Provence - Rent a car or is public transportation a good option?

We will be traveling to Provence 2nd week of September 2014. We are staying 4 days in Avignon (hotel is close to the Palace of Popes) and plan day trips to other towns close by. I think to rent a car is best, although I heard that parking and driving in town is not great. Is public transportation a good alternative then?
Our next stop will be in Antibes; is there a good train connection from Avignon to Antibes? I am starting my research but thought I'd ask seasoned travelers to the area!

Thanks in advance for the advice!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
11108 posts

Certainly there are frequent trains - although they are TGVs they are not very fast because of the mountains and twists and turns - between Avignon and Antibes.

I'd never try to do the western 2/3 of Provence without a car.

In the off season I happily used a car throughout the Cote d'Azur and Monaco, but no way I would want a car in July or August anywhere near Nice to Cannes. Middle of September - dunno.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
4363 posts

Whether or not you need a car is dependent on what you want to see. From Avignon, it's easy to get to Arles, Orange, Nimes, Marseilles, Aix, and the Pont Du Garde without a car. There's a few other places, but only a few; if you want to see small towns and rural areas, a car is best.

Rick's Provence And The French Riviera book has all the details about public transit in this area. His general France book has MUCH less info about the region.

From Avignon to Antibes there are several train routes. Use http://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/ to find them. I put in "Avignon TGV" as my departure station, but it pulled up routes starting at Avignon Centre as well. Avivnon Centre will be more convenient, as it's right in town, but these trains will require a change. You have to take a bus to Avignon TGV, but there are direct trains from there to Antibes. Since either route involves TGV's, you will get a discount for booking as soon as the tickets are released, As a bonus for doing that, you should be able to snag first class for little more than the price of second class.

Note that once in Antibes a car is not necessary, unless you really want to go off the beaten path. Trains run twice an hour between Cannes and Ventimiglia (with Nice in the middle, and Antibes between Cannes and Nice). Buses are much slower but are cheaper, and stop in places trains don't; they run three to four times an hour from Cannes to Nice, where you change to buses for towns east of Nice. Again, Rick has all the details.

Posted by Mary Ann
San Jose, CA, USA
15 posts

Thanks for the advice, i'm doing research. I did see a Tour company called "Imagine Tours" that will take you to places not easily accessible by train. Has anyone used this Tour Company? Or others to recommend?

Thanks again

Posted by Kathleen
Reston, VA, USA
475 posts

Mary Ann, my 21yo daughter and I spent 6 days in the region, 3 nights in Montpellier and 3 nights in Avignon, without a car; we found the trains in general very easy. To get to the sights not easily reached by public transit [and the ones we just hadn't managed to cram in yet], we took a 1-day tour with Provence Panorama - it was the Villages, Monuments, Chocolate and wine tour, I believe. I HIGHLY recommend this tour. We were the only ones in the vehicle; our driver Anne gave us tons of interesting information as she drove us around. She dropped us at the sights, gave us our entry tickets, and arranged to meet us usually an hour later, which worked out very well. Note that she did not guide us at the specific sites, but there was plenty of information there so that was not needed. We saw St-Remy, the Roman town of Glanum, the Roman arch and theater at Orange, Les Baux [great for souvenirs; I got lots of packets of herbs and lavender to take home to friends], Pont du Gard, and the ruined Chateauneuf du Pape, and ended with a fun wine & chocolate tasting. Total cost including entry tickets [except Glanum, which was an addition that we requested] was 95 euros per person and we felt it was worth every penny. Or euro. We skipped some of the Van Gogh aspects of the trip and also a possible olive oil tasting - would have been fun but our focus was the Roman antiquities.

I generally do public transit when I travel since I find it hard to enjoy the scenery while I'm driving; on our week in Sicily we rented a car for just one day to get from Agrigento to Siracusa by way of the Villa Romana to see the mosaics. I found this one-day trip with Provence Panorama worked really well to see the countryside and spare me the hassle of driving. Whatever you decide, have a great trip!