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Provence from Avignon in February without a car

My husband and I will be spending five nights in Avignon in February and then three nights in Nice. We had hoped to have some tours of the wine regions as well as Roman sites, but it seems many tour guides are on vacation. On our own and without a car, we don't want to miss the best stuff. I've read others' comments on where to go, so I wonder what advice you have for us and if February is different (fewer tourists but colder and places closed?). Of course, we have studied the RS guide to Provence and the French Riviera.

We want to see Roman sites, wine region, and small villages/hill towns/countryside. (During our three nights in Nice before flying out, we're thinking we'll see coastal area then. Another topic is how easy it is to use the bus from Nice to see Cap Ferrat and the coast. Has anyone done it?)

Places we think we should see in Provence:

Pont du Gard (and Nimes? Uzes?)

Les Baux (and Arles?)

Cotes du Rhône (Chateauneuf-du-Pape? Orange?)

Luberon hill towns (though we're not sure how we would get there without a car)

I had thought Roussilon, but no one seems to mention it

We can spend Friday traveling from Avignon to Nice by train and could stop in Aix or somewhere else east of Avignon.

All advice is welcome from this great forum.

Posted by
6898 posts

Amy, on the train, you can get easily to Orange, Nimes (Pont du Gard), Arles, Lex Baux, Aix-en-Provence and other cities and towns on the western side of Provence. However, I suggest that you won't see much of the Luberon area, Gordes, Rousillon, Lourmarin, etc. without a rental car. No train stations for most and the bus system, if any, is not frequent to/from or between these areas. There is a fairly frequent bus service from the Avignon-TGV station to the L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market on Sundays but the from the center of Avignon, you have to take a bus to the TGV station. But, there is a train from Avignon-Centre to nearby L'Isle–Fontaine de Vaucluse. If you stay in Aix, there are some nice tours out of there.

For a 5-night stay, I would highly recommend renting a car with a GPS for at least 2 days to see some of the "most beautiful villages in France" (according to the French government). My wife and I do agree.

Posted by
4125 posts

Sites that are only served by bus are problematic in the off season and you should research them carefully to see what is possible. These include the Pont du Gard, the Luberon, and Les Baux.

The sights in Avignon, Orange, Nimes, and Arles are accessible by rail but in some cases will be on winter hours.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you, both Larry and Adam. It sounds like we might be in trouble in February without a car. We do have one possibility of an expensive local guide with van, but perhaps we should see about renting a car from Avignon. Thank you for the caution about the bus schedules in winter, too.

Posted by
8 posts

Hi Amy,
my husband and I are actually in Nice right now. This reply might be too late for your travela but if you are not yet in Nice then perhaps my info can be helpful.
We always choose NOT to rent a car while here. The trains and buses are wonderful and very affordable. You can travel from Nice east to Ventimiglia in Italy on the train. There is a great market there every Friday. You can hop on and off en route so you could also see of my favorites as well as Monaco, Ville Franche, Cap Ferrat etc. this way. Also another nose trip by train or bus is to Antibes a lovely town west of Nice. Don' forget that starting on Feb 14th the Nice Carnival begins, a wonderful experience especially the opening night!!! Breathtaking.
Let me know if you want any more info about Nice....we live here from late Dec. - April every year.

Posted by
5 posts

Cindy, How helpful! Thank you for responding.

We will have just two days in Nice (arriving on a Friday afternoon, flying out Monday morning. I'm having trouble figuring out the best way to spend that time. Of course, we will want to see old Nice and the promenade. Would one day trip along a coast give us the scenic beauty and sense of the place? We were thinking Villefranc sur Mer (don't have my guide book here to check the spelling) seemed like the nicest village to visit. (Not necessarily interested in the glamour places.)

How wonderful that you get to spend so much time in Nice.

Thank you for offering more advice. It's one thing to read the guide books. it's another thing to hear from folks who've been there for their own pleasures. I'm grateful.

Posted by
12 posts

Amy, We just returned a few weeks ago from the south of France and had a fantastic time. We loved traveling off season. Not crowded at all and we hardly heard any native English speakers! I recommend Arles instead of Avignon as a home base for Provence. It is smaller, but only 20 minutes to Avignon by train. It is easy to rent a car here if you want to visit Pont du Gard and Les Baux, both highly recommended. We spent one night in Aix on our way from Antibes back to Paris and it was wonderful. Be sure to be there on market day. On the French Riviera we spent 1 night in Nice (Hotel Suisse, modern with wonderful views of the Prommendade) and 4 in Antibes at a WONDERFUL small hotel, Hotel Relais du Postillon, family run, super charming, and right on the main square. The owners are new (8 months) and very friendly and helpful, great English, and are in process of remodeling the rooms. Ours was just updated and was beautiful with a big (for France) beautiful bathroom. We spent 1 whole day exploring the Riviera towns by train and bus. The bus is very easy to use, cheap, and you get great views that you sometimes miss on the train. We loved Villefranche sur Mer! Very quaint and charming. Glad we saw Monaco, but we didn't spend much time there. Loved Nice, it's big but manageable. Bus is also easy to use to get to the Chagall Museum (highly recommended) and the Matisse Museum (glad we saw it but the Chagall is better). Listen to Rick on the area. And we loved Antibes. We also rented a car for 1 day out of Antibes to visit the hill towns above the Riviera and that was awesome. Please let me know if i can answer any other questions.

Posted by
5 posts

Thank you, Leanne. That is great information. I'm afraid we will be staying in Avignon since that is arranged, but we'll be sure to spend a day in Arles. Thank you for the tips on the area around Nice. What great help. Thank you.

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks to all for the helpful comments and suggestions. We had a wonderful time in both Avignon and Nice. We spent time at Les Baux and Pont du Gard, as well as St Remy and Chataneuf du Papes. We enjoyed Avignon, a good place to stay and explore the history. One day trip to Arles. Nice was wonderful, plenty to explore in View Nice and the coastline without leaving town. Thank you again.