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Trip Check - Provence, Alps, Lyon

After 6 months of debate, it's time to tie down our July 2022 trip to France. Looking for opinions or ideas about this itinerary.

One thing is set in stone; July 5th we are in Nimes for a concert at the arena.

We are leaning towards roundtrip Newark to CDG, and use TGV to get us south. We considered Barcelona and Geneva, but feel like it's best to keep it simple and stay within French borders because of possible Covid restrictions in different countries.

Lyon 3 nights (direct TGV from CDG)
Chamonix 3 nights (hike the Mont Blanc area)
Nimes 3 nights (concert, day trip to Arles, Aix)
Rural Provence 4 nights (day trip Avignon, Pont du Gard, explore countryside)
Paris 2 nights (we've already done 7 nights in Paris on a previous trip)

Does it make sense to rent a car upon leaving Lyon (the train to Chamonix take 2 hours more than car per "Rome to Rio") and return it before heading back to Paris or take the train everywhere and then rent a car for the 4 nights in Provence? I generally prefer the train...

Suggestion for a nice place in the Provence countryside (thinking north of Avignon)?

Should TGV tickets be purchased in advance?

Posted by
75 posts

I'd vote for renting a car to go from Lyon to Chamonix. I've never actually done the train journey, because we've always decided it would be too much hassle (you have to change), and it's really useful to have a car while in Chamonix. You can walk to quite a lot of things but if you want to visit surrounding villages or do a hike starting from somewhere out of town, you need a car.
Many years ago I stayed several nights in L'Isle sur la Sorgue and found it pretty convenient for visiting the Lubéron, Pont du Gard, Avignon ...
And yes, you'll save money if you buy TGV tickets ahead of time. You can usually buy them on the Oui SNCF phone app and show the QR code on the train.

Posted by
27435 posts

I suggest using ViaMichelin.com to check on driving times and the SNCF website for train times. I believe you'll find the Pont du Gard is best visited while you're in Nimes rather than from your next base, and Aix-en-Provence is very likely to work better as a day trip from that second base than from Nimes. Whether 3 nights/4 nights is the optimum split between the two depends on what your top-priority destinations are. For instance, Uzes is likely to be best from Nimes. It may turn out that you'd be better off choosing a second base that's east of Avignon rather than north of that city.

Posted by
3062 posts

There are direct buses from the Lyon – Gare Routière Perrache station to Chamonix Sud – Gare routière station taking (4h). The day you leave Chamonix you can take a taxi to Saint-Gervais-les-Bains-Le Fayet rail station (8-miles) and rent a car. The drive to Nimes will take approximately 5h.

Posted by
24 posts

We made a similar trip three years ago and are going back this summer, too. Yes, book tix in advance for the TGV to Lyon and then rent a car. We had a good experience with Europcar. We stayed in an airbnb in Annecy (lively and lovely town!) and drove to Chamonix for a day. We'd love to go back and do the Tour du Mont Blanc. Book Aiguille du Midi tickets in advance--we wasted hours waiting in a huge line and then waiting for our gondola, so that killed our hiking plans, but totally worth the wait to go up. We then drove south to the coast, stopping in the lavender fields at Valensole (it was June 24 and they were in bloom, but we were headed further south than you're going, to stay with friends near le Lavandou). You could stop in Gigondas and Orange for wine tastings on the way to Aix. Driving is easy, plenty of rest stops ("aires"). I love taking trains, but you'll miss a lot of Provence without a car. I highly recommend staying at Le Mas D'Aigret in the countryside by Les Baux, 20 minutes to Arles and St Remy. Our "troglodyte" room was amazing. Food was great. Gorgeous views, pool and grounds, with a hiking path up to the ruins of Les Baux. It was a splurge for me, but well worth it. (I'm usually a Hampton Inn, fast-casual dinner person.) The Carrieres de Lumieres immersive art show right up the road from there is incredible--it's like the immersive Van Gogh show going on in NYC, but inside the huge white-walled caverns of an old limestone quarry. I could go on reminiscing for awhile! Enjoy your trip.