Exploring the South of France from Lyon to Nice makes a perfect honeymoon for lovers of wine, sun, culture, and fun! While this trip could be planned as a 10-day to three-week excursion of the south of France, you could easily shorten it to one or two weeks and see what is of interest to you. We hope you find our independent and unsponsored advice to be of value.
With beautiful sites, exceptional cuisine, pristine beaches, and thousands of years of culture and history to explore, the South of France is a must-visit destination that certainly makes for a romantic honeymoon. Located south of Paris, Lyon is a perfect place to start your adventure with easy flights from the United States. Famous for being the epicenter of French cuisine, Lyon remains a gastronomic secret to many. During our visit to Lyon, we stayed at La Villa Florentine, a Relais & Chateaux property, on Fourvier Hill in Vieux Lyon. The hotel is a five-minute walk to downtown, but the location is near several attractions and offers panoramic views of Lyon. (If you book through a Virtuso travel agent, you receive the buffet breakfast for two daily and other benefits.) While perfect for breakfast before starting your day, you will find better dining opportunities outside of the hotel for lunch and dinner. Just down the hill is Cour des Loges, which offers excellent accommodations and dining. It’s important to note that both of these hotels are in historical locations and their charming rooms, while luxurious in their own way, are inherently limited. If space is important to you, think about booking a suite. (Update: The newly opened InterContinental Lyon - Hotel Dieu offers the combination of a contemporary design and a historic landmark building in the Lyon City Center.)
Photo courtesy of La Villa Florentine
Dining in Lyon is an absolute pleasure; it’s a friendly city with spectacular food. Booking in advance is highly recommended, as the best restaurants in Lyon may be so busy they are forced to turn away guests. If you must pay homage to what many consider the temple of French gastronomy, then visit L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges in Collonges-au-Mont d’Or located five miles out of Lyon. Perhaps, lunch is your best option, as we ate dinner here and were disappointed. The organ grinder loudly played the “Happy Birthday” song and other celebratory tunes every few minutes, then one musician reappeared to play another round just when you thought you could go back to enjoying your meal. You will undoubtedly find the classic French cuisine matches the world-class standards set by Paul Bocuse. If you do visit this institution, be sure to visit the gift shop on your way to the restroom.
Far more to our liking – and close to La Villa Florentine and Cour des Loges – is Jérémy Galvan, a one-star Michelin restaurant. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and would have returned for dinner if we’d had the time. The tasting menu and wine pairing were reasonably priced, creative, and exquisitely presented.
If your trip includes a visit to the Musée des Beaux Arts in Lyon (and we recommend that it does if for no other reason than to see the magnificent 17th-century building which it inhabits), then be sure to enjoy La Garet, a typical Lyonnais bouchon. More than 100 years of history and yet full of life, this restaurant should not be missed.
For the pièce de résistance, dine at Le Neuvieme Art. Without doubt, this is one of the best culinary experiences we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying anywhere in the world. From the welcoming staff to the extraordinary food presentation, La Neuvieme Art deserves all of the recognition chef Christophe Roure receives.
Photo courtesy of Le Neuvieme Art
Finally, be certain to enjoy a cocktail at L’Antiquaire. Their "Gin Fizz" is award winning and truly exceptional. Marc, the head barman at L’Antiquaire, focuses on playing with classic cocktail recipes rather than novelty drinks, and we found this bar to be memorable and worth recommending. If you enjoy cocktails, this place is not to be missed!
Once you’re ready to depart Lyon, travel south toward Avignon by car or train to enjoy the treasures of the Rhône valley. Avignon will prove to be a wonderful “hub” when visiting Provence since so many of the best sites are within an hour drive. When you arrive, you’ll find a welcoming home at La Divine Comédie. This bed and breakfast boasts the largest private garden in Avignon and is conveniently located in the heart of the city. The house has only five luxurious suites creating the perfect private oasis for your visit.
Excellent dining options abound in Avignon, but make reservations in advance to ensure you have a table when you want as many restaurants have limited capacity. La Mirande, Restaurant Christian Etienne, and Le Prieuré have all earned one Michelin star while Pollen consistently receives rave reviews from diners exclaiming it to be their best dining experience in Provence. We’re certain you'll also enjoy Fou de Fafa, Le Barrel, La Cuisine du Dimanche, Le Lieu, Restaurant Le Cour Du Louvre, and La Vieille Fontaine at Hotel D’Europe.
Photo courtesy of La Divine Comédie
If you enjoy fine wine, you are in the heart of the Cotes du Rhône and we recommend you make the most of it to see the surrounding villages. Start by booking one or more personalized tours with American-born and French-trained sommelier Kelly McAuliffe who fell in love with the area more than a quarter-century ago and never left. If you’d prefer to stay in a private guest house, Kelly and his wife, Fabienne, offer Villa Bacchus. The property is a wonderful option located in Les Angles Gard near Avignon (9 Rue de Candau, 30133 Les Angles Gard, France). Kelly McAuliffe Wine Tours, 11, Rue Candau, 30133 Les Angles, Phone: +33 (0)6 22 54 23 35 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With 17 distinct crus in the Rhône valley, you may want to explore more than can be seen in one day. In that case, we recommend scheduling at least two days of tours and enjoying these days meeting wine makers while learning from a sommelier how to taste and enjoy wine. These tours will drive you in comfort to many of the local sites and schedule lunch at the best restaurants. You’ll likely have time to see some villages and walk the sites nearby. We found this to be an enjoyable way to see the surrounding area and absolutely loved our time with another sommelier, Céline Viany of Le Vin a la Bouche. We have fond memories of traveling with Céline to the Northern section of Rhône valley.
We found another wonderful alternative to the sommelier approach to be guided through the valley by Olivier Hickman of Wine Uncovered. A Rhône wine agent, Olivier’s approach to wine is to help his guests understand the terroir, explaining the soil, topography, and climate that produces the grapes required to make excellent wine. His passion and unique perspective make this a wonderful option to learn a different aspect of wine, while visiting excellent vineyards, meeting fascinating winemakers, and tasting delicious varietals.
Photo courtesy of Crillon le Brave
Take a break from wine tasting to explore the beautiful Mont Ventoux, famed for being on the route of one of cycling’s most storied rides: the Tour de France. A little over an hour from Avignon, the scenic drive offers amazing views and fascinating terrain, but remember to take a coat as it’s likely to be windy and can be cold at the top! On your return, stop at Crillon le Brave and enjoy lunch or dinner. The food is delicious and you’re sure to remember the views from the terrace for years to come. If you’re so inclined, we’re sure you’d enjoy spending a night in this wonderful hotel. (This Relais & Chateaux property is also available on an “exclusive use” basis for destination weddings; if you’re interested, contact email@example.com.)
A visit to Châteauneuf-Du-Pape is required when visiting the region and we’re sure you’ll enjoy the many fine wineries along the way. In the village, you’ll find a variety of tasting rooms and the perfect spot for lunch or dinner at Le Verger des Papes. Dine on the charming terrace with a view over the town and enjoy delicious fare typical of Provence.
If you decide to spend a night in this area, you may want to consider Hostellerie Chateau des Fines Roches. A castle built in the late 19th century and once inhabited by the Marquis de Baroncelli, this hotel is filled with history and surrounded by vineyards. The spectacular sights also offer an extraordinary wedding venue that would be perfect for the wine lover considering a destination wedding.
Photo courtesy of Hostellerie Chateau des Fines Roches
The Pont du Gard is the most visited ancient monument in France and located 30 minutes outside of Avignon. Built in the first century, this well-preserved Roman aqueduct is a site to behold and a marvel of engineering. There is a lovely restaurant located in the park where you can lunch while enjoying panoramas of the aqueduct and the Gardon River before walking across the bridge and enjoying the museum. If well-preserved Roman monuments are of interest, consider driving another 30 minutes to the city of Nimes before returning to Avignon for the night.
Before leaving the area, be sure to spend a day visiting Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Start your morning learning about the life of Vincent Van Gogh. After committing himself to the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole, Van Gogh completed some of his most famous paintings while enduring psychiatric treatment. A serene site, a tour of the museum is fascinating with large-scale reproductions perfectly placed at the vantage point of where these masterpieces were painted.
Enjoy a meal in town before venturing out to Glanum, a wealthy, ancient city located just south of town. If you’re in the mood for something special and like the idea of dining in a charming courtyard, then make a reservation at Fanny Rey & Jonathan Wahid and enjoy the wonderful food and environment of L’Auberge de Saint-Remy. After lunch, stroll the Boulevard Mirabeau where he twice painted The Road Menders.
We’re off to Glanum before returning to Avignon unless, of course, you’ve decided to stay at the amazing Hotel de Tourrel. If you decide to spend the night, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed with the accommodations and dining at their restaurant is an absolute must. Jérémy Scalia is an exciting young chef who creates unpretentious food using fresh, natural, and local ingredients. The ancient Roman city of Glanum is a sight to be seen if you enjoy archaeological ruins and it’s an enjoyable way to walk off a scrumptious lunch.
Photo courtesy of Villa Saint Ange
To complete our exploration of the south of France, we move from Avignon south toward the Côte d’Azur, also known as the "French Riviera." About an hour south of Avignon, Aix-en-Provence can be a wonderful day trip or a destination along the way. If you decide to make it your next stop, we recommend choosing between the Villa Gallici and the newly opened, Villa Saint Ange. If you enjoy the art of Paul Cezanne, then you’re in for a treat. Atelier de Cézanne on Rue Boulegon is where the artist worked during the last four years of his life and is a short walk from the city center. The Jas de Bouffan mansion was owned by his father and now open for guided tours. Cezanne drew inspiration from the surrounding land and painted here for 40 years. Carrieres de Bibemus is, literally, the site where Cubism was born. This quarry is the site where Cezanne gave birth to The Red Rock (Musée de l’Orangerie) and other masterpieces. Finally, the Musée Granet houses a collection of filled with Picasso, Kandinsky, Rembrandt, and Rubens, but the must-see room is filled with nine oil paintings by Cézanne.
The "French Riviera" – also known as the Côte d’Azur – is a picturesque area of the southeast corner of France along the Mediterranean coastline. Complete with gorgeous pebble beaches, Roman ruins and medieval villages, and luxurious shopping and dining opportunities, the French Riviera is a place where you and your new spouse can create wonderful memories.
When visiting the Côte d’Azur, many travelers choose to call Nice – the largest city in the area – their home base. Nice offers exceptional shopping, lively nightlife, and memorable dining experiences. Just steps from the city center, we opted to stay at the five-star Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée. We recommend a Sea View Suite for your stay. The spacious room provides you with a wonderful respite when returning from a day of sightseeing and you wake to stunning ocean views. The property, which is situated on the famous Promenade des Anglais, even hosts destination weddings overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Close to the airport, the hotel is a wonderfully convenient place to stay while taking day trips by bus, car, boat, or train to other popular locales. There are countless luxurious and refined hotels throughout this area, but few offer a location that allows you to visit so many sites.
Photo by Wilfried Hamel Raison, Courtesy of Hyatt Regency Nice Palais de la Méditerranée
Do yourself a favor and book a table at Restaurant Jan for dinner before you arrive. This Michelin-starred restaurant is seductive and romantic, where the intimate atmosphere is as magical as the food. Refined, but not stuffy or overly formal, we found Jan to be one of our most memorable meals ever.
We also highly recommend making a reservation at Le Bistrot Gourmand (3 Rue Desboutin). The restaurant is about a 10-minute walk from the hotel and so convenient, you may be tempted to visit again! The ambience is clean and modern. While the restaurant isn’t the most romantic, we’re certain you’ll agree the food is beautifully prepared and absolutely delectable.
If you enjoy immersing yourself in art and culture while exploring local towns and historic villages, there are a number of wonderful day trips from Nice. While in no particular order, we found the following to be pleasant. First, if you enjoy Calder, Miro, and some of the other most important artists of the 20th century, you’ll love a visit to Fondation Maeght in Saint-Paul de Vence. The exceptional site is the perfect start to any day before enjoying lunch at La Colombe d’Or. Picasso and Matisse traded paintings in exchange for rent and called this family-owned auberge home. After lunch, travel up to Vence for a quick visit to La Chapelle du Rosaire, a chapel designed by Henri Matisse. Take a moment to enjoy this charming town before heading down the hill to Musée Renoir, the magnificent estate the artist called home from 1907 until he died in 1919. We truly enjoyed our time walking through the grounds and home of this magnificent artist and learning more about his life. Tip: if you’re off to an early start, make this your first stop before visiting Fondation Maeght.
The National Museums for Picasso, Chagall, and Leger, are all located nearby. If you enjoy Fernand Léger, then a visit to the Léger Museum is an absolute must. Tip: we recommend starting your day here before you head on to Antibes or Cannes. The museum opens at 10AM and is about 30 minutes outside of Nice. The museum and sculpture garden are world-class and extraordinarily well presented. If the ceramics of Pablo Picasso are of interest, you’re in luck and there are two museum options for you. First, you could travel on to the Musée Picasso in Antibes and walk through the former Chateau Grimaldi. We found the site of this museum to be its most interesting attribute along with the sculptures set on the grounds. This is a great stop if you’d like to explore Antibes, however, if you’re expecting an excellent collection of Picasso paintings, you’re sure to be disappointed. If you are seeking more Picasso ceramics and murals in a chapel, then a visit to Vallauris and the National Picasso Museum is in order. Neither museum is large, and they don’t require much time investment, which made us wonder if either was worth the trip. If you decide to stop and you find yourself ready to lunch, we recommend dining in a courtyard in Old Antibes under a 60-year-old fig tree at Le Figuier de St. Esprit.
If you decide to skip Antibes altogether and you’re ready for some excellent shopping, we recommend traveling on to Cannes. Here you can spend the day enjoying the sites and shops after a splendid lunch at Restaurant La Palme d’Or where you’ll enjoy the magnificent views before meandering through La Croisette and Rue d’Antibes. If you find local shops and boutiques more interesting, then head over to Rue Meynadier.
Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat
No trip to the French Riviera is complete without a visit to Saint-John-Cap-Ferrat and one of the most interesting sites to see is the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. The villa took Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild seven years to construct between 1905 and 1912. A pioneering woman, she desired this site due to the close proximity to Monte Carlo and it’s extraordinary beauty. You will enjoy your time exploring the house and gardens after an amazing lunch at the Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat. Here you can choose between Le Club Dauphin and La Veranda depending on the views and type of food you prefer. In our opinion, you can’t go wrong with either choice. However, if you’re not inclined to visit the hotel and want to see Monaco, head to The Restaurant des Rois in Beaulieu-sur-Mer on your way.
Another magical day trip will take you to the medieval village of Eze. We’d recommend skipping the dreadful tourist shops. Instead, take in the sights and stroll to Le Jardin Exotique d’Eze. After working up an appetite, you will enjoy the scene while dining at Chateau de La Chevre d’Or. If you’re up to it, it’s a manageable walk down Chemin de Nietzsche to Eze-sur-mer where you can tour the Fragonard factory before catching a train, bus, or car to your next destination. If a trip to Monaco is calling your name, then now is the time to visit since it is a 15-minute drive from Eze. Another excellent option is to travel on to Menton where you can enjoy the Jardin Botanique et Exotique Val Rehmeh, which is a little piece of paradise to behold. If you’re a fan of Jean Cocteau, then Menton is your place, and it’s home to three different museums with collections of the artist: the Bastion Museum, the Salle des Mariages Jean Cocteau, and the Musée Jean Cocteau (temporarily closed now due to flooding).
Photo courtesy of Chateau de La Chevre d’Or
Don’t miss an opportunity to enjoy a walk along Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Just around the corner from the hotel, you will find shops and brasseries to entice you while you wander the streets. Turn left out of the hotel and walk along the Coulée Vert between Avenue Félix Faure and Boulevard Jean Jaures. If shopping calls to you, then you are in the right neighborhood and you can while away the time on Avenue de Suede and Rue Paradis. When you’re ready, continue down the promenade to enjoy Old Nice.
A walk through Vielle Ville is best when you take time to meander through the narrow streets and take in the architecture and local flavor before venturing on to Castle Hill. If you’re inclined to have lunch in Old Nice, we enjoyed our meal at Fine Gueule (2 Rue de l’Hotel de ville), but also recommend Bistrot d’Antoine (27 Rue de la Prefecture), Chez Palmyre (5 Rue Droite), and La Merenda (4 Rue Raoul Bosio). If you’re in the mood for fish, Peixes (4 Rue de l’Opera) offers some of the best seafood in the city. If you’re heading back to the hotel in the afternoon and ready for a glass of wine, then you might consider a visit to L’épicerie Georges (1 Rue Jules Gilly), La Pêche à la Vigne (13 Rue Cassini), or La Part des Anges (17 Rue Gubernatis). If it’s after dark and you’re in the mood for a drink and live jazz music, try Ooh Poo Pah Doo (27 Rue Benoit Bunico) or Le Shapko (5 Rue Rossetti).
Turn right when you’re leaving the hotel and stroll down the promenade toward the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice and the Villa Masséna Musée. The gardens of the Villa Masséna are sure to catch your eye and draw you in for a visit. Next door, the bar Le Negresco is a comfortable spot to enjoy a snack or drink before heading out for another adventure.
A 30-minute walk from the hotel, you’ll find the Musée Matisse and the historic neighborhood of Cimiez. Next door, the Musée D’Archeologie is the site of a Roman amphitheatre and ruins. While you’re in Cimiez, don’t miss the Excelsior Régina Palace. Once a grand hotel (now private residences), this Belle Epoque architectural masterpiece is a sight to savor. If you’re ready for lunch, head west to Le Bistronome, a popular neighborhood restaurant and a respected favorite among locals (11 Avenue du Ray). If you’re so inclined, visit the Musée National Marc Chagall after lunch (about a 30-minute walk in the basic direction of the hotel) or head back straight back to hotel and enjoy the sunset while sipping Champagne.
Before you leave Nice, be sure to visit Le Plongeoir. Perched on a rock near Nice’s marina, this restaurant offers a wonderfully romantic setting for lunch or dinner and the perfect lounge bar to watch the sunset.
Other Popular Destinations in the French Riviera:
Grasse. An obligatory stop for all connoisseurs of fragrance and fashion, Grasse is surrounded by fields of lavender, rose, jasmine, and mimosa that are used to create the scents for the world. Of course, you may prefer to travel on through the beautiful Gorges du Loup and visit the village of Gourdon perched high above on a cliff where you’ll enjoy breathtaking panoramic views.
Monaco. The Principality of Monaco, which is a sovereign city-state and therefore not technically in France, is a favorite amongst travelers. Home to the famed Monte Carlo Casino, the luxurious destination is just a 15-25 minute train ride, a 30-minute drive, or quick helicopter ride away from Nice. Known as one of the wealthiest areas of the world, this is the place to splurge on the finer things in life while taking in the view of the glamorous yachts at the marina.
Saint-Tropez. What was once a peaceful fishing village is now known as the jet-set location for those who want to see and be seen. The train from Nice takes about one-and-a-half hours, so many travelers prefer to either drive or take the longer boat excursion offering scenic views and often dolphin sightings along the way. From elegant eateries to a bustling party scene, the coastal town is a favorite amongst visitors.
Set your sights high – your honeymoon is the perfect opportunity to splurge and spend time enjoying the joie de vivre (French for joy of living) way of life. While many honeymooners will be drawn to Paris, we hope you agree that Provence and the Côte d’Azur will offer all the opportunities to create memories that last a lifetime!