Please sign in to post.

Advice sought for 10-14 day solo trip to Provence in fall 2019

I am thinking of doing a solo trip to Provence, spending about 10-14 days. I recall somewhere that Avignon would be the best base for visiting the region because it is a central transportation hub. From there I would like to visit Arles, Aix-en-Provence, and other places. Do trains or buses connect to the smaller cities and towns, or does one have to rent a car (I don't drive)? I wonder about the frequency of public transportation in the more remote areas as well, as I discovered recently on a trip to France that getting from Bordeaux to Sainte Foy la Grande only 100 km. away was not that easy (train + bus).

Posted by
16998 posts

A lot of places in Provence can be reached by train or bus, but service to some towns is reduced--maybe eliminated--outside of peak season, so the timing of your trip may matter a great deal. Some of the tiny spots favored by tourists have no scheduled public transportation, so you may want to consider taking a one-day bus tour that gets you to several small places.

Rick's book dedicated to southern France will help you with the logistics.

Posted by
714 posts

I am planning a shorter period in Provence next year and found some private car/driver tour companies online. Will mostly use train but a couple of places will need a car and like the thought of being driven giving me the chance to enjoy the scenery. I googled Provence - private car tours and came up with about ten entries.

Posted by
1207 posts
  1. There are plenty of trains and buses, but enough (as you've experienced), so depending how late in the fall, you won't be able to get to Les Baux by bus, par exemple. Car necessary for a lot of places.

  2. Avignon is a good base, and I like the town. You may have read this by me in here. But be ready for the Mistral in that Rhone valley.

I used train/bus to get to Arles, St.-Remy, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Orange/Vaison-la-Romane, Carpentras, and Isle-sur-Sorgue. Oh, and a city bus to get across the river, and to the Decathlon sporting goods store south of town. I thought about going to Buffalo Grill for lunch, but I skipped it and stopped by the Office Depot instead. I'm not kidding.

  1. If you're in Avignon, try the bus to Aix, because the RER-TGV-Bus is a pain. And probably will take the same amount of time = 1.5 hours

  2. But I also spent hours studying train and bus schedules (I had the time). On buses, watch out for "periode scolaire," whether you're in it or not, whether the cow has actually jumped over the moon, and whether the atmospheric pressure is suitable to pick me up on Sunday from Pont du Gard to go to Nimes--I'm still there.

Posted by
7736 posts

I absolutely understand traveling solo and only mention this because it matches up with some of the things you want to do. I have been looking at this Road Scholar trip called Provence: The Art of Living, for a couple of years. Since I practically have the itinerary memorized, lol, it immediately popped in to my mind when I read your question.

Many of the Road Scholar programs have a couple of base towns and then do day trips out of there instead of moving around a lot. If I do this one I will go to Aix-en-Provence (the starting point) the day before the tour starts - just always want to have some flex for transportation hiccups - and then from the ending in Arles, head back to Paris at the end for a few more days.

https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/3729/provence-the-art-of-living

Tours may not interest you at all but thought I'd throw it out there.

Posted by
11158 posts

Do look at Rick's Provence And The French Riviera book. His general France book has MUCH less information on this area.

I don't drive either. I saw Marseille, Arles, Avignon, Orange, Nimes, and Aix without a car, and without any particular difficulty. But many smaller towns, rural areas, lavender fields, etc would have been difficult or impossible without a car. So, your proposed trip may or may not work, depending on what you want to see in the area.

Posted by
1653 posts

Hi,
With 10-14 days in Provence, I would make it a two-hub trip with bases in Avignon and Marseille. "Provence" is a vague geographical entity: does it include the French Riviera in your mind? If so, add Nice as a third base (less knowledgeable about that area).

From Avignon, day trips to Arles, Nîmes, l'Isle sur Sorgue, Pont du Gard (perhaps easier with a tour, but there are public buses), Orange (mind that the theater is being renovated), Carpentras (for the huge Friday Market) are easy. All by train except Pont du Gard. The hard bit will be to make choices! Lubéron will be harder, so will Les Baux (I guess only tours, if available in the Fall).

From Marseille, going to Aix en Provence is à breeze, going to Cassis is easy as well, and there is a lot to do in Marseille proper (lived there for two years).

In any case you will not run out of things to do and you have enough time to "waste" some waiting for trains and buses.

Posted by
503 posts

Oh, Pam, now you've done it. I opened up your link to the Roads scholar tour in Provence and now I have to add it to my bucket list!!

Posted by
613 posts

Having spent more than 200 days driving around France, I always vote for a car except in big cities. Since you don't drive, look into local tour companies such as Viator, the only one I know, which seems to operate everywhere for day trips. Viator offers 122 trips from Avignon (check other relevant cites}. This will be way more time efficient than bus/train and you get a guide, but more costly.

Unless you have done extensive travel in the rest of France, Provence isn't worth 10-14 days. Expand you itinerary to include the Maratine Alps and the Cote d'Azure with a side trip to the fascinating but little visited Aigues-Mortes

Having been there 3-4 times, I have an aversion to Avignon. It is the last place I would stay, but it is good source for local tour companies. But then Viator has 30 from Arles.

Posted by
16998 posts

Viator is not a local tour company. It actually doesn't operate any tours at all; it just sells tours operated by other companies, taking a substantial comission from them. It may be posible to.Google a key phrase from a tour description.and find the website of the company running the tour.

Posted by
291 posts

Thank you all sharing your ideas and experiences!!

This forum really is invaluable, helping me to brainstorm and at least make some initial plans.

It can be overwhelming. The guidebooks mostly rehash the same sort of descriptive paragraphs, but the logistics count as much as the knowledge one gains from reading about the history and culture of Avignon, Aix, Arles, and so forth.

Inevitably one has to make hard choices, with only so much time to spend. In the "old days," perhaps, one could simply travel impromptu from place to place, without booking lodgings or worrying too much about transportation. I was told while in southwestern France 10 days or so ago that the railway system used to reach the smaller towns but in the name of economy, the smaller lines were eliminated and now are linked by buses. That makes for a harder "trek" from place to place.

And as the Gilets Jaunes have made abundantly clear, in rural or semi-rural France, public transportation is not an option/doesn not exist, forcing locals to have to have cars, spend a lot on gasoline, just to get to work.

Posted by
291 posts

Avignon is a good base, and I like the town. You may have read this by me in here. But be ready for the Mistral in that Rhone valley.

I used train/bus to get to Arles, St.-Remy, Uzes, Pont du Gard, Orange/Vaison-la-Romane, Carpentras, and Isle-sur-Sorgue. Oh, and a city bus to get across the river, and to the Decathlon sporting goods store south of town. I thought about going to Buffalo Grill for lunch, but I skipped it and stopped by the Office Depot instead. I'm not kidding.

If you're in Avignon, try the bus to Aix, because the RER-TGV-Bus is a pain. And probably will take the same amount of time = 1.5 hours.

Thanks, Barbara, for sharing the information above. I am looking for a base from which to explore Provence. I was able to use Nice as a base from which to explore the Cote d'Azur: as day-trips I went to Antibes and Villefranche, so I could leave my luggage in the hotel I was staying at in Nice.

I have heard that Avignon, accessible from Paris on the TGV to Marseille, is a good transportation hub, even though the city itself leaves much to be desired.

My preference would be to spend most of my time in a large or even small town and hop over to other places, but this is probably not logistically feasible and/or practical (transportation from one town to another may be very limited). So I guess Avignon might be the "hub" of a wheel with "spokes" being Arles, etc.

Posted by
775 posts

If you have time to see some movies of interior Provence, and haven't already seen them, I suggest Manon of the Spring, Jean de Florette and Horseman on the Roof, Cezanne et Moi, for the scenery and Loving Vincent for technique

Posted by
291 posts

I've seen "Jean Florette," "Loving Vincent," "Cezanne et moi." Thanks for the other recommendations.

In particular, though I know there are no Van Gogh paintings in Provence today, I've studied and looked at "Champ de ble avec cypres" in its versions in London and New York through reproductions I purchased. The latter may be not be genuine. Actually, I am interested in Van Gogh's 18 or so months in Provence, his most productive period, most critics would assert.

I also just need a getaway and feel a strong cultural kinship to France. The more remote the better but unfortunately I do not drive.

Posted by
1207 posts

Denny,

I'll again give some props to Avignon as a town. Always seems to be something going on--a parade, festival, street singers--look for Zoa JukeBox or Big Etienne playing the sax and singing.

There are four or five good museums/attractions and three or four churches to check out. A nice pedestrian zone, nice central square with decent restaurants, and two movie houses. If you're inside the walls, there are plenty of places to buy food, including the covered Les Halles. And the tourist office is pretty good. Train station not far away--just outside the walls. Decent bakeries.

So if you don't feel like leaving town for a day or half a day, you'll find something of interest in town.

When I was there in November 2017, there was actually one Van Gogh painting on loan from Amsterdam at the VG Foundation in Arles. But, right, otherwise only one painting on permanent display in all of France, at the Musee d'Orsay.

So you'll want to be sure to go to Arles at St. Remy for Vincent stuff. The Vincent movie with Willem Defoe--"This Side of Eternity"??--has a scene in the very old church you can visit in Arles in the old Roman burial ground.

Posted by
291 posts

Hi Barbara,

Thanks for going into detail about Avignon. You don't sound like one of those tourist guidebooks, but instead you talk from your own experience of having spent a few days there...I had forgot that Avignon has its famed festival every summer.

http://www.offavignon.com/

I wonder if you could mention what you thought were the drawbacks. As I recall, some people think it's a rather horrid place, or at least nondescript, parts of it. Are parts of it filled with blocks and stacks of concrete, modern apartments? Are there streets/highways filled with cars?

Again, I'm trying to compare Avignon with Arles and Aix-en-Provence, the latter of which has a large university. I wonder if it would be worth it to get off the TGV and head directly to either of the other two, to use as a home base and/or spend a week in, just living as much like a local person. I do get tired of doing touristy things, with a list of "things-to-do" it can get pretty mechanical and "driven." Just taking a walk in the morning,...not looking for anything in particular to do, necessarily...almost like a personal retreat in the countryside could be very nice and a refreshing change from the Big City!

Denny

Posted by
1207 posts

Je m'appelle BarBRA.

I stayed there for five weeks, and without a car, so, yes, you should listen to what I'm saying. ;-)

I actually didn't see any blocks and blocks of apartment buildings anywhere around there. Possibly way south or east of town, but I don't remember seeing anything like this when my bus went through the outskirts. A couple of malls and a McDonald's maybe.

Drawbacks: the Mistral wind, but you get that in Arles too. I thought I would get airborne in Arles if I held out my jacket just right.

When I was there, there was lots of construction for the new tram line, which is now completed. Not sure why they built it, but I think it is aimed a commuters, who can park far south of town and can then ride to the central gare, just outside the walls.

No other drawbacks that I can think of, except that I got bronchitis there. But that might have been caused by the home heating oil fuel fumes coming into my AirBnB--long story.

And as folks in here could tell you, if there were other drawbacks, I'd be the one to tell you.

No highways filled with cars, but these you might see south of Aix around the TGV station there--seems like a major hub and satellite for Marseilles and the airport.

But you want to stick to the main walled town anyway.

Arles would also work for you, but I just a spent a day there. As would Aix, I think. I just didn't like the Aix TGV circus, which is south of town. I'm sure RER trains run from the regular Aix gare in town.

Posted by
291 posts

How long in advance did you plan your trip to Provence?

I'm already feeling "under the gun," having returned just 8 days from Bordeaux...everything seems to have to be locked in place before one leaves.

Posted by
1207 posts

You talkin' to me?

If so, I did not plan at all. After four weeks in Paris, it was either find an apartment somewhere in France for tomorrow or fly home from CDG.

At 11 am on Monday morning (flight was Tuesday) I found an apartment for five weeks in Avignon--I had been looking at places in Perigeaux (sp?), Montauban, and in Paris itself.

So I scrambled the jets and changed my flight, went and bought a TGV ticket to Avignon, informed my host I didn't need to leave so early and wouldn't need a cab to the airport, and figured how best to get to Gare de Lyon (roll bag due south about 1.5 km and take one bus straight to the gare).