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Provence or Cote d'Azur in March?

k
kfoster21 Jan 9, 2010 06:37 AM

We enjoyed Paris so much over New Years that we are planning on going back to France in the second half of March. We enjoy short driving trips, staying in four or five places over the course of a long week. My original plan was to do this in Provence, probably going to Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, etc. Reading the thread on Nice has suggested that the Cote D'Azur might be a good alternative.

From a purely foodie point of view, given the time of year, any recommendations regarding our destination? Any "must-eats"? Also, given the amount we spent on eating Paris, affordable good eating is a consideration as well. Thanks!

  1. menton1 Jan 12, 2010 06:51 AM

    I do also think that hotel-hopping for 1 night stays will be not only time-consuming and tiring, but will eat in to your vacation and enjoyment time. I think it would be much better to establish a base and go by car in a radius around it for your dining and touring. You just can't do it all in one trip, and it makes for a good reason to promise to return next year!

    I also would like to reiterate my thinking that the Eastern Riviera might be a better choice in March. The weather will be a bit milder, especially in the protected towns, like Menton. There's lots of non-eating stuff to do as well, it's a cultural bonanza from Nice outward, including museums, historic sites, and nightlife. Great restaurants abound, as long as you stay away from the tourist lists. As an extra bonus, Italy is only a few minutes away, with another culture, and an entirely different cuisine. Bordighera is wonderful in March! Also, just over the border is Hanbury Gardens and the Museo de Balzi Rossi, with it's prehistoric artifacts!

    Go back to Provence in May-June or Sept-Oct of next year, that is the ideal time for going inland. IMHO!!

    1. souphie Jan 11, 2010 10:18 PM

      You should get the last issue of "Etoile", themagazine of the Michelin guide -- it has a story "autour du Mont Ventoux" with a series of one star restaurants and bib gourmands that made me want to go right now.

      1. menton1 Jan 11, 2010 10:58 AM

        I don't want to belabor the issue of Provence vs. Riviera; Both areas have good and bad restaurants, and both areas can be pretty pricey, Provence thanks in large part to Peter Mayle.

        Actually, the Riviera can have lovely winter days. Some of the protected towns can get up to 60° in the afternoon, and although it's not beach weather, can be rather nice. Actually, the origins of the Riviera as a resort is as a winter getaway. The summers used to be off-season!!

        St Trop is a place to avoid, I agree. But just 5 miles away is the dreamy village of Grimaud, and the other side of the Bay is St Maxime, much better and untouristy.

        And my namesake, Menton, is really quite a nice town, and has a microclimate based on its protected situation that makes it about 10 degrees warmer than the surrounding areas!

        6 Replies
        1. re: menton1
          ChefJune Jan 11, 2010 11:49 AM

          My first visit to the Riviera was in early March, and the day I walked down to the beach in Nice, I was surprised to see bathers without tops. It was a sunny, but not what I'd call a "sunbathing" day.

          1. re: menton1
            PhilD Jan 11, 2010 01:37 PM

            "Actually, the Riviera can have lovely winter days" of course it can. My comment was a comparative one. My advice to an infrequent visitor to France is to try and see each region when it is at it's best, so on balance Provence is probably a safer bet than the Riviera. If they can a tour from Avignon, across to Grasse, then dropping down to the coast then heading along it before ending up at Aix is a week well spent, and you can get the best of both. However, I think a week on the Riviera in march may not have the variety.

            1. re: PhilD
              k
              kfoster21 Jan 11, 2010 01:57 PM

              Thank you for all of the replies. Rather than choose one or the other, I am going to try and balance both Provence and the coast. Right now, the plan is two nights in Arles, one in Avignon, one in Aix (or at La Feniere), one in St. Tropez, one in Antibes, and the last three in Nice. We are flying in and out of Nice. We are planning on lunches in Les Baux, St. Paul de Vence, Eze, and possibly in Marseille. I love costal scenery and don't usually find it boring so hopefully this will be a good balance.

              1. re: kfoster21
                Parigi Jan 11, 2010 02:36 PM

                They are all nice places to stay, but I want to point out that some of the places are so near, do you really need to pack and unpack nearly every day just to go to a neighboring town and basically see the same neighboring sites?

                If I were you, I would extend my base in Antibes to 4 nights and not stay in Nice, because they are practically neighboring towns (about 20 min train). You can stay in Antibes and easily visit Nice, Eze, etc.
                Ditto I would make Arles the base for 4 nights and not stay in Avignon or even Aix, because they are nearby and have similarities as Provençal towns, but Arles is more compact and more charming, with a large number of good eateries. Staying in Arles, you can still make Avignon or Aix or St Rémy a day-trip.
                Les Baux has a very nice restaurant - Le Cabro d'Or, with a lovely garden.
                Vegetating in the sun and finishing up the last drop of wine is a big part of the charm of southern France. Remember: slow down, don't do too much.

                1. re: Parigi
                  k
                  kfoster21 Jan 11, 2010 06:13 PM

                  Parigi, I don't entirely disagree with you; however, part of our rationale for changing towns is to have the ability to eat dinner where we are staying. I wouldn't want to have a nice dinner and bottle of wine in Avignon and then have to drive back to Arles, for example. We generally prefer a leisurely dinner and a gentle walk back to the hotel. Maybe I can come up with three, three night locations.

                  I am curious, why do you recommend staying in Antibes rather than Nice?

                  Thanks for the Le Cabro d'Or suggestion - it looks perfect.

                  1. re: kfoster21
                    Parigi Jan 12, 2010 01:34 AM

                    The reason I recommended Arles as a base is also for the eateries. Not that the other towns don't have good places to eat, but Arles uniquely has a concentration of good restaurants, sort of like the San Sebastian of Frannce: Rabanel and Chassagnette of course, plus many very good bistros.
                    Why Antibes over Nice? The Vieille Ville of Antibes has a very nice, old Riviera feel.

          2. souphie Jan 11, 2010 05:51 AM

            Provence is better than Riviera for affordable good eating. Riviera is more concrete and tourist prices.

            3 Replies
            1. re: souphie
              menton1 Jan 11, 2010 09:08 AM

              I respectfully disagree. If you stay away from the tourist lists,(INCLUDING LA MERENDA!) the Riviera has some top notch serious eating, just as good as any of those in Provence. BTW, there is no shortage of tourist trap restaurants in Provence, either.

              1. re: menton1
                PhilD Jan 11, 2010 10:43 AM

                However, in March the Riviera can be very chilly. Going to beach resorts out of season can be nice because they are quiet, but I believe you can miss out on a lot that makes them good, especially on the Riviera (I know I did it). Provence on the other hand will still reward with ancient towns and villages and great scenery. It may still be cold but as you are inland maybe less of an issue.

                Both areas have good restaurants and lots of bad ones. The OP lists lots of big towns in Provence, my advice would be to get out and stay in the smaller places in the countryside. The board has lots of recommendations for good food, often in hotels.

                1. re: menton1
                  souphie Jan 11, 2010 10:49 AM

                  I was just referring to price. Of course thre Riviera has top notch serious eating, and Provence has its share of tourist traps. But prices are more gentle by Simiane la Rotonde than they are by Saint Tropez, no? And there's more nature to be seen.

              2. beaulieu Jan 9, 2010 11:19 PM

                My list in Provence would be La Fenière in Lourmarin; Edouard Loubet in nearby Bonnieux; Jean-Luc Rabanel in Arles and La Chassagnette nearby. They are not inexpensive, but the rapport qualité-prix is a lot better than in Paris.

                2 Replies
                1. re: beaulieu
                  k
                  kfoster21 Jan 11, 2010 03:32 AM

                  Thank you both. I think we are going to try for a small taste of both. Any recommendations in Cannes for lunch or St. Tropez for dinner?

                  1. re: beaulieu
                    Parigi Jan 11, 2010 06:17 AM

                    I agree Arles has serious eats, esp beaulieu's recs.
                    For the Luberon part of Provence, one of my faves is Bartavelle in Goult.
                    St Tropez is very nice off season. But one doesn't go there for the food.

                  2. g
                    girlstead Jan 9, 2010 07:50 AM

                    Do go to la Merenda - booking only by person, cash only. That said it really is a delight. Very friendly.Anyone know the name of the restaurant run by the grandmother and her daughter? its in vieux nice aswell. NY times wrote a great review.which has pride of place in the window.Food not wonderful but if you find it you will have so much fun.Like eating at your grannys! get there early.

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