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Oct 10, 2006 05:14 AM

Avignon or Aix?

We are traveling to Paris at Thanksgiving, and then are going to spend about 4 days in the south in early December, probably based in Avignon or Aix en Provence. Deciding where to stay is in my view highly dependent on which town has the superior food. Also, any food-focused holiday events in the region we should know about?

Or should we push further south to the Cote D'Azur, so we'll be a little warmer? What's the best base for dining if we head down to the sea?

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  1. Can't speak to the relative merits of the food in either place, but if you're traveling by rail, Avignon is the better alternative. It's more of a rail center with easier access to cities up and down the coast and the Rhone. It's been a couple of years and things might have changed, but my recollection is that most interesting rail excursions outside of Aix required a changeover in Marseilles.

    1. Of course, I'm going to limit my response to food, though I'm tempted to point out to the previous poster that trains are not necessarily the best way of taking a day trip within Provence. Busses run much more often, go absolutely everywhere, and are cheaper. And if you have a car, so much the better!

      I'd choose Aix which is good on its own merit but then has proximity to Marseilles, Cassis, and Roussillon - all great destinations for food and tourism. You will, of course, try the Callisons d'Aix, those pretty iced diamond cookies sold on the Cours Mirabeau.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Steve

        Second on the Cassis recco, I've decided if I have to be reincarnated, I want to come back as a dog in Cassis.

        A string of wonderful restos around the one of the prettiests harbors in the world.

      2. Aix, hands down, no contest. It's full of life and character with great eating and good peopel watching. Avignon is wonderful too, don't mean to downplay it at all. But Aix just seems more alive.

        I like inland Provence more than the Cote D'Azur, but I'm a countryside kind of gal. The Cote will be forbidding weatherwise at that time - go in spring or summer!

        2 Replies
        1. re: potterstreet

          Speaking of 'Inland' Provence, the Vaucluse (the Department of France just north of Aix), has so many great places to eat, especially in Fontaine de Vaucluse and Roussillon.

          1. re: Steve

            You must buy the Guidebook to the Luberon Region of Provence by the Winns. We were in Paris and Provence in May and this guidebook was indespensible, especially when it came to finding restaurants and wineries. They discuss all of the little medieval villages in great detail (including very specific directions and tips on where to park) and have a giant portion devoted to both Arles and Aix. We were only in Avignon briefly (we took the TGV from Paris to Avignon - that's totally the way to do it, IMO, since it was such a fabulous ride, inexpensive and the perfect way to see some countryside) but spent an entire day in Aix. It's a lovely city but we were certainly more captivated by the little medieval villages like the aforementioned Roussillon. Other gorgeous towns are Gordes, Bonnieux and Lourmarin.

            You really can't go wrong in The Luberon region, especially if you are looking to spend some time on the countryside after being in big city Paris. There is so much to do and see. The TGV from Paris to Avignon is 2 hours and from there you can rent a car and find somewhere to stay (we stayed in a tiny hamlet surrounded by gorgeous mountains called St. Saturnin Les Apt) and then do little day trips each day. We based our trip around finding the best restaurants and we weren't disappointed. Feel free to contact me offlist if you want to talk further. Oh, and here's the Winn's website for the guidebook.

        2. If you only have 4 days, definitely Aix. It is a beautiful town with good food and great cafes. Avignon itself is wonderful and has couple of excellent restaurants, but the area around it is a bite more industrial. You will get a more feel of Provence around Aix, with its wonderful markets, informal restaurants and country inns. Make sure to check the opening as some are closed during part of Dec.

          1. The first time we were there we stayed in a lovely B&B called Mas Shamrock in St. Remy de Provence. 20 min. drive from Avignon. The 2nd time we stayed at Hotel Europe which is right inside the gates in Avignon which was also wonderful (good Sunday brunch!). I'd have to say that one of our favorite restaurants of all time is in Le Baux at the bottom of the hill called Oustau de Baumaniere.
            You can find the B&B in Alastair Sawday's Special places to stay website (I've stayed at tons of B&Bs that I've found on this site and all were terrific).

            3 Replies
            1. re: pmannon

              Before you go into the Oustau de la Baumaniere, check price on the menu outside the door. I looked in September and the price was nearly $200 per person without wine. This is an expensive luxury inn and its restaurant is the same.

              1. re: CJT

                Yes, sorry - should have mentioned that. This was our big splurge meal for the trip. It was worth every penny though! One of the best meals of my life.

                1. re: pmannon

                  Thanks to all for all of your great advice. I think Oustau de la Baumaniere may be a little out of our budget, especially at the present rate of exchange. I knew I should have opened a bank account in Euros a few years ago.