along the coast. We made a quick stop in Saint Tropez, home to ginormous yachts and known for being ritzy. We weren’t terribly impressed, so we headed on to Port Grimaud. Port Grimaud was adorable, full of canals lined with restaurants and just dripping with provincial French charm. We had a great dinner overlooking the water before heading to our final destination, Saint Maxime, where we would stay for the night.
The next day we spent the morning at the sandy beach in Saint Maxime before heading off on another drive. We stopped in Cannes for lunch and then visited a glass blowing factory in the small town of Biot. From there we drove on to Nice, where we arrived in time for dinner in the city.
We stayed in Nice for the next three nights. Our first day in Nice was spent exploring the city. We walked around the old town area and enjoyed the Italian-inspired architecture. We explored the weekly antiques market (held on Mondays) at the Cours Saleya. We swam in the Mediterranean (our first time!) and tried to adjust to the rocky beach (not idea – wear water shoes!). We climbed up Castle Hill for a great view of the city. We took a nap (travelling is exhausting! Especially the way we do it). Overall, we both really enjoyed the city and thought it was a great base for exploring the region.
Our second day in Nice was spent exploring the region surrounding the city. We started off in Saint Paul de Vence, an adorable medieval town perched atop a hill. We then drove to Vence, another medieval town nestled within a larger, modern city.
Our next stop was Villefranche-sur-Mer, a coastal town with buildings climbing steeply up the hillside. We enjoyed lunch along the water before heading on to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. There, we spent some time exploring the incredible gardens at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. Man, those Rothschilds sure had a nice life!
After the villa, our next stop was the tiny hilltop village of Eze, which offered incredible views of the surrounding region. We explored the town a bit before heading on to Monaco. There we saw the casino and lots of insanely expensive cars and stores. I guess just looking at people who spend a lot of money has become a tourist attraction, because there were certainly lots of gawkers! We headed back to Nice for dinner before calling it a night.
Part II: Provence
The morning we left Nice, we headed in the direction of the Gorges du Verdun. We planned to drive along the rim to take in the views on our way to Provence. The beginning of the drive started in the town of Castellane, where we happened along the Tour de France! It was a complete coincidence that the bikers were coming through town on the day we were there, so we decided to change our plans a bit to see the riders come through. It was a very popular and crowded event and lots of fun to see. Apparently there is something of a parade that comes through before the bikers, but the bikers themselves only take about 10 minutes to ride through the city.
From Castellane we took the road that leads along the Gorges du Verdun. There were lots of narrow, twisting roads along the edge of cliffs, so this drive is not for the faint of heart! We got some nice views and even stumbled across fields of sunflowers and lavender along the way. We stopped briefly in the cute town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie before driving to Aix-en-Provence, where we stayed for the night.
Our second day in Provence was spent exploring Aix. The city is known for its fountains and it certainly has no shortage of them! We particularly enjoyed the fountains for the cool, drinkable water they provided (it is hot is Provence!). The city also had about five different markets going on every day, so we enjoyed exploring those and even picked up food for a picnic lunch. Just a note, we did have an unfortunately parking incident that involved our car being towed in Aix, so be careful to read parking signs!
The next day we explored the area around Aix, starting off with the village of Les Baux-de-Provence. There, we visited a site that houses the remains of a medieval fortress, called the Château des Baux. We also went to a site unlike any I have visited before, called Carrieres de Lumiere. The site is a giant old cave that now is used for immersive digital projections. It’s like you’re watching a giant video on every surface that surrounds you. It was really cool, both in terms of content and temperature (again, it was HOT!).
We drove on to the towns of Saint Rémy de Provence and Avignon. Neither town particularly impressed us (I suppose at some point you’ve seen all the adorable French towns you can handle), so we just made quick stops in each. We then headed to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, where all wines with that appellation are made. We visited two wineries and did tastings at each. The tastings were free (!) and lots of fun. We ended up buying a bottle and we’re going to see if we can be patient and let it “age” so that it reaches its full potential.
For our final day in Provence, we visited Château La Coste. La Coste is an incredible site that has both a winery and an outdoor sculpture park. We took a tour hour, self-guided art and architecture walking tour before doing a guided tour of the winery. I think France might have made me a wine snob!
After our winery tour and a late lunch, we got in the car for a final drive back to Marseille, where we caught the TGV back to Paris. We had an incredible visit in southern France and would highly recommend a trip to others. Even though we feel we got a good taste of the region, there are still lots of places we’d love to go back and see another time.
Part III: The money
Now on to the good stuff: how much did all this cost? Well, we did save some money because we were travelling from Paris, so we didn’t have to buy international tickets from the US. We also saved by staying in lower cost hotels and AirBnB rentals. That said, we didn’t really try too hard to be frugal on this trip. It was our last hurrah in Europe and we wanted to experience everything. We ate so much great food and saw so many beautiful places. The money was well worth it!
Here is the full breakdown of everything we spent:
Have you ever been to the Cote D’Azur or Provence? What was your favorite thing you did or saw there?