EliteVoyage co-owner David Eder takes a road trip to Provence and the French Riviera, featuring reimagined hotels, antique hunting and oysters by the kilo.
His trip report reveals many new highlights and secrets. It will inspire you to do a road trip this summer or autumn.
- Provence is an excellent destination in spring and autumn, outside peak season.
- The overall service and attitude of people has really improved in the French Riviera.
- Innsbruck and Strasbourg are ideal layover destinations on a road trip to France.
- Southern France has many enchanting destinations to explore, away from the known tourist trail.
- After a recent renovation, Carlton Cannes has created a contemporary hotel experience, while preserving a vintage feeling.
Our Reason to Travel: L’Isle Sur La Sorgue in Provence
I travelled with my wife Maar and our main reason to travel was a flea market festival in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, a small town in Provence.
L’Isle Sur La Sorgue has one of the highest concentrations of antique and second-hand stores in the world. The town hosts two huge antique fairs every year, a tradition going back to 1966.
We removed all the back seats from our Mercedes V-Class and went hunting for antique treasures.
Provence is an amazing road trip destination. It’s easy to reach, with many beautiful, non-touristy destinations to discover.
The weather in spring was warm and sunny and so different from home. Southern France will be great in autumn too.
First Stop: Strasbourg
I picked Strasbourg because it was on the way. It’s a good combination of France and Germany. I loved the architecture, although the cuisine is more German, like herring, cabbage and sausages.
Strasbourg surprised me with its friendly, youthful atmosphere. I recommend it as a stopover, halfway to Paris or Provence.
We stayed at the Autograph Collection Maison Rouge Strasbourg, a good five-star property with a great location.
Exploring Lesser-Known Provence
L’Isle Sur La Sorgue is a small town dominated by local restaurants, antique stores and old water wheels on the river. It’s so charming.
We were in southern France but it wasn’t touristic. Provence has more enchanting places like this to discover.
Southern France often struggles to deliver good value for money. Its popularity inflates prices. But for a reasonable price you can eat and drink like a local, enjoying great food and wines from small producers.
We bought oysters by the kilo, drank quality Champagne from small, less-known producers, and explored this amazing antiques festival.
It’s called Foire de l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue Antiques Art & You. The next dates are 3rd – 8th November 2023 and 29th March to 2nd April 2024.
I don’t always expect the highest standard of hotel in less touristic places. Another advantage of Southern France is that the overall standards are so high.
We stayed at the town’s best property, Hotel Henri, which was comfortable and atmospheric, with an outstanding restaurant.
St Tropez in Off Season
This was my best experience in St Tropez, because it wasn’t peak season. Although, let’s not discuss driving the coastal road in a van packed with collectables!
Nowhere was crowded, the weather was good, and we enjoyed everything St Tropez offers, except swimming.
South France is completely different in spring to South France in mid-summer. I highly recommend travelling here out of peak season.
St Tropez offers amazing restaurants of course, especially those in the Marina. However, the Dior pop-up restaurant by 3-star Michelin chef Yannick Alleno was a disappointment. Go to Dior Des Lices for drinks but dine elsewhere, unless you just want a photo of a croque monsieur sandwich with a Dior logo burnt into the bread.
Cheval Blanc is the number one hotel in St Tropez, the only beach hotel with great service and Michelin dining. It was closed during our trip, the only downside to St Tropez in low season.
We tried Hotel de Paris, which has a great location, good breakfast, a nice bar and rooftop swimming pool.
Its facade suggests tradition. However, a recent refurbishment stripped away all the historical charm. Now it’s a contemporary city hotel with an old facade, a mismatch that wasn’t to my taste.
A Changing Cannes
The Carlton Cannes is exactly how to refurbish a historical hotel. It still has this vintage Riviera feel, updated with the contemporary facilities we demand.
I’ve stayed here many times before. It was old and tired, with arrogant staff. Now it’s exactly the opposite.
We had a suite on the sixth floor with an amazing sea view. It’s one level below the new speciality suites that will be finished for the film festival.
The world’s biggest movie stars will now choose the Carlton, as it’s the new number one in Cannes. But the manager wouldn’t tell me who had confirmed for this year.
The basic rooms are quite small and don’t have an open sea view. I definitely recommend staying in a seaview suite for a few nights.
Carlton took all the history and created a beautiful modern experience, while preserving the vintage feeling.
The staff don’t wear regular uniforms. They wear scarfs and casual shirts, in different colours for each outlet. At first I was confused, were they guests or staff? Then I understood, it’s another small detail that helps everyone feel relaxed.
Carlton Cannes spent big on their renovation and all the materials are very high quality. Cannes is being renovated too, with more pedestrian zones and a new promenade.
This will continue until the end of the year and I expect Cannes will be an amazing destination next spring, when it’s completely finished.
Outside peak season I found Cannes wasn’t all hype and tourism. It was sunbathing, swimming, shopping, drinking, relaxing and eating oysters at Astoux et Brun.
Monte Carlo & Innsbruck
We made a one-night stop in Monaco and stayed at the Hermitage. I think both the destination and hotel get by on their prestige. Both could provide better service for their prices.
But I’d been here many times before. My wife hadn’t and she loved it.
Monaco is a destination you have to visit to make up your own mind.
Returning to Prague we stopped in Innsbruck. It’s my favourite layover destination and we always stay at Altstadthotel Weisses Kreuz, a long-time favourite of our family.
This small city has an amazing atmosphere, lots of young people and a very nice overall vibe.
Tip: stop overnight in Innsbruck if you’re going to the Dolomites to ski. Then you can beat the afternoon traffic jams on roads into the ski resorts.
Planning a Holiday to the South of France
We’re already planning our next holiday to the south of France, outside the crowded months of July and August.
I was surprised at how quiet everywhere was in spring. I was also surprised by the positive attitude of the people.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve been in the Cote d’Azur and found the atmosphere snobbish, the service not up to standard. This really wasn’t my experience. The destination has changed for the better.
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