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Help Me Plan My Upcoming Trip to Provence and Monte Carlo

by on September 20, 2012 · 48 comments

in British Airways, Four Seasons, Starwood, Swiss, Trip Reports

As a member of the frequent flyer community, I’m always amazed at how much the community gives back to each other. I’ve had the great fortune to be able to give away some fun things like trips on the last Star Alliance and Oneworld Mega Dos and even got to take TPG reader Daniel to front row seats at this past Tuesday’s Conde Nast Traveler Visionaries event at Lincoln Center (full review coming shortly). However, a couple of months ago the tables were turned on me and a super generous blog reader offered to give me a show-stopping prize that he had won but wouldn’t be able to use: 4 nights at the luxurious Four Seasons Terre Blanche in Provence, France, which includes several meals and even a wine tasting. Transportation wasn’t included, but that’s not a big deal since I have a couple frequent flyer miles laying around and even some Hertz points that are burning a hole in my pocket.

As part of the package, I’ll get to have a wine-tasting at the Four Seasons Terre Blanche.

I’ve been to France a number of times, but always to Paris and the surrounding areas. My main goal is to relax and hit up the spa at the resort, but what else should I be doing while in Provence? Should I day trip to Cannes? Visit a lavender field or an olive oil press? Maybe I should make a day trip to Avignon and the Pont du Gard? I’ll have a rental car, so I don’t mind getting out and exploring, but as always appreciate the sage advice of my readers.

I also decided to spend my last night in Monte Carlo since I’ve never been. I used 21,500 Starpoints to book an award night in an executive room at Le Meridien Beach Plaza in Monte Carlo, which looks really nice. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about Monte Carlo and all I can think to do is bring my tuxedo and gamble a la James Bond.

What should I do while I’m in Monte Carlo?

Transportation:
Getting There
I transferred 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points from my recent Ink Plus sign-up bonus to United and paid $27.80 to book a Swiss Business Class award from Miami to Zurich to Nice (the flight was selling for $6,595, so I think it’s a pretty decent redemption, even though I would never pay that much out of pocket). I’ve never flown Swiss, so I look forward to reviewing a new product. Once in Nice, I redeemed 2,800 Hertz points for 5 days of standard car rental. I’m half tempted to drop the car off in Monaco and take the helicopter from Monte Carlo to Nice airport, which is apparently a gorgeous 7 minute ride and not horribly priced at about 100 Euros. Anyone have any experiences with them? I still kick myself for never taking advantage of the helicopter service in NYC when you used to be able to zip to the airport in less than 20 minutes for about $150.

Coming Home
I used 84,000 Avios and $362 to fly Nice-London City then I transfer to Heathrow for the flight to Miami in British Airways First Class. I have 3 hours to transit from London City to Heathrow, but figure it won’t be too much of an issue since I’m in First and will be able to speed through check-in and security at Heathrow. If not, I’ll just stay an extra night in London, which isn’t the worst thing in the world! Has anyone ever done a London City to Heathrow transfer? Should I take the bus or tube to the Heathrow Express?

I’ll be blogging about my experiences, but if you want real time updates and pictures, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for the latest antics/shenanigans.

Thanks in advance for the tips and thanks a million to TPG reader Andrew for making this happen!

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • http://twitter.com/singtx Raj K Singh

    nice! looking forward to the reports…

  • http://twitter.com/badassbradash Brad Ash

    I just did Nice -> St. Paul de Vence -> Monte Carlo for my honeymoon. We flew on an Air France Airbus A380 which was the nicest plane I’ve ever been on. Aside from the comfort and excellent staff, the Air France first/business class menu was created by Chef Joel Robuchon which was a fantastic meal (not even for on an airplane). Anyways, the car rental is a good idea to get around and the roads are very well marked so you should have no issues. Check out the old city in Nice by night for good walking around and some of the best Gellato you’ll ever try at Fennochio. As for the rest of the Cote d’Azur, I personally think Cannes is overrated, especially for a day trip, but I would highly recommend the old medieval village of St. Paul de Vence. There is a very old restaurant at the foot of the town called Colombe D’or which has one of the greatest private collections of art you will ever see and the steaks are amaing (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187240-d195047-Reviews-La_Colombe_d_Or-St_Paul_de_Vence_French_Riviera_Cote_d_Azur_Provence.html).

    In Monte Carlo stop at the Aquatic museum up on the hill by the palace and also it’s worth stopping by the casino made famous by James Bond. The casino is relatively dead during the day, so I’d say if you want to mingle with the high rollers, check it out in the evening.

  • mark

    You say: “I used 21,500 Starpoints to book a free night in an executive room…”. You paid for that room…with points. It wasn’t “free.” Maybe say: “I used 21,500 Starpoints to book an award night…” :) Mostly kidding…but, every so often some hotel or airline service provider will try to give half hearted treatment because travel was paid for with points/miles (e.g., every so often SPG hotels are stingy with upgrades because it is an award stay). So, I always correct people when they say they booked a “free ticket” or “free room.”

  • bd

    Get out into the country and lose the car for a day. Head up to Bedoin, rent a bike and climb Mt. Ventoux. An awesome experience you won’t forget. There are also great restaurants in the area and lots of very fine vineyards to sample the wonderful Cote du Rhone wines.

  • Spencer W.

    Three great spots near Nice that I’d recommend–1) the hilltop village of Eze, overlooking the Mediterranean, and 2) the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat (a seaside palazzo-turned-museum with exquisite grounds and views), and 3) the town of Grasse, for art galleries, winding streets on a steep hillside, and a working Fragonard perfume factory. And don’t miss a day trip to Aix-en-Provence.

  • The Points Guy

    That’s true, it’s not free, it’s an award night! I changed the wording.

  • Jamesrkunz

    Well first of all, say Monaco rather than Monte Carlo. Unless you’re not planning on leaving the casino

  • Mark

    Definitely take the helicopter! If you are staying in Monte Carlo might as well go out like a high roller. I thought about it when I was there but didn’t. Take pictures. Another experience they offered when I was there, don’t know if they still do, was to drive a Ferrari around the F1 track. I wish I would have dropped the money on both things as there is not a lot to see or do there and it is very expensive. Unlike other locations in Europe I know I will be back to I don’t know if I will ever be in Monte Carlo again. Live it up while you are there!

  • Devin

    When your in monte Carlo eat Louis XV it is an awesome restaurant

  • Mei

    when are you going for this trip? I’ve been to Provence in late fall and it was wonderful, even though the flowering season will be long past, you can see olives and grape harvesting. Renting a car is a good idea since it’s hard to get around but the cars tend to be non-automatic. Avignon is worth a visit. The mountain town of Gord, Saint Remy, and Les Baux are all wonderful. Check the schedule of their “market days” so you can visit in the morning and see the local market, each town is different. Pont du gard is nice, too, but a little boring. If you like wine, visit chateauneuf du pop for tasting.

  • http://twitter.com/allisonemarino Allison Marino

    Les Baux de Provence, Arles and Avignon are all relatively near each other and could be a good day trip. If I had to choose one though, it would be Les Baux – its incredibly different than most things in France and really beautiful.

  • The Points Guy

    I realize Monte Carlo is the name of one of the city’s quarters, but was informally referring to the whole city by the name, as people do. I plan to visit as much of Monaco as possible.

  • bennytma

    I’d definitely recommend trying to change your award to F on the outbound. The difference in service, food, and hard product is definitely worth the miles. I’ve had luck finding F space on LX JFK-GVA on the day of departure. I’d booked J using UA miles and had UA reticket me while in the taxi to JFK. To top off the experience I got to sit across from David Stern.

    Will the extra night in London increase your taxes? If you’re not spending the night in London on the return, you could spend one in NYC. That would allow you to avoid the LHR-LCY shuffle, save some miles, and still get great J+plus service on the LCY-JFK leg. I know its not BA F but its an option. You could then fly in intl J on AA from JFK-MIA.

  • Stephan

    Well Provence is bigger than you think and some of the replies here focus on the western end, while you are really at the extreme eastern end at the Four Seasons and Monaco – which is pretty well the Cote d’Azur area. Doing both is a bit of a stretch – I’d focus on the east this time as you are on the Cote d’Azur. Pont du Gard is better incorporated in a trip with Avignon, Arles, Les Baux and the Mt Ventoux area (+/- Roussilion, St Remy and Isle-Sur-la Sorgue) – the “real” Provence IMO. You should focus on the Cote d’Azur highlights – Nice, Cannes, Antibes/Juan les Pins (think Picasso), Grasse (perfume) and St Paul de Vence (very nice), Cagnes-sur-Mer, Beaulieu. these are all very touristy areas and typify why the south of france is glamerous. The train works well, but a car is nicer to explore the small towns. Aix en Provence (trendy) is easily doable by TGV train from Nice, as are Arles and Avignon (lots of history here), but all the other towns in Provence really need a small car to do them justice. From where you will be, I really like taking the car up to the Gorges du Verdo for a pretty spectacular day trip. Nice is 20 min train trip from Monaco and has awesome food and a nice ambiance on the promenade. Gotta have a real Salad Nicoise! And Monaco – well it is the essence of chic. Enjoy!

  • Stephan

    Sorry that should have read: Gorges du Verdon

  • Joschrin

    The view from Les Baux is unreal; basically the entire valley is open to you. Provence is the prettiest place in the whole world excluding Switzerland and the Shenandoah Valley (to me), and there are a multitude of nice places to go. Arles is super – lots of Roman history. Avignon has the bridge, of course, but also some nice papal history/castles and it’s on the river.

    I would actually recommend driving from Nice to Monaco, or the other way around, but stopping in Eze for a quick break. It’s a beautiful mountainous drive that will reward you.

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  • Brian

    Hey,
    Just got back from a trip through Cote d’Azur and Monaco. Heres my 0.05…

    Lavender fields are out of the questions – they get harvested July-early August.

    My favorite place by a long shot was St. Jean Cap de Ferrat – beautiful coastal town with gorgeous homes and beaches. Rent a motorcycle and enjoy the area. Stay at the Grand Hotel Cap du Ferrat – Well worth it.

    I stayed at Le Meridien in Monaco. Its location is good. Nice beach and pools. Staff is VERY reluctant to upgrade – I had to show availability on their website after I was told no upgrades were available.

    Sas cafe is a fun time at night and about right for your age.

    Did the whole tux in the casino thing. It was fun, but be ready to lay out some serious green (both at the casino and everywhere else).

  • db

    When will you be there? the high (only) season is summer time. Definitely go to cannes and have a meal in the suquet and walk the croisette. The intercontinental is really nice (Carlton) and treat RA very nice just in case you decide to spend a night there. You can always go have dinner at “la petite maison” great place at le majestic.

    As for Monaco, a few things: Heli ride to the airport is great and not so expensive, for one it is actually the same as taking a cab, I do it every time I go there, it is 10 minutes beautiful views of the coast. Maybe you want to try the BeefBar, and la saliere in the port of fontvieille both are great (one steak the other italian). Since you are staying at le meridian, I have to advise you to go to the sea lounge in the beach club really great place for a mojito and good views. Of course you want to go visit the palais and walk around.
    Also be careful with the rental car in Monaco, there is no parking you could try to like the locals and park wherever, but you need MC plates, with french plates you cannot do anything (I have actually seen the police not let young guys with french plates into MC).

    Hope this help.

  • db

    SAS cafe is the lace for coke in MC the Prince as been trying to close the place on and off

  • db

    A great value

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=685121871 Christopher Wu

    Sit in a cafe in Aix… the Deux Garcons is one of the most famous, but just sit.. and take it in.. have a kir royale… I second the Gordes recommendation.. absolutely fantastic… When are you going, because the FS Provences ceases to be the FS Provence as of October 1… so you might be staying at the Terre Blanche Hotel and Resort…. http://www.terre-blanche.com

  • Alex

    London City to Heathrow in 3 hours is going to be tough – they are on totally opposite sides of London. Use tfl.gov.uk for planning. You can take Heathrow Express although it’s not going to save you much time. Alternatively you can just take the DLR/tube – you’ll need to switch twice. If everything goes well it should take you about 1.5 hours but if you’re traveling during the rush hour it could be longer.
    London is great, I just came back after living there for a yeear and would gladly stay there for an extra week :)

  • Joe

    Gordes is a mini Minas Tirith

  • Kevin

    There are beautiful views from the Matisse Museum in Nice. I’d recommend a visit. And Marseille has great food and a bit of an edge (in a good way) unlike most cities in the Cote d’Azur. Cannes is not worth the time IMO, unless you’re Vinnie Chase there for the Film Festival :)

  • Chafer

    When I went to Monte Carlo, I went about an hour East in France to the village of Eze. It’s right on the coast and it is amazing. Go there and you won’t regret it. Look it up on the web and then remember that it’s better than anything that you read.

  • Chafer

    Sorry, I meant an hour west, not east to get to Eze.

  • KP

    I stayed at the Monte Carlo, here is a picture of the entrance. I spent a week in almost 3 weeks in Southern France/Nice/Monaco. Message me if you want more details.

  • KP

    I was playing french roulette at the casino in Monaco. This guy was playing with 50k euro, had 1k euro notes…! It was his play money I presume :).

  • KP

    Roussilion is beautiful, rented a villa there where cell phone service was non existent, loved it. Also had to drive about 25km to get close to anything in any direction!

    I highly recommend the bus from Nice to Monaco it is 1 Euro or 2. Sit on the right side of the bus and enjoy the beautiful coast! Takes 30 minutes by bus without traffic but it is well worth it!

  • Cgomezmoreno

    In Monaco if you like motorsports take a couple of loops through the streets that make the Monaco GP circuit. Have a relaxing drink at the Hotel du Paris next to the casino for some old-world oppulence.
    Eze is a beautiful place, but it can get touristy and crowded, I’d recommend going real early or later in the day to avoid the buses depending on what time of the year you’ll be there.
    Nice is great, but it’s a large town, try to go to the daily outdoors market in the old-town (or it maybe only a few days a week) for a seasonal view into the gorgeous Provensal produce and products.
    As nice as the hotel may be get it’s just a hotel. I’d humbly suggest to get out and see as much as possible of that beautiful part of the world.
    Have fun!

  • paul

    Agree with several other posts that Eze is worth a side trip. While in Eze have lunch at Le Chevre D’Or; a top 10 dining experience with drop dead views.

  • [email protected]

    I have a Hyatt night that I received from the credit card sign up which expires at the end of the month (Sept 30) that I would like to sell email me if you are interested

  • http://twitter.com/jamucsb Jamison

    that was very generous of Andrew! can’t wait to live vicariously through your tweets/instagram pics !

  • Sharkman

    Hey Points Guy! My first question would be, “What do you like to do?” (other than the spa and wine tasting) I guided in Provence and Monaco for a number of years and can steer you to some real insider stuff depending on what you like. Would you rather hang out under the shade of ancient plane trees and play petanque with the local old timers while sipping Ricard or visit the exact places where some of the impressionist masterpieces were painted? Is your idea of a great day visiting the impressive Palace of the Popes in Avignon or sitting in the shadow of the ruined palace and drinking some of the best full bodies reds in France at Chateauneuf du Pape? Architecturally, are you a Gothic, Renaissance or Roman kind of guy? Let me know and I’ll be happy to help out. Twitter: adventurecple.

  • Fanfoot

    Ditto. Have made the same mistake and had to haul it for 6-7 hours in the car which is a waste. Just focus on the south eastern coast and you’ll be fine.

  • Fanfoot

    One of my favorite hotels ever is the Flore in Villefrance sur Mer, on the hillside opposite Cap Ferat. Amazing view and not very expensive. Nice stroll into the town for seafood. I wouldn’t take the helicopter, the drive along the coastline in Southern France is one of the highlights! Take any one of the three coastal roads that stretch from Nice to Monaco. The Grande Corniche is the highest up and will give you the best coastal view. The Moyen is lower down and the Basse Corniche right along the coast and will take the longest but is where you want to be if you want to stop a lot.

    See a medieval city! As others have suggested Aix is worth the trip. Hit up a random restaurant in the french countryside, you’ll almost certainly have an amazing meal!

    If you go into the casino, remember to take your passport with you if you want to gamble. You won’t be able to play without it. But regardless, just strolling around outside and watching the expensive cars pull up, gazing at the fabulous yachts in the harbor etc is worth the trip.

  • Lisa

    Gorges du Verdon/Lac Sainte Croix is a great suggestion from Stephan, below. Heading east and staying in the countryside, you can also visit other small villages, like Gourdon & Tourrettes sur/Loup, eventually getting to St. Paul de Vence. Another day out could be to drive to Aix for a morning coffee, then down to Marseille and head back east from Marseille on the coast road to Cassis. The cliff road (Route des Cretes) and the “calanques” are beautiful. The most eastern beach in the 8th arrondisment is called Les Goudes. We went for lunch in mid-October last year, and there was only one restaurant open, but it was great (fresh octopus salad from the rocks in the sea right there). Mostly locals that time of year. I live in Antibes so if you’d like a “local” tour, let me know what kind of things you like to do/see and when you’ll be there. (message me on facebook).

  • Momma Claire

    Must include plans to seduce and molest young men.

  • Javan

    There are excellent recommendations by some readers who clearly have seen the real Provence, one of the most exquisite places on earth. Who wouldn’t take up an offer for a free resort stay? But I would like to suggest that luxury does not always equate to authenticity. Provence is charming viewed slowly, shopping a market, climbing any medieval hill town, and eating at almost any cafe. Much is missed without a stay in a genuine ‘mas’ restored by an architect into a lovely guest home with privacy and a sense of place which, I’m sorry, a multinational hotel group cannot duplicate. Points are great in big cities and resorts, but here, just spend the money and stay another three days. (The itinerary is in perfect proportion, though: 80% Provence or the cooler, less touristed Vaucluse and 20% “Riviera”. Certainly no more.)

  • Softwaremom

    It seems that from Marseille you can cruise to nearby port. It should be a beautiful experience.

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  • emily

    do not miss eze. menton is also very nice. apricale (italy) is also delightful. just looking at google images of it gives you a pretty good idea. it’s an easy train to ventimiglia and then a bus up to apricale.

    just got back from my trip to the area and it was so lovely :)

  • thepointsguy

    Agreed- I changed it btw, but for some reason my comment hadn’t posted

  • thepointsguy

    Thinking about doing Gorges du Verdo.. did you kayak or hike? Looks amazing

  • thepointsguy

    Hey Lisa- tried to msg, but can’t find you. Can you msg me on The Points Guy page? facebook.com/thepointsguy

  • thepointsguy

    Just tweeted!

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