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Transportation in Provence and Alsace regions

I am thinking of visiting these two regions in France in either fall or spring 2022.
I would like to do public transportation but it appears to me that it would be a little hard.

For those with experience, will it be easy to move in the regions without renting a car?
What types of transportation are available?
Ideally I would chose a base town per region and daytrip in the region.

Posted by
6093 posts

I've not been to Provence. I think having a car in Alsace dramatically improves the experience. We stayed one night in Colmar and then picked up a car to drive the Alsace wine route. Colmar is lovely, but we much preferred the smaller Alsace wine villages. We stayed in Eguisheim. Driving in the region was easy. I think if you base in Colmar there is the possibility of hooking into a tour or using a bus service.

Posted by
3060 posts

There is a train from Arles to Colmar that involves one connection in Marseille taking a total of 7h 15m. The reason I suggest Arles and Colmar is because those are the cities, I would sleep in. However, there is a direct train between Avignon and Strasbourg that takes 5h 30m.

Posted by
341 posts

If you want to visit the heart of Provence and.don’t want to take a tour, then a car is needed. The hill towns don’t have bus service. Avignon or Aix-en-Provence have great tourist offices and can guide you to things of your liking. Visit Uzes on a Saturday for their market - but get there early! It’s about a 40 minute drive from Avignon (great place to pick up a car). If you don’t want to rent a car, depending on what your interests are, the two towns I mentioned offer tours. I’m going to Provence again in July for the lavender fields.

Posted by
8061 posts

I went to Provence stayed in Avignon. You can easily get to other towns by taking the TER regional trains
https://www.ter.sncf.com/sud-provence-alpes-cote-d-azur.
However you need a car to see small beautiful hilltop villages like Les Baux, Roussilion & Gordes,
We did not have a car so we went to the Tourist Info Center and booked an escorted tour to those out of reach places.
I know there are buses in the area also, you have to research that.

Now getting from Provence to Alsace is a day long train ride so maybe you could rent a car.
But once in Alsace you can get around by using the TER but I only used to go from Strasbourg to Colmar.
https://www.ter.sncf.com/grand-est/offres/nos-principales-destinations
Many here will recommend a car for Alsace.

Posted by
27414 posts

A car makes things easier, but it comes down to how many of the little tiny places you want to go to, and over how few days. There's bus service from Colmar to at least some of the Alsatian villages; you'll probably struggle to move from on to another of the smallest places directly. However, if the ones you want to see are close enough, a taxi might cover the leg at less cost than a rental car. That assumes, of course, that you can locate a taxi company working in the area; I've never looked for one, so I don't know how easy that would be.

There are probably more tiny places in Provence without public transportation than you'll find in Alsace, but again, how many of those places do you want to go to? Would you settle for a one-day bus tour going to a few of them?

I am always a bit reluctant to recommend the website Rome2Rio.com, because I've seen myself how wildly off-base it can be on travel times, frequencies, and fares. But if it says rail service exists, it almost certainly does, and if it says there's a bus, it usually provides the name of the bus company (often also a link to its website) so you can go straight to the source.

I'd start by reading a guidebook or two and making lists of my must-see towns and my like-to-see towns, then checking what sort of transportation is available to each one. Maybe it will turn out that all or nearly all the places you want to see have train or bus service. You really have to know your rough itinerary before making a decision about the best transportation.

I think the odds are good that Colmar would be your best Alsatian base if you don't have a car. Provence is trickier; I'm not sure there's one single hub with buses fanning out in all directions, though there might be.

I went to the Dordogne in 2019 and found I needed to set up shop in multiple different towns in order to have decent access to buses that would get me to some of the small places I wanted to go. I think Alsace is easier than the Dordogne; I'm not sure that's true of Provence. I had a good time Provence and in the Dordogne, but I definitely missed some stuff.

Posted by
6093 posts

I may have been too strong in my opinion and just want to say that if the choice is Alsace without a car or no Alsace, I'd go without the car. Alsace is really special. Another factor would be the type of pace you are comfortable with. If you can be relaxed and explore via bus and not be bothered by waits, I think you would be fine.

I don't always rent a car in Europe. Sometimes we've not needed one and we MUCH prefer using trains/public transportation when it works for us. Also, I won't rent a car when I'm traveling alone or when I traveled with my kids.

Posted by
975 posts

I enjoyed having a car in the Dordogne and in Provence. Driving the small roads and just... looking....stopping for the farm stand or vineyard or bakery. It was less trouble than waiting for a bus or train, enabled a teen and his mom to get along and go out on their own schedule. We did three nights at hotels, moving regions, and making daysout- got to see a lot in the summer, when the daylight lasts till 10ish.

Posted by
15679 posts

It really depends on where more specifically you want to visit. Provence is a very large area. There is good train service between Colmar and Strasbourg, but the real charm of Alsace is the villages for which a car is most efficient. If you want to day trip without a car, Colmar is where you need to stay. There aren't many buses between the villages. There are more to/from Colmar in part because of school kids - and those buses run mainly at times convenient for going to school and back, not so convenient for tourists. Visiting even just 2 villages may give you logistical hurdles, and there are few, if any, villages that rate a full day's visit.

I found it quite easy to drive in Alsace and staying in one of the villages is much cheaper than Colmar, and means less driving. Getting in and out of Colmar takes time, especially since you often have city traffic.

Posted by
2589 posts

With Avignon as a base, much of western Provence may be explored using trains and buses. Much of Alsace can also be reached by public transportation.

But the question is, how much time do you have? Often the bus schedules are focused upon getting children to/from school. For many towns, bus service consists of a morning bus, and an afternoon bus. These are both very rural areas and using public transportation consumes a great amount of time. Renting a car makes maximum use of your valuable vacation time. You'll see more, avoid the idle time waiting for public transportation, and give yourself the flexibility to explore where you otherwise could not.

Posted by
4629 posts

These are both very rural areas

The main Provence tourist area is rather populated and there is a lot of traffic in the area between Avignon, San Remy, Arles, L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Orange, Carpentras and so on. Fringe areas like the Luberon are very rural but not the core area.

Also note that Nîmes is nice and could be used as a base for extreme western Provence, but it and many of the sites mentioned in Ashley’s link are in Languedoc, also a tourist rich area immediately west of Provence. It would be a hike to the Luberon villages or Vaison la Romaine from Nîmes, which is fine if you don’t want to see those places.

Posted by
2916 posts

We once spent a week in St. Remy w/o a car, but also spent a week there with a car on another trip. Similarly, we spent a week in Riquewihr w/o a car, and had a car during two other trips to Alsace. If we hadn't had the trips with cars, I might have felt I missed too much by not having a car. I found Alsace w/o a car was more enjoyable than Provence w/o a car. Walking from village to village in Alsace was very enjoyable and easy, and the bus service was adequate. In St. Remy, most journeys went through Avignon, and we wasted a lot of time with connections.

Posted by
27414 posts

When someone doesn't plan to rent a car but wants to make day-trips, I encourage basing in a city with rail service if that is practical for the destinations of interest. If you stay in a place with no (active) train station, every trip has to start with a bus ride, and connections may not be quick.

Posted by
438 posts

We took the train from Arles to Colmar (during one of the infamous rail strikes), and stayed in Colmar 3 nights. We rented bicycles and visited some of the local villages one day, and the other days we took public transit (buses) for the others. Didn't feel we were wanting for more.