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Provence Itinerary - draft, looking for comments, critiques, suggestions

Hi all,
At long last I have a draft for our 5 days in Provence (+3 days in the Var staying with friends) (obv. too short to do it all!). This is malleable and will no doubt be evaluated moment by moment, depending on how energetic we feel, heat, feet, etc...and possibly by comments made by y'all esteemed and experienced travelers. Many thanks to gregglamarsh and others from whom I have gleaned much helpful info.
So far:

Wednesday July 17
• Paris to Avignon TGV from Gare du Nord 10:19, arrive 12:55
• Train to Central Avignon Station and store bags.
• Lunch (Place de Corps Saints), follow RS Back Streets walk (p. 626)
• Possible visit to Angladon Museum or Calvet (restaurant La Violette)
• Back to TGV to pick up rental car and drive to St. Remy hotel (Hotel Soleil et Spa)

Thursday July 18
• Ile Sur le Sorgue (Market) (35 minute drive from St. Remy)
• Maybe hang out in St. Remy afternoon, and/or hotel pool
• Late afternoon/early eve: Les Baux and/or Glanum ruins

Friday July 19
• Drive through Luberon (RS says start with Gordes, p. 688)
o Gordes
o Rouissillon
o Bonnieux
o Lourmarin market + Camus cemetery, 50 minutes

Saturday July 20
• Arles - Market
• RS Self-guided Walk (trail next to asylum with spots Van Gogh painted, Place Du Forum, etc)
Lunch possibilities: Café de la Nuit Pastis* or Le Cilantro
Might want to stay in Arles for dinner.

Sunday July 21
• Drive to La Verdriere in Var, 1-1/2 hour (visiting friends for a few days there)
Possibly stop at Lourmarin en route if Friday gets too long and we decide to head back to St. Remy

A specific question:
Are parking and crowds crazy on Saturday market day in Arles? Honestly, we are not BIG market people and we already have two others planned (at this point). Then again, people say Arles' is a "don't miss." My point is we could swap days if that seems like a good idea.
Thank you all in advance!
Rachel

Posted by
882 posts

I think your itinerary looks fine and you have your points well covered.

A couple of tips:
-Bag storage is in town in Avignon not actually at the station. It's not a big deal as everyone who comes in on the train and needs to go to a hotel takes their bags at least this far but don't look for it in the train station.
https://consigne-avignon.com/left-luggage-avignon/
There are other private services as well but this is the place referenced on the train website.

-Add driving time to Google maps times +25-50% for small roads, slow cars, missing turn offs etc. If you are trying to make a time allow extra to reduce stress while driving.

-I haven't been to market day in Arles but it is a sizable city and can probably handle people influx better than smaller towns that do get overrun on market day. Hopefully someone has better firsthand knowledge. On the same note because it's a bigger city there will be lots of Arles without a market so when you're done you can simply go do other things.

-If you like van Gogh consider the asylum outside St Remy adjacent to the Glanum site. The Glanum site itself is really interesting and situated in a small valley the van Gogh used to paint when it had olive trees in it.

-If you go to Les Baux and want to do both the van Gogh Lumieres and the castle I would get there no later than 4:30 to allow yourself time to see the show, traverse the town to the castle entrance and get in before the last castle grounds admission.

Have a great trip!
=Tod

Posted by
46 posts

A couple thoughts.

We recently took what I think is the same train from Paris to Avignon (although ours left from Gare de Lyon so you might double-check). We found that the process of getting off the train, making our way to the car rental office, getting our car, driving to our “home base” city which in our case was Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, moving into our lodgings, etc., was a pretty full afternoon. You might want to consider just going to St Remy that day and getting settled. My two-cents-worth.

I agree with the other poster that whatever estimate you have for how long it takes to get from here to there is almost certainly too short. Plan accordingly, and don’t forget that it takes time to find parking (if you car’s GPS is able to identify parking lots that’s great) and then to walk from wherever you’ve parked to wherever you want to go. It’s hard to appreciate this until you’ve been there. Most of the proposed itineraries I’ve read re Provence & the Luberon don’t take it int account.

A careful reading of RS indicates that Gordes and Bonnieux, while scenic from a distance, are less impressive up close. I agree with that. I will accordingly put in a word for Ménerbes, which became our favorite Luberon village.

I also note that you are going to the Thursday market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and will simply add that Isle has a large number of first-rate restaurants for either lunch or dinner.

However it works out for you, I can say that we loved the Luberon and you’d have a hard time going wrong there.

Posted by
4132 posts

Minor thought: arrange to pick your car up in Avignon rather than schlepp back to the TGV station for the same thing.

Posted by
10344 posts

A mistake to avoid in this part of Provence: trying to drive into towns/cities that are well served by regular and affordable train service. Save the rental car for destinations in the country that are not served by rail.

Posted by
21 posts

A few small comments - first, Rouissillon is one of our favorites - beautiful colors. You'll likely have to park in the outer area and walk. Allow time! Best Salad Nicoise I've ever had was there. Bring water, it gets hot and water is not always easily found! On your day in Arles, you'll likely find parking in the perimeter areas and walk. It gets very hot and crowded! We also used RS and found it very helpful. Re: eating at Café de la Nuit Pastis - check the current reviews. A couple of years ago, when we were there, they got terrible reviews. There are so many other good options. Enjoy! Sounds lovely!

Posted by
109 posts

So many helpful responses, I will try to address each one:

Tod, good advice to add time to Google maps estimates – makes perfect sense, esp. where roads are narrow and language is not my own.
-And yes, we are Van Gogh fans – were planning to visit the asylum, but hadn’t yet realized it was near Glanum, so will work that into that same trip (although it's quite close to St. Remy, where we are staying, so we could fit that in another time maybe).
-We plan on seeing the Lumières show in Paris, so won’t do that in Les Baux.

Blattner, I appreciate your comment about it being too much to get the rental car at 1 pm, sightsee in Avignon, then get to St. Remy and get settled. I have been having the same thought. Then the issue we have will be trying to fit in Avignon.
-I will also look into your comment about Gordes & Bonnieux, and check out Ménerbes.
-Thank you for the comments about restaurants in Ile-sur-le-Sorgue. Would you be willing to make a specific recommendation or two for lunch?

Adam, we looked into renting the car in Avignon town, but there is only one Avis and they have long been booked for that time.

Kent, we are basing our time in St. Remy, which does not have train service. Your comment makes sense if we were based in another town that has train service, but it is too late to change that now.

Carol, thanks for the Salad Nicoise/Rouissilon comments and I will check into reviews for that café. Some friends just spent time in Arles and gave us several recommendations, so we will probably try one of those.

Thanks to Tod's comment, I am leaning now to renting car at TGV and going straight to St. Remy – possibly go to Glanum, Les Baux and the asylum after getting to hotel and getting settled. Will try to figure out where to fit in Avignon.

If we have to skip Avignon or Arles, which?? I know there are arguments on both sides of that on this forum, so I will stand back and wait to see what’s said. I also will do more reading on both.

Thanks all, as ever,
Rachel

Posted by
5697 posts

Saturday morning market in St. Remy is fun -- if you can walk from your lodgings, you avoid the parking problem.

Posted by
882 posts

Hello again, Rachel,
-The van Gogh asylum and Glanum are effectively adjacent. You can park for free at the asylum and walk to Glanum. If you use the lot across the street from Glanum you'll need to pay for parking. It's a few minutes outside St Remy and very easy to find. If you pass the giant Roman monuments and see the paid parking lot you've just past it. Turn around and take the first right.
If you're van Gogh fans be sure to notice the hills behind the Glanum site. They struck me as immediately familiar and I found out that's because van Gogh used to paint the landscape when the ruins were covered by olive trees.

-Someone else pointed out that you have Gare du Nord listed and I'm sure it's Gare de Lyon for all points south of Lyon. Probably just a typo but make sure you're headed to the right gare.

-I would argue for Arles over Avignon (my preference) but if you're van Gogh fans I think it has to be Arles for the easels and sites that few sites still look same.

-I saw the Lumieres show both in Paris and in Les Baux. I was glad I went but seeing in one place is enough. The quarry setting was really cool and added another layer to it but didn't have the same impact after seeing it twice in Paris. (You can stay and watch it again since it loops.)

-I think renting the car and getting settled straight away rather than training to Avignon central and wrestling bags to then train back to Avignon TGV is probably the right call. If only the TGV station just had left luggage...

-Keep an eye out for gas stations. You won't run out but there are no stations obviously near the TGV station so get gas in or around St Remy. I paid dearly for returning a car that needed gas.

-Also make sure you go to the Musee d'Orsay while you're in Paris. They have the famous asylum self portrait and several of the St Remy paintings in small van Gogh exhibit there.

Have a great trip - I just got back and I'm still a little jealous -
=Tod

Posted by
109 posts

Hi Tod,
Thanks again for lots of helpful info. Will watch out for gas stations, take advantage of the free parking at Glanum, and we already have tix for the Musée d'Orsay ;-). And yes, my train tix definitely say Gare de Lyon.

I'm hope you'll be able to go back again soon!
Rachel

Posted by
46 posts

As far as lunch in Isle is concerned, you’ll be there for the Thursday market so all the restos will be busy. My top choice would be the Café de France, which is on the square next to the church. That’s also where the heart of the market will be so it will definitely be busy. But it’s charming and has very good “café food.” There are two other good cafés by Place de la République, La Chineur and the Grand Café de _____ (name escapes me but it’s right next to La Chineur). You might also consider the Bellevue, which has lots of riverside tables and is generally set up to handle bigger crowds. We had a very nice dinner there.

Posted by
109 posts

Blattner, thank you for those resto recs! Will try to squeeze into one of those on market day.

Rachel

Posted by
3941 posts

While you're passing thru Gordes, you may want to take 30 min and check out Abbaye de Senanque - you'll probably still have lots of lavender and that place is very picturesque - we didn't tour the Abbaye as we got there after hours, and the traffic may be bonkers, but we liked our quick 20 min to have a look.

We spent about 45 min at Glanum, and 3+ hours (twice) at Les Baux (I love the little shops!). Are you going to the Carrieres des Lumieres as well? I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it (it's a few min drive from Les Baux) but it was actually really cool - and literally really cool - we were there in July as well and were thankful for the break from the heat that it afforded.

Sault gave some amazing views over the valley and the lavender fields - and only about 30 min drive from Rousillion (if you find yourself with some time to kill).

Posted by
109 posts

Nicole,
I will make note of these suggestions. I had planned to take the short detour to Senaque from Gordes for the lavender. I had NOT planned on so much time for Les Baux but will factor that in. I assume things stay open late in the summer, but will look into that so we know for sure. We were planning on an early evening trip to Les Baux.

We are seeing Carrieres des Lumieres in Paris, so will skip it in Les Baux - as you say, any break from the heat will be welcome.

And Sault was not on my radar, will check it out.

Thank you so much!
Rachel

Posted by
3941 posts

Les Baux is what you make of it, I guess. You could certainly go and wander the ruins and the town in a few hours. First visit we did the audio tour but there were no demos going on as it was Oct. Second time we skipped the audio but the demos were happening...so we spent time watching those. And we were there over lunch as well, which added another 30-45 min to our visits.

There wasn’t a whole lot going on in Sault, but the views were lovely and we sat and watched a pétanque game for 20 min. And of course passing lavender fields on the way there.

Posted by
1652 posts

Hi Rachel,
I don't know if you will have the time, but I'd like to recommend a visit to Eygalieres, which is right next to St. Remy. It looks like you could visit Eygalieres on Thursday, July 18. However, I think Friday would be the best day to go there when they have their wonderful Friday market. You may not find Eygalieres in any of the guide books. We know about it because our oldest daughter lives in Provence. It's a lovely village that is not touristy at all; it's not a place that was renovated for tourists. Many of the people at the market are French. We 've heard very little English spoken. So if you want to get away from the tourist crowds, Eygalieres is a good suggestion.

We've had lunch at Cafe Le Progress located on the same street as the market, so easy to find. On Fridays only, they offer a delicious fresh fish dinner. There is also a castle you could visit. We haven't been to the castle yet because I think you have to walk uphill to get there (I don't think you can drive). And we usually have our little grandchildren with us and we didn't feel like pushing them uphill in strollers.

Anyways, if you have the time, it's a wonderful place to visit and get away from the tourist crowds.

Karen

Posted by
734 posts

We were unable to see Carrieres et Lumieres a few weeks ago because it was sold out for the next two days, so do check online to see what is available.

Parking was very difficult for Roussillon and we tried for an hour between 5 and 6 pm and never did find parking in Gordes, so early morning is the way to go.

Enjoy!

Posted by
109 posts

Thanks, Barbara, for this. We got tix for Carriere des Lumieres months ago in Paris, so we're all set for that.

We'll do our best to get to the hill towns early, but that's not our strong point, so we'll do what we can. Maybe skip Gordes. I know it's busy season....

Thanks again,
Rachel

Posted by
3941 posts

We got turned around in Gordes - but when we went there were some paid lots with signs as you come into the town. Again - we were there in July (July 7, to be exact, so a Saturday) and other than missing the lots the first go round, we had no issues getting a spot. Maybe it had something to do with the day of the week, as we arrived around 6pm-ish. Shops were starting to close up when we arrived, so there wasn't much to do other than wander a bit and have a gelato.