Mediterranean Moments - Page 3

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Marseille, France
A visit to Marseille is one of many side trips you can take advantage of along the French Mediterranean Coast.  (courtesy, Maison de la France/A. Dupont)

A surprisingly do-able road trip, in a week you can see all the big destinations, from Nice to Marseille to Perpignan—even across the border to Barcelona—and just as many small villages. If you can't spring for one-way plane tickets from the starting and end points, set aside a day for a marathon drive back across your route at the end of the trip.

When: October through November or March through April are both good times to go if you want to avoid crowds and soak up more of the local flavor. Plus, you’ll avoid high-season rates, and the temperature usually isn't too cold.

Where: Nice to Perpignan is 300 miles and about four hours by car (stops in Bandol, Aix-en-Provence, and Nîmes are good ways to break up this stretch). Perpignan to Barcelona is about 120 miles and two hours by car. The backbone of the trip follows just two routes on Europe’s international E-road network. (These routes are marked with green signs and jump between domestic highways). Take E80 175 miles from Nice to Narbonne, where you’ll exit onto E15 for the remaining 250 miles to Barcelona. Of course, you’ll want to venture off these main roads to explore the twisting mountain roads and the quaint villages to which they lead.

Highlights off of E80 include the small villages of Bandol, Saint Cyr Sur Mer, Le Castellet, and Cassis; the scenic drive along Route des Crêtes (Route D141 between Cassis and La Ciotat); shopping in Aix-en-Provence; and bullfights in Nîmes and Narbonne.

Highlights off of E15 include Perpignan; the small villages of Coullioure and Céret; a hike through Gorge de la Fou in Arles-Sur-Tech; and a scenic drive along route D618 (between Amélie-Les-Bains-Palaida and Bouleternère).

How: Rent a car from Europe by Car (www.europebycar.com). They work with rental agencies across Europe to get you the best deal.

Four-star Hotel Ile Rousse (www.ile-rousse.com), in Bandol, with its understated, classic elegance and balconies overlooking the Mediterranean, is a luxurious base from which to explore nearby beaches, hikes, and medieval villages. For a taste of the region's seafood visit the small, funky and out-of-the-way La Terasse restaurant in the medieval village of Le Castellet (www.ville-lecastellet.fr). Outside Perpignan, amidst arid hills and vineyards, Mas Camps guesthouse (www.mascamps.com) is a good option for travelers on a budget and with a car. Rooms are cheap (a bit on the shabby side, but homey) and it's within striking distance from numerous castles, beaches, hiking trails, and other attractions. The owners are happy to share their intimate knowledge of the region and offer suggestions or coordinate special excursions.

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Best Hotels in Nice

$261
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#1
Radisson Blu Hotel, Nice
$365-$436
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#2
Hotel Westminster Nice
$145
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#3
Mercure Nice Marche aux Fleurs
$134
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#4
Mercure Nice Promenade des Anglais

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