Provence

France’s southern region of Provence is celebrated internationally for its rosé wines, lavender products, sunshine, stunning landscapes with medieval villages, and it’s proximity to the glamorous Côte d'Azur. With so much to see and do, it is easy to spend a week exploring the region.

If traveling to Provence in the summer, you will almost surely cross paths with tourists. The lavender is in bloom in June and July, and is typically harvested in mid-July (this varies by farm). We visited in late June and while some fields were still early, others were in perfect purple splendor. If the lavender fields aren’t at the top of your list, we recommend avoiding the tourists by traveling during the spring or fall shoulder season.

Provence is a large region and our travels have covered only portions. The region is best accessed via the Marseilles or Nice Airports, and for full flexibility on schedule and timing we recommend renting a car. Choose one area to base yourself from or plan a road trip, staying somewhere new each night. We’ve highlighted our favorite towns and routes in the recommendations below.

Attempt to speak French, no matter how rusty it may be! While many in the hospitality industry will have some basic English, this is more difficult to find in smaller towns. It is easy to get by with a mixture of French, English, Google translator, and well-meaning hand gestures, but attempts at their language will go a long way with the locals.

EAT

La Fleur de Thym This gem of a culinary experience was recommended by our bed and breakfast hosts. It’s an unassuming space in the unassuming village of Flayosc, but the fish and meat dishes were fantastic. Try the three course menu.

La Guinguette du Lac This market nearby Plage Galetas and the Lac de Sainte-Croix is a good place to stock up on food stuffs and water before heading to the beach and lake.

Lavender ice cream Nothing quite like it! Find a small stall in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie featuring a non-dyed variety (many glaciers use a purple food die in their lavender ice cream, and while it looks nice it’s not necessary).

DRINK

Restaurant Le Styx at the Hotel Le Provence This restaurant and hotel in La Palud-sur-Verdon is the perfect stop for un café au lait, un biere, or snacks before continuing to or from the Gorges du Verdon. Pleasant outdoor seating in a quiet space.

Rosé wine Provence is one of the world’s top producers and exporters of rosé. There are numerous wineries and vineyards dotting the region, but if you are looking for a special tour or visit we have heard good things about Chateau d'Esclans and Domaine Rabiega. We also recommend Château d'Estoublon. We visited the Chateau while staying in nearby Les Baux-de-Provence. The winery has a selection of reds and rosés, and a delicious olive oil!

PLAY

Lavender Fields The Valensole plateau in Provence has a high concentration of lavender fields, with lavender distilleries (check out Terraoma Jaubert and Lavandes Angelvin) dotting its roadsides. Start just east of Manosque at the intersection of the D4 and D6, and take the D6 east towards Valensole. From Valensole turn left onto the D8 and head northeast. You’ll past a myriad of fields along this route, and we’ve pinned our favorite one just before the intersection of the D8 and D953.

Gorges du Verdon and Parc Naturel regional du Verdon The Gorges du Verdon are considered Europe’s Grand Canyon, and a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Come here for hiking, biking, white water rafting, kayaking, swimming, and more. Also visit the nearby icy, turquoise waters of the Lac de Sainte-Croix, where the gorge begins. The nearby village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is built into the craggy mountainside and located within the Parc.

Pont du Gard This relic remaining from the Roman occupation of France is a first century AD aqueduct. It is considered the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and remains one of the best preserved today, so much so that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a magical experience to walk across the bridge and marvel at the skill of Rome’s early engineers, and admire the view across the countryside.

Provence’s many medieval villages Make time to explore! Some of the ones we’ve passed include Aups, Comps-sur-Artuby, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, La Palud-sur-Verdon and Villecroze. Stop and spend an hour in a traditional Provençal market, often held one day during the week and one day on the weekend.

DAY TRIPs

Arles and Pont du Gard Formerly a provincial capital of ancient Roman, today the sunny city of Arles retains temples and vestiges of its earlier days. Tucked up against the banks of the Rhône River, its charming streets served as inspiration for the painter Van Gogh. We highly recommend an overnight stop here, to or from your way to the Pont du Gard.

Cassis Warranting a weekend visit, this fishing village is known for its beaches, bistros and beautiful calanques. Take a boat tour of the calanques (coves formed from dramatic limestone cliffs that line the Mediterranean coast). We bought tickets the day-of at the ticket stand toward the left of the Port. The 5 Calanques tour was the perfect length! The calanques can also be explored by foot via hiking in the area or by kayak. Eat at Le Grand Bleu, located central in front of the port. While in Cassis be sure to try the local rosé and Provençal mussels.

Gorges du Verdon, Lac de Sainte-Croix and La Palud-sur-Verdon This area could easily be broken down to 2-3 days, for an easier pace. The road leading in and out of La Palud-sur-Verdon, D952, has stunning views of the Gorges far below. For a really wild ride, take the steep and craggily D23 for even more panoramas. Warning, we only recommend this route for experienced and confident drivers! The villages of Aups, Comps-sur-Artuby and Villecroze are adorable and not far from these main sites. Stop for a few hours at one of the beaches along the Lac de Sainte-Croix. We loved Plage Galetas, where we rented a paddle boat for two hours to explore the lake and gorge, and swim.

Les Baux-de-Provence One of the most beautiful villages in France, Les Baux-de-Provence sits between Arles and Saint Remy de Provence. This medieval village rests atop the hill within the Regional Park of the Alpilles, and offers charming store fronts, scenic terraces, and delicious local cuisine. We stayed one night at the bottom of the village at the 4-star Benvengudo.

Valensole Plateau and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie See above under lavendar fields. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is a great stop for a late lunch after a long morning on the D6 and D8 visiting the lavender. Stay overnight night here and then head into the Parc Naturel regional du Verdon the next day to visit the Gorges du Verdon.

STAY

Make the most of a visit to the region by road-tripping and staying in a few places. We would recommend overnight stays in some combination of Arles, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, La Palud-sur-Verdon and Draguignan. Choose a well-reviewed French bed and breakfast for a truly delightful experience with local jams and marmalades, and homemade baguettes and pastries.

We adored our overnight at Bastide des Selves, a quiet country retreat a few miles outside of in Draguignan. Run by a local couple, this small B&B has four spectacularly decorated rooms and serves up a delicious breakfast. We would come back to use Bastide as a base for a longer visit to enjoy the region’s wineries, the nearby Parc Naturel regional du Verdon and beaches of the Côte d'Azur. Both are approximately 40 minutes away by car.

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Paris

The City of Lights and Love is truly special. There is so much to do, see, and taste in Paris and often too little time, making it easy to feel overwhelmed when planning. Besides the major sites, our favorite way to enjoy the French capital is just walking around the different neighborhoods, stopping in a café to just enjoy the moment.

Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly are the two nearest international airports. Orly is smaller and offers the Orlybus shuttle from the airport to Paris Denfert-Rochereau Station in the city center. The bus costs about €8, takes roughly 30 minutes, and departs every 15-20 minutes. It is also possible to take a bus from de Gaulle into the city but may take longer due to traffic. Uber is also in the city and an efficient option.

If you are coming from London, take the Eurostar from St. Pancras Station direct to Paris Gare du Nord. The trip takes about 2.5 hours total.

While Paris is magical any time of year, we love it best in spring and fall. The weather is milder and the tourists that descend upon the city in summer have long gone home. Try visiting during the first weekend of October, when Parisians celebrate Nuit Blanche. “White Night” is an all-night festival when museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions are free and open all night. The city also celebrates special installations and performances which are hosted in public spaces throughout the city.

While in France attempt to speak French! Parisians are friendly but even friendlier if you dust off your rusty high school French.

EAT

Derriere A fun and funky spot for dinner. Good for groups.

Ellsworth Casual spot where the Parisians take on some American classics

Le Comptoir du Relais A well-known bistro in St. Germain.

La Jacobine A tiny, adorable and affordable restaurant in St. Germain. Make a reservation for dinner.

Le Marais Boulangeries (bakeries) Wander around the neighborhood and treat yourself to the local specialities: croissant, pain au chocolate, baguette tradition, and chausson aux pomme.

La Petite Perigourdine Quintessential French restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Try the steak and aligot, a smooth, buttery potato side.

DRINK

Bar du Marché This St. Germain bar is open late and a great stop for a night cap.

Candelaria Not far from Le Marais, this taqueria features a hidden, speakeasy in the back. Good for cocktails.

Chez Jeannette Hip bar between the 3rd and 10th arrondissements with a PYT crowd.

Les deux Maggots Hemingway is rumored to have frequented this old world, St. Germain cafe. Stop here for a coffee or beer and watch the world go by.

Le Syndicat An amazing cocktail bar in the 10th.

Lockwood Relaxed and understated cocktails in the 2nd.

OChateau Wine + Cheese tasting lunch Lunch and learn!

Prescription Cocktail Club Posh cocktail lounge in St. Germain. Recommended by friends.

PLAY

Eiffel Tour Paris’ most beloved icon. Sit on the lawn and admire the view with a picnic.

Jardin du Luxembourg A lush sanctuary in the heart of the 6th arrondissement.

L'Arc de Triomphe Stop to admire this monument built to honor Napoleon before strolling down the posh Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Le Marais One of Paris’ coolest neighborhoods, go for the delicious French pastries, medieval cobble-stoned alleys and trendy boutiques. We especially love Blue Lemon Paris, Merci and Sézane.

Louvre Home to da Vinci’s timeless Mona Lisa, plan to spend at least a half day at the world’s most famous museum. While here, check out the nearby Tuileries Gardens. Bring some cheese, wine, baguettes, and enjoy the views.

Montmartre This village-esque art enclave on a hill is one of our favorite neighborhoods in Paris. Stop by the Sunday Brocante des Abbesses market, admire the Sacre Coeur church, observe the street artists and musicians, and look out across the gorgeous city view. The Moulin Rouge is also nearby.

Musée d'Orsay Internationally recognized for its Impressionist art, including works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne and more. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Notre Dame Cathedral A must see. Truly beautiful architecure inside and it. Aside from your day visit, we recommend an evening walk along the river to photograph the illuminated cathedral.

Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter The 5th and 6th arrondissements are traversed by the ghosts of literary and artistic legends who flocked here in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today these bohemian, student neighborhoods are excellent for a mosey around.

Seine river cruise A bit touristy but offers amazing views of the city from a different vantage point. Go at sunset.

Day Trips

No trip to France is complete without a visit to the Champagne region. Home to Moet, Veuve Clicquot, and Dom Perignon, this region is a must see. Rent a car for a self-guided trip or book a tour through Ô Chateau.

Palace of Versailles The opulent, former seat of the French monarchy is an easy day trip from the center of Paris. About an hour by train, go in the morning to tour the chateau before spending an hour or two in the gardens. For a little insider tip, rent a golf cart to explore the full extent of the gardens. Buy tickets online in advance.

STAY

Our favorite neighborhoods to stay in are Le Marais (3rd arrondissement), the Latin Quarter (5th) and Saint Germain (6th). Airbnbs are generally the best value for money. Friends have also recommended the four star Hôtel Atmosphères near the Sorbonne in the 6th arrondissement.

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Nice

Welcome to the Côte d’Azur! This casual and cool beach town in the French Riviera boasts sparkling Mediterranean coastline, bleached pebble beaches and dramatic cliffs with creeping bourgainvillea and breezy jacaranda trees.

If you are flying into Nice Côte d'Azur Airport, and plan to explore Nice in addition to surrounding areas, hire a car. It is possible, however, and quite easy, to take buses from Nice to Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Eze, and a train to Monaco. Taxis and ubers to and from Nice and Monaco are quite expensive.

EAT

Niçoise specialities include socca (thin, chickpea pancake), pissaladière (a savory tart), gnocchi and the well-known Niçoise salad.

La Cave Nature Chic wine bar with fresh, delicious food in Villefranche-sur-Mer. A great stop for lunch on the way to the beach.

L'Escalinada Romantic restaurant in the Vielle Ville Old Town. We recommend the pissaladière and gnocchi.

DRINK

Provence has been producing rosé wine for nearly three millennia, and the pink drink makes up nearly half of the region’s entire wine production.

La Cave de la Tour Excellent little wine bar in the Vielle Ville. Go for happy hour, they close at 8pm!

PLAY

Eze A short drive from Nice, this charming medieval village on a hill has stunning views of the coastline. Spend time exploring its shops and the beautiful Jardin Exotique.

Parc de la Colline du Chateau This green park, also known as Castle Hill, used to house an 11th century citadel. The hill looks out over the Vielle Ville and coastline, and is worth the climb.

Place Garibaldi An 18th century square in central Nice decorated with powder puff trees.

Promenade des Anglais The Promenade running parallel to Nice’s public beach and bay. Don’t miss the gelato stands!

Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat This forested peninsula, just a few miles from Nice, is known for its old-world glamour.

Villefranche-sur-Mer Another adorable, coastal village with a medieval town, sleepy harbor and beautiful beach.

STAY

Stay near The Promenade for easy beach access or the Vielle Ville Old Town for proximity to restaurants and nightlife. That said, Nice is small at the Vielle Ville is only a 20-30 minute walk from the far side of The Promenade.

We stayed at Hotel de la Fontaine, a 3-star, budget option two blocks from The Promenande and a short walk from central Nice.

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