The south eastern area of France is one of the most varied and beautiful of the country. Fodor's has written an excellent in depth guide to this amazing region. This is one of the best guidebooks to one of my favorite areas of France.
The beauty of Provence, there is something for everybody, hiking (from plains to mountains), swimming (and beautiful people watching), fine dining, relaxing, and the fine arts. Fodor's has arranged itineraries and descriptions of towns around all this activities. With careful planning, just about anybody will be happy with a tour of Provence.
The first section of the book is a general overview of the region that serves as a guide to the more in depth sections of the book. Fodor's make an excellent pitch for a two week visit to the area, as Peter Mayle discovered, even with a year, it's hard to really appreciate everything this region has to offer. At first glance the itineraries seem time based, but in fact they are more aligned with the kind of activity - lounging on the beach, art, food, perfume, and wine.
The book is then subdivided into geographic areas. Each has its own personality and Fodor's does an excellent job reflecting the nuances. There are several focus sections marked by an orange edge on the pages. These are great in depth descriptions.
Fodor's is repetitive if you try to read this book cover to cover. Time of year to visit is repeated many times, it's hard to miss that it gets hot in Provence during July and August, and very windy and cold in the winter. From personal experience, heed the advice even if you live in Arizona or Alaska. Almost every section talks about the fabulous breakfast. Be careful with expectations here, they are talking about the ambiance, the wonderful coffee (or cafe au lait) and croissants. They are not saying there will be this incredible huge American breakfast (in some hotels it is almost impossible to get eggs for breakfast). Breakfast in France is light and quick, not the massive all day meal eaten in the US.
Overall the recommendations in this book are accurate. They haven't really changed dramatically over the years - the Cote D'Azur is still packed solid with people in the summer with legendary traffic jams, the northern parts of the region are gorgeous and less packed with people, the food is spectacular (avoid mussels at all costs in this region - other seafood is fine), the people are generally very nice (much more relaxed and accommodating than in Paris), the countryside is spectacular, and seeing the light and feeling the atmosphere artists portrayed in all their paintings of this region. The only other region in Europe that comes close to this feeling is Tuscany.
Fodor's doesn't explicitly state this, but anybody trying to recreate A Year In Provence will be sadly disappointed (short of buying a house and spending a year in Provence). Expectations are everything, some aspects of the book are possible, but finding Monsieur Colombani is impossible. In fact the area where Peter Mayle lived is over run, and the chances of recreating the atmosphere are really tough. Towns like St.-Remy-de-Provence and Les-Baux-de-Provence are more like Mayle's Provence of the late 80's.
The book takes a middle class approach to the visit. By that I mean, it assumes the reader can't necessarily afford the luxurious side of this region (Nice and Monte Carlo are two of the more expensive cities in the world). There is a looking through the window or the wrong side of the velvet rope at something I can't afford attitude, instead of simply describing the expensive as just being that, expensive and luxurious maybe you can afford it. It would have been nice to simply pointing out those incredible things that might be worth the expense, like having a meal with some incredible Chateau Neuf du Pape in area where that wine was made.
The least effective section is the last few chapters, crash courses on the language, money, and getting around the region. One piece is very badly out of date, driving a car and the speed limit. During the last few years, France has clamped down so hard on speeding, very few people drive over the speed limit any more. If you drive, it is important to follow those limits exactly - the police no longer accept more than a few KPH over the limit. In fact, there is photo radar everywhere that doesn't tolerate more than ten over the speed limit. As an American you will likely never have to pay the fine from the radar camera - however (and this is very very important) you will pay your car rental company a nasty fee for sending the police your information (around $30) that is pure 100% profit for the rental company.
One last point about driving in France, there is zero tolerance for drinking and driving. This isn't anything like in the US where we can have a few and still drive legally. There are random stops at night, especially around night clubs, and if you are the least bit intoxicated, you will go off to jail for that night. One glass of wine during the first part of the meal is fine, but skip glasses or after dinner drinks near the end of the meal. Driving in France is difficult.
In general, if you smile and try to speak French, most people will be helpful. Knowing French is helpful, but not critical. This region is accustom to tourists. I lived in France for almost two years and have visited almost every region of France. Since living there, I have visited and vacationed in France many times. I have found the people in this region to be the kindest friendliest people I have met anywhere.
With the right expectations, knowing what you like to do best, and following the advice in this book, a trip to Provence will be a huge success.
"...ease out of the fast-paced-telephone-ringing-crazy-car-driver madness of the big city and into the slow, luscious let's-stop-and-enjoy world of the South of France."
on September 27, 2012
Just finished a 10 day trip through Provence, with nothing but this book (and a GPS) to help me. The book is very pretty and colorful, but that's about all the good stuff I can say about it.
- The book has plenty of inaccuracies - opening hours are often off, entry fees are inaccurate or missing, restaurants which closed more than a year ago are still 'recommended', names of restaurants are wrong - really irritating when you look for an hour for 'Chez Michel' in Nimes, only to find it is really named the 'Cheval Blanc', and was never named 'Chez Michel'; or when they advertise a restaurant as 30EUR when it's more like 60EUR.
- The maps in the book are completely worthless - Some main roads are not marked, most of the roads are missing numbers, none of the maps mention road distances, etc.
- Information about places is not always where you would expect it. For example, the entry of a little town may give you information about it, then 20 pages later, in an entry about 'Lavender', they refer back to the little town and give you an address in the little town. You get to the little town, and forgot the address? Good luck finding it again!
- The book is organized around the way THE WRITER expects you to experience Provence - From West to East. If you want to do it the opposite way - it's a constant search for 'Oh! Wait! Where's the page about the town I'm in?
- 'General Introduction' pages refer to (and recommend) towns about which there is no additional entry in the book.
I may be biased, as I was used to traveling with Michelin guides, which have great maps, lots of historical background, are organized in alphabetical order, and have a rating system of stars for attractions. Personally, I find that other style much more appealing. Anyway, Enjoy Provence! :)
What's extremely helpful about this book is the section of suggested "Great Itineraries." The authors suggest five itineraries, each with a specific goal. The first is a 14-day tour called "First-Timer: the Best Two-Week Tour, second is a seven-day tour, "One Week in Provence: Aix, Arles, and Avignon." Third is "One Week on the Riviera: Cruising the Cote d'Azur." Fourth is "The Modern Art Road," but the fifth, "Ancient Provence" is the one that really interests me. I specifically want to visit lots of archaeological sites, but at the same time, I want to see some of the places that where Van Gough and Cezanne (among many others) lived and worked. And of course, I have to do some nature walks and spend a few days at the beach, too. So I'll make the "Ancient Provence" route the skeleton of my tour, but with more research I can find detours that will enhance my Provence experience. So even with only a brief acquaintance with the book I've already planned the broad outlines of the trip. The book has some breathtaking color photographs and a few nice articles giving more details on such subjects as "Provence's wild west," "the lavender route," "The Riviera's best beaches," and "the modern art route." The logistics of getting from place to place without a car seem fairly detailed (I can't vouch for their accuracy until I've taken the trip) and the full color maps are legible. As usual, Fodor's skews toward the expensive side in its recommendations of hotels and restaurants, but there are other guides (as well as the Internet) that can solve that. I would never recommend using only one guidebook, but this one seems pretty good, especially for the traveler who is in the planning stages. My only disappointment is that the book does not mention Marcel Pagnol. One of the reasons that I'm interested in going to Provence is because of the films based on his work ("Fanny," "La Gloire de Mon Pere," and "Le Chateau de ma Mere," "Jean de Florette," "Manon of the Springs"), all set in Provence, look so gorgeous. I wish there were a section about the locations where famous movies were filmed. My other criticism is that the book feels a little too heavy to be lugging around on a trip. I'd suggest using this book to plan, then photocopy the logistics of getting from place to place and the cheap restaurant recommendations on your itinerary from "Let's Go." The book to actually carry with you is the Cadogan Guide or the Rough Guide. This guidebook is a great one to start with.
Newly enhanced with full-color photos and maps, this 2011 edition is updated, rewritten (in part) and longer by 40 pages than the 8th edition from 2009.
One of the "Great Itineraries," First Time Tour (14 Days) has been reduced to 7 days and renamed One Week In Provence: Aix, Arles, and Avignon. The former St-Paul-de-Vence, Vence, and Antibes leg of that tour are now included in a new 7-day tour named One Week On The Riviera: Cruising The Cote D'Azur.
The new division makes sense (they've deep-sixed Roussillon and Bonnieux in the first tour); travelers with more time can easily combine the two and see more in Nice on the second tour. I once did the first tour (the three towns in the new, updated version) and added the Camargue to see the quaint town of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer and to watch the antics of white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos. I had an extra day for this, and though I found this side-trip bucolic and the town charming, I could have taken a rain check. But, decide for yourself after reading the new, full-color insert about this area (pp. 58-65). Some might find a full week of R&R in and around the Camargue for spring break more interesting than a beach trip. The Fodor itineraries are commendable for first-time visitors.
The Antiquities Tour has been renamed Ancient Provence and two more "Great Itineraries" have been added: The Modern Art Road (8 Days), and a 3-day Lavender Route (145-152).
A new full-color article on Provence's Village Markets sheds light on "Where To Get The Goods," in the markets of Aix, Arles, Camargue, Avignon, Vaucluse, Marseille and Sorgue Valley, with a separate Spotlight feature in Chapter 3 (pp. 104-5) on L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for antique hounds. I visited that market on a Sunday in L'Isle a few years ago with my mother and we both thought it was well worth a half day of our time. (We could have easily spent a full day but we also went on to Gordes that day.)
The Avignon chapter features a new full-color photo of a tomb in the Palais des Papes, as well as information on The Avignon Passion Pass and one new restaurant review. Christian Etienne and La Vieille Fontaine (both $$$$) are still Fodor's Choice restaurants. The nine hotels recommended are the same as in the 8th edition, and Hotel de la Mirande ($$$$) remains Fodor's Choice. (As in the 8th Edition, "$$$$" still means "over 32 Euros" for restaurants and "over 201 Euros" for hotels.) In some villages, Where To Eat and Where To Stay recommendations have been decreased or changed.
Some addresses, phone numbers, train, bus and other transportation information and prices have changed. It looks as if the Fodor fact checkers have put considerable effort into updating information. There are five pages of French vocabulary and useful phrases, a tip about "word of mouth" advice from Fodor's Forum (online), a section with essential information and a comprehensive index at the back.
Fodor's would be the perfect highish-end guide if they could just leave off with the bad puns, although thankfully, there's nothing quite as bad as "so near yet so Loire" (which was in the France guide) here. The tendency of Fodor's writers to wax a bit poetic, however, works for an area as romantic as Provence and the French Riviera, and the "great itineraries" at the beginning of the book are actually pretty great, the recommendations pretty spot on, and the practical info useful, particularly the travel info, which is the best I've ever seen in a travel guide, and helpful tips on best dates/times to visit specific sites, . As a bonus, the writers actually put in pronunciations for some of the more common destinations, which must be really nice for people who don't read French. There are fewer sidebars than in the Fodor's France guide but are generally quite interesting (and nothing as idiotic as two pages on how to tie a scarf), covering such topics as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Provence's cuisine and textiles, top cooking schools, exploring the Gorge du Verdon (France's Grand Canyon)or touring the lavender route or the Camargue reserve, etc. The maps are good, giving both regional overviews and tighter pictures, which help you get a good sense of how to plan your itineraries.
My only real problem with this guide, and with Fodor's guides in general, is that for every hotel recommendation there are alway written the pros and cons, but you get no real idea of how negative the cons really are -- e.g., "can feel stuffy -- especially the elevator." Seriously, is that really a problem? Or "decor is bland," which doesn't tell you how bland, although some might find it useful.
This is a fairly small volume, but has quite a bit more info than Fodor's France guide, and so would be a good purchase if you are going to spend more than a day or two in the region, even if you have a book covering France as a whole.
One caveat -- if you are a serious bargain hunter and are only going to get one guide to the area, this is probably not the best one, as it tends toward higher end establishments.
on October 31, 2012
The detail in the guide is very useful. The organization is such that I had difficulty finding the sections I wanted to view. Part of this is due to the limitations of the Kindle itself. The Kindle version does not have pictures which most guides do have and which would assist greatly in assessing whether or not to visit the sites.
When I was a young lad growing up in England in the late 1940s, we had strange ideas about how to rate countries. As the standard was World Domination we believed we were #1 (though kudos to Germany for coming in second - twice). Ignorant as we used to be, we had no idea of the roles of the USA and Russia, so we were faced with a bunch of European countries, some that were within 25 miles of the center of the world. In a thumbing of their collective noses, not only did they not speak English but also drove on the wrong side of the road.
Had we been asked to say something about France, it would be that they had people who could paint pictures and liked to cook (although not sensible food like what we ate but stuff like snails - yuk!). Now fast forward sixty years, and after we discovered that world domination wasn't all it was cracked up to be, that looking at pictures and eating French food was a lot better than we thought.
Trips across the English Channel confirmed the language problem and the driving inability to know the correct side of the road, but also showed that the French were a lot like us. They apparently knew how to have fun, and talked pretty loudly as well. Their country was interesting and visiting it could be described as "pleasant."
Especially pleasant was the Mediterranean coast, even though the prices rose sharply, and the British decided to inflict themselves on Spain instead to get their glimpse of sun. That was probably a relief to the French.
And this book . . . well, it just makes you want to go there. The pages of color photos don't hurt, and I agree with others, it's not a guide for backpackers, though if you're prepared to spend an average amount there's plenty to see and eat.
So I'll see you on the beach at San Trop this summer, if our yacht is there.
PROVENCE AND THE FRENCH RIVIERA by Sarah Fraser and Nancy Wilson is a 456 page book with 6 chapters, printed on semi-glossy paper, with a color photograph on essentially every other page. Chapter One provides five suggested tours, for example, an 8-day modern art tour and a 9-day tour of ancient ruins. Ch.2 concerns Alpilles, Arles, and Camargue. Ch.3 concerns Vaucluse. Ch.4 is about Aiz, Marseille, and the central coast. Ch.5 is on western Cote D'Azure, and Ch.6 concerns Nice and eastern Cote D'Azur.
SUMMARY OF THE PHOTOS. The most interesting photographs include the Pont du Gard, a triple-tiered aquaduct built by Emperor Claudius (page 45), Tour de Constance, a fort built in the year 1241 (page 55), a bullfight in the town of Albaron (page 64), Les Baux-De-Provence, an ancient fort from the 11th century (page 85), Palais des Papes (page 114) built in the years 1335-1352, and Pont St.Benezet (page 123), located in Avignon. Pages 145-152 contain fifteen photos relating to lavender. Lavender, a purple flower getting its name from the latin word that means "to wash" is used to manufacture perfumes and bathing fragrances. The lavender district is in Alpes-De-Haute-Provence and Vaucluse. Pages 190 and 191 show two pictures of Cezanne paintings and a photo of Cezanne's studios, located in Aix-En-Provence, the city most associated with this artist. Page 212 shows the interior of a neo-Byzantine church built in 1853, and located in Marseille. Pages 219-223 contain ten photos of food from Provence, for example, melons, Swiss chard, bouillabaisse, fougasse (a bread that is like focacia but laced like a pretzel), and ratatioulle. Separate photos are shown for each of these foods. Moving on to Gorges de Verdon, we find photos of this 13-mile long canyon (pages 250-251, 282-283). Photos of beaches are found in the second half of this book, that is, of Calanques (page 238), St.Tropaz (p. 267; 298), St.Raphael (p. 274), Paloma (p. 299), La Croisette (p. 309), Juan-les-Pins (p. 350), Nice (p. 372), and Menton (p. 413).
SUMMARY OF SOME OF THE WRITING. The following concerns the writing, that is, what is written in this guidebook. We read that many of the beaches are private and require a fee, or that they are available to you if you buy a dinner at the hotel (pages 17, 298, 385, 436). Regarding art and architecture, we learn that Arles, famed as Van Gogh's town, was "a Greek colony since the 6th century B.C.," but that it was captured by Julius Caesar in the 1st century B.C., and shortly thereafter Arles received Roman roads, aquaducts, and canals (page 67). Arles has a 2,000 year old theater called Arles, which currently is used for bullfights. Arles also has Musee de l'Arles Antiques, where you can view things like toga buckles (page 71). While Arles may not have any Van Gogh paintings on exhibit, what may be of almost equal interest is a tour of landmarks features in Van Gogh's canvases (page 72, 76-77). We read that Petit Palais in Avignon houses 300 famous paintings, e.g., by Sandro Botticelli, Carpaccio, and Bellini. We learn of the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Senanque, located in the midst of lavender farms, described as, "an architecture student's dream of cubes, cylinders, and pyramids . . . pure Romanesque form" (page 148). In Aix-en-Provence, you can see landmarks painted by Cezanne, and follow "the Circuit Cezanne, a series of brass plaques right on the sidewalks that mark the itinerary" (page 183). Unlike Arles, which has no Van Gogh paintings, the Musee Granet in Aix-en-Province contains paintings by Cezanne, as well as works by Rubens and Giacometti (page 189-191). In Marseille, we read that the Musee d'Histoire de Marseille has an ancient Roman boat and ancient pottery and metallurgy (page 208).
Also, regarding art (as well as cuisine), we learn of "Le Moulin de Mougins, a restaurant housed in a 16th century olive mill which houses one of the most famous restaurants in the region, with sculptures by Cesar, Arman, Falon, and guest artists . . ." This restaurant serves, "fresh anchovy tart with mini ratatouille and blue lobster with pink peppercorns." (page 320) Further regarding art, Antibes has markers identifying landmarks where Picasso, Cross, Boudin, Harpignie, and Monet painted (page 337). Antibes also has Musee Picasso, located in the medieval Chateau Grimaldi, which contains 300 paintings by guess who. This museum also has works by Miro, Calder, and Leger (page 339). In another town, St.Paul, we learn of Fondation Maeght, a museum devoted to modern art, adn filled with works by Giacometti, Miro, Moore, Braque, Leger, Dubuffet, and Vaseleys (pages 358-359).
CONCLUSION. From this guidebook, it is apparent that Provence and the French Riviera contains everything a culture-minded or luxury-minded person could dream of for the perfect vacation. (If you have an overwhelming need to take your vacation in a metropolis filled with glistening skyscrapers, or near an awesome glacier, or in a remote jungle, then you should not make vacation plans for the French Riviera.) The writing in the book is straightforward, free of mannerisms, and is careful to provide English and French version of the same word, e.g., "There are caves de degustation (wine tasting cellars) on nearly every street" (page 129), and "Its little rooms have been spruced up with boutis (provencal quilts), quarry tiles, and jute carpets." (page 199). FIVE STARS.
on February 23, 2011
When I started to read this particular Fodor guide (covering Provence & the French Riviera), I was quite impressed with the picture quality and the number of photos, along with the overall design of the book.
As I continued to read more, I began to realize that what makes it an exemplary travel book, is that the quality of its writing is so superb. The three main writers all have done a wonderful job of covering the important travel topics, and of discussing so many vital and fascinating issues & facts, both historical and immediate.
This may not be the very best travel resource for Provence and the Riviera (there's no way I can judge this issue, given the other guides that must be available, that I haven't read), but it certainly is indispensable for anyone who wishes to travel to these areas of France. I can't imagine not having this particular guide at my fingertips, perhaps in addition to one or two other valuable information sources!
This book moves past the usual guide book contents, and contains a number of wry asides, mini-essays, and descriptive commentaries that are a real help to deciding whether to go to southern France.
For example, the descriptions of food, and the way the sun and dining outside and southern Meditteranean foods come together into a style of cuisine, is fascinating, and makes me drool. However, it also serves as a warning as to what sorts of dining you might receive.
The book moves well between hip locations and the usual vacation fare. I was trying to decide if this was a good place to vacation with children, and the book gently nudged me away, by showing the focus on the adult playground that this area seems to be.
Witty, funny, pointed, and helpful. Good guide.