CAMPING REPORT: VENCE in ALPES-MARTIMES (PROVENCE – ALPES – CÔTE D'AZUR) [‘FRENCH RIVIERA'].
This web page is one of a series posted at this website, which reports on a tent-camping trips conducted by an American couple in France. For this trip, the tent camping in France took place during roughly three weeks in mid June 2004.
The destination for this trip had been planned for the summer of 2003 trip, as early June is usually just right to begin tent camping in southeastern France, but possilby a little cool for northern France. However, Europe's 2003 summer heat wave forced this couple to divert to the French Alpes, and proved the great flexibility of tent camping and the wonderful diversity offered by France.
As with the other trips, this couple took their tent and other camping equipment with them on the air flight from the States. However, instead of picking up a car at Paris, they only changed planes there and continued on the Air France flight to Nice. While it cannot be guaranteed that all the circumstances can be repeated, the experiences were among the very best enjoyed by the couple in their earlier tent camping trips in Western Europe. Past viewers of this page might note that this 2004 trip resulted in some changes in the 'General Remarks' found on the main webpage, the link to which is at the bottom of this page.
It is suggested that you visited the main page and read the General Remarks before reading this report. Go Main Page for Tent Camping in France.
PLANNING: Much was done as for the earlier 1995 through 2003 trips. Tent, camping equipment and clothes were placed in four canvas flight bags, checked as luggaged and flown to Nice, France [plane change necessary at Paris]. A rental car was picked up at the Nice airport. As with the previous trips, car rental reservations were made before departing the States. Also before departing, an International Driver's License was obtained, as was an International Camping Carnet (ICC). Another useful card was the VISA credit card. The advantages of these pre-departure actions are explained under General Remarks on the main page [link at bottom of this page].
For this trip we requested another diesel economy size car, but as diesels are in high demand, and we elected to go cheaper with a Citroen C3 -- Economy Car, 2 Door, Manual Transmission, and No Air Conditioning. It just had room enough for the camping gear but we did not plan to drive much with such a load. The car provided excellent economic road travel as we made many daily trips. The rental was with National and not Eurocar. Both companies have their car pickup and delivery locations a short walk from the Nice air terminal. Rental cost was $543 for covering nearly 1,000 km over 16 day period.
Food preparation plans followed the practices of previous trips: mainly picnic lunches and dinners. However, the one campground we used for the entire stay on this trip had such a pleasant open air restaurant that we ended up eating about half of our evening meals there -- enjoying a little more wine with the meals that would not have been the case if one had to drive a car back to the campgorund. More will be said on the Domaine de la Bergerie campground later.
We foolishly did not follow our previous method of booking our flight and car rental through ‘1-800 Fly Europe'. Rather in attempting to support an acquaintance's relative we began making arrangements through a local travel agency. We soon recognized that the travel agency lacked experience and switched to our past ‘tried and true'1-800 Fly Europe. Their website is http://www.1800flyeurope.com. They earned our further appreciation by picking up the pieces and arranging for and obtaining our airline tickets and car rental reservations. The flight required us to stop at Charles de Gaulle and to change planes for the final leg to Nice. The Nice airport is certainly far simpler to use than the Paris airport. But the security hassle at de Gaulle still had to be endured. Also, our four bags [with our camping gear] did not make it on our flight. We had to wait at the Nice air terminal 3 hours for the bags to arrive. No doubt the less than 2 hours ground time at Paris was the source of the problem. After all these years wanting to travel on Air France, we finally found their prices very competitive. Total charge for two round trip tickets from Dulles International, Washington, DC to Nice was $1,698. Electronic airline ticket were used. With a reference number one can confirm the filght on the Internet.
In planning, the town of Vence was identified as being a possibly good location near which to find a campground. In particular a site:
The camping guide books and internet sites made it a challenge to select among the large number of highly rated campgrounds in the area.
However, we elected Domaine de la Bergerie, as it stood out for having been long established, and the location was close to Vence a town of renown charm. As usual we did not make reservations, counting on being accommodated having only a tent and a car, and not being at the very height of the vacation season. It has worked so far over the last several years.
- With an easy drive to and from the international airport at the far western side of Nice.
- With convenient driving distance to and from a variety of interesting locations along the Riveria, without having to re locate to another campgrounds.
- With enough elevation to offer cool night breezes for tent sleeping.
- With a nearby town with charm and esential conveniences [shopping and restaurants].
Driving to the Domaine de la Bergerie campground from the Nice airport: We departed the Nice airport by taking the autoroute from airport in the westerly direction of Cagnes-s-Mer, or Cannes. Almost immediately you cross the Var River and go pass the exit to St. Laurent.
The next exit will be to Cagnes. Take it, and follow the signs toward Vence or ‘Route de Vence'. It is about 9 km between Cagnes and Vence. There will be a few turns and forks in the road as you head north out of Cagnes. Keep alert for the directions. There are a few ‘traffic circles' [English ‘roundabouts'] where you can keep in the circle until you are certain of the road directions. You will be generally heading north and climbing in elevation.
You enter Vence from the south and immediately follow signs in the direction of Tours-sur-Loup, or Grasse, or Sine. Mostly the turns will be to the left, taking you to the west of town and avoiding the center. As you head west out of Vence, you have only 3 Km to go to the campground. Upon departing Vence, there will also be signs to the campground, but they are not always as prominent as the other direction signs.
You cross over a small gorge and come to a traffic circle in which you take off to the left [south] in the direction of Sine. It is about 1 km from the circle to the campground. Along the narrow road, you pass by a few buildings that constitute the commune of Sine [a few walled villas]. You'll pass a large sign for a bed and breakfast [has nothing to do with the campground, but it is noticeable]. Continue straight on, a little farther will be the sign for La Bergerie, where you turn right and proceed along a short narrow road to the campground entrance. Note: a very short part of the route from the traffic circle to Sine is 'one-way'. Therefore, when heading back into Vence, one must make a right turn just before the circle and take a different road for a very short distance, to where one intersects the road between the circle and Vence.
DOMAINE de la BERGERIE (Alpes-Maritime - 06 PROVENCE -- ALPES -- COTE D'AZUR).
6 JUNE, SUNDAY (day 1). Arrived around 1600 hours at Domaine de la Bergerie campgound. Found it perfect: conditions in the campground were as fine as any we have experienced, and its location was ideal for conducting driving excursions in many directions to explore the Riviera and its hinterlands. The facilities were modern, clean, and well located for comfortable tent campers. Tent pitches were individually marked, in a largely wooded area, and many with semi-private natural fences of large rock boulders. Tents and vehicle campers are well separated. Within one day's time we were decided to remain there the whole time.
DOMAINE de la BERGERIE|
Route de la Sine
Fom the USA: 011.33.4.93.58.09.36
Expenses: Camping site cost for 15 nights was 186.75 € ($228.68 at the time) for one tent, two persons and a car. At certain times, discounts are offered for longer than a week's stay.
La Bergerie is 3 km west from Vence and 3 km north from Saint Paul [de Vence].
Both directions lead separately from the Le Bergerie campground entrance. Either way, takes you eventually to the ‘Route de Vence' road that descends south to the Cagnes (about 10 Km from the campground). There are three sections to that busy town: Haut-de-Cagnes [very historic], Cagnes sur Mer [very commercial], and Cros-de-Cagnes [beach area]. Be alert that the French use nearly same pronunciation of ‘Gagnes' as they use for the larger, famous city ot its west – ‘Cannes'. From Cagnes, one can take the Autoroute A8, or the National Route 7, that travel along the coast to the east [toward Nice, Cap Ferrat, Monaco, Menton, and Italy.] or to the west [toward Antibes and Cannes]. The campground also has direct access to the higher mountain roads that allow for very attractive and relaxing drives to locations we wanted to visit.
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SUMMARY of ACTIVITIES.
The commune of Vence and city of Nice are very centrally located for exploring ‘French Riviera', or ‘Côte d'Azur' – the terms usually used interchangeably to identify the littoral along the French political department of Alpes-Maritime (06). For many years this region was known as the Comté de Nice, held by the House of Savoy until being acquired by France in 1860, and assimilated into the ancient region of Provence. During the Belle Époque, under the Third Empire, the littoral along the Mediterranean became a tourist attraction and guide books referred to it as ‘Côte d'Azur' or ‘Riviera'. The terms are often were used to encompass a larger littoral, extending westward to Cannes and St. Tropez, and eastward to La Spezia (Italy). Some travel guides confine their ‘French Riviera' between Nice to Menton, and some sources push the western boundry to Marseilles. While these expressions are not strictly political entities, the political department of Alpes-Maritime certainly has dominant claim to this beautiful ‘azure' coast and the picturesque hinterlands with the many dramatically perched small medieval towns. The area is renowned for abundant sunshine that casts a brilliant light over the vast dramatic combination of sea and mountains, further enhanced with exotic [for Europe] vegetation. First ‘documented by artist, and now worshiped by tourists from all over the world.
First time visitors will naturally be drawn to visit the popular coastal towns – Monaco, Nice, Antibes, Cannes, etc. This was what we had done more than 20 years earlier. For many reasons – one being an interest in broader aspects of French history and culture – we had held off returning to the Riviera until this trip. As the distances were short we casually repeated some of the daily trips. Most often repeated was exploring the three ‘corniche' roads that connect Nice and Menton – the upper two providing views to the northern mountain peaks and the southern coastline. Visits were made to the less publicized coastline fishing villages. Moving inland where the elevation rises steeply we discovered valleys, olive groves, gorges and villages perched on hills – a heritage of an ancient and medieval past when such locations were important for protection from pirates and invading armies.
We did not go further west to the two ‘massifs' that mark the region to the west of Cannes: Esterel and Maures. The ‘Riviera' region between Cannes and Toulon was not visited on this trip. We did not go further west than Grasse, and did not even enter Cannes. The locations we visited will be only listed, as there are scores of guides, magazine articles, etc. that fully describe the vast number of picturesque villages, castles, and costal and hill top villages.
The campground has direct access to the higher mountain roads as well as to the main coastal roads.
To the west: Tourrettes-sur-Loup, Biot, Grasse, Vallauris, Chateauneuf, Le Bar, Villeneuve-Loubet, Valbonne.
Upland: Col de Vence, Gourdon, St. Jeannete, Le Colle-s-Loup, Gréolières, Coursegoules.
To the East: Vence, Nice, Villefranche, Cap Martin, Cap Ferrat, Menton, Monaco, Grand Corniche, Turbie, Roquebrune.
PART III: Some general observations:
EURO exchange rate vis-a-vis the dollar was not in our favor. Money exchange locations of dollars was limited, but two were found in Vence, and some more existed in Nice. In fact, Nice 2004 seemed to be better in the number of such exchange shops than 2003 Paris. Probably the high volume of tourists from outside the Euro community might explain it. Of course there were the ATM options.
Internet access: Vence offered two very fine Internet access cafés:
Can Man, at 147 av des poilus. Open from Monday through Friday, non-stop from 0930 hours to 1700 hours. Closed Saturdays and Sundays. 1 € for ten minutes. The connections were very fast and most normal e-mail checking and spam trashing can be done within that time limit.
NET@CE06, at 32 av Henri Isnard. Open Monday through Saturday from 0900 hours to 1300 hours, and from 1530 hours to 1930 hours. Closed Sundays.
Checked out the French ‘cyberposte' option using a telecarte at the post office in Nice. The card still had time on it and had been purchased during the 2003 visit.
Food preparation followed the practices of previous trips: mainly picnic lunches and dinners, although the one campground we used for the entire stay had such a pleasant, open air restaurant that we ended up eating most evening dinners there.
Shopping for food: In particular, Le Clerc, Champion and Monoprix grocery stores in Vence. Le Clerc and Champion have their own customer parking. Le Clerc's deli section was especially robust and also had delivered fresh French bread in the mid afternoon – tip for when you want to purchase some for the evening at the campsite.
Car fuel was purchased at a 24-hour gas station just on the outskirts of Vence, on the road west to the la Bergerie camp. Another gas station is adjacent to Le Clerc, located just as one leaves Vence to the south in the direction of St. Paul. Of some importance, this station was the only place we found to get the smaller canister [cartridge] ‘blue' cooking gas. Most places have only the larger canister. Fortunately, we were given a half used canister by the office at la Bergerie. We used it until finding the gas station and purchasing a can. It is a polite custom for campers who are departing on airplanes to turn their partially used canisters into the campground offices for use by other campers.
21 JUNE, MONDAY (day 17). Departed to Nice airport, stop at Charles de Gaulle airport, arrived back at Dulles in the evening.
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