Although it was a few years ago, I vividly remember the road trip from Lyon to Monte Carlo as if it was yesterday, and I recommend it to anyone willing to discover an impressive part of France. Its first part was made up of several city breaks we took in different urban centers, before heading to the French Riviera and finishing up in the rich capital of the world.
Before planning such a trip, you should know that Lyon is home to France's 4th largest airport - Lyon-Saint Exupéry. However, if your flight takes you to Paris, you can reach Lyon in only 2 hours, by speedy train. The city itself deserves a few days to explore. So, maybe you should consider a hotel in Lyon before setting on your road trip.
Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica in Lyon
Lyon displays its modern dynamism as well as its over two thousand years of history throughout its neighborhoods: from the Fourvière hill dominated by the Notre-Dame de Fourvière Basilica to the slopes of Croix Rousse, through the Old Town, the Quays of the Saone or the Peninsula, through its museums and squares.
Getting out of the city, we headed South and soon made a stop in Vienne. Less known than many other French towns, Vienne is located 32 km away from Lyon and is home to a very well preserved Roman amphitheatre (a popular concerts venue, especially during the jazz festival that takes place here every summer), to an impressive Gothic cathedral (Church of St. Maurice) as well as to a Roman temple (Temple of Augustus and Livia). The city hall has an interesting architecture, and the old town with its shops and cafés is really charming. Vienne is also a good place to look for accommodation, if you want a cheaper option than Lyon.
We made two more urban stops before reaching Marseille - the spot where our French Riviera adventure started. The first one was Aix en Provence – a charming academic and cultural center. Although the visit was short, we had the time to feel this town's atmosphere, to admire its architecture and take some nice pictures. We started in General de Gaulle Square, more commonly known by the city's inhabitants as La Rotonde. In the middle of the square lies a huge fountain featuring sculptures of lions, swans and dolphins and adorned by the statues of Justice, Agriculture and Fine Arts. From here, we followed the famous Cours Mirabeau dotted by smaller, but nevertheless interesting fountains.
The second stop was in Avignon. The main landmark here is the 14th century Palace of the Popes with its Gothic architecture, home to 7 popes between 1309 and 1376. However, my personal interest was the famous bridge Saint-Bénézet, known by all those who learned French as "le pont d'Avignon". The edifice, as it can be seen today, represents only a portion of a bridge built to connect the two banks of the Rhone in the 12th century. Besides strolling along one of the most famous French bridges, you can visit here two superimposed chapels. The lower one has a Romanesque architecture, while the upper one (enlarged in 1513) features a Gothic style.
Last city break on our way to the French coastline was Marseille – one of this year's European culture capitals. A commercial hub all along its history, Marseille developed around its harbor, which has always played an important part in the city's life. Marseille is also home to important religious landmarks, some of them dating from the 11th century. Therefore, you might want to visit some of its many churches: Charity, the Abbey of Saint Victor, Church of Saint Ferreol, but especially Notre Dame de la Garde. Sitting in front of the latter, you will get a beautiful view of the whole city and of the bay. If you are in love with marine landscapes, take the avenue longing the coast, known among the locals as La Corniche.