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Car in Provence/French Riviera?

We're heading to Provence and Cote d'Azur in June. I've read Rick Steves' advice in the France guidebook about not having items in the car because of theft. With that in mind, if we rent a car at the TGV station in Avignon and head to our B&B near Roussillon, should we really not make sightseeing stops in other hilltowns along the way even with our bags locked in the trunk? And If we leave our B&B in Arles, is it also safe to make several stops along our coast drive to our hotel in Villefranche-su-Mer? Am I reading too much into his multiple cautions? Or might he mean leaving luggage, etc. out in full-view?

Also, it is doable to drive from Arles to Cassis (and see the calanques on a boat) then drive to Antibes (via Toulon and Frejus), then Nice (saving this city for exploring the next day) and end up in Villefranche-su-Mer all in a day? We were wondering how long the driving part of the journey would take.

Finally, feel free to recommend an ideal rental car model (i.e., size for roads) for 2 people driving in these two areas. We'll be renting in Avignon and returning in Nice.
Thanks much.

Posted by
10344 posts

Some travelers use a car to get to Provence sights not on rail lines, then return the rental car in Provence before leaving for Nice, which they go to by train.

When you have a car with all your stuff in it, because you checked out of the hotel--well, you're kind of leaving it out for anyone to steal it. They probably won't, but if they do, there goes your trip. So if you find yourself in that situation, when you get out of the car to tour a site, take the stuff with you that are trip-enders if they're stolen.
I've had the car broken into in, in a 10 minute stop. And then I've had 20 times when I left all my stuff in the car and it was still there when I got back.
The problem in Southern France is that the whole car might be gone when you get back to the parking lot. Depends on if it's a secure parking lot or not. So accept the CDW on the rental car.

Posted by
2258 posts

As far as which car and size, I had reserved a VW Polo, and I'm sure it would have been fine if not the most exciting. When we got to Europcar at Avignon TGV (we reserved through Auto Europe) they were all out of VW Polo's, and they gave us a small 3-series BMW at the same price. So, I'd say rent a Polo and hope for the Beemer, it was fantastic, and if I'd known I probably would have sprung for it anyway. A small car is all you need, and most folks are in same. Fuel economy was excellent, using less than a half tank in three days of touring the area.

Note on security-the BMW had a regular trunk, everything out of sight. I'm pretty sure the Polo, as with many cars like it, has a roller cover in the rear to conceal contents. Not a perfect solution, and as Kent says keep the biggies with you, but out of sight stowing is a good thing in a rental.

Posted by
6772 posts

I drove my rental car around Provence/Alsace/Normandy/Brittany/Loire Valley, sometimes with my bags in the car. But my car had a trunk and everything was out of sight. Never had a problem at any sightseeing stops. The only thing potential thieves ever saw out in the open in the car was a sweater or Jacket and a water bottle. Make sure the car you rent has a trunk or a hatchback cover that keeps luggage out of sight and never leave a camera/iphone/gps unit, etc where it can be seen. I actually rented two different cars while in France, one was a Renault and one was an Opal - I'm sorry I don't remember the models but I think they were both standard economy models, one was a 2-door sedan and the other was a hatchback. There was plenty of room in both of them for 2 people plus luggage (stored out of sight).

Posted by
3925 posts

The car rental will invariably be by class , so there is no way to specify an exact make or model with a definitive guarantee . I had an experience like Dave - I had reserved a VW golf and wound up with a BMW . It would be a shame to drive past places that you want to see , in order to protect your bags - This is what I do - Pack light ! ( a given ) and leave your clothing locked out of sight in the trunk . Take your daybag ( or backpack with anything sensitive - phone , camera , paperwork , CHARGERS , and medications - RX's , not common drugstore items ) with you when you stop to visit a site . If they get the car ( have appropriate insurance ) or your clothes , you will only have a slight inconvenience . Wherever you go you can always buy a shirt and pants with ease , and you can stop where and whenever you like , en route . We made the trip as you describe , from Arles to Nice via Antibes and many other places . Don't miss all these wonderful spots over a lousy bag of clothes .

Posted by
3925 posts

Nancy and I were posting simultaneously , sorry for the redundancy !

Posted by
149 posts

My wife and I had a rental for our trip through Provence last year. We made sure everything was out of sight (in the trunk or under the seats) and didn't have any problems. We made sure everything was concealed before we reached our stops so if anyone was observing us when we arrived they didn't know we actually had our suitcases, etc. Our rental was an "urban car" with a small trunk and if I had it to do over I'd do something with a bigger trunk. Luckily, we travel light so what we had worked.

Your itinerary sounds ambitious to me. We were going in the opposite direction, leaving Nice and going to Provence. Along the way we stopped at the Fondation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence, had a late lunch in Cucuron, and fit in Lourmarin before arriving in Lacoste and checking into our apartment. Doing Cassis and Antibes in one day with all the driving sounds like a bit much.

Posted by
111 posts

sue, rent the type of car with a trunk where the baggage is not visible. buy a french newspaper and put in in a conspicuous place. stay a number of nites at your b and b in rousillon and take day trips. cassis is a very pleasant seaside town, 3 overnites there is sufficient. villefranche sur mer is also a pleasant stop, two nites there is sufficient. nick