Dordogne and Provence itinerary - where to start and driving route

We're in the planning stages of a 17-day trip with rental car for a group of four adults, but haven't purchased tickets yet. Having read RS's France book and extensively on this forum and other websites and compared itineraries covered by ETBD tours I think we'd like to see the Dordogne region, Provence and the Riviera. My thought is to fly into Toulouse, stay a night and rent a car, then to Sarlat for a few days. Other places of interest are Arles and Avignon and vicinities, Marseilles, Cassis, Luberon, dropping in Nice at the end.
Looking at the maps, it appears that we could head to Sarlat and then backtrack the same route back through Toulouse via Carcassonne to Arles, or take the scenic route through Millau. Are there any recommendations regarding the route and advantages to either direction from Sarlat?
About us: We're in our 50's and traveling with my parents in their 70's. We don't like wine- that won't be a draw. Also not big fans of art museums. We are interested in history, scenery, and natural beauty. Small towns over bustling cities. Our last trip together included Rome, Naples, Venice, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus, so we've seen some impressive ruins.

Posted by Andrea
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada
674 posts

We covered similar ground a few years ago but added Chamonix, and spent 20 nights. Flew into Lyon - Chamonix - Villefranche-sur-Mer - Arles - Carcassonne - Sarlat - Toulouse and flew home.

I'd recommend staying in Villefranche over Nice, and its an easy bus or train to do a day trip to Nice (provided your parents are able to walk to the bus stop/train station). You could use your car for other day trips where driving and parking would be easier (e.g. we drove to Eze rather than bus).

Carcassonne would be a good one-night stop on the drive from Sarlat to Arles.

You could also consider flying into Bordeaux.

Posted by Laura
Rick Steves' Europe
9896 posts

Flying to Bordeaux would help eliminate backtracking. I would travel toward Carcassonne via Albi, at least to see the gothic cathedral which is different both for being built of red brick and for retaining its colorful paintings inside the choir. I also love the Toulouse-Lautrec museum there (his art is a bit edgy) and there's a central market for picnic shopping (closed Mondays).

Posted by tecot
27 posts

You should compare air itineraries from your home city and decide if it's really worth flying into either Bordeaux or Toulouse instead of Paris. For us, the lower cost and travel time flying nonstop to Paris from San Francisco more than made up for the extra drive time to Dordogne, and 2 minutes spent on Kayak suggests that Seattle is the same.

Also, depending upon when you're travelling, a reverse itinerary might be better - starting your trip in Nice and then driving west.

Posted by Lia
Columbus, USA
89 posts

We drove from St Remy, near Arles, to Sarlat in one day using the Millau route. We stopped en route for 2-3 hours at Pech Merle. This route IS beautiful in places. Everyone in the car was oohing and aahhing over the lush and picturesque beauty of the countryside. Much of the trip is rural. Lots of little cottages, farm country, some small craggy mountains, pretty towns of easily navigable size. We drove from Marseilles to Tours during our vacation and the Millau leg held the most scenic beauty for me on the trip in what is a beautiful country. On the downside, you do end up on one-lane-each-way roads and we would occasionally get behind a line of trucks or slow traffic. So it's a lot of 'active' driving as compared to the easier all-highway route through Toulouse. We were actually on our way from St Remy/Arles to Pech Merle, then driving on to end the day in Sarlat. It was almost the same number of minutes either way; in fact the GPS thought the Millau route was faster than the highway route through Toulouse. We drove on a Sunday. Once you leave the highway there aren't a ton of places to get gas that are open Sunday morning, so make sure you're topped off; your car that is : )

Posted by Kathy
Snohomish, WA, USA
31 posts

Thank you for your replies!

On backroad scenery: One of the memories that started me planning this trip was being "lost" between Amboise and Guedelon. We weren't really lost, but had missed the highway so were winding our way, taking the appropriate exit out of each roundabout. We were on a schedule and wanted to stop in the picturesque little towns but had reservations for the night. We said "Next time". So that drive on the back roads sounds perfect.
As for airfare, has anyone in Seattle noticed that you can fly to (anywhere Europe) for about $300 less through Vancouver BC than from Seattle? Since we're on the North end (1 hour to Seattle airport or 2 hours to Vancouver) it seems worth it. My newest favorite website is Google Flights, where you can put in your departure city and dates and see a map. Click on any destination and find a chart with the airfares for each day. Even once you have chosen an itinerary, you can change the dates in that screen and quickly see the differences in airfares without entering all of your information again.
Is there an appreciable weather change between the Dordogne and the Riviera over a period of two weeks? We had planned North to South in order to keep to the warmer climate.
We intend to stay a night in our arrival city and take our time to adjust before driving. Toulouse or Bordeaux?

Again, thank you

Posted by Lo
1682 posts

Hmmm, as to weather, what month were you planning to go? We spent the month of June 2012 in France. The first 2 weeks were cold and rainy in the north. We didn't warm up and dry out until we got to Provence. Then it was warm and humid. The best you can do is research averages for the time and places you want to go.

Posted by Kathy
Snohomish, WA, USA
31 posts

When? Silly me for leaving that out. Mid September to first week of October.
We spent the afternoon at ETBD's library yesterday and have a much better idea of our itinerary. The consensus is into Bordeaux and to the Dordogne first, then to Arles and Avignon and vicinity via Carcassonne. Then to Marseille, Nice, and drop the car to head toward Italy for a few days via train, then fly out of Italy.
Thanks again everyone for your input. I'm sure to be back.

Posted by Cyn
Wheat Ridge, CO, USA
1491 posts

We've visited the Dordogne region twice, first from Avignon and the next time from Bordeaux/St.-Andre-de-Cubzac. Both times we stayed in Beynac - really a great, small village, base. Seems each town in the region has its market day on a different day of the week - I think Rick Steves' guidebook lists what day in what town, so that might be something to keep in mind.

We were tailgated everywhere we went on the local roads, no matter how fast we drove - maybe that's just a Dordogne thing. :-)