Help me add a little lagniappe to my France trip
February 2, 2022 6:05 PM   Subscribe

I am traveling to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France for a 5-day wine trip with friends. I don't want to fly to Europe from the US for only 5 days, so I'm adding travel on the front and back end of the group trip. Where should I go?

We are flying into Barcelona, so I think I have the front end addition covered with some time in Spain. On the back end, I'm so far considering Monaco, Saint Tropez, northern Italy somewhere, or hopping a flight to Croatia. Some of the group may join me or I may be traveling alone, and I am a 43 year old lady English speaker. I do not particularly love churches or religious history, nor am I looking for a lot of physical activity. I do love food and drinking (I'm from New Orleans), beaches, urban travel, and biology. I am a fairly fearless traveller and would love to fit in a 3rd country if possible. The only place I have been to in Europe is Portugal. I would consider train or air travel, I prefer not to rent a car.

If you had 3-4 days to travel in the general region of southern France, where would you go?
posted by tryniti to Travel & Transportation around France (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I did a group trip to the South of France last summer and spent a few days at the end on a solo trip. (With the group, we were up in the hills, where I think you may need a car.)

During the time alone, I stayed in Nice and split time between Nice itself and taking the train to Antibes/Monaco/Ventimiglia (Italy). I considered Saint Tropez as part of this, but opted for the other options along the coast. My group had also done a boat trip out of Cannes, which is on the same train line. The train is cheap and easy and the many of the points of interest are fairly close to one another so you could pick a home base and explore a bit. I'm not sure whether walking on hills is more physical activity than you'd like, so I would caution that most of the places I went included significant hilly walks at times.

I like wandering around cities, the beach and eating delicious food, and I also do not want to spend entire days in Europe looking at churches, so I think we have similar travel goals. Here are my high level thoughts on the places I went:

Cannes - enjoyed the boat trip and if I had been solo, would have probably done a ferry to one of the islands for the day. The city near the marina was fun to wonder around but very touristy (even though the guides on our boat said that tourism was only at about 60% capacity last summer).

Nice - enjoyed wandering the city and the beach as well, though the beach is very rocky. I wished I had brought watershoes to make getting in/out of the water easier (aesthetics aside). For a beach day, it is worth it, though not cheap, to rent a chair/umbrella. Lots of good food options in various neighborhoods in the city. My hotel room was tiny/minimal but clean/safe/well-located.

Antibes - more sandy beach options and I had a good meal at a beachfront cafe. I enjoyed a bit of a walk on the coast and through the older part of the city, but mainly spent the day at the beach.

Monaco - I'm not a gambler, so an afternoon there was enough for me. Felt weirdly sterile, like some combination of Disney/Vegas. I think if you are a gambler or willing to stay at a very nice hotel it is a very luxurious experience. Otherwise, you could take the train there for a few hours if you want to go to another country.

Ventimiglia - I believe the last stop on the train line (and only stop in Italy on the French train line, though you can switch to another train line to go further into Italy). Divided into an old part of town up the hill, which was very hilly and quiet, though pretty to walk around for an hour or so, the busier and flatter part of town with stores/restaurants near the train station, and beaches, one of which was lovely, but sort of hidden away. It was moderately rocky, though there was an option to rent a chair/umbrella (significantly cheaper than Nice). Overall, many fewer tourists/a lot of people with no or limited English, but I got by with their English and my limited Italian/French/Spanish mash ups.

If you end up thinking seriously about any of these options, feel free to MeFi Mail if you want more specifics.
posted by Caz721 at 6:34 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]

The area has an overwhelming number of great destinations. A couple of things to suggest:

Toulouse is not that far up the autoroute, and is a lovely city with a walkable center.

I enjoyed Nîmes a great deal. Lots of Roman history and ruins, the city center here too is easy to walk around and explore. The general Avignon-Arles-Beaucaire area has tons of things to see and do, some famous (Pont du Gard, for example), some less so but still interesting. You might check the estate at Mas de Tourelles as an unusual addition to your wine trip--they make wines based on ancient Roman recipes and methods.

Aix-en-Provence is nice any day; they have a lively market day too that's nice to experience.

Not sure how you'd get there on a train (I drove) but Vaison-la-Romaine is a town a bit further up the Rhône valley, with a medieval town on one side of the river and an excavated Roman settlement on the other., with a 2000-year-old bridge connecting the two. Well worth a day trip.

Another place you could spend a day or so, although plane/train connections to there don't really exist: Andorra. The capital is surprisingly urban, and when I was there a few years ago I thought the food scene was interesting. And hey, it's another country. Upside: mountains are beautiful, downside: some neighborhoods are steep and hilly. (Most people drive to get in; that might also downgrade it on your list.)
posted by gimonca at 7:27 PM on February 2

Lyon is a great food town. Montpellier has warm climate and Roman ruins.
posted by matildaben at 7:32 PM on February 2

Ah I love Nice so much. And Villefranche is the next train stop, literally 2 euros down the line.The beach there is easier and the old town is beautiful. Worth a little trip. If you go to Nice and are into this sort of thing, I know a very powerful healer there.
posted by andreapandrea at 7:50 PM on February 2

Biarritz is a lovely beach area in the southwest corner of France. It had a laid back, surf culture vibe to it when I visited. Recollections from my trip there 20 yrs ago (we drove from Portugal): we camped in a pine type forest/campground that was clean and well maintained. It was summertime and there some kind of competition on the beach so there was a lot of people but very much a festival kind of feeling, people sharing food etc. I'm sure there are hotels, we just didn't have money then. I remember an outdoor market that was available daily. If you are thinking about going to Toulouse and you just keep going west it takes you right to Biarritz by train or car.
posted by Ipomoea at 8:59 PM on February 2

I've spent quite some time for work in Zagreb, and while I would recommend a more touristy area I would certainly consider holidaying in Croatia as you suggest, probably on the coast. It's a friendly place and the food is great.

You certainly can find English speakers there but it isn't universal. My standing recommendation for this sort of thing is work out the words for food in advance so that you can read a menu. No one will be too worried if you can't say please and thank you, but if you can read a menu you can point. (That said the language is pretty phonetic.)

The UK is also accessible from where you are in a variety of ways, and it's easy to pass time in London without a car (in fact that's the best way). Good food is easy to find. The weather will be... less nice.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:32 PM on February 2

What time of year? Where are you flying out of? Are you a beach person or a mountain person?

I am a mountain person, and my personal vote would be either the Basque country or Grenoble in the Alpine foothills. I have never been to the former (it's on my list!) but I spent about a month living in the latter. Good train connections, including TGV.

If you were a beach person, I'd suggest Nice which has plenty to do on its own and also makes a great home base for short trips to Eze, Ventimiglia, Cannes, etc. Old Town Monaco was so much better than the Monte Carlo area.
posted by basalganglia at 3:35 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

Also, prior to my trip, a friend recommended a podcast "Join Us in France," which I enjoyed. If you're a podcast person, you may want to browse some of their episodes for places you're planning to go or considering going.
posted by Caz721 at 6:19 AM on February 3

If you are going to head up to Toulouse, you should stop at Carcassonne. Walled city, very old, very cool.
posted by Windopaene at 7:44 AM on February 3

Genoa would be a <3 hour drive or a <4 hour train trip, and it's FABULOUS
posted by ersatzkat at 8:08 AM on February 3

Why not Paris? It will be simple to get there by train and then fly back home from there. Paris has an enormous amount to offer, a few days won't even begin to cover it. Paris is a lifetime.

If you want to stay more local, the southern Rhone is indeed great. A couple of less obvious places to visit.. The Camargue is beautiful marshland and both Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and Aiguse-Mortes are interesting visits. In the Rhone valley, Les Baux des Provence is a great visit for a day. Lots of great restaurants in the area, too.

Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Lyon are all cities in that area that are interesting for a couple of days. I found Monaco terribly boring.
posted by Nelson at 8:44 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]

paris indeed is always good.

the drive on the coast from Cannes to Nice to Monaco is beautiful. we stayed in Monaco mostly to visit the town of Eze, and the best part of the trip was a visit to Le Jardin Exotique in Monaco. just an incredible assembly of rare plants. The beaches in monaco that we went to were more like small pebbles than sand.

while in the topic of cool france adjacent gardens, there are some absolutely incredible topiary gardens in the region of your wine trip, and really all around france. The Hanging Gardens of Marqueyssac is mega on my bucket list, but here's a topiary specific list with a lot of pictures. l
posted by wowenthusiast at 8:58 AM on February 3

I'm going to be spending 3-4 days in basque region in an upcoming trip and it looks awesome.
posted by escher at 9:51 AM on February 3

If you’re traveling around Languedoc-Roussillon, then you’ll probably already be seeing Nimes and Montpelier but if not, Nimes and Montpelier! Neither is beachy though (the beach in Montpelier is maybe 30 min away by local bus). Avignon and Aix en Provence to the east are also must-sees but no beach. Monaco was dull, dull, dull and boring. All the French cities are easily accessible by frequent trains, the stations are centrally located. The intercity busses are cheaper, less frequent, uncrowded and worth checking out. Seriously, the amount of public transport will bring a tear to your eye.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:50 AM on February 3

I know you said you want another country, the area in the Cote d'Azur by Monaco that everyone is recommending is really nice, with great train service, great food, etc. Ditto Paris, truly a constantly replenished feast.

That said, while I always think trains when in Europe, the variety of flights is truly stunning. I would plug whatever airport you're in/out of into Google Explore, and filter for flights less than 4 hours. From Montpelier you can be anywhere from Marrakesh to Stockholm, Athens to Dublin, Tunisia to Berlin in that time. The sky's the limit, literally.
posted by wnissen at 1:14 PM on February 3

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