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Best base for exploring

Hello all! I need some advice. I was in Aix last year for just two days and loved it. I plan to return in June with my sister who has never been and we will be taking the train from Paris to Aix for a few days. My question for you is, should we then stay in Arles or Avignon? We want to visit the villages and wine taste. I also want to fit in Carmague and swimming spots. We have about 1 1/2 weeks. I want to see what I can without feeling rushed and overly planned. Also we will rent a car for part of this time. Any company tips or general would be so helpful. Thank you in advance, Yvette

Posted by
528 posts

You'll get many opinions. My nod goes to Arles, to me, much more interesting than Avignon unless one is in Avignon for the July theater festival. Wine tasting isn't my thing but the Camargue, its unique geographical features and its wildlife, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and Aigues-Mortes are.

Posted by
4 posts

Thank you! Do you have a favorite village? Place to eat ? Sleep? Yvette

If you have 1.5 weeks and a rental car at your disposal, I would recommend two base camps (possibly three!).

Provence is sprawling. No matter where you stay, you’ll find yourself spending 30-60 minutes to get to the other towns. After you consider the late (~9am) breakfast, regimented lunch hours (noon-2pm), and strict closing times at exhibits (usually 5pm), spending 1-2 hours per day in a car will become frustrating.

I consider Provence to spread more East-West than North-South (unless you include Rhone Valley or the Riviera as part of the region). I would recommend an “East” base and a “West” base; probably Nimes in the West and Saint Remy in the East. They’re about an hour apart, so you can save that amount of time x2 each day by splitting it up. For reference, the easternmost town you may want to see (Roussillon) is about 2hrs away from the westernmost (Nimes), and that’s assuming you don’t get lost (you will get lost).

Saint Remy is perfect for rental cars; it’s a town instead of a city so traffic is light and parking is simple. Nîmes on the other hand, is not as car-friendly (still doable), but then again, you’ll want a car to access Point du Gard. Logistics in Provence is hard.

As an alternative, a car-friendly town near Nimes is Uzès. It may be worth consideration even though I haven’t actually been there; it’s supposed to be the basecamp that Europeans use in the area.

If you do 3 basecamps, it would be East (hilltowns, or perhaps Isle Sur la Sorgue or Aix), Central (Saint Remy or Avignon), and West (Nimes/Arles/Uzès).

The above is strictly about logistics, but you’ll also want to consider what you want your Provence trip to consist of. Do you want to spend your mornings and nights in a city-setting or a smaller town? Arles, for example, is pretty gritty and would have no Provence magic if it wasn’t for its Van Gogh history. Although Arles is more car-friendly than Nîmes in terms of traffic/parking, your car will be more likely of getting broken-into.

I’m glad to hear you’re budgeting enough time, but you still need to remain efficient. The lower, slower south of France is incompatible with an aggressive or inefficient sightseeing schedule.

Posted by
595 posts

I have made a drive time matrix to help with this question when I had it. I can send it to you if you like. You may also want to search the archives of this site for previous responses to this question.