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How To Tour Provence

My husband and I are in the beginning stages of planning a trip to Spain and Southern France. We will probably take a tour that ends in Barcelona and then hop a train to Nimes, Arles, or Avignon.

I had two ideas for seeing Provence and am very torn as to which one to go with. My first idea is to rent a gite or stay at a chamber d'hote for the whole time in Provence and use it as a home base to day-trip by car to the other places we want to see. This would, of course, require a car rental and I'm not sure I want to do that. I have no issue driving in France (well, in small towns and villages anyway....I would not attempt big cities!) as I spent a year living there as an Au Pair in my early twenties. My hesitation is that I would most likely be the only one doing the driving. My husband is not really too keen on driving in France, but I don't want to be stuck having to keep my eyes on the road all the time and not get to enjoy the scenery!

So my other idea is to use the trains and just spend a couple of nights in several different areas. I realize this will limit us on choice of towns and probably exclude villages, which I want to see (especially the Cotes du Rhone). I did notice there are some mini bus tours we could take to go places like the Pont du Gard and possible the Cotes du Rhone villages.

Does anyone have any advice or suggestions on the best way to tour Provence, given those challenges? Thanks!

Posted by
1427 posts

There is much to see and do in the area even if you limit yourself to rail and minibus tours. Arles, Avignon, Orange, Uzes, and Nimes are all within 30 minutes of each other by train. I've found a lot of minibus tours for the Luberon, Cote du Rhone, and other areas. And you can always rent a car for a day on a whim if you want to explore little hill towns hard to reach by any other means (be sure to get an international drivers license from AAA).

Posted by
781 posts

I am in the planning stages for a Provence trip and like the hill towns in Italy you need a car to see the outlying villages and a GPS is essential,I did the Loire Valley in Sept and the car was needed.

Posted by
703 posts

we spent 4-5 days in St Remy as a base and drove out each day relatively short distances to see the interesting things provence has to offer. I can understand your concerns about driving. we found that the towns around that area to be small enough to not pose a problem, but a gps is invaluable. I think the secret was having sufficient time to enjoy the drive each day and not trying to see too many things each day. there is plenty of things close by to one another so you could hop from one to another without spending lots of time in the car,
hope this helps.

Posted by
1005 posts

Rent a car. You'll be able to see so much more if you do. I was the only driver on last year's trip to Provence, and I saw plenty of amazing scenery even though I was behind the wheel. Read Rick's Provence book and decide where you'd like to have your home base. Keep in mind that usually you can only rent a gite for a week--and it's often Saturday to Saturday--so plan accordingly. They turn out to be one of the cheapest options, since you can make your own meals if you want to save on food.

Posted by
54 posts

Thank you for the replies!

So my next question is....what areas would you suggest as a home base? I have read RS Provence cover-to-cover several times but I am so torn on where to stay and what to visit! I think we will have 5 nights in Provence as we want to do 1 or 2 in Nice at the end of the trip.

We seem to be most interested in Nimes, Arles, Avignon, and the Cotes du Rhone villages. I'm sure that is plenty for 5 days....but is there somewhere else we really need to go? I l want to hit a lot of markets and flea markets so maybe Isle-sur-la-Sorgue?

Posted by
7175 posts

5 nights is a good amount of time. I think Arles makes the best base using trains (and buses).
This local train map is useful for you. http://www.beyond.fr/map/ter_paca.html
Easy day trips to consider ...
- Avignon
- Nimes, then Pont du Gard by bus
- Aix en Provence
- Les Baux & St Remy (by bus)
- Marseille

Posted by
703 posts

we very much liked the market at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, very nice town. we did look at staying there but picked St Remy. either would be good, if you have a car. if you use public transport then I am not sure. others may comment on this.
we also visited
gordes, roussillon, pont du gard, menerbes, les baux, fontaine de vaucluse, van gogh trail in st remy, village des bories, senanque abbey lavendar, uzes etc etc.
you won' t have trouble finding things to see. particularly if you happen to have a car to visit the out of the way places. but without a car you should be able to see plenty of other things.

hope this helps.

Posted by
1913 posts

We did a train/car combo on our visit. We spent several nights, 5 or 6, in Arles. We toured the city, which we liked very much, and took trains to Avignon and later to L'Isle SLS...a lovely town with the nicest market IMO that we visited. We rented a car for the latter couple of days and drove the region to see many places others have noted. You can see a great many places within a very easy day's drive...some stops, some drive-by ( Les Baux from a distance was OK for us ). With a list of places of interest, and a rough plan for each day, we pretty much kept our eye on the time and modified as needed. We had a GPS and found the driving pleasant and easy. We stopped in some places we'd never heard of...a big plus for car flexibility in my book...and left some places after a short time when we had thought we'd spend most of the day (Aix comes to mind). In Arles we liked our stay at the Hotel d'Amphiteatre. We are not courageous drivers but we had no problems driving the area. Good luck and safe travels.

Posted by
29 posts

I recommend a car (we rented from EuropCar in Nice w/GPS - essential). We stayed in St. Remy at the Hotel du Soleil (quaint and comfortable with travelers from many countries). We found the location convenient to many other places and a charming town with good dining choices, but then it's France so can't really go wrong anywhere. We were there 4 nights and were able to see Nimes, Isle Sur la Sorgue, Les Baux, Gigondas with a half day vineyard and wine tour, and many villages. Driving was easy and stress free thanks to the GPS and sane drivers (can't say that about Italy). I highly recommend renting a car and visiting where you want when you want. The freedom and flexibility is always worth it to us. Have a great trip.

Posted by
345 posts

We based in Avignon last summer for 3 nights with a rental car, and had absolutely no issues with driving and parking in the area. Our B&B was inside the walls in Avignon, immediately adjacent to a big parking deck, so it was very convenient. We did day trips all over the region, even down to the Mediterranean.

Posted by
3696 posts

I would definitely get the car.... road trips are great in Provence. I have a feeling once your husband gets there he will see it is really no different then driving in the US and would be willing to step up. Just be sure you both get the IDP so he can drive. A good GPS from home will help, but I have driven there many times before I had mine, and while I might have gotten lost a bit, I really did not think driving was difficult there. Avignon can be busy, Arles was hard to find parking as well as Aix, but villages were pretty easy.
I love St. Remy and often use it as my home base.... it is a lovely french town with great shopping, restaurants and a wonderful market.