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Itinerary Advice for Provence France

My husband and I will arrive in Paris on September 12 and depart September 27. We would appreciate advice on this tentative itinerary. We are not terribly interested in the Riviera, but would like to dip our toes in the Mediterranean. Are we spending too much or too little time in some places? Thanks so much. Joyce 3 nights in Paris with friends who will be in Paris at the same time.
TGV to Avignon where we will rent a car; Stay in Arles for 3 nights which will be home base for seeing Avignon, Pont du Gard, and Les Baux. Drive from Arles to Cassis; 2 nights in Cassis with daytrip to Aix en Provence. Drive to Aiguines; 1 night with day trip to Grand Canyon de Verdon Drive to Roussillon; 2 nights and visit Luberon villages. Drive to Vaison la Romaine; stay 2 nights and explore Cote du Rhone including Rick's wine road. Drive to Avignon, drop off car and take TGV to Lyon. One night in Lyon. TGV to Paris. Stay one night in hotel near airport. Fly home.

Posted by
249 posts

We spent a month in France in June/July. For our portion relevant to Provence, we arrived in Le Lavandou (nice sandy beaches) from Lanquedoc (2 nights). From there we drove through Gorges de Verdon via Grasse (Fragonard perfume shopping)and then on to Lourmarin in the Luberon. We stayed there 5 nights and did day trips to Roussillon, Gordes (eat at La Pause), Bonnieux (for eating at l'Arome-fantastic!), Pont du Gard, and market day in l'Isle sur la Sorgue as well as other village and markets. We stayed two nights in Vaison-la-Romaine as well, and did the RS wine tour as well. If a do-over, we would stay in Gigondas and take a day trip to Vaison (eat at Auberge Anais nearby). More details available if you like.

Posted by
4132 posts

Joyce, it's hard to make constructive suggestions without knowing what sorts of things thrill you and yours. These are all great places. I would suggest however that you might take the train to the airport directly from Lyon, bypassing the return to Paris. Even if you want to spend another day in Paris (never a bad idea), you'd be better adding it to your 3 rather than a disjointed part day just to be near the airport. There are many direct trains from Lyon will deliver you to deGaulle without any transfers, bypassing Paris. The trip takes 2 hours.

Posted by
10359 posts

Perhaps you should visit Avignon before driving to Arles. Arles isn't a convenient base for visiting Avignon. Otherwise, it all looks good IMHO.

Posted by
837 posts

It looks fine to me. My only observation would be that the three areas as you define them, Arles, Luberon, and cote du Rhone, are actually very close. If you prefer to move around and stay in different places, you itinerary is great. However, you could easily stay the Avignon area and reach the others in very short driving times. We stayed in Avignon our first trip to the area and Castilon du Gard the second. One day we covered Cotes du Rhone, another the Luberon Hills area, and a third the Arles area. Given your time frame, I would probably spend 2 days touring each area. The itinerary I described above applied to our second trip, utilizing Castillon du Gard, and did not include Avignon or Nimes. Additionally, from Cassis I would drive the coast to Nice rather than going to Aix. Actually, I would probably stay in St. Tropez or San Rafael and travel east one day and west the second.

Posted by
4132 posts

The suggestion to see the highlights of the Avignon before you pick up your car is not a bad one. However, Arles is a GREAT base for seeing Avignon, which is only 20 minutes away with many direct trains per day.

Posted by
18 posts

Thanks to all of you for your help. I will do some research today on the places you have suggested. We really love the idea of commuting between Arles, Luberon and Cote du Rhone from one home base, depending on the travel times. Regarding taking the train directly from Lyon to the airport (for a 1:30 pm flight), it would be great to have that extra day, but we might be a bit nervous about possible train delays (which happened to us on our departure day on a trip to England). What is your experience with the reliability of the TGV? Thanks once again.

Posted by
3050 posts

Can only speak to where I've been but I think 2 nights in Cassis with a daytrip to Aix is perfect. Both are really fantastic. I wouldn't neccessarily overlook Marsielle, depending on your interests. Yes, it's a large "gritty" city but also very unique and beautiful in it's own way. At the very least, it's a great place to pick up some cheap fantastic soap! But with a car I'm not sure if I'd want to deal with driving in and parking. (Taking the train from Cassis, on the other hand, is easy and a joy)

Posted by
4132 posts

The TGV generally has a good reputation for reliability (at least on the TGV tracks, such as between Lyon and Paris), but I would not cut things too fine. So, for a 1:30 flight, take the 8:30 train from Lyon, not the 9:00. For comparison: I'd add similar padding to any trip to the airport from Paris, too. RER can be delayed (but is also pretty reliable); cabs and buses can get stuck in traffic. The TGV is probably more reliable than any of these, if anything. Wildcard would be a labor strike affecting the railways, but you'd have warming and could take steps.

Posted by
2916 posts

Probably more advice than you need. I think your itinerary as stated is very good, although consolidating 2 legs might make sense. As to some of the advice, here's my take: Arles is a great place to stay, but as to Avignon, at most a few hours there is plenty. Cassis is a beautiful place to stay (although beware tourist trap restaurants right on the port), and I'd definitely go to Aix rather than St. Tropez. As to taking the TGV from Lyon to CDG the day of your flight, it's not something I'd risk. Train "disruptions" (i.e., strikes) are too frequent, and while you have alternatives like taking a cab from Paris if they're a Metro strike, you don't have the same alternatives if you're in Lyon.

Posted by
10359 posts

You may have already discovered this, but you can get all your estimated driving times on viamichelin.com.

Posted by
837 posts

Again, I would stay in one location. It would not be Arles because of the logistics. Arles is on the SW corner of all that you want to see, with the exception of Cassis and Aix. I would stay near or in Avignon. It is the focus of the faster roads into the other areas and is at least as convenient to getting to the coast. I think the other town I would suggest for charm and logistics would be Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Many on this board champion St. Remy, which is charming, but on the extreme south of the area.

Posted by
2916 posts

I'd vote for Isle sur la Sorgue; it's quite lovely, and has a great Sunday market. I've never liked Avignon, and getting in and out of the center by car could take up half your day. We've spent a couple of weeks in St. Remy; it was charming, but pretty touristy.

Posted by
10359 posts

Joyce, I haven't read the train schedule, but those are probably trains on different days, as in weekdays, Saturday, and Sunday. It is highly unlikely that three trains leave Lyon for CDG on the same day at the same time.

Posted by
18 posts

Thank you all so much. I have not booked B&B/hotel reservations outside of Paris yet, so I will be able to use your advice. I appreciate the suggestions to consolidate a few legs of the journey. However, as much as we would like to avoid a lot of packing and unpacking, we would like to spend more than one night in some of these places, so driving back and forth seems kind of inefficient.
We have decided to spend our last two nights in Lyon and take the risk of train from Lyon to CDG on the morning of our flight. What's the worst thing that can happen? More feedback continues to be welcome.

Posted by
10402 posts

"What's the worse thing that can happen?" Well, you could miss your flight. If you are okay with taking the risk that you may have to pony up big bucks to buy new tickets home, it could be worth the risk. Flying home from CDG, be sure to arrive 3 hours before your flight.

Posted by
18 posts

Yes, the train will get us to the airport 3 hours early. Actually there are 3 trains from Lyon to CDG leaving at the same time, so hopefully one of them will get us there.

Posted by
33336 posts

Of your 3 trains going at the same time I expect one will be the TGV, another will be the idTGV which is actually physically part of the same TGV. The third may be an alternate day, as mentioned above.

Posted by
18 posts

The RailEurope website shows 3 different trains from Lyon to CDG on the same date and time, but you are all right, it does seem unusual.

Posted by
33336 posts

Joyce, If you are using RailEurope for your information that could be a problem. They are not renowned for complete accuracy. What date and time?

Posted by
33336 posts

Joyce, If you are using RailEurope for your information that could be a problem. They are not renowned for complete accuracy. What date and time? If you want no changes and straight to the airport the Bahn only shows the 8:30, 9:00, and 11:00 as not going through Paris Gare de Lyon. What time is your flight? Late in the afternoon?

Posted by
18 posts

8:30 am. All three trains show the same arrival time at CDG

Posted by
18 posts

Sorry for that last post. Our flight leaves CDG at 1:30 pm. Train is supposed to leave Lyon at 8:30 am and arrive CDG at 10:30 am. Posters here have said that this should be ok and that TGV trains are pretty reliable.

Posted by
2916 posts

I was the one who cautioned about taking the train from Lyon the day of the flight. The problem is not US-style train delays; that is, hitting a moose or just inefficient service. It's really labor disruptions. You can pretty much count on a TGV being within minutes of scheduled arrival time ... assuming no strike. Fortunately, French strikes, although sometimes just one day things, are generally announced well ahead of time. So you might have time to adjust your itinerary. Although one time we got caught in a sudden strike of security line guards at the Marseilles airport which suddenly occurred after I made it through security and my wife was getting ready to go through. I was allowed back out, and then all hell broke loose among the crowd.

Posted by
10359 posts

Robert mentioned strikes. However, one other problem that has been plaguing the TGVs in France over the past few years is thieves cutting the lines during the middle of the night to steal the heavy metals. How likely is it that it will happen the one night before you have to be at the airport. Not too likely but it does delay all trains on that line every time it happens. It's not talked about as a daily issue, but we know about it because as a dual-national family we watch the French news on tv every day.