From contemporary art in Paris to modern masters along the southern coast, France is a country infused with art. Aficionados can experience an unforgettable trip taking in Paris (2 days), Aix-en-Provence (1 day), and then the Riviera between St-Tropez and Nice (4 days). Museum visits can be interspersed with wonderful meals, sunbathing, and stops at the area’s architectural and artistic highlights.
Days 1 & 2: Paris
Start Day 1 of your art tour of Paris with a quick check of what’s currently on in the city: The Grand Palais and the Musée du Luxembourg all host excellent temporary exhibitions.
You can attend a show at any of these venues or begin your day at the newly renovated Musée de Montmartre, formerly home to both Renoir and Utrillo. Then hop onto the Métro and head south to the Jardin du Luxembourg. After a leisurely stroll in the gardens, head over to tiny Musée Zadkine dedicated to sculptor Ossip Zadkine and located in the artist’s former house and atelier. Take a minute to rest in the pretty little garden. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the neighborhood’s many bistros. Round out the afternoon by taking in a cutting-edge contemporary exhibition at the wacky Palais de Tokyo, overlooking the Seine and Eiffel Tower.
On Day 2, spend the morning admiring the modern art on display at the Centre Pompidou. After lunching at one of the many nearby restaurants, amble over to the Marais, and either cruise the art galleries, or visit the Musée Picasso Paris, set in the sumptuous 17th-century mansion, L’Hôtel Salé.
Mid-afternoon, jump aboard one of the many TGV trains heading south to Aix-en-Provence. The journey takes around 3 hr., leaving you plenty of time to enjoy a typical Provençal dinner upon arrival.
Day 3: Aix-en-Provence
Paul Cézanne is Aix’s most celebrated son. Begin your day at his Atelier, almost perfectly preserved as it was when the great artist worked here more than a century ago. There are regularly scheduled English-language tours of the site. Afterward, a visit to the city’s famed Musée Granet—one of the region’s most superb modern-art museums—is a must.
Aix’s plane-tree-shaded cours Mirabeau is almost a work of art in itself. Be sure to drop into Brasserie Les Deux Garçons, where Cézanne used to drink and debate with the famous French writer Emile Zola.
After lunch, rent a car and drive to St-Tropez. Warm evenings are best enjoyed strolling the port’s pretty quays or taking in the million-dollar panoramas from the hilltop Citadelle.
Day 4: St-Tropez
Since the 1890s, when painters Signac and Bonnard discovered St-Tropez, artists and their patrons have been drawn to the French Riviera. Spend the morning appreciating the Musée de l’Annonciade’s Impressionist paintings, many of them depicting St-Tropez and the surrounding coast.
After lunch in one of the town’s sidewalk cafes, drive around 100km (62 miles) east along the coast until you reach Nice, where you’ll base yourself for the next three nights. Return your rental car—traffic-heavy roads, combined with excellent public transportation, render your own vehicle unnecessary here.
Today you’ll spend the day following in the footsteps of one of the 20th-century’s modern masters: Pablo Picasso. Take one of the frequent trains from Nice to Antibes (20 min.). On the edge of the picturesque, pedestrian-friendly Old Town sits the 14th-century Grimaldi Château, now home to the Musée Picasso. The Spanish artist lived and worked in this castle in 1946.
Stroll through Antibes’ covered market, then—appetite piqued—stop into a small bistro, such as Le Rustic, for a light lunch. Next, make your way to Antibes’ bus station, where frequent buses depart for Vallauris (35 min.). Picasso moved to this hilltop village during the 1950s, reviving the local ceramic-making industry and personally producing thousands of pieces of pottery. Visit Picasso’s mammoth paintings in the Musée National Picasso La Guerre et La Paix, the artist’s tribute to pacifism.
Make your way back to Nice (it’s quickest to simply reverse your route). Spend the evening strolling the promenade des Anglais or wandering the city’s atmospheric Old Town.
Days 6 & 7: Nice
Outside of Paris, Nice is home to more museums than any other city in France. Begin your Day 6 citywide explorations in the neighborhood of Cimiez, where both the famed Musée Matisse and the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall are located. It’s possible to walk between the two (around 15 min.) but be sure to hit the Matisse Museum first—then it’s downhill all the way to see Chagall’s ethereal artworks.
If it’s summertime, spend a couple of hours picnicking on the beach or relaxing with a glass of wine in one of the city’s many sidewalk cafes. Mid-afternoon, make your way over the Musée Masséna, where a combination of local art and history gives visitors a peek at the ritzy French Riviera of the past.
Use your final day to make a day trip to the hilltop village of St-Paul-de-Vence, 20km (12 miles) to the north. Wander the St-Paul-de-Vence’s ramparts for 30 min., before descending to the world-class modern art on display at the Fondation Maeght. En route back to Nice, stop into the Musée Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer, which comprises the artist’s former home and gardens. Note that you can either rent a car for the day or access both St-Paul-de-Vence and Cagnes-sur-Mer via frequent buses from Nice.
Spend your final night in Nice savoring a hearty Niçois dinner, paired with plenty of local wine.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.