Considering as part of a larger trip to Europe, renting a car at CDG and driving to Provence - probably staying in Aix as a base. On the way to Provence, is Beaune and/or Lyon worth a visit (one night at each location).? Appreciate any insights on those two towns as well as any other stops on the way to Aix that I should not miss.
It is a very long and expensive drive (tolls) to Provence. Better yet - take the TGV direct from CDG to Avignon, rent your auto there, and then wonder through the various towns on your way to Aix in a more relaxed way.
Not only is it a long, expensive drive, but driving any distance after a jet lag inducing flight is akin to drunk driving. Not a good idea at all. If you aren't staying in Paris on arrival, then it would be wise to take the train to your first destination. Either of the places you named are worth at least a full day and one or 2 nights.
If you really really want to drive from CDG (sure hope you get over jet lag before getting behind the wheel) be sure to get familiar with the crazy buffalo - the official French government crazy buffalo who knows about traffic and alternate routes. https://www.bison-fute.gouv.fr/index,langen.html Click on the British flag for the pages in English (also includes weather).
Deep pockets for the tolls on the Autoroute de Soleil. I agree with the posts just above.
My first thought was "train", but I'll address your question about the two cities since I've been to both (though Beaune was just a day-trip from Dijon). Both Beaune and Lyon are worthwhile, but to me there's not much comparison; Lyon simply has vastly more to see and do. The few hours you'd have available if you only spent one night there would probably be frustratingly short. If I had two nights, I'd definitely spend them both in Lyon rather than splitting my time. I believe any comprehensive guidebook to France will confirm that Lyon is the clear winner from the sightseeing standpoint.
I'm not sure what it would be like to arrive in Lyon by car, try to navigate to a centrally-located hotel and find parking. Beaune is smaller and probably wouldn't be such a challenge. (I travel only by public transportation myself, so I'm not speaking from experience here.)
Both Beaune and Lyon are nice stops. You could spend a night in each on your way to Aix. It sounds like you will be spending a chunk of time in Aix, so you could make two one-night stops without making the whole itinerary frantic.
But, it it were my trip, I would also choose Lyon, and stay two (or more) nights. I would go from CDG to Lyon by train and I would pick up the train again to get to Provence. I would save Beaune for another trip where I would spend at least a week in Burgundy. (You need at least 2 bases in Burgundy, in my opinion). By staying two nights in Lyon, you would have time for museums, and to see the sites. Be sure to check closure days, I think they’re Mon and Tues.
I would pick Lyon because it makes a great stop by train on your way to Provence. You won’t need (or want) a car there.
Beaune is a smallish town with one superb site. It’s a pleasant stop. It would be a good stop in a car. It would also work by train, but you may need to change trains.
If you decide to go by car, there a number of places to stop, but the drive could be a slog, esp if your timing matches French vacations. It’s very easy to pick up a car once you get to Provence.
Just because you are landing at CDG does not mean that you are coming off a long haul flight but if you are, please do not drive to Beaune or Lyon right after you land. Been there (going to Dijon), done that and have the "near accident from the driver falling asleep and the car going off the road" trauma t-shirt. I've been to Beaune and Lyon. Unlike most people I see on this forum, I am not in love with Beaune. It's a one-trick pony town and that pony is wine. Don't get me wrong, I love French pinot noir but the town did nothing for me. I do, however, love Lyon, which I have been to many times. It really depends on what you like. Beaune, population about 25,000, is a town and Lyon is a city (population around 200,000) and part of France's second largest urban area and that distinction makes a huge difference.
Beaune and Lyon are both worth a visit and spending just one night there would simply not be enough.
We stayed 4 nights in Beaune and were not bored. Bike riding in the vineyards, taking wine tours, visiting Dijon, kept us busy. We actually never made it inside the Hospice!
The same for Lyon: we stayed 4 nights there and loved it. Exploring the traboules, taking a boat ride to the Confluence and walking around, more wine tours, eating in a Michelin starred restaurant.
I would recommend taking the train rather than driving. It is so easy to get around by train and so much more relaxing.
We did rent a car in Avignon to explore Provence, but that was the only time we rented a car.
In a Post-Covid World I would take the train from CDG. Stop off at Lyons. Or land at Marseille and take the commuter train to Aix. You may not need to use a car that much in the South of Provence as there are commuter trains which are quicker than driving twisty roads. PS I stopped over in Avignon (see poster below) and saw the Pont du Garde, the Roman Aquaduct, which was pretty impressive, as was the Pope's Palace. It was Summer, so there was lots of Music and Theater.
My two cents: Lyon is definitely worth one, if not two, nights. It's the 3rd largest city in France, but has a "smallish" feel to it. There's several great Roman ruins (arenas, theaters), a beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral atop a hill that gives you a great view of the City, a pretty good Museum of Fine Arts, and a very walkable "old town," plus a great Museum of Confluences (where the Rhone and Soane meet). Walking through the Parc Tete d'Or and along both rivers walkways are also great ways to enjoy the City. It is beautiful at night. The food in Lyon is world famous with LOTS of great restaurants. It's directly accessible by train from Paris.
Beaune is very small with only one must see sight (La Hospice d' Beaune), unless you're a wine fine (I am). But it's very charming, and has plenty of nice restaurants that serve three of the most famous dishes created there: Coq au Vin, Escargo, and Beef Bourgogne. Very few places in the world can compare with Burgundy wines, and Beaune is the capital of the Region. If you like wines, or want to experience some excellent wine tasting, spending a day there is perfect. You can also bike through the vineyards. It's also directly accessible by train from Paris. It's an old, walled town and you may have trouble parking inside.
I took the TGV from Paris to Avignon and I believe it was just about a 3 hour trip. I also rented a car there, at the City Centre train station, so you may want to consider that avenue. There's two stations in Avignon: a TGV station from which you take a 3-4 minute shuttle train to the City Centre station.
Best of luck
I'd say Beaune is worth a night and Lyon two or three.
Beaune has all the wine stuff and the hospice, which I stupidly skipped because it was late in the day and late in my day. A wine-tasting downtown is in order, too.
Lyon has plenty to see and do.
On the way to Aix, you might check out Vaison-la-Romaine.
I haven't visited Lyon, but a close relative said she like it better than Paris.
Loved Lyon but hated driving there -- once we got to our hotel the car stayed parked until we left.
You are getting a compendium of excellent advice. The train is easier, driving into large Lyon is a pain, Beaune is about the wine, Hospice and (great) market, a car makes touring from Aix wonderful, etc. Burgundy and Lyon can be combined with Alsace on another trip. But if it is your one big chance, go for it.
I agree that you should spend as much time in Lyon as possible. Bye the way, there's no 's' in Lyon nor Marseille - LOL!
The Musée des Beaux Arts makes for a superb visit and it houses a very good restaurant that's perfect for a mid-day meal. As someone else stated above, the "old town" is very special and best seen at night.
Don't forget that the City is traditionally rated as the culinary capital of France, so watch out for your waste-line!