Èze to Aix-en-Provence: Road Tripping In The South of France
The French Riviera is known for the glitz and glamour of jet-setter hotspots like Saint-Tropez and Cannes, but venture off the beaten track and you’ll discover there’s even more magic to be found. Lesser-known spots include hilltop medieval villages with Michelin-starred dining, pockets of Parisian chic in Provençal towns and secluded island beaches reached by bicycle.
Best visited in the summer and shoulder months (April through October), the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region is easily accessible by car. For the ultimate road trip to sample what the South of France has to offer, we’ve put together a five-day itinerary to inspire your own adventure.
Day 1: Èze and Cabris
Fly into Nice, but save this resort city for another trip. A short 30-minute drive away is the hilltop commune of Èze, where you’ll find mesmerising sea views at dizzying heights, exotic cacti gardens and winding cobbled alleyways. Try one of the many creperies for a casual lunch, or opt for Château Eza — à la carte Michelin dining inspired by Mediterranean and French cuisines.
Head back west towards the quaint village of Cabris. Wander the narrow streets flanked with palms and fragrant deep-purple lavender, and experience a different side of the Riviera away from the coast. Book ahead to reserve one of four rooms at L’Auberge du Vieux Chateau — one even has a terrace for the perfect spot to watch the sun set past the hills. The hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant spills out onto a medieval courtyard, and has an excellent wine list and a modern French sensibility.
Day 2: Hyères
Enjoy croissants and coffee for breakfast at the hotel, and then jump back in the car to head towards Hyères. This Riviera town is the perfect hideaway from the crowds; it’s surprisingly unknown by many travellers, and is packed full of charm. Here, there’s world-class modern art, bustling farmers markets, paintbox-coloured houses and an authentic Provençal vibe.
After checking in to your hotel or Airbnb, go for a stroll in Vieille Ville (old town) — the stone walls of Rue du Repos are adorned with bright-violet bougainvillea and plenty of lush greenery. The old town is a food lover’s dream with displays of seasonal fruits and vegetables, fromageries and an abundance of specialist olive stalls. Stop for coffee at one of the many cafés, or try macaroons and handmade anise biscuits from Gilles Mène. For art and architecture lovers, the modernist Villa Noailles holds the story of art patrons Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, and plays host to international fashion and photography events. It’s also a great place to take in views over the town’s terracotta rooftops.
Cave Massillon boasts some of the region’s best wine, as well as Provençal tapas-style plates — such as artichoke compote with truffle oil — and charcuterie boards.
Day 3: Île de Porquerolles
A short ferry ride away from the coast nearby is Île de Porquerolles, the most visited of three Îles d’Or (Isles of Gold). Here, hire a bicycle and ride to secluded white-sand beaches and turquoise swimming coves. The scent of eucalyptus lingers sweetly in the air, and back near the port, the main square is ideal for some people watching — locals play pétanque (a game similar to boules) and tourists rest in the shade. To sample rosé, whites and reds produced on the island, the family-run Domaine Perzinsky is a great choice.
Follow this up with dinner at Le Pélagos, to taste impossibly fresh seafood and Mediterranean flavours. Catch the last ferry back to Hyères, although you’ll probably be wishing you could spend longer just here.
Day 4: Aix-en-Provence
Head off early and drive west — the last leg of this trip takes you to Aix-en-Provence. Aix (pronounced like the letter ‘X’) flaunts its own Provençal version of Parisian chic. It’s the home of prestigious art schools, 17th-century mansions and renowned haunts like Les Deux Garçons — once the hang out for local creatives Paul Cézanne and Émile Zola.
Stock up on fresh produce at Place Richelme’s daily farmers market, and depending on when you visit, you’ll find heirloom tomatoes, zucchini flowers, berries, apricots and seasonal greens. For lunch, Maison Nosh on Cours Mirabeau adds a French touch to American hot dogs, quinoa bowls and brunch-style pancakes.
Spend the afternoon admiring iconic modern art at Musée Granet, or just north of town, check out Cézanne’s former studio. To end the day, bistro Le Petit Verdot shows off the best of what Provence has to offer with local wines, slow-cooked meats and indulgent French desserts. If you’re not ready to call it a night, continue on in the many bars found in the surrounding streets — Aix is a student hub, after all.
Day 5: Finishing the trip in Aix-en-Provence
There’s not much on the agenda this morning — just checking out and hitting up the pâtisserie before heading off to the nearby Marseilles Provence Airport. Everything at Lavarenne is delicious, but if you’re stuck try a pain au chocolat or a tarte aux pomme. Perhaps buy a few for the road.
(Lead image: Ile de Porquerolles Photo: Hyères Tourisme)
Published 03 May, 2018