News and Opinion from Anne Barone to Keep You Chic & Slim

|| 6 August 2015

Provence Trip Report

As you know, I am a Provence sort of person. Recently friends visited that very popular southern region of France. Here is the report.

Okay, I get it, the reason for all the books about Provence. The south of France is gorgeous and has guaranteed sun during summer months. It is now almost completely developed for mass tourism and large-scale expat settlement. It is a major destination for a chunk of the 83 million tourists France gets every year.

Arles and Avignon are fully walkable. Beautifully restored. We focussed on the Van Gogh 'tour' in Arles. Marseille was the big pleasant surprise. We expected shabby and crime-ridden; we got a restored harbor and 17th century fort, pleasant streets and old city under renewal. Very walkable from railroad station. (There was a Le Figaro story about how criminals are still in charge but have gotten smart and suppressed street crime so as not to hurt the tourist trade).

Nice is the fifth largest city in France, with the second busiest airport. 'Old Nice' is the best part. Beach area is accessible by street car (easy to use) from the area near the railroad station where we stayed. Latter was heavily Muslim. There were more beggars (clearly Gypsies) and street people in Nice than in the other cities. The Chagall museum was terrific. We ate at a 'resto' (slang for restaurant) in the old city recommended by our neighbors who have a condo near Nice (to which they travel several times a year). Resto pretty good but not outstanding, with a touch of indigestion after.

We used TGV, Intercites and TER (local service) passenger rail in France. TGV from Brussels to Avignon was a bit shabby —clearly older equipment. TGV 'duplex' coach from Avignon to Nice was new, classy. 'Intercites' first class coach was spotless, generously supplied with areas for baggage. This system is supposed to be upgraded to compete better with TGV but I didn't see the need.

Montpellier is a big junction. Station was modern, comfortable but crowded as several trains were running late. Like Marseille, there was a Yamaha upright piano in concourse that patrons could play. What a great idea — fun and relaxing for the pianist and a diversion for harried people. Unfortunately the piano wasn't in good shape, so hard to play. My turn was after a jazz pro who played a lot of patterned riffs. (I also played a Yamaha at a resto in Roussillon, one of the hill-top villages we visited during our one-day tour of Provence). The French love piano music. We heard people practicing as we walked around the old city quarters in several towns.

We did day tours of Provence and Cote d'Azur through the 'Viator' company. Our guide for Provence was a scary driver on hair-pin mountain roads and was relentless in pushing us through a full day program of punishing hikes up to hill-top forts and through Roman ruins in baking heat. Our guide for Cote d'Azur was a skillful driver with just the right amount of explanation, taking us to Monaco, Antibes, Cannes and other fabulous enclaves for the super-wealthy. The coast is truly spectacular. Again, I get it. If I were a billionaire, I'd want a villa in Cap Ferrat too. And a yacht in Antibes. And to cavort in Cannes with the 'cineaste' crowd.