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8-day France Itinerary - where to stay in Provence?

My husband and I are planning our first trip to France from May 17 - May 26. We are flying in and out of Paris, and plan to spend the first 3.5 days/4 nights in Paris, then take a train to Provence & rent a car there to explore the area for 5 nights/4 days. (I realize that it would make more sense to fly out of Nice, but the flights out of Nice were significantly more expensive and had multiple layovers, so we opted to fly out of Paris).

We are trying to determine where exactly to stay in Provence & would love your input. Rick Steves recommends Arles and Avignon, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on those cities, but we are open to other suggestions as well. We enjoy beautiful views, good food and wine, a great market, cafes where you can linger, perhaps somewhere for a short hike or bike ride. Also, when choosing a home base, we would like to keep in mind ease of getting a train connection back to Paris on 5/26.

We have also considered splitting our time between two different towns in Provence by spending 3 nights in one of the cities such as Arles or Avignon, and 2 nights in or outside of one of the small towns in the countryside, perhaps further north or east (maybe Vaison-la-Romaine or Roussillon), so that we can explore the area without driving back and forth to one home base all 5 nights and spending too much time in the car & would love to hear any suggestions on that.

We loved our stay at an agriturismo in Tuscany, so if there's anything similar to that in Provence we would consider that as well.

Thanks in advance!

For those who are more visual, this is how our itinerary would look:

Arrive around lunchtime on 5/17: Paris
5/18: Paris
5/19: Paris
5/20: Paris
5/21: Travel to Provence in AM / half day in Provence
5/22: Provence
5/23: Provence
5/24: Provence
5/25:Provence
5/26: Travel back to Paris in AM. Flight leaves CGD at 5:15pm.

PS - I know that many may recommend that we spend more time in Paris, but my husband strongly prefers the countryside to large cities, so we've come to this compromise regarding how to allocate our time in France. :) We don't plan on going to Versailles, so our 3.5 days will be spent in Paris itself.

Posted by
348 posts

I find Paris and Provence to be a classic combination for a first trip to France, so you'll have a great time!

If nothing aside from your international flights is really booked yet, I would consider switching the order and doing Provence first, and then Paris at the end of the trip. This would avoid a very long travel day at the end of your trip (the Provence > Paris > international flight day is going to be a lot of travel!). Plus, while French trains are generally reliable, it'd be a lot better to be already in Paris the night before your international flight so that you have more options to get to the airport.

I do not love Avignon, but I know others do. I will say that if you are picking up a rental car, the Avignon TGV station is one of the easiest places to do so -- the TGV station was built out of town, so the roads around the station are newer and not congested. It feels a little bit like picking up a rental car from a small, regional American airport, i.e. easy and uncomplicated.

Posted by
421 posts

Just spent a week in Paris last May and a week in Provence. WE ADORE Gordes.....it is a beautiful quaint town with a wonderful Tuesday market so we used it as a base for 4 nights and then moved on to St.Remy for 4 nights. We had a rental car so we drove around from town to town and market to market each day and came back at night to relax and regroup. We thought it was a great schedule. The place we stayed in Gordes was a gem......Le Jas de Gordes.......beautiful grounds, great breakfast room each morning.....loved it. In St. Remy we stayed at Le Vallon De Valrugues........near the center of the town and its market day on Wednesday was a delight. I would tell you if near St. Remy to make certain you have a lunch in the gardens at le Chateau des Alpilles.......they do have rooms to secure and you might prefer staying there as it is a truly a gorgeous old estate and has lovely gardens to walk through each day. We also went to the large Sunday market at Isle de la Sorgue.......wonderful little town full of antiques and a busy Sunday market. We trained from Paris to Avignon, rented our car at the train station for Provence, returned it after our week there and then trained back to Paris......easy! Do some research and see where THE MOST BEAUTIFUL VILLAGES OF FRANCE are on your drive......it is so worth stopping through those places on your drives each day to have a pastry and coffee! Let me know if your need more info......I LOVE France!

Posted by
7632 posts

I agree with andrewesque about reversing the order of your trip in order to finish up in Paris. That way you won't have to worry about a train strike or other possibilities on the day you fly home. If you train to Avignon upon your arrival in Paris you could spend one night there. After such a long travel day it wouldn't be advisable to drive. That would give you a little time to check out Avignon. I've only been to the TGV station there, but my impression of Avignon is that it it quite large compared to the other towns in Provence. I've stayed in both Arles and St. Remy with a car. They were both nice, but I preferred St. Remy because of its size. We had an apartment there that overlooked the Wednesday market. We enjoyed our time browsing around it. We were able to reach many of the smaller towns from there. I think the smallest places in the hills wouldn't be as convenient as a home base, as they are harder to reach. Arles has a really good Saturday market that is worth checking out.

Posted by
11154 posts

I liked Arles and was cool to Avignon. I spent several nights in each, but that was because I didn't have a car. With a car, I'd base in a smaller town, as driving and parking in either one didn't look like fun. I liked Nimes the most of all. However, all of them are small cities; they are not "the countryside."

There's nothing wrong with spending less time in Paris, particularly if you don't want a big city on this trip. I do like the idea of starting your trip in Provence, so you won't have to worry about getting back for your flight home. A tip for next time; Marseille airport is actually the closest airport to this part of Provence, while Nice airport is a few hours away. It may not have been any cheaper or easier to fly home from Marseille, but you won't know until you check.

Posted by
4125 posts

Arles over Avignon, for sure. But the smaller towns are also charming (and easier to get in and out of with a car, though that is not a huge problem). It may depend in part on how much you prefer a lively night scene.

One approach is to identify all the places you will want to visit during your 4 days, plot them on a map, and find a town in the general center of that activity. Take terrain into account.

I think your original plan, to take the train to Paris on departure day for an early evening flight home, is very good. Plus, a 3-hour train ride after an intercontinental flight is a prescription for jet-lag disaster. Just don't cut things close.

I think you can look forward to a very satisfying time in Paris in 3-1/2 days.

Posted by
336 posts

If you are to have a car, then I wouldn't stay in a city and find a great B&B-Agriturismo lookalike, just south of Avignon-east of arles, which is the mosts center to visit all the important Provence sites and not having to sleep at 2 different spots
The region of Ste-Remy de Provence, Maussanes-les-Alpilles is a perfect spot. It is gorgeous.
From there, you can easily go by car to the major sites:
-Avignon, Pope palace
-Arles for the great ruins, Amphitheater
-Nimes, same thing, and Uzes nice village 20 minutes north
-Pont Du Gard, 2000 year old Aqueduc
-Les Baux de Provence, a typical Provence village
-Gordes and Roussillon, 2 other beauties. If you go in that direction and have time, do not miss Senanque Abbey.
-Orange for it's amazing amphitheater
-Mont Ventoux, a 6000 feet mountain with breathtaking views(you go by car, it's easy)
-Cassis, on the sea and it's creeks. A must. Spectacular site(creeks)
-If you like caves, Aven d'Orgnac is fabulous. You could couple with Ardeches Gorges and evn kayak in a spectacular environment.
-Aix-En Provence if you especially like 1900 paintings
I just listed a 10-12 day holidays. :-)
Plenty of choices, you can't go wrong. I've been there 3 times, love it.
Enjoy,
Claude

Posted by
1579 posts

We were very happy with the place we chose for our visit, September 2018. We stayed at Bastide St. Didier in the small village of St. Didier. Although the village is small, it had two excellent restaurants where we had dinners all four nights. We enjoyed the pleasant walk from the B and B to the restaurants. Since the village is small, it was easy to drive away each day for road trips. We did one to Caverne d'Ardeche (better than Lascaux IMHO), Uzes, and Pont du Gard; one to Aix, Rousillon, Gordes, etc.; and one to LesBaux , Saint Remy, and L'Isle. The day we left, heading to Carcassonne, we detoured to the Carmargue to see the flamingos.

Posted by
1530 posts

Agree about reversing the order and heading to Provence first. Spend that first nite in Avignon, then pick up car and head to Pont du Gard, maybe Uzes?

St-Remy makes a great smaller town base- central to everywhere for day trips
We split our time with 2 bases 4 nights St-Remy- where we had a car, then dropped car in Arles and spent 2 nights there before training to Nice. Didn't care much for Avignon but really liked Arles.
Enjoyed both the Wed market in St-Remy and the Sat market in Arles

Found this place on booking.com- it was wonderful-- very private, comfortable, secure parking, easy in/out, lovely grounds. We self catered but they do offer a very nice breakfast and the pool was fantastic (although we never thought we'd use it- we did! it was super hot when we were the in Sept)

http://lamaisondeline.fr/home/

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you all for these very informative responses! After doing some more research today, I think we've ruled out staying in a larger city like Avignon or Arles (although we will definitely do a day trip to Arles and Les Baux and perhaps Pont du Gard). I think we'll want to spend most of our time in the Luberon and at least one day exploring the Cotes du Rhone Wine Road (hitting Gigondas and Seguret and a few other places). We'd also love to visit a few markets and charming small towns that are interesting but not too overrun with tourists. (But since we'll be visiting in May, perhaps it won't be so crowded?). We would like to find a "quintessential Provence" home base that's centrally located considering where we'd like to spend our time (Luberon, Cotes du Rhone, and Arles) and that has a few great restaurants nearby so we have a few options in the evenings without having to travel too far. We likely won't stay in the town/city but rather a B&B outside of town.

So I think we've narrowed it down to Gordes, St. Remy, or maybe Bonnieux. Any other centrally located places we should consider? Rick Steves' France book says that "beyond its stunning views, [Gordes] has little of interest" so that comment has made me a bit hesitant. And Rick says that Bonnieux lacks a pedestrian center and that makes me hesitant as well (although I've read elsewhere that the restaurants there are phenomenal). Any other thoughts on these places (or any others that may fit our criteria)?

Also, thank you for the suggestions about visiting Provence before Paris. We considered that but decided against it because we will be traveling all night Thursday (after a full day of work) and arrive at Paris around lunch on Friday, and don't think we will be up for more travel after that. And, when we were in Italy we found it hard to go from the slow pace of Tuscany to the hustle and bustle of Rome and decided that on future trips, we would hit the big city first & save the more relaxing locations for the end of the trip. :) There's a train that gets us from Avignon to CDG over 4 hours before our flight leaves, so I think that should give us plenty of time to get back to Paris on the day we leave. I suppose that if there happens to be a strike that day, we can leave super early and drive the 6.5+ hours to Paris.

Posted by
16827 posts

I haven't been to Gordes or Bonnieux, but I can see that in terms of population St-Remy is 5 times the size of Gordes and 7 times the size of Bonnieux. The two smaller places are hill towns; St-Remy is not. So the environments will be rather different. Not one better than the other, just different.

I get sort of a closed-in feeling when I think of spending multiple nights in a really small place, but others enjoy the peace and quiet. Heck, some folks even retire to places like that!

Posted by
4125 posts

If your priority is the Luberon, I'd stay there. I think either town would be charming.

The trade-off is that a trip to the Pont du Gard or Camargue will take a little longer.

Posted by
73 posts

I’m in Avignon now - SKIP IT.
Not worth my time. Leaving ASAP in morning.

Paris - Avignon nonstop Ouigo train is 3.5 hours approx $40-50 on the Ouigo train - booked through EUtrain app. (formerly Trainline and Captain Train name before that.)
No commissions. Easy to do. In English.
We took the 2:30 pm train.
Easy to pick up rental car at TVG train station.
Pont du Gard is easy 30 minute drive. Don’t miss it.

I brought a dashboard cell phone holder on trip: removeable sunction grip to dash, magnet grip to phone ($5 at Marshall’s), also brought a 2-cord “cigarette lighter plug” ($5 Marshall’s) so we could recharge both our phones simultaneously.