France is one of the most visited countries in the world and for good reason. After my visit to the stunning Cote D’Azur and the wine region of Provence, I know why. These two regions of southern France make for the perfect road trip as you get a mix of beautiful beach and stunning wine regions.
I combined these two regions because you can see on a map that they are essentially right next to each other. If you have the time to spare, absolutely make sure to visit both places. Provence is home to beautiful French villages that rank up with the best of Europe as well as the typical French wine region that is somehow just more cute just because of its Frenchness. If you’ve been to Champagne or Burgundy, you’ll know what I’m talking about!
The Cote D’Azur is world famous for its stunning Mediterranean coastline of crystal clear blue water, hillside villages, and the most posh towns in Europe. Home to places like Nice, St. Tropez, Cannes, Cassis, and Marseille, this stretch of coast line is breathtaking for its natural beauty.
I spent just over a week visiting these destinations drinking my way from north to south. I visited a seemingly endless list of beautiful villages, ate delicious French cuisine, and watched countless sunsets. This is how I structured my trip and the places I visited. If you’re also planning a trip through southern France and are overwhelmed with which villages to visit/stay, and which wineries to drink at, hopefully this guide will help you out!
Where I went in Southern France
I had a total of 8 days to explore Southern France. This is probably not enough to really see everything but it was enough for me to get a good flavor of the region. I split
There is not much distance to travel on this trip especially if you start and end your trip in Marseille or Nice. The wine region is all within a two hour drive from either city and the drive between the two cities is just two hours. However, if you plan on visiting many of the smaller towns and wineries, you will spend a lot of time driving just because of the small roads.
Where is Provence?
The Provence wine region is located in the south of France between Avignon and Nice. It stretches through multiple regions from mountains to sea. Like the other wine regions in France, I find the naming and organization confusing. There are two
Avignon is one of the most popular cities in this region and
When did I visit Provence and Cote D’Azur?
I visited Southern France in the summer in mid June. This is the high season but also when you can expect great weather day in and day out. It was definitely a busy time of year to go but it isn’t as overwhelming as July or August.
I specifically chose this time because I wanted to see the lavender fields in all their beauty.
If I come back to the region, I would probably visit in the early fall or late spring to avoid the crowds. Of course this means I don’t need to see the lavender fields.
In total, this itinerary is anyone that has one to two weeks of time. This trip can be done starting in Marseille or Nice.
These are the places I visited in Provence and Cote D’Azur:
- Aix En Provence
- Various villages in Provence
- Calanques National Park
- St Tropez
If these places ring a bell and sound like the places you want to visit, this is the perfect itinerary for you! Note that there are SO MANY more villages to visit in the area but these were the ones I saw with the time I had. You don’t need much time in each town so if you want to spend less time wine tasting, and more time village hopping, this is also a possibility!
How to get around Provence
Unlike other parts of France where you can get around by public transportation, you really need to have a car to explore Provence and the Cote D’Azur. If you’re just planning to visit the main towns like Marseille, Nice, Aix En Provence etc. then the bus and train system will suffice. However, if you want to explore the countryside and really immerse yourself in it all, you will need to rent a car.
There are no buses that will drop you off at the wineries around Avignon for example. There are no Ubers to speak of in this area of France and taxis are both expensive and elusive. Essentially, you won’t get much wine tasting in if you don’t rent a car which is probably the main reason you want to come here!
Driving in Provence
Driving in Provence is both simple and beautiful. The Provence landscape is famous for its rolling hills lush green vineyards, and picturesque French villages. It’s a view you won’t tire of while driving.
The driving is quite easy and the roads are perfectly fine. The distances between places might seem short but make sure to budget more time because you won’t drive more than 70km/hr at most points. Gas is abundant and easily found all along the way.
Wines in Provence
The main grapes in the Provence region are the Syrah and Grenache. The Syrah is a variety of grape that grows on hillsides, and is known for its full body, blackberry fruit flavors and robust tannins. While it will not age well, it can be enjoyed young. The Grenache is a red grape with similar characteristics to the Syrah, but with more tannin and acidity. It tends to be lighter in flavor than the Syrah, and has a shorter aging potential.
Full Provence and Cote D’Azur Itinerary
The trip starts in Marseille. There are cheap flights from where I live to Marseille airport making it an easy stop for me. However, if you’re starting out in Paris, it’s also easy to take a high speed SNCF train to Marseille. I rented a car from the airport in Marseille which is probably cheaper than Nice.
From Marseille, I traveled northeast to the town of Aix En Provence which is in the heart of the Provence wine region. Aix is a beautiful town itself and warrants at least a half day to wander through the streets. From Aix, I used it as a base to explore the different wineries in the region as well as the beautiful villages of the region. Avignon was also part of a day trip along with numerous wineries. From Aix, you can also see the beautiful lavender fields at certain times of the year.
From Aix En Provence, I drove straight to Nice through the countryside passing through beautiful vineyards and towns. Nice is the posh city on the Cote D’Azur where France’s wealthy like to vacation. From Nice, I took day trips to the city state of Monaco (really purely just to check off another country on the list) as well as the picturesque mountain town of Eze.
From Nice, I then drove along the Cote D’Azur taking day trips to the town of Cannes and St. Tropez. Finally, I drove back to Marseille stopping along the way to visit towns like Cassis and the Calanques National Park. The trip ends in Marseille.
Conversely, you could easily start and end this trip in Nice and do the exact same itinerary.
Day 1-2: Marseille
The trip starts in the beautiful port city of Marseille. Marseille is essentially the western edge of the Cote D’Azur so whether you start in Marseille or Nice, you can do this itinerary the same way.
Marseille is literally the complete opposite of Nice. While Nice has always been a beautiful city for the rich and wealthy, Marseille evolved in a different way. It was once home to traders, merchants, fisherman, and generally working class people. Throughout the ages, the king of France had tried to also attract wealthy people into moving to Marseille by building beautiful Parisian style housing blocks but the upper class preferred to stay in the villas outside of the town.
Nowadays, Marseille is still a class of the working people with prices far cheaper than that of Nice. Marseille gets a bad reputation of being dangerous, dirty, and generally undesirable. However, I actually really like the city and find it much more beautiful than many people think. It has a lot of character with prices that are much more reasonable than the rest of the Cote D’Azur. There are amazing and unique hotels in Marseille as well.
Free walking tour of Marseille
I only had a half day in Marseille and going on the free walking tour of Marseille was the best option to get a flavor of the city. This tour meets at the waterfront in the middle of the old town and takes you to the main sights of the city.
Visit the Old Town and the port
The Old City is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Marseille. It consists of several buildings from different periods and styles, including churches and homes that have been remodeled over time with modern materials like concrete.
The Old City is filled with cobblestone streets and alleyways that make it hard to get lost or confused while exploring this part of town. You can also find local shops selling French pastries, cheeses, wine, and other foods at this location.
If you are looking for something more upscale than just eating food off tables on the street, there are several restaurants located inside this area as well as outside it where you can enjoy a meal while watching people walk by on their way home from work or school.
La Joliette Neighborhood
This neighborhood is located on a hilltop overlooking Marseille’s old port district — La Joliette. The neighborhood has an active nightlife with plenty of bars and restaurants as well as art galleries and theaters that host live performances throughout the summer months. La Joliette also has several museums including LE ARCHE (which houses artifacts from antiquity), FRANKLIN’S CAFE (where you can sip coffee while reading up on local history),
Day 2: Aix En Provence
Aix-en-Provence is a beautiful city in southern France. It’s a 45 minute train ride from Marseille and can be visited as a day trip from the city. I decided to stay in Aix En Provence as a base for my exploration of the wine region, lavender fields, and villages.
Aix En Provence itself is a beautiful little town with a vibrant city center. The best thing to do in Aix is to take a walk around the city, which is filled with beautiful buildings and old streets. I stayed at a beautiful guesthouse just outside of Aix but would spend my nights walking around the old town and eating at its numerous restaurants.
Make sure to visit the large Aix En Provence cathedral which is the most noticeable thing in the city.
Staying at a beautiful Maison in Provence
One of my favorite parts of visiting France is staying at an authentic Maison. Maison’s are essentially French estates that are turned into guesthouses. I stayed in a beautiful maison bed and breakfast while visiting Burgundy and wanted a similar experience in Provence.
I ended up booking 3 nights at the beautiful La Feraude bed and breakfast. This house was located on a beautiful plot of vineyards and had an enormous property. The owners were very friendly and the rooms spacious. The breakfasts every morning of croissants and coffee overlooking the vineyards was the best way to start the day.
Day 3: Villages in the Provence region: Gordes, Bonnieux, Lacoste,
This day is entirely dedicated to exploring the beautiful villages of Provence. This wine region is not only hope to beautiful wineries but also some of the most picturesque villages in all of France. I don’t know what it is about France but they just know what they’re doing when it comes to constructing beautiful villages.
In and around Avignon are a plethora of beautiful villages nestled in the mountains and vineyards for you to visit. There is not enough time to visit all of them so I’ve narrowed my list of villages for the day to Gordes, Bonnieux, and Lacoste. The day starts in Avignon however as this is one of the major towns in Provence.
Avignon has a rich history going back to the Roman era. It was an important city in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. The papacy of Avignon was briefly independent from Rome during the 13th century.
Avignon was eventually incorporated into France but it remained an important cultural center for centuries afterwards. Nowadays, Avignon is best known as a major film location in period films like “The English Patient” and “The Da Vinci Code.”
The old town of Avignon is a UNESCO world heritage site and is renowned for its historical significant and architectural beauty.
The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes). This magnificent building was constructed between the 13th and 16th centuries by popes as a residence. Inside, you’ll find incredible artwork from artists like Raphael and Michelangelo.
Avignon is also famous for its Pont d’Avignon, the famous bridge made popular by the song “Sur le pont d’Avignon”. This bridge is unfinished standing half way out into the river. This is because the arches would consistently collapse during floods and the project was abandoned during the 17th century.
The town of Gordes is located on the northern side of France, in the department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. It is a small town with a population of about 1,300 people. Gordes has many beautiful buildings and monuments that are worth visiting.
The first thing that you should do when visiting Gordes is to visit the cathedral called Notre Dame de l’Assomption, which was built in 1683 by architect Jacques Androuet du Cerceau and his son Jean-Baptiste Androuet du Cerceau. The cathedral has two spires, one at each end. The spire in the middle is high enough for an adult to stand up on top of it and look over downtown Gordes. The other spire can be climbed using ladders or stairs; it is taller than the one next to it.
Another place that you should visit while in Gordes is La Croix de Fer Abbey, which was founded in 1180 by St Bernard de Clairvaux (1175 – 1253). It is located on a hilltop overlooking all of Gordes; this makes it very popular with visitors because they have a good view of everything happening around them.
Bonnieux is a very pretty place with lots of charming houses and gardens that surround the river bank and ancient castles (some with little shops inside). The river Saône flows through town and there are many bridges where you can walk along it looking at all the houses along the way. Bonnieux’s old town is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.
The most famous sight in Bonnieux is the Basilica of St. Sernin (the patron saint of the city). This is an important pilgrimage site for Catholics who come from all over Europe to see the statue of St. Sernin which is said to have miraculous healing powers.
Bonnieux is also known for its viticulture and winemaking industry, with vineyards stretching along the banks of the River Bouzaine and vineyards across much of the rest of the town.
One of the most famous places in Roussillon is La Bastide-de-Sérou. This castle was built around 1200 and it has been restored several times since then. It’s now open to visitors who can explore its rooms, halls and towers during guided tours offered by local guides.
The town also has a small medieval quarter with narrow streets lined with shops selling local products like pottery made by hand or wine poured straight from barrels into glasses sitting on display tables outside their stores’ doors.
The Senanque Abbey, or the Abbie Notre Dame de Senanque is a must visit destination on a trip through Provence. The Senanque Abbey is a Cistercian monastery that is still in activity.
You can visit the abbey and take guided tours through the property for €8.50 during certain hours of the day. The bigger draw of this church however is its incredible lavender fields.
It is a truly magnificent view looking through the lavender fields with this medieval building in the background.
I did not go inside the abbey but I don’t think it’s necessary.
Day 4: Lavender Fields of Provence
The next day was dedicated to visiting the lavender fields and more wine tasting. Provence is world famous for its lavender fields which are among the most picturesque in the world. The region is renowned for its lavender and produces around 70% of the world’s lavender oil. It is also home to the world’s oldest lavender festival, La Fête du Lavandin, which takes place every year on June 6th and lasts through the next day.
They cover approximately 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) and represent an important part of the agricultural economy. The lavender is grown in these fields to produce essential oil for perfumery, cosmetics and aromatherapy.
When to visit the lavender fields?
The beautiful lavender fields of Provence are fleeting. The crops take much of the year to grow and they are at their most beautiful and deepest purple color for only two months. From mid June to mid August, you can see these beautiful fields as their fullest and most purple. By the end of the summer, the crops are harvested and the fields are no longer purple.
Valensole Lavender Field
Throughout the Provence region, you’ll see lavender fields scattered throughout the farm land as you drive through. However, I think the most photogenic and the largest of the bunch are the lavender fields near the town of Valensole. Valensole town is roughly 1 hour away from Aix En Provence and is well worth the visit. If you don’t have a car, there are numerous day trip options that will take you to Valensole as this is a popular activity.
Upon arriving at the Valensole lavender fields, you’ll see enormous farms with purple lavender as far as the eyes can see. I parked the car next to Lavandes Angelvin, one of the many farms that produce grow and produce lavender related products. From the parking lot, you have lavender fields on both sides of the main road that will blow you away.
I’ve never seen lavender fields before but the deep purple and the endless amounts were truly mesmerizing. There’s no need to explain with words any further so I will just leave you with these amazing photos!
Chateau La Dorgonne
Chateau La Dorgonne was one of my favorite winery stops along the trip. They have a huge estate with a beautiful traditional French manor on the property. They have many hectares of grapes with views for days. This winery even has a short hiking trail around its property to look at all the different types of grapes grown.
Unfortunately, most of the wineries in Provence do not sell wine by the glass as it requires a separate license. However, this winery sold cold bottles and allowed people to drink this wine while walking through the vineyards.
Chateau La Coste
Chateau La Coste is one of the biggest wineries in all of Provence. They are not just a winery but also an art gallery. This place has multiple restaurants and wine bars where you can sit down and by wines by the glass.
Day 5: Drive along the Cote D’Azur
The Cote D’Azur (Azure Coast) is one of the most stunning things you can do in France. This stretch of coastline between Nice and Marseille is filled with beautiful beaches, clifftop views, beautiful towns, and more. France really does have so much to offer in such a small country that it’s somewhat unsurprising that French people love to vacation in their own country.
On this day, it’s a long day of driving as you’re essentially driving from Aix En Provence to Nice along the coast. I didn’t have time to see all the towns I wanted to and actually took day trips from Nice to see the ones I missed (Cannes).
Calanque National Park
The Calanque National Park is a national park located in the Cote D’Azur region of France. The park was established in 2012 and covers an area of 21,500 hectares. The park is home to a variety of wildlife including birds, reptiles, and mammals. The Calanque National Park is also a popular destination for hikers and climbers.
There are numerous areas in and near Marseille to explore the calanques with the most stunning being the Belvédère de Sugiton between Marseille and Cassis. The cliffs are absolutely stunning and remind me a lot of the Greek Ionian island landscape which makes sense as this is all the Mediterranean.
Falaises de Cassis viewpoint
I didn’t have enough time to hike much unfortunately. Don’t worry however as the Calanques can be seen through the entire coastline of the Cote D’Azur. For the best views with the least amount of work, go to the Falaises de Cassis just outside of Cassis. This viewpoint is absolutely breathtaking. You also have the best photo opportunities in the Cote D’Azur with numerous ledges that look straight down to the sea.
Just look at these photos!
The town of Cassis is a small seaside town in Provence. It is located on the Mediterranean shoreline, about 3 km northwest of Vence. The town’s history goes back to ancient times, as evidenced by its Roman name, Civitas Cassia. In the Middle Ages it was a fortified village, and from the 16th century it was an important trading post between Europe and North Africa.
In the 19th century, Cassis became a tourist destination because of its beauty and its proximity to Cannes and Antibes. Tourism has since become an important part of its economy.
The Old Town has many winding streets lined with old houses with wooden balconies overlooking the sea which are characteristic of Provence. The buildings are painted in bright colors and often have flowers growing in pots on their roofs.
Cassis is famous for its seafood restaurants specializing in fish dishes such as turbot or sole meunière. Some people enjoy visiting at night when there are no tourists around but I had to visit during the day when tourists were at their peak.
You may want to visit the castle in Cassis if you have time because it is really beautiful inside and outside. The castle was built in 1204 by King Louis IX over a period of 200 years. Inside there are many art pieces as well as paintings from famous artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, etc.
The town of St Tropez has a long and varied history. It was first settled by the Greeks in the 6th century BC, and later became a Roman port city. In the Middle Ages, it was ruled by the Counts of Provence. In the 18th century, the town became popular with artists and intellectuals, and later became a fashionable resort for the wealthy. Today, St Tropez is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France attracting tourists from all over the world.
There are many things to do in St Tropez. Visitors can enjoy the town’s nightlife, shopping, and dining. There are also many museums and art galleries to explore. The beaches are a great place to relax, sunbathe, and swim. For those looking for a more active vacation, there are plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and water sports.
St Tropez is definitely a luxury premier destination. The price of food and drinks here are among the highest in France as you can expect from the Cote D’Azur in general. I stopped in St. Tropez just to walk around the streets and have a glass of wine by the port.
St. Tropez is nice and picturesque but I honestly didn’t think it was anything more special than any other town you can see along the Mediterranean.
Finally, the last stop of the day as in the town of Cannes. Cannes is famous for their annual film festival which attracts the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Like St Tropez, Cannes is also known for its luxury hotels, high end shops, and overall big spending. It is a beautiful city on the beach but unless you are into flashing the big cash, this is a in and out type of trip.
Day 6-8: Nice and Monaco
Not to be confused with the word nice, Nice (pronounced niece) is the biggest city of the Cote D’Azur. This beautiful seaside town is full of history, romance, and beautiful sights.
Nice is a stunning city that has been a major tourist destination for centuries. It’s a mix of modernity and antiquity, and is an ideal place for visitors to enjoy a holiday with all the entertainment options you could wish for.
Old town of Nice
The old town of Nice has many attractions and is a must-see for anyone visiting the French Riviera. Here are some of the best things to do in Nice’s old town:
Take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais. The promenade runs along the Mediterranean Sea, where you can see an abundance of restaurants, shops and hotels. You’ll also find several large cruise ships docking at this port, so it’s a popular place for tourists to enjoy a day on the beach.
Visit Vauban Citadel (Citadelle). The citadel was built by the French military in 1749 to protect Nice against attacks by Barbary pirates (who were at war with France at that time). Today it contains several museums including one devoted to military history and another that showcases art from around the world.
Visit Old Town Square (Place Masséna). This square is home to many beautiful buildings including City Hall and La Rotonde Restaurant, which offers breathtaking views of Nice from its terrace.
Monaco Day Trip from Nice
I spent a total of 3 days in Nice which is a good amount of time. One of the days was for driving and checking out the independent country of Monaco. From Nice, it’s an easy 30 minute drive to Monaco along the sea. If you do not have a car, the public bus regularly makes the journey between Nice and Monaco.
I purely visited Monaco just to check it off the list as a new country. Not even going to hide it!
This tiny little country is in fact the richest country in the world on a GDP per capita basis. The “average” income here is $180,000 and this doesn’t tell the picture at all since it is just filled with ultra rich people sheltering from tax.
Monaco has a population of just over 36,000 people with many more residents being ultra wealthy people from all over the world that set up residence in Monaco as it is a tax haven. The amount of ultra luxury sport cars and super yachts will blow your mind. This whole place is just one big money pit.
Nevertheless, the city itself is actually quite pretty, albeit lacking of much character or substance. The gothic style buildings are very beautiful and its location sandwiched between mountain and sea is stunning.
There aren’t many things to do in Monaco besides walking around and admiring the crazy amount of wealth residing in this city. A visit to the world famous Monte Carlo casino is a must however. The casino was built by Prince Charles III of Monaco in the early 20th century, who also built the palace that sits on the hilltop above it. You can visit this casino on your way to see other sights in Monaco such as the Palace Palace or Princess Grace Museum.
Eze is a town located in the Provence region of southeastern France. It is situated on a hilltop 700 meters above sea level, and has stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea. The town is known for its medieval architecture, beautiful gardens, and excellent restaurants.
The history of Eze dates back to the Roman era. The town was first settled by the Romans in the 1st century BC, and later became a medieval town. In the 18th century, the town became popular with artists and intellectuals, and later became a fashionable resort for the wealthy. Today, Eze is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France.
The main thing to do in Eze is simply to walk through the old town. Eze is unique in that the old town is located at the peak of the mountain with the famous Exotic garden at the very top. The old town is quintessential Europe at its finest. Cobblestone streets, medieval buildings, quaint shops, and fantastic cafes are all on offer.
When you’re done exploring the town (no more than 30 minutes), make sure to visit the Exotic Gardens at the very summit of the town. This botanical garden is home to an incredible amount of exotic plant species, most of which are not native to France.
I’m not sure how this garden came to be as this space was formerly a fort to no doubt act as a lookout for invaders. Above all, the views from gardens is absolutely breathtaking. you can see the entirety of the Cote D’Azur all the way to Nice. Certainly worth the 5 Euro entrance fee! Truly breathtaking.
Cote D’Azur and Provence Itinerary Day by Day Breakdown
This is a day by day itinerary of the trip:
Day 1: Arrive in Marseille, explore the city
Day 2: Marseille in the morning, drive to Aix En Provence in the afternoon
Day 3: Provence villages day (Avignon, Gordes, Bonnieux etc.)
Day 4: Provence lavender fields and wine tasting
Day 5: Drive to Nice
Day 6: Nice to Monaco and Eze
Day 7: Nice and nearby Cote D’Azur towns.
Day 8: Drive back to Marseille stopping along the various towns in the Cote D’Azur
Day 9: Fly out of Marseille
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