We boarded a train in Lyon. The train wasn’t very well air conditioned, the seats were a bit cramped, and there was no wifi (gasp!). But we were heading to the South of France, a first for Sarah. We would see Nice, Monaco, and a few towns in Provence over the next few days.
Taking the train from Lyon to Nice
Nice is located on the southeast coast of France. The train journey takes almost five hours from Lyon (longer from Paris of course). Most of the trip takes you south through the middle of the country (which isn’t that scenic), but once you turn east and start up the coast, you’ll want to stare out the window the whole time.
You can (and should) book tickets online for this trip. Of course we got to the train station pretty early, but there were so many people waiting to get on the train it didn’t really matter. You’re supposed to stand where your car will be, but the signs for ours were all wrong. It worked out in the end, and we luckily found space for our luggage (there is hardly any) and were seated close by so we could keep an eye out.
Read next: Five things to do in Lyon
Meeting family in Nice
The reason for our trip to Nice was simple: we were meeting Sarah’s dad. Even after all this time on the road, it is still really fun to meet people in a foreign land. It didn’t hurt that Sarah’s dad and his wife, Sally, are France experts (and we are most definitely not). So we left most of the planning to them, which was a nice break!
Two days in Nice
We had two days in Nice and spent most of our time eating and strolling, taking in the city. The main train station – Gare de Nice Ville – is located at the top of a hill, but lucky for Sarah we just had to walk down to the center of the city where we were staying. When we arrive in a new city, we enjoy walking to our first stop, so we can get a feel for things. The buildings in that area were big and reminded us of Paris. There were bakeries all around. But it was still unbelievably hot. The heat wave was in full effect.
The Promenade des Anglais runs along the beach and is quite long. It’s a nice place for a stroll, and we actually could feel a breeze coming off the water!
If you turn in from the Promenade before you reach the Old Town, you’ll find a small park called Jardin Albert 1er. It offers some shade, and is a good place for a rest.
Nearby the park is Place Masséna. It’s bustling and fun, but definitely over the top. The Fontaine du Soleil is surrounded by red buildings and sits atop black and white checkerboard tiles.
A few steps away, you’ll see families playing and splashing in the reflecting pool on the Promenade du Paillon (with the heat, we were tempted to join in). And along the Avenue Jean Médecin are people-shaped sculptures – the Seven Statues – which light up at night.
And if you continue east and a bit back towards the water, you can explore Nice’s Old Town (Vieux-Nice), which has the smaller old buildings and narrow streets you’d expect.
Quick trip from Nice to Monaco
We never pass up the opportunity to visit a new country together, especially when it’s a super quick trip like Nice to Monaco. We didn’t do much in Monaco (remember, it was really, really hot), but we enjoyed ourselves. We had lunch at the port and walked around a bit.
Getting to Monaco from Nice is easy and inexpensive (which is good because once you get to Monaco you’ll need all the money you can get!). We took two modes of transportation, taking the train there and the bus back.
Option 1: the train
Take the train from Gare de Nice Ville to Monaco-Monte Carlo. It costs 3.90 EUR per person and takes about 25 minutes. Be warned, it can get crowded! Jump on a seat if you see one and watch your belongings as pickpockets are rampant.
Option 2: the bus
The bus is definitely the more scenic option. Bus #100 goes along the coast so you’ll get a beautiful view of the sea and different towns. It costs 1.50 EUR per person and takes about 45 minutes. It doesn’t drop you off in the center of Nice, but there are buses nearby that can take you the rest of the way if you don’t want to walk.
Where to eat in Nice
Given Nice’s location, seafood is the thing to eat. There are a lot of restaurants in Nice. A lot! We can highly recommend the two where we dined.
Le Comptoir du Marche
Le Comptoir du Marche is a small bistro in Nice’s old town. The menu changes daily, and if you don’t speak French, the waiters will kindly read it to you from the chalkboard. We sat outside and enjoyed the atmosphere of the old town as we ate.
Franchin is in the newer part of the city. They too had great seafood dishes, but we also had some traditional French specialties like steak tartare and escargot.
They also make a great Aperol spritz!
Next stop: Provence
From Nice, we drove to Provence – specifically to a small town called Noves. Noves is close to Avignon, and the drive from Nice took about 2 1/2 hours. We watched the temperature tick up towards 100 degrees as we drove, happy with the knowledge that our accommodations in Noves included a pool. We stayed at Moulin de la Roque. The rooms are on the site of an old flour mill, surrounded by rocky hills. It’s quite a gorgeous setting. People stay for weeks and sometimes months at a time, and we could understand why.
Though we could have spent the whole time hanging around Moulin de la Roque, we did explore more of Provence.
We were lucky to be there on a Sunday, so we could go to the popular market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It is one of the biggest markets we’ve ever been to and quite fun to walk through as it winds along the river and through all the streets of the old town. We would recommend getting there as early as possible. A few hours after opening, it was completely packed (with tourists).
We also had the opportunity to stop into Sarah’s friend’s bakery in town, Boulangerie Patisserie Leyris. Even though they too were packed with customers (locals and tourists alike), they gave us a peek in the back where they bake all the bread. It smelled so good! And they generously gave us several loaves of their delicious bread which we definitely did not finish in one day (ha!).
From L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, we drove through the hills, getting a lovely tour of the area (supplemented with history by experts Sarah’s dad and Sally – they should really just move to France to become tour guides). We passed through Fontaine-de-Vaucluse (it was too crowded to stop) and to Gordes. You can see the most incredible view of Gordes from a spot on the road when you’re driving in.
Before our departure (to Dijon) the next day we also thought about going to Avignon, but the pool won out. Did we mention the heat wave?
Eating in Provence
We ate most of our meals in Provence at “home,” enjoying the delicious provisions from the market and shops. Notably, different types of saucisson (sausage) and tapenade from Les Délices du Luberon. And of course we stocked up on essentials at the quaint, local shop in Noves!
We had a wonderful time in this area, but there’s so much more for us to explore. We will definitely return one day.