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  1. #1
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    Default Advice for Winter Break trip to Provence?

    DH is considering closing his office during the entire Winter Break for the first time ever, so I'm trying to figure out where to go for about 10 days (12/24-1/3, as flights are really expensive if we leave before Christmas). Since it's so much time (our usual trips are extended weekend trips like 4-5 days), I want to go to Europe again. We went to Italy for the first time last year for 8 days during a school break and loved it.

    I know it's not an ideal time to travel, but I figure our goal is to relax and eat good food. We've never been to France before and don't want a go-go-go trip. Instead, I thought we could rent an apartment and have a leisurely vacation in Provence. If we stay in the center of town (and not rent a car), we can stroll the town, shop at the market, try some great restaurants, read novels, etc.

    My questions:

    - For those who have traveled during the winter holidays, any advice? I'm hoping there may not be as crazy crowds on Christmas Eve. Should we fly out Christmas Day instead? The flights on the 22nd and 23rd will cost about $1,000 more than flying on the 24th (that's total for the 4 of us). I don't think that's worth it just for one extra day. I figure we can use the few days after school ends to sleep in, pack, do chores, and veg a bit before heading out.

    - For those who have been to Provence before, any travel advice? My plan would be to take the nonstop Air France flight to Paris and stay there 1-2 nights. This gives us time to get over jet lag and eat a few meals in Paris. Then take the 3 hour train to Provence. We're not fans of big cities, but I know my girls are eager to try Parisian baguettes, chocolate croissants, cheese, desserts, and other food. Plus it avoids the ordeal of having to get off the long transatlantic flight and hop onto another flight into Nice. Since, we're going to Provence during the "off-season", I presume there will be far fewer tourists. Will there be any other impacts from going in the low season? I am hoping restaurants and markets will still be open and those are our top priorities.

    - I thought we'd book an apartment in Provence. I'm debating whether to rent a car to visit some of the surrounding towns/cities. I know there are many great places to visit, but we don't like changing lodging multiple times. Plus we're going in the winter so I don't know that we want to do a lot of exploring. Plus I know parking can be tough. Can we visit some places by train? Nice? Cannes? Marseilles?

    - Also, for those who have been to Provence and love to eat, do you have recommendations for where to eat? We're the family that travels for food. My post last year was about our trip to Italy--we loved Modena and stayed in Bologna, skipping Venice and Rome and only doing a day trip to Florence (which is not the typical tourist's itinerary for a first-time visit to Italy). We don't visit museums, we don't go hiking/biking, and we don't stand in line to view churches/historical ruins.

    - We've never flown to somewhere that cold (40s-50s in December). Since we live in CA, we usually have mild winters so it won't be too much of a shock for us. I'm wondering if we can still get away with our normal carry-on only travel since we usually go to warm weather destinations (so it's swimsuits, dresses, shorts, and sandals). If we wear our jackets and heaviest shoes, maybe we can still make it. Any packing advice?

    Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
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    Default Advice for Winter Break trip to Provence?

    You definitely want a rental car. It is so easy to drive in France and the fun of Provence is exploring the villages vs exploring a city from an apartment. We went to south of Frqnce one Christmas pre-kids and it was lovely. We flew into Paris and drove (long!) and first stayed in amazing St Paul de Vence. Then a few days at the Chateau des Alpilles gorgeous chateau and a couple other stops over two plus weeks. It was sunny and nice if not actually warm, but low crowds, great food and things to explore. I wouldnít do it without renting a car. Countryside itself is gorgeous, the land, the buildings. Iíd also skip Marseille and the smaller villages are more interesting. There is history and even cave paintings in the area. Not just dusty museums. There are some famous restaurants but the local ones are delicious too. Have fun! I love France over the Christmas season. We went to Paris on Christmas Day quite a few times. (Italians with amazing fashion sense were all over Saint Paul. I wore a leather jacket and scarf, pants and I hate being cold but was fine.)

    We always spend a couple of days in Paris and it isnít like a ďbig cityĒ and my kids all love it. Walk around, have delicious pastries and food and recalibrate. Things will be open, and decorated for the holidays with sparkling lights. Ice rinks too. It will be colder in Paris and taking the train to the south will be so fun!


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    Last edited by HannaAddict; 08-04-2019 at 09:04 PM.

  3. #3
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    Thanks so much, Hanna! It's great to hear about your Christmas trip and that it was not bitterly cold. I fear that we'll turn into popsicles as we really are soft Californians. We don't even have real winter gear (e.g., my kids wear lightweight fleece jackets as their warmest layer and DH wears a lightweight shell or no outer layer at all in the winter), but the opportunity to go to France is worth buying some real coats.

    Thanks for the advice re: a rental car and skipping Marseille. Perhaps we will take the train to Provence, rent a car there, and then visit places around there. I also was looking into Avignon and Nice. I read that the French Riviera benefits from the milder Mediterranean climate, but I don't want to spend too much time driving. This is meant to be a lazy mostly unscheduled getaway.

    I welcome opinions from any other BBBers, too!

  4. #4
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    I did junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence. I went home for Christmas break, so I wasn't there during those specific weeks, but overall the winter was much milder than what I was used to in Michigan, certainly! A fleece plus a shell was enough for the worst weather we had while I was there.
    Aix is gorgeous and the TGV stops there now. It would be a good home base for exploring the area. You could take the train down from Paris and then rent a car.
    I definitely agree about staying away from Marseille. It's kind of an armpit, especially compared to Aix and the other small towns. And you do need a car if you really want to get around and explore. I have no idea how $$$ a one-way car rental would be, but you could potentially start with Aix as a base for a few days, and then drive towards Nice, stopping along the coast for a couple of days, and fly (or take the train) out of Nice.
    I was in Paris for Christmas while I was in high school, and enjoyed it. The weather was mild coming from Michigan but you definitely want to be prepared for things like needing hats and gloves.

  5. #5
    bisous is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
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    I lived in Provence for 18 months in my early 20s.

    I have few recommendations for you for places to eat. We weíre on a budget and didnít eat out much. Do be aware that the countryside of Provence is quite a bit cooler than the coast. The whole area can be generally termed ďProvenceĒ. The countryside is charming but will feel cold and gloomy in winter. That is not itís best season IMO. We didnít get a lick of snow but it was COLD occasionally when the mistral wind would blow. Itís an icy blast that shoots down the RhŰne river from Siberia and itís incessant. Watch Chocolat with Juliet Binoche and Johnny Depp. It can feel like that! Itís warm and cozy and charming the rest of the year but it wouldnít be a first choice destination for me if I were picking a winter destination.

    Now the coastal cities by contrast can be a lot warmer and theyíre full of color in the winter. Lots of green, the Med is sparkling blue, there are even flowers blooming all winter long. I loved living in Cannes. Itís a very beautiful city. I think you might have a lot of fun with the food in Nice. Itís on the far edge of Provence and resembles Italian coastal cities in many ways just to be aware of that. They have a local dish that I love called Socca made with fried up chick pea paste that I would love to have again. The advantage to Nice is that itís got its own culinary traditions but you can find anything ProvenÁal there as well.

    Good luck on your planning and your travels and let us know what you end up doing!! Iíd love to bring my family back there but I confess Iím a hiking/outdoorsy and museum/monument kind of traveler. Lots of great things to explore and do throughout Provence in those regards!

  6. #6
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    Just wanted to update that I booked 3 charming and lovely AirBnBs in Paris and in Aix-en-Provence. We start in Paris since our nonstop flight lands there, spend about 5 days there, take the train to Aix-en-Provence, and then spend our last night in Paris before our outbound flight on an incredible houseboat on the Seine by the Louvre! Our plan is to eat a ton of great meals, visit Christmas markets, read/relax in our AirBnBs, and explore whatever might be open. I think I may rent a car for 2-3 days while we're based in Aix-en-Provence, but that hasn't been reserved yet.

    I know many places will be closed for the holidays, but we have nearly 10 days and wanted to make the most of it. My other thread about dressing for 30 degree weather means we'll be prepared for the cold but we don't plan to be traipsing through the countryside on bicycle (like my DB and DSIL did on their trip to the South of France in the summer many years ago). We'll likely stick to indoor venues for the most part.

    I'll post an update in January!

  7. #7
    marinkitty is offline Sapphire level (2000+ posts)
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    Definitely rent a car from Aix. Since you are foodies - take a look at Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. My mom and I did a trip through Provence in April for a week years ago and hit many of the little villages mentioned in Mayle's books and ate at a number of the restaurants and we were typically blown away - our trip was very much about experiencing the markets and towns and enjoying the countryside. Everything is doable as a day trip, although we moved around. The little towns in the Luberon are so worth a visit and there are some little gems to eat at and great local markets. Agree with Bisous if the mistral is blowing you might be cold so pack layers and a good warm coat and hat/scarf in case.

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