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Logical home base in Provence?

Hi,

I am having a really hard time figuring out where my husband and I should base ourselves for 7 days in Provence during the last week of May/first week of June. We want to cover a lot of ground in that time, so although the place itself will not be where we spend most of our time, I would like it to be a part of the Provencal experience.

We will have spent 3 days in Paris and be arriving in Avignon by train, where we plan to rent a car for this leg of the trip (Nice x 3 days before flying home to follow). Having come from Paris, I'd like to stay somewhere that's a bit more village/town than city, but nothing too sleepy since my husband doesn't know how to sit still. Sadly, he is not a foodie and doesn't drink wine, so the Luberon hill towns are out.

Our tentative Provence itinerary (grouped into days) includes:

Nimes and Pont du Gard
les Baux, Glanum and possibly St.Remy
Roussillon plus one or two towns of the Luberon OR fonataine de Vaucluse
the camarague and Arles
Marseilles, the calanques and possibly Cassis (might happen over 2 days)

I am really drawn to Aix despite the fact that it is an hour's drive ( at least) from everything except Marseilles.
Salon de Provence looks well situated, but not sure it's a place to spend an entire week. and Arles just seems very urban.

Maybe we need to have 2 bases: one for the first three itinerary places and then another for the last two?

Thanks for your feedback. Always appreciated.

Posted by
5625 posts

For our most recent trip, we rented a Vrbo house at the southern edge of Saint-Remy. It’s not a tiny village, but a town with enough services and shops to suit your stay, and with a car, a decent location. It’s certainly smaller than Arles, and much, much, much smaller than Aix.

Posted by
423 posts

Have you considered Avignon? We used it as a base a couple of years ago, and from there is very easy to get to Arles, Nimes, Marseilles and I think Aix as well, although we didn't go, by train. It's also a pleasant, medium-sized town, easy to get around with a few interesting sites of its own. But not village-y by any means. Good food. We spent a few days in Roussillon as our Luberon base, but had a car to get to the small towns. You've got a lot planned for Les Baux, etc, and Roussillon and a couple of towns. You might want to take another look at that. It takes longer to drive around the Luberon than you'd expect. Parking is a major pain in Roussillon, so we chose to stay at Les Ochres, recommended in the RS book, I believe. It's located in an easy to enter and leave area, but still walkable to the town. A full day in Roussillon is not too much, especially if you want to see the ochre deposits and museum. We looked at the Calanques, but decided not to go because it just wasn't easy to get to. We figured it would be an entire day to do it right. If you're planning to see it the same day as Arles or Marseille, that would be a stretch with a car and impossible without one. If you're staying in Marseilles, tours do run from there to the Calanques, which I think the most efficient way to see the area.

Posted by
6488 posts

I based in Roussillon for 5 days and found it a good place to come 'home' to after exploring the other towns and villages. It is small and not quite as hopping as some of the bigger towns but after driving and sightseeing all day it was nice to just sit on my little terrace and have a glass of wine and relive the day. Now, I will say that I did stay in some other towns for dinner and came back to Roussillon later in the evening (while it was still light as I didn't want to have to drive back there in total darkness). So I only ate one dinner in Roussillon and I don't remember the name of the restaurant but it was very good. I'm also not a foodie so a couple of days I just grabbed something at one of the markets and enjoyed it in my hotel room. I loved hitting the towns on market day and, by the way, Roussillon had a nice little market that I enjoyed on the one full day that I did stay in town.

Posted by
830 posts

I recommend staying in St. Remy. It's a lovely small city with a weekly market, lots of shops, cafes and restaurants. You can visit the asylum where Van Gogh was a patient; Glanum is next door to the asylum, and Les Beaux is just up the street. And it's an easy drive to the Luberon villages. We love St. Remy, and we visit almost every time we visit our daughter who lives in Provence.

Posted by
3308 posts

I loved Fontaine de Vaucluse, but I can’t see combining it with the Camargue and Arles. You need a day just for the Camargue, possibly 2, another for FdV, and a couple for Arles. One thing you should understand is that the roads connecting the places on your lists are mostly narrow, often hilly and winding. It is helpful to check a source such as viamichelin.com (then add 25%) to get a sense of how much driving time to allow.
We once checked out Salon in guides, and it looked missable. I’ve been to Aix twice, and It left me cold. It’s also not a village.

Posted by
3845 posts

Forget about Fontaine de Vaucluse, in my opinion. It is quite the tourist trap, and the water flow at the resurgence (which is the main attraction) is not as reliable as it used to be...
Regarding the base, Saint Rémy would be my choice. All of the places you list are within an hour's drive, except Marseille which is just a bit further, but an easy drive on the motorway. The town is convenient with a car (unlike Avignon or Arles!), and very pleasant in itself.
Salon, which you mentioned, isn't bad either, and benefits from faster highway connections, but it is perhaps not quite as charming outside of the cute center.

Posted by
297 posts

Thank you, everyone, for sharing your experiences and suggestions.

St Remy looked super quiet, but maybe that's OK when our days are going to be very busy. I will also look into Salon a bit further.

Merci beaucoup tout le monde :)

Posted by
8 posts

It sounds like you should have two bases. Driving distances feel longer when you're there than they do when you're looking at a map. You should definitely visit Aix for a day, especially if you're a fan of Cezanne, but not stay the whole week. When I visited Aix in March 92, I fell head over heels in love with it. Returning in June-July 2019, it seemed like a different place. A lot of the plane trees were gone, and it was really crowded. Definitely great energy there, still. St Remy was more like the Aix of my memories--the tree-lined streets, shady corners with fountains--just beautiful! I was not enamoured with Avignon in 92, so I haven't been back. In 2019, we stayed at le Mas d'Aigret (awesome!) in Les Baux and visited Arles, Pont du Gard and St Remy from there. There were olive oil farms around Les Baux to visit, the castle ruins, and the Carrieres de Lumieres, which was surprisingly a highlight of our trip. (I thought it'd be cheesy, but it wasn't. The Mas had tix for like 11 Euros, so we thought, why not. It's an hour out of the sun in the cool caverns, immersed in music and art.) Cassis was worth a day's visit and you can hop on one of the many tour boats to the calanques from there (I think it's a 2-hour tour). We had wanted to hike into a calanque, but were there during the record-heat wave of 2019, so it was too darn hot. The boat ride was a great compromise. (But we were coming from a rental house on the coast, east of Toulon. it may be too far from where you'll be.)