A road trip to the South of France is nothing short of a dreamy holiday. The trip is a gateway to enchanting vineyards, ochre earth, salmon dyed flamingos, powder pink salt beds, impressive canyons and so much more. We had a terrific 10 day road trip where we explored the popular and much talked about French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur). Honestly when we started our journey, little did we imagine what was in store for us. The trip was a good melange of everything we always longed for on a vacation. The best possible way to enjoy Provence is by doing a road trip to see all the sights and attractions. In this post, we would like to share our French Riviera Road Trip itinerary and also invite you to bask in some of the most breathtakingly beautiful sights of South France.
French Riviera Road Trip / 10 day South of France Itinerary
Day 1: Visit Camargue and halt at Aix en Provence
If you are a lover of nature, then you cannot omit Camargue which is home to a large variety of flora and fauna. It is a natural region in the South of France that is popular for its breathtakingly beautiful landscape, wild white horses,black bulls, rice paddies, pink salt, and pink flamingos. Many a times people skip adding Camargue to their french riviera road trip itinerary and the possible reason for it may be that more days in France means more expenses or because the place is not much talked about by the tourists. Camargue was a suggestion from a dear family member and we are so glad we added it onto our list. We visited the salt works in Aigues-Mortes where we saw pink salt beds. The salt works are almost the same size of Paris and is criss-crossed by more than 340 kms of wandering roads and tracks. The only way you can see the salt beds is by taking the 45 minute train ride. Since they do not take reservations for the Petit Train by telephone, you have to go there and get your tickets to confirm a seat . The cost for the ticket ride is 10 euros for per adult and the tour lasts for about 1 hour 15 minutes. During the tour, the guide will explain in Spanish the history behind the Aigues-Mortes salt works, method of salt production, and you will also get to visit the small museum where there is a free video tour showing visuals of the salt production. We loved how they stopped the train for the tourists who visited to grab a photo with the pink salt beds. Post the tour, we visited the small boutique and bought a few souvenirs. Since Camargue is very popular for its salt, we bought a couple of packets for our family members. Two hours is sufficient for exploring Salin d’Aigues -Mortes. The train ride happens every one hour and is totally worth the money.
Our next stopover was Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau where we saw a plethora of bird species including the salmon coloured famingos. The vast 60 hectare area is entirely devoted to the birds of Camargue.The park has an entrance fee of 7,50€ for adults but also offers slightly cheaper group prices. From the ticket office, you can grab a map which has a well laid out walking route which helps you navigate through the park with no difficulty. We highly recommend you wear a good pair of walking shoes as there is quite a bit of walking in the trail area. There is a small cafe inside the park where you can buy short eats and non alcoholic drinks. The park is a perfect spot for bird watchers and for those who enjoy nature photography. We cannot tell you how excited we were to see the beautiful flamingos. Do consider a visit to the Parc if you fancy a peaceful and undisturbed atmosphere.
What we loved – Pink salt beds and flamingos
Distance to cover – We covered maximum distance on day 1. We spent over 6 hours in the car before we reached our first destination Camargue. The distance from Barcelona to Camargue is approximately 400 kilometeres. On the other days the travel time was 1-2 hours maximum from one city to the next.
Day 2: Aix en Provence-
The name ‘Aix’ comes from the Latin word ‘aquae’ meaning ‘water’ due to the town being built upon a thermal water source by its founder, Roman general Caius Sextius. And Aix en Provence is nicknamed as the city of thousand fountains. Well if you go counting all the fountains, perhaps you will find that the city stands true to its name. We found beautiful looking fountains in every nook and corner of the city. During our time there, we were so excited while on the look out for the fountains. Every fountain is of a different style and you can see them in all kinds of shapes and sizes.The fountains we visited and we recommend are Fontaine du roi René (which features a statue of King René of Anjou), Fontaine Place d’Albertas , Fontaine de la Rotonde,Fontaine des Neufs Canons, Fontaine d’Eau Chaude, Fontaine Marcelle Drutel and Fontaine des Quatre-Dauphins. In addition to the fountain exploration, we also enjoyed strolling through the popular boulevard Cours Mirabeau canopied in trees. If you visit Cours Mirabeau during the weekend, make sure to check out the flee market. You are sure to find second hand wares and vintage items on display and for sale. We also visited the Vieil Aix ( old town ) where stands a town hall built in the 17th century, an old belfy with astronomical clock and the beautiful gothic church Cathedral St. Sauveur . Another church we fell in love with was Église Saint-Jean-de-Malte. We highly recommend you visit the tourist office first and grab your free map before you start exploring the city. We absolutely loved the tourist office there. One of the best we have come across so far with very friendly staff.
What we loved – Fancy looking fountains
Another city worth exploring is Arles , Which is a 60 minute drive from Aix en Provence. If you love a
rtist Van Gogh and his works and if you are a fan of Roman architecture, the city of Arles is totally worth a visit. Van Gogh lived in Arles for a few years and drew inspiration for his works from what he saw around him. The Roman Amphitheatre is a must see . It is surprsing to know that the place is still used for bull fights like in the ancient times. So if you are making a trip in Summer, then we recommend you witness a bull fight and see if you really like what you see. After making a trip to these places, we walked along the river to soak in the views of the beautiful city. We feel the city is perfect for a day trip!
What we loved – The Roman architecture
Day 3 : Cannes and Antibes
Cannes- A city popular amongst tourists for glamour and red carpet screenings. The world renowned International Film Festival is held here annually since 1946. The city oozes glamour, wealth and paparazzi. While in Cannes, we first headed to the Palais des Festivals to get a photograph in front of the famous red carpet! Once you exit the Palais and walk to the left, look on the ground and you will notice something unusual. You will spot the Chemin des Etoiles (path of the stars), something very similar to Hollywood Walk of Fame. It is the star studded floor with hand prints of famous stars. Quite fancy right? We also visited the very famous Carlton Hotel -one of the most beautiful hotels in Cannes. We absolutely loved the grandeur style and elegance of the building. Even if you do not plan to stay at the plush property, do visit it for a cup of coffee and you will be dumbstruck with the beauty of the place. Also we read somewhere that since Cannes is a city associated with cinema and movies, there are several interesting murals and wall arts spread throughout the city and so kept looking out for them and voila we found one of the most popular art works! The most popular one is near the main bus terminal and depicts 100 years of cinema. There are 14 more painted walls that you will find in different parts of the city. Do explore if you have a penchant for art. We also visited Le Suquet ,which happens to be the oldest quarter. You will have a tad bit of walking to do here but we highly recommend you do it for the enchanting views over the Bay of Cannes. To us Le Suquet is a quaint and charming old town that is lovely to wander through. Lastly, if you have not seen Croisette, then you havent seen Cannes! Croisette is the most popular stretch in Cannes .The promenade is a great place to sit in and enjoy a drink or view the yachts in the bay. Remember that the place is buzzing with people during summer months. It can get too crowded and you may not quite like it. There is quite a lot to see and do in Cannes so if you are too lazy to walk, take the Le Petit Train de Cannes.
What we loved – Walking along Croisette.
Nestled between Nice and Cannes is Antibes, the place where artist Picasso lived and worked for several years. If you are a fan of his work make sure to visit the famous Picasso Museum situated in Antibes. Since we were running short of time, we gave the museum a miss and instead headed on the Grande Roue d’Antibes .The ferris wheel is a great way to enjoy the view of the harbor, the old town and the tip of Cap d’Antibes. Great way to get some insanely beautiful photographs! The ride was €5 per adult and lasted about 4-5 minutes. Too short a ride for the money but still worth it for the views! To get the best tour of Antibes, we suggest you take The Little Train of Antibes or The Cap D Antibes Tour in an open- top bus. The tour lasts for a good 45 minutes and you will visit the most popular points of interest that include Provencal Market, Grand Market, Old Town, Archaeological Museum, Massena Walk etc. The bus tour will have the commentaries in 10 languages including English and French whereas the Petite Train tour will only be in English and French.
What we loved – View from the Ferris Wheel in Antibes
Day 4: Cannes and Ile Sainte-Marguerite
On our second day in Cannes we wanted to get away from the city, so we took off to Ile Sainte-Marguerite, which is a part of the Lérins Islands archipelago that is situated quite close to Cannes. We hopped onto a ferry that lasted for 15 minutes (€14.50) and we reached a paradise that looked surreal.A natural oasis waiting to be unraveled. A perfect getaway destination for relaxation. The whole island is about 5-6 kilometres and we walked the whole area exploring pristine routes. If you are fascinated by history, you can visit the fort royal where the man in the iron mask was held prisoner. The entry to the fort is €6. Do not forget to carry your swimwear and snorkel gear if you fancy a dip in the turquoise blue waters. We recommend you spend half a day at the island. Its truly worth it.
What we loved – The serenity of Ile Sainte-Marguerite. Perfect spot for nature lovers.
Day 5: Nice and Monaco
One of our favourite cities in France! The best way to explore this French gem is by doing a walking tour of Nice Old Town. By taking the tour you will not miss any of the nicest parts of the city. During our tour, we learnt a lot about the city which we otherwise would not have known. You can book your Free Walking Tour of Nice here. During the 2.5 hour tour you will visit The Massena square fountain, the Opera House, The Cours Saleya market, « palais de la prefecture », Palace of Justice Square,Rossetti square “Cathedrale St Reparate”, jesus Church,Promenade des Anglais, Port, Belanda’s tower, Port Lympia and the Castle Hill which is the last point of the tour. If you have visited our blog before, you will know how much we love doing walking tours. And by far, this has been the best walking tour we have done till date. Our guide Anne, a tourism student from Netherlands took us through the city engaging us in meaningful conversations. We visited the oldest candy shop in Nice, learnt about the fake windows, bought Socca – a french street food from the popular market, did some ice cream tasting ,discovered the best ice-cream place in Nice for authentic beer and avocado ice cream and so much more! We are really thinking of doing a detailed review of the free walking tour on our blog so stay tuned .
We also visited the beautiful Russian Orthodox Cathedral which is also known as The St Nicholas Orthodox Cathedral which is a ten minutes’s walk from central Gare station.The church is very different from the usual Catholic churches we have seen. Since it is Russian architecture , you will get to see an ornate facade and stunning domes topped with glimmering crosses. Who would expect such a different type of architecture in the South of France right? Just like the exterior, The interior is grand and looks royal. Sadly photography is prohibited inside.
Optional – If you have some time , then you can also visit Grasse (45 minutes by car from Nice). Grasse is known to be the world capital of perfume. You can drop by ‘Fragonard’ perfume factory, which has been making all kinds of perfumes for hundreds of years. They offer a (free) tour of the factory, explaining the art of perfume making.
What we loved – The Free Walking tour of Nice. Best way to explore the city and trying out the french delicacy Socca de Nice
So while doing the South of France road trip, you must add Monaco to your itinerary. It is a small country that is located quite close to Nice. A day trip from Nice to Monaco can be easily done and the trip will not cost you an arm and a leg. What makes Monaco special is that inspite of being one of the smallest countries in the world, it is home to a lot of billionaires. No matter which month you choose to go to Monte Carlo, you will still end up finding several world class events being held in the city. And while in the city, you ought to visit the world’s most popular “Casino de Monte-Carlo”. Make sure you dress appropriately so that you are allowed inside the Casino. If you are a lover of high end cars, then you are surely in for a treat at Monte Carlo. You will get to ogle over several luxurious cars! We think the best time to be at Monte Carlo is in the evening because that is when you really get to see the nightlife and posh lifestyle of the rich flaunting their wealth and glamour by all means. We also visited La Cathedrale , a beautiful church nestled on the top of a hill. The view from the hill where the church sits is way too beautiful to be expressed in words. You can see the whole of Monaco glimmer and shimmer when the lights are on. What a splendid sight! If you think there is too much walking to do and would prefer a guided tour, then check out the Little Train to discover the most beautiful monuments of the city. The trip lasts for approximately 30/40 minutes and takes you through the entire Principality of Monaco to unfold its 700 year history. Points of interest include The Formula 1 Grand Prix Circuit,Monte Carlo and Place du Casino with its luxury hotels, The city centre, the Old town with the Ministry of the State, the Princely Palace, The Cathedral, Place d’ Armes, Le Musee Oceanographique and Port Hercule.
What we loved – Night view of Monte Carlo from La Cathedrale
Day 6:Verdon Gorge
Deep valleys embedded in massive limestones – Verdon Gorge is for everyone! If you enjoy scenic road trips, then the drive to Grand Canyon du Verdon is something that you will truly enjoy. We were left speechless by the scenery and we were tempted to take a time lapse on our GoPro every few miles. For most parts of our trip, we saw narrow roads with lots of hairpin bends.This gorge is often considered to be one of Europe’s most beautiful and we surely think it is.It is one of the must-see natural wonders of central Provence. If you are a hiker , then you will be surprised to find several hiking trails here varying from the gentle and easy to the technical and difficult.And finally if you are a water baby, we recommend you hire a boat or a kayak and enjoy your time there amidst nature. Rafting and bird watching are possible too! Spoilt with too many choices right?
What we loved – The whole drive. The route was very scenic.
Day 7: Rousillon
Having heard about the ochres from a dear family member, we wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. We drove all the way to Rousillon and stopped at the popular Sentier des Ocres to experience the beautiful shades of ochre ranging from yellow to deep orange and brown. We marvelled at the gorgeous colours in front of us. It surely felt surreal. While at the park you have to pay an entrance fee to do the hike along the trail. The fee remains the same irrespective of the distance (there is a short route and a long route). We did the long route and thought it was a good hike on a pleasant evening. If you want to learn more about ochre and get some hands-on experience with the natural pigments, then you must do a guided tour with Usine d’ Ocre Mathieu. There are special activities planned all year round and the factory is a great outing plan if you are a big group of people.
What we loved – Ochre park
Day 8 Avignon
While in this beautiful medieval city, the first thing that you would probably notice is the wall that encircles the whole city. The wall is referred to as Ramparts and was originally built by the Pope when the Vatican was moved from Rome to Avignon in the early 1300s. Clément V ,a French pope was elected to be the head of the Catholics. His Holiness however felt unsafe in Italy and moved all his operations to Avignon for a secure rule under a French king. The Catholic Church then bought Avignon and gave the city a thorough makeover. They cleared up the spaces for public squares and built mansions for cardinals. All this displayed the power the religious leader held. Check out the Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes) which happens to be the largest surviving Gothic palace in Europe. We watched Les Luminessences D’ Avignon which is a video projection show accompanied with music portraying the history of the building and the city.The show was a total delight to watch and was definitely one of a kind. Also while in Avignon, make sure to visit the Petit Palais Museum, that is located very close to the Palais des Papes. Inside the museum you will find a lot of memoirs that breathe life into the dying Avignon Papacy. We took a paid guided walking tour that was organised by the Tourism Office of Avignon and the tour guide took us through the important parts of the city and revealed the history of the place. We would not say that the tour is a must do. You can definitely skip it and explore the city on your own. Make sure to check out the famous broken bridge St. Bénezet Bridge that crosses the Rhone River .If you want to walk along the bridge, then you have to shell out a few bucks. Give it a try if you have the time and you are game for some stunning views of the city. You should not leave Avignon without seeing the bridge! If you have another 30 minutes, you may want to squeeze in some time to visit the Pont du Gard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also one of the most visited ancient monuments in France.The Roman aqueduct is considered to be an engineering marvel!
What we loved – Les Luminessences D’ Avignon
Day 9 Carcassone
Sorry to disappoint you but today is our Rest day! After juggling between hostel and hotels ,we thought it was high time we cool our heels. We spent most of the day indoor relaxing. We also headed out to Carrefour, a popular French supermarket to buy some fresh fromage (cheese) and confectionary to take back home. If you didn’t know, the French make the best wine and cheese. French gourmet is very popular when it comes to baking too. Hence we made sure we stocked up on all the essentials for our next baking session at home.
What we loved – Shopping local food from Carrefour
Day 10 Carcassone to Barcelona
Carcassone is a beautiful historic city that is made up of cobbled streets that are filled with bars, restaurants and gift shops. The city has not lost its good old charm and its great to see that the medieval spirit is very much alive here. You are sure to love the beautiful old buildings, the huge castle and the cathedral that are found within the walled city. We were fortunate to have attended the holy mass in the Cathedral.Such Medieval extravagance has made the citadel at Carcassonne France’s second-most popular tourist attraction. Plan to stick around in the city for a couple of hours as there are several places you will spot that are great for a picture.
What we loved – the walk inside the walled city
TOTAL DISTANCE – 2200 Kilometers
So thats about it! Hope you enjoyed this blog post on French Riviera Road Trip itinerary. We honestly feel that we have shown you some best of South France destinations and also the best places to visit in France. Which of the above was your favorite?
Best time to visit South of France
Summer for sure. Even though the region is going to be flooded with tourists, we would still urge you to make a trip because the French Riviera (or Côte d’Azur) is most lively during this period. Also it is the season of the beautiful lavender fields. Since it is a busy season, we recommend booking your accommodation well in advance so that you get good deals.June/ July is the best time to visit if you wish to see the lavender fields. There are tonnes of fields you will find in the region of Provence. And if you love sunflowers just as much as we do, then you would love Provence as the region is home to stunning giant sunflower beds. That being said, we have to also warn you about the burning hot summers in France especially in the month of August. Come prepared with a good heavy duty sunscreen and hat!
If you get an opportunity to do a French Riviera road trip, Do not miss it for anything in the world.