Has anyone traveled this reqion during this time of year? How's the weather? Favorites? Impressions? Also - is the public transport (trains between cities) pretty descent? I'd like to "base camp" in Marseille and take day trips to Luberon, Aix-En-Provence, Cassis and Avignon and... well... lots of other stuff - or is a car absolutely mandatory?
That's the perfect time of year to travel there, after winter but before the heat begins in May. You can use the train for everywhere you've listed except the Luberon. As for other areas, it depends on if it is a population center or more rural like the Luberon.
Do you have a particular reason for wanting to base in Marseille and declining to use a car? Most travelers on this board would skip Marseille entirely, but, if there are things there which you wish to see, that explains a visit. However, it does not explain utilizing it as a base. The Avignon area is much more central to most of the places to see in Provence, excluding Cassis, although Cassis is easily seen from the Avignon area. You can probably see a number of the larger towns utilizing trains/buses. However, for most of Luberon Hills and Cotes du Rhone areas, a car is nearly essential. Driving in the area is very easy with the exception of going through Avignon. However, if you pass Avignon on the west side, between the town and the river, it simplifies matters.
I like big cities, am a lousy driver, and Count of Monte Cristo was my favorite book from age 8 to 13? Also while I like history - I'm still farely young, and want a base camp with a good night life. Why would you skip Marseille entirely?
I'd recommend visiting Marseilles if it fits into the itinerary, but I'm not sure about using it as a base. Better to stay somewhere else and take a day trip to Marseilles. Public transportation isn't particularly good in that area, although most places can be reached. But you'll waste a lot of time with connections, and I believe the Luberon is particularly difficult to navigate by public transportation. You might want check out the bus schedules from Avignon, since it's a regional bus hub for a large part of Provence.
Hi Katt, I posted a question "Marseille - Yay or Nay" a few weeks ago. You can see all 31 responses if you go to the last posting date of 9/21 in the travelers Helpline. I'm also visiting Provence - next July - and have heard lots of different opinions on the subject of Marseille. As per a recent NY Times article, their is a dangerous gang/drug element there. But, you may not be as concerned with that as I am - since I'm travelling with my kids.
Katt...as a 60 year plus man, I read the Count of Monte Chrisco last year for the first time. Great book. I was in Provence, a little village called St. Chamas. Unfortunately we never made it to Marseilles to see the castle. Anyway, I would also look to Avignon or Arles for a base. Maybe you cound split time between Marseilles and Avignon or Arles. Public transportation is pretty decent if you are in a bigger town. But some areas are hard to get to without a car. Not impossible, just hard. There are buses and trains. You can make a connection via bus and train to get to some of the out of the way places, like Pont Gard, but it is difficult and can be time consuming. Again, depending on how long you are there, you could rent a car for 2 days from Arles or Avignon and plan exploring the outer areas during those two days. If my memory is correct, and it is often not, it was about an hour by train from Avignon to Marseilles.... something else to check on because you really don't want to spend the bulk of your time riding the rails.
A car is not absolutely necessery to visit our country, but of course the most famous villages are... hilltop villages : these are most beautiful, so my advice is to contact your appartment's owner : he will enjoy to prepar your travelling and help you for transports ! Be sure I'll did it.
From Marseille, visit Nice, Aix en Provence, Avignon, Lourmarin, Oppède, L'Isle sur la sorgue a sunday morning, and Roussillon : my choices, and i have choosed to live here ! I ll be pleased to help you... if I can