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Paris - Provence - Carcassonne

We will be spending about 10-11 days in France. We have been to Paris many times before and love it. Our plan is to spend about 6 days in Paris. Then I want to travel south to Avignon, Arles, Nimes, and maybe Aix. I also would like to visit Carcassonne if possible.

I thought of taking the TGV to Avignon and renting a car from there for a few days. I have never driven in France, just Germany and England. Is it easy to follow the road signs? Are the tolls high? Does anyone know how much gas cost now? (Also, I see people talk of vignettes - what are they?) Would it be cheaper and/or more efficient to rent than to take public transportation? (2 of us are traveling.)

Does anyone have suggestions about Carcassonne? I don't know if it's best to have the rental car and drive there or take public transportation, from Provence. Is there easy and quick public transportation from Carcassonne back to Paris?

Any suggestions would help greatly. Thank you.
Linda

Posted by
375 posts

Hi - I think your idea of TGV to Avignon is good...then renting a car.

Driving in France in quite easy. And the "rest stops"....they are amazing!! You wouldn't believe the "truck stop" we saw!

We drove from Aix to Carcasonne last year and it's a nice drive. We got there later in the day, so we could be there in the evening, then got up right away in the morning so we could again beat the crowds.

Traveling around Provence in a car is easy, too. We did that a few years ago. Just beautiful!

Posted by
3622 posts

At little more information is needed if you want good advice. First, do you have 10 - 11 days on the ground; or does that include your travel days? I’ll assume 11 on the ground. That leaves 5 after Paris. You really should sleep in Paris the night before your departure. (I would never risk missing a flight by relying on a train to get me to the airport, from a goodly distance away, the morning of an int’l flight.). Now we’re down to 4.
4 days would give you a nice taste of Provence. It’s such a large and varied region. I would not try to get over to Carcassonne.

Having a car in Provence is very useful. No worry about having a vignette in France. If you do a search on this site you’ll find lots of information about tolls. It boils down to this. Keep a supply of cash on hand. It’s unpredictable whether your cc will work.
You can get the TGV to Paris, or to CDG, from Marseille or Avignon, where you can also return your car. Buying early nets a much better price than buying late. Buy as soon as you finalize your itinerary.

Posted by
4132 posts

This is a good plan, plus it's handy to have a car in Provence. The only issue I foresee is that you end this itinerary in Carcassonne. What then?

If you can arrange to fly home from Toulouse, this works pretty well. Otherwise it's a long way back to Paris, however you go.

Posted by
103 posts

Thanks for your answers so far.

But how long is it to drive from Aix or Nimes to Carcassonne? Would you recommend then driving back to Avignon to drop off the car? Some times one gets charged a large drop off fee to leave a car elsewhere.

I do plan to get to Paris the night before my flight as I have traveled a lot before and know that it's a smart thing to do.

I do plan about 11 days on the ground, so how long should I plan to visit, Arles, Nimes, Avignon and Pont du Gard? Can I see that in 2 days and then go onto Carcassonne?

Linda

Posted by
11368 posts

Arles, Avignon, Pont du Guard /Nimes in one day? Too too much. I would take at least one day, maybe two from Paris and that is still without adding Carcassone. Provence is also about the villages which you won’t have time to see or savor.
We finally saw Carcassonne when driving from France to Barcelona. I would not sacrifice Provence for it. It is worthwhile but not as much as Provence.

Posted by
4132 posts

Linda, it's starting to sound as though you don't have time for Carcassonne this trip.

Save it for another trip where you spend time in Languedoc and the Dordogne.

Provence is magical and there is lots to see there.

Posted by
103 posts

Thanks for your suggestions. I have been looking more at the information and perhaps I would spend less days in Paris, and then, also fit in Carcassonne. (I know that this is probably unpopular for the area, but I don't drink wine, so I wouldn't visit more than one Winery.) I could then fly out of Toulouse to Paris. The flights are rather inexpensive.

Has anyone stayed in Nimes, and have good recommendations on hotels? It seems best to stay in one place there and take Day trips to Avignon, Pont du Gard, and Arles.

Also, will the rail strike affect the RER from DeGaulle Airport into Paris?

Posted by
3941 posts

We did this in 2015...took the TGV from Paris to Avignon, picked up a car at the train stn, then drove to Carcassonne. Stayed two nights. We didn't arrive until later in the evening tho, as our train was delayed for a few hours, so we basically just went to eat, then back to our airbnb. We spent until early afternoon at the site, then a little time walking around the town. After Carcassonne, we went back to Provence, then headed on to Nice, where we dropped the car. Hindsight - one night would have been enough, and we could have taken off the next afternoon as the town itself didn't hold much interest for us.

We've never had a vignette in France, unless something has changed since 2015. You most likely will need an International Driving Permit (IDP). Driving was pretty easy. You can avoid toll roads, but it's going to take a lot longer. For example, when we were heading to Carcassonne, we had the GPS set to avoid tolls. After an hour of what seemed like endless round-abouts, we switched it to allow tolls to see how much faster it would be - it shaved at least an hour off the arrival time, so we went that way. Some tolls were expensive, some not so much. There are websites that will give you a good idea of the tolls (is it the Michelin site?). Another great site for figuring out travel times is rome2rio.com - they have an app as well and has been so helpful in our planning. If you aren't in a hurry, you can just take diff roads.

Some people would rather use public transport - and generally we do as well, but when trains are not as frequent, and buses are a pain in the arse - sometimes a car is just the way to go. It was great for us to be able to get to places that aren't as easy to get to using pub trans (Les Baux, Millau Viaduct), or to stop somewhere along the way if it catches your eye. For us, the car was a better fit for that part of France, more flexible.

I'd suggest doing what we did, getting the car, heading right to Carcassonne, then make your way back and drop the car back off in Avignon and get the train back up. And some people don't care for Carca - I wouldn't go back, but we did enjoy our day there.

Posted by
1025 posts

Hotel De L'Amphitheatre in Nimes. Very pleasant, great breakfast. 4 Rue des Arènes, 30000 Nîmes, France hoteldelamphitheatre.com
+33 4 66 67 28 51

Posted by
7175 posts

1-5. Paris (5)
6. TGV to Narbonne (1)
7. Pick up car. Drive to Carcassonne (1)
8. Drive via Pont du Gard to Nimes (3). Return car
9. Day by train to Avignon
10. Day by train to Arles
11. TGV to Paris (1)
12. Depart Paris

Posted by
103 posts

Thanks Nicole for all the valuable information. I will definitely check out the other sites! And thanks for the hotel recommendation Wbfey1.

Posted by
1229 posts

If memory serves, Carcassonne is 2 (+?) hours from Nimes. We stopped in Carcassonne for an evening and one night stay en route from the Dordogne to Provence. As someone else said, one evening was enough for us. We walked around the walled city, had dinner there, walked through some of the town in the morning to find a bakery, then hit the road. It was not my favorite, but as my son and husband were talking about it at dinner tonight, I guess they're glad we stopped ;)
The places in Provence that you want to visit are the larger towns/cities. So to see them in just a few days (and adding the driving between them) is a lot, as Suki said. There are also many small villages that we enjoyed. If you go to Arles, St Baux is worth a trip

Posted by
3070 posts

We just drove in France from Dinard to Quimper to Dinan to Chartres. Then we took trains.

1) Pay attention to the signs with the radar symbol - maintain strict adherence to posted speeds, or you will get a fine on your credit card, months after your return in some cases
2) In Bretagne, there are no tolls but this is not true in other provinces.
3) Rest-stops are very nice.
4) The main issue is the "rond-pointes" or roundabouts, which is the French traffic control device of today. They are everywhere, and they take a bit of getting used to, especially on the outskirts of cities, where the rond-pointes have 4 lanes and people drive quickly.

Generally we had no problem, save for the fine we got. While gas is more expensive, cars are small and very efficient. We found this part of the trip to be economical.

As to the economies, 1 person is much cheaper on trains, 2 persons see a break-even on train v car, and 3 or more there is a great advantage for the car. It really depends on the rural component of your trip - the farther from cities and their good public transport, the more you will appreciate a car. In a city, cars are just a headache - when we went to Rennes, I ended up in a bus lane going the wrong way with a bus inches from my bumper, and the bus driver throwing his hands up in disgust. In Chartres, even our local driver from Enterprise ("we drop you off") got lost in the maze of streets.

Posted by
3070 posts

We picked up our car in Dinard (on the English channel) and drove to Quimper, dropping it in Chartres. We did not need an International Driving Permit - I used my South Dakota license with no problem. We did not get a vinette - possibly it was included in the car. We were not charged a drop charge, or it was modest, as we picked up and dropped in France.

It was all very convenient.

We did not have cell-phone access, so did not have Maps or any apps while driving. We therefore started the driving days by doing Google Maps in our hotel, and saving the screens so that we could see them off line.

We are not French, and thus are not used to the subtle details of catching roads. We missed our off-ramp on our way to Quimper, and were lost for a bit. Our French is adequate, but not up to the fine details of navigation. So, when turning or getting off highways, stay alert, know distances to look for exits, etc. In the US, we are used to roads marked in a certain way, and this is less common in France.

Posted by
103 posts

Thanks David for your suggested itinerary. I didn't think of taking the TGV to Narbonne, that would save some time! I might have to extend my stay to add more towns!!

Posted by
103 posts

Thanks Jessica and Paul for the details. That helps a lot. I'm used to roundabouts from driving in the UK.

I still have a question though, what are vignettes in France?

I also wanted to know if anyone has been to Tarascon? We might do a home exchange there and perhaps stay longer. It seems convenient to Avignon, Arles and Nimes

Posted by
3622 posts

Vignettes are an alternative to tolls, used in some countries like Switzerland, Austria, and Slovenia. They are usually provided with rental cars. France has toll roads; hence, no vignettes.
On Tarascon:
I believe we were there about 20 years ago. As you have noted, it is well located for visiting a number of interesting towns. That may be where we saw a museum showcasing local culture.

Posted by
103 posts

Nicole, the site is called viaMichelin.com, which give the tolls for each trip. Thanks for that tip! I want to share it with anyone else that would like to get an idea of one's toll expense when driving around France.

Posted by
16894 posts

I also enjoyed my stay at Hotel De L'Amphitheatre in Nimes but did not consider that city a very handy base for driving to the other cities. If you don't use the toll roads, then the alternate roads can be quite slow with suburban traffic and numerous round-abouts. Trains would be easier to connect all the cities you listed, including Carcassonne (2 hours by direct train). Car would only be a benefit for the Pont du Gard (also served by bus) or smaller villages, particularly toward the east/Luberon, where traffic thins out.

Looking Up Train Schedules and Routes Online gives you the Deutsche Bahn train schedule link and tips for using it. See also Rick's guidebook specific to Provence and the French Riviera and our France rail info.

We met with a consultant at the Rick Steves office for a similar challenge. She recommended:
*high speed train from Paris to Toulouse
*Rent car in Toulouse
*Visit the Chateaux of Lastours or similar
*Evening (and 1 night) in Carcassonne
*Drive to Pont du Gard (Provence)
*Stay in St. Remy (we found a great Airbnb!)
*Visiting Orange, Les Baux and Arles while staying in St. Remy - with car
(We are moving on to the Riviera and dropping car in Nice.)

We haven't done this trip yet, but thought I could pass on the consultants input. It was helpful.

Posted by
3941 posts

I think that $20 a litre is a typo... ;)

In Paris apparently it’s about 5.50 usd a gallon. (I just googled it).

Posted by
103 posts

Thanks Julie for the suggestions. We are still figuring out how much time we will be in the area, and where to go. This rail strike is an inconvenience and I'm trying to plan around it. I've been inconvenience by these strikes in Europe before. The more planning I do in advance, the smoother it goes.

On the other hand we have airline miles with Delta and they partner with Air France, so I'm wondering if it is more efficient to just fly to or from Toulouse from Paris. Has anyone done that?

Thanks Nicole for the gas price information. We had looked it up too and found it less than $6/gal. I'm used to paying that when in the U.K.

I've driven on the autobahn in Germany before, so I know how you can look in the rear view mirror and no one is there, and 2 seconds later there is someone behind you flashing their lights! It helps to have some one else in the car, watching all the signs!