My daughter, son-in-law, and I just returned from a trip to France. Although I will be covering the trip in more detail as time permits, I thought I’d give you an overview by outlining our itinerary.
Nice – July 13 and 14
We flew into Nice, France, a city on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. A couple days in Nice was just enough to get a glimpse of the city.
We visited two art museums – the Chagall Museum and the Matisse Museum. Each of these museums focuses on the work of these artists. The Matisse Museum had a special exhibit about the influence that Matisse and Picasso had on each other, showing similarities between their studios, processes and finished works. It was quite interesting.
We climbed the steps to castle hill to enjoy the views of the city from above. For dinner in the evenings, we walked through the winding, narrow streets of the “old city” area and found cozy traditional restaurants.
We also spent part of an afternoon at the beach. Since it was very warm while we were in Nice, the water felt especially refreshing.
From Nice, we took a morning train along the coast to Marseilles. We started our visit with a self-guided walking tour that ended near the old port. Although we didn’t go inside, we walked around the interesting building of the MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations). We visited the attached fort and viewed the island where the fictional Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned.
We visited two famous churches in Marseilles. The first was the Cathedrale de la Nouvelle Major which was built with dark green and white stone that gives it a striped look. The interior had interesting mosaics on the floor and walls.
The second church we visited was the Notre Dame de la Garde, located on the highest point of the city. Although the hill is walkable, we took a city bus to the church. The views of the city from this point are incredible. The church itself was small, but uniquely decorated with a naval theme, reflecting the city’s reliance on its port location.
Arles – July 15, 16, and 17
We did not sleep in Marseilles, but took an early evening train to Arles. Highlights of Arles include Roman ruins, a Van Gogh walk, and a fabulous market.
Arles has ruins of a Roman theater, a circus (circular track for sporting events and horse racing), a necropolis (cemetery), and a large amphitheater. The amphitheater is mostly intact and is still used for sporting events and music concerts. We visited the Archaeological Museum in Arles, which is a good place to learn about the city’s history.
Vincent Van Gogh lived in Arles for over a year. He was a very prolific painter during this time, even though he struggled mentally. Arles has set up permanent easels with copies of paintings Van Gogh completed while he lived there. Each easel stands at the spot where the artist would have stood. We saw several of these while we walked through the city.
On our last morning in Arles, we wandered through the market. We picked up ingredients for a picnic lunch the following day.
Provence Area Day Trips
We took several day, or part-day, trips while we were staying in Arles. We rented a car to use for a few days, since some of the areas are not easily accessible via public transportation.
On our first afternoon, we took a trip to see the Pont du Gard. This old Roman aqueduct is one of the largest remaining, and still looks very much like it did when it was built. A guided tour took us through the water channel. In the evening there was a laser light show, so we stayed until after dark.
The next day we visited Avignon. We followed a self-guided walk around town and then visited the Palace of the Popes. This huge palace was built in the 13th and 14th century and became the home of the popes through nearly all of the 14th century. We also saw the remaining part of the Bridge of Avignon before we left town.
The same day we drove to the Abbey le Semanque to see the lavender fields under their care. As we left, we drove through the cute hill town of Gordes.
Leaving Arles after we checked out of the Airbnb rental, we drove to St. Remy. We visited the St. Paul’s Asylum where Van Gogh lived for a year. During this time he sketched and painted whenever he was well, producing nearly 150 paintings during this time. The hospital is now a museum with a lot information about Van Gogh and his time there.
Grenoble – July 18 and 19
After our visit to St. Remy, we continued on our way to Grenoble. We had one purpose for visiting this city – to watch part of a couple stages of the Tour de France. We didn’t get into town until dinner time, but we were able to see a little of the city as we walked to the restaurant.
The next day, we drove to the station section of the town of Oz en Osians, to catch the cable car to the town of Alpe d’Huez. We found a spot near the “2 km to go” banner and waited for the cyclists to arrive. There were other bikers and the caravan of advertisers to keep us entertained as we ate our picnic lunch and waited. Around 5 in the afternoon, the Tour contestants started coming through – so exciting! It took nearly an hour for all the riders to come through. We ate dinner in Oz en Osians, before returning to Grenoble.
On our second day, we planned to watch the cyclists ride through the city. They weren’t coming through until after lunch, so we visited the Museum of Resistance and Deportation, and did a little shopping. We bought lunch to go and found a spot along the route. Since we were near the beginning of the stage this time, the riders were not spread out and it only took about five minutes for them all to pass by. We quickly left, and started the long ride to Strasbourg.
Strasbourg and Colmar – July 20, 21, and 22
After returning the rental car to the train station in Strasbourg, we caught a train to Colmar. We did a self-guided walking tour, then visited the Bartholdi Museum (Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty). We also visited the Dominican Church and the Church of Saint Martin. It rained off and on while were were in Colmar, and although we had umbrellas, it made the sightseeing more difficult.
We got back to Strasbourg in the late afternoon and since it had stopped raining, we went on a boat tour. It was informative and we got a nice overview of the city. We had planned to visit the Strasbourg Cathedral, but its opening hours had been changed, so we had to save that for the next day. Instead we did a little shopping before dinner. After dinner we watched the cathedral’s laser light show.
On our second day in Strasbourg, we met near the cathedral for an organized wine tour. Our guide and driver brought us to three different wineries, where we were able to taste wine and tour the vineyards and wine-making facilities. On the way, we drove through several small towns and saw hills and valleys covered with grape vines. When we got back, we visited the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Reims – July 23
We left Strasbourg in the morning and arrived in Reims before lunch. In the afternoon, we had hoped to visit a couple Champagne producers, but we had issues with closures and timing. We did visit one and it was very interesting. We were able to go down to the cellars full of racked bottles and learned about the history and process of making champagne.
The next morning we visited the Notre Dame Cathedral of Reims. We saw stained glass windows by Marc Chagall and Imi Knoebel, There was a display explaining the damage the cathedral sustained during WWI and the repairs and restoration still being done. We could have spent much more time here.
Paris – July 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29
Paris has so much to offer that we planned several days there. We arrived around 1 pm and had a little trouble getting in to our apartment, so we weren’t able to do much in the afternoon. We had reserved tickets for the Eiffel Tower for our first evening in the city. It’s great to go up the tower in the early evening while it’s still light, and then, as it gets dark, to watch the lights come on in the city.
We purchased a four day Paris Museum Pass so we were able to visit several museums and other sites during the course of our visit. On our list were the Louvre, the Orsay, the Cluny Museum, Sainte Chapelle, the Orangerie, the Rodin Museum, and climbing the towers at the Notre Dame Cathedral. I won’t go into details about each of these, but will cover them later (some I’ve already talked about on the site).
We took a day trip to Giverny to see Claude Monet’s home and gardens. Instead of riding the bus from Vernon, we rented bikes and followed a nice paved bike route to the town. I’ve been to Giverny twice before, but this was the first time that it didn’t rain when I was there. The flowers were beautiful – summer flowers instead of the spring ones I’ve seen before.
We visited Pere Lachaise, where artists, writers, musicians, politicians, and regular people are buried. We found the graves of Frederick Chopin, Jacques Louis David, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, and many others.
In addition, we took a tour of the Opera Garnier with my favorite tour guide. We saw Sacre Coeur and walked around the Montmartre area. We ate at many fabulous restaurants.
The grand finale of our trip, though, was our last day. We got up early in the morning to meet our guide at the Fat Tire tour office. She guided us through Paris, as we biked on many of the roads that the Tour de France participants would be riding on several hours later. We “raced” to the Arc de Triomphe, then celebrated with a glass of champagne. After the celebration, we continued on our tour, riding to the Eiffel Tower. Fat Tire fed us breakfast of coffee and croissants before we finished the ride back to their office.
After our tour, we went to the Place de Concorde to stake out a place to watch the real Tour. We found a surprisingly good spot, although it got smaller with other people crowding in. The cyclists came through for the first time between 5:30 and 6. During the race, the contestants ride the circuit in Paris eight times before they finish, so we saw them go by eight times – faster each time. The day was a great finale to our trip!