I'm planning a trip to France and will be in Provence for about 4 days. We're planning on going from Paris with a day in Avignon, 2 days in Arles, 1 day in Aix en Provence, and 1 day in Nice. Would you recommend that we (2 people) rent a car for that period of time, for the drive? I've heard that getting places such as Pont du Gard is diffcult without a car and perhaps our experience would be enhanced if we did have a car, especially if there are any nice spots we should hit along the way between the cities in this short period of time. Any advice on this, and also on where to rent cheaply for a one-way trip if we go with this option, please let me know.
We spent about 4 days in Provence last summer. We took the train from Paris to Avignon and rented a car at the Avignon TGV station. It was very easy.
You definitely need one if you want to go to Gordes, Roussilon or Pont du Gard. Also - if you are into wine - you need one to do the route du vin.
We used Gemut and had no problems. We also stayed at an excellent B&B near Orange...Mas du Clos de l'Escarrat.
If you have additional questions, please feel free to email me.
Yes, having a car in Provence is helpful. It will give you flexibility in where you go and when you start and stop. However, it's certainly possible to visit the places on your list using only public transportation. I suggest you buy a copy of Rick Steves' Provence and the French Riviera guidebook. He specifically breaks down traveling both ways in the region. If you decide to rent a car, I'd pick it up in Avignon and drop it off in Nice. I recommend www.autoeurope.com. Book from home well in advance to get the best rate. While you can book online, it's good to call AE's toll-free number and ask if there are any special deals that aren't listed on the Web site.
I have never been charged a drop-off fee for a one-way rental within France.
Your destinations are great ones, but I wonder if you plan to spend a night in Avignon, two in Arles etc. If so I suggest consolidating at least Avignon and Arles, which are close and connected by rail. You could arrive in Avignon, spend the balance of the day seeing that city, take in Avignon the next day, and THEN pick up a rental car. Aix is feasible as a day trip as well, though perhaps you prefer to spend more time there.
Consider also arranging to fly home from Nice for an extra day in your itinerary. Also ask yourself if a day in Nice justifies the trip there--you could fly home from Marsailles.
If you do plan to return to Paris, the French rail-drive Saverpass would be a real bargain: three days rail travel for 200, plus good rates on a car rental.
Definitely rent a car, it saves time waiting for public transportation and allows you to really get a taste of the country. Renting in Avignon, right outside the train station is easy. Avoid Hertz though, we have had several bad experiences with them in France, but every other agency has been great. Also, France is very casual regarding return dates and places. Several times we had a reservation and decided to keep the car longer and return it to a different location and there was never a charge or problem.
I agree with other posts - train to Avignon, then rent a car when you are ready to leave Avignon. Consider a day trip to the Luberon hill towns - that's where I'll go back to when we return to Provence. Also, St. Remy de Provence is a small town experience not far from Arles (great town markets - Wed/Sat). You won't want the cars in any of the cities/towns.
Thanks everyone! An additional question - if the car is not useful within the cities itself, what do you do with the car at that point? So basically, if I picked up a car leaving Avignon and then drove to Arles, and then to Aix, and then to Nice, would the car be useful within those cities itself? Is parking a pain if I'm staying in those cities?
On a related note, am I really rushing my trip? I've been thinking about cutting out Cinque Terre and then I'll have an extra 2 days to spread over Provence...but perhaps that's the subject of another post.
Oh yes, and I'm traveling in early August, with all the crowds...
I think you might be rushing the trip a bit. Driving between these destinations doesn't allow for a lot of time AT the destinations. You can easily spend a day at each of those towns but you wanted to go outside as well (Pont du Gard, for example). We spent 4 days in Provence and didn't see half of what we wanted to see (driving also equals getting lost sometimes). While we weren't upset with our decision to continue on with our itinerary, we wish we could have spent a couple more days in Provence. Slow it down a bit and plan to come back to Europe so you can enjoy Italy (where driving is a whole different experience - yikes).
This is in relation to your subsequent post about cutting out Cinque Terre - don't do it! I actually think one day in Arles is enough, so if you wanted to take that day and reallocate it to somewhere else in Provence, I would think that may help you.
Cinque Terre is really charming - definitely take the walk between the 5 towns. I stayed in Vernazza.