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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
27352 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
895 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
14160 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
11294 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
6999 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
27352 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
498 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
498 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
776 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
498 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
498 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
498 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.