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Train travel in Provence

My husband and I don't have specific dates for various cities in Provence. Can we buy train tickets as we travel? Also what about the train/car rental?

Posted by
11294 posts

There is only train service to a smattering of places in Provence. I don't drive, so I focused my trip on Marseilles, Arles, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence, with daytrips to Nimes and Orange. I used a bus from Avignon to Aix, and otherwise took trains. These are local trains, with no reservations or advance purchase necessary, so I just bought them on the day of travel. I knew going in that not driving would limit my options, and was fine with that. But, if you want to see the "Provence" conjured up by the term, as in "the place with the small villages, lavender fields, and scenic beauty" you'll need a car. If you're not planning to rent a car, Rick Steves Provence And The French Riviera has details about other transit options, including when he feels it's not worth the mass transit hassles, or when it's not possible at all. Be aware that his general France book has much less information about this region.

Posted by
4132 posts

Yes, you can buy tickets as you travel. I don't quite follow the second question, but it's best to arrange car rental before you leave the States. You'll pay more renting on the spur of the moment. If you get a driverpass, there's a little more flexibility.

Posted by
70 posts

Thank you so much for your information. We will definitely consider all you have said when planning our trip.

Posted by
4132 posts

Nancy, it is a kind of rail pass that lets you buy car-rental days (in addition to the rail days). You pay for and reserve car days in advance, but we have found that it is possible to change the reservations while in France (though still in advance). Thus the "more flexible" note. The driver pass used to be a great deal for the right itinerary, letting you use trains to get from region to region and cars to explore while there. This year I am only seeing it advertised as a first-class pass, which is not such a great deal versus just buying tickets and renting on your own. So I am not recommending it especially, just sharing the information.

Posted by
837 posts

Nancy, you don't say where in Provence you are arriving or how you are getting there. I think you will find that most, even avid train afficianados, would recommend driving to see the most in Provence. If you are flying into Paris, the easiest course is to take the TGV to Avignon and rent a car at the TGV station. Avignon makes a good base for exploring the Rhone and Luberon areas of Provence. There are other options, in smaller towns as well. If you use the search box you will find many threads on this very topic.

Posted by
70 posts

We will be arriving in Paris and taking TGV to Lyon. After two nights in Lyon (to recover from the flight and train trip) we will be going by train to Avignon and renting a car there. Any thoughts on best companies to rent a car? I understand this should be done while in the US. Any thoughts on hotels to stay, not too expensive, in Avignon? And as a base to stay in Avignon how much can we cover from there while staying in Avignon? As you can see I am just getting the hang of all this. Thanks.

Posted by
4132 posts

Nancy, this is purely my opinion but if I were in Provence with a car I would probably stay in a small town and definitely not in Avignon. The opposite case is that some of these cities have lively night scenes, but even so I'd prefer Arles. In any case make sure you have a good parking situation with easy access and egress from the city.

Posted by
11294 posts

I loved Lyon, so if you want to spend two days there to see it, do so. It has the added advantage of being relatively untouristed. But the train from Paris to Avignon only takes a little bit longer than the train from Paris to Lyon, so there's no need to detour to Lyon if your real goal is Provence. You can spend a few days in Avignon without a car, seeing it as well as the places I mentioned in my earlier post (including Nimes, Arles, and Orange), then rent a car to see the more rural parts of Provence. With a car, I wouldn't stay in Avignon itself; it's a city, and driving there didn't look like fun. Again, I recommend you look at Rick Steves Provence And The French Riviera for tips about where to stay and what to see. Then, post your proposed itinerary, so others can fine-tune it.

Posted by
70 posts

We are going to Lyon because our flight comes into Paris and then includes a TGV trip to Lyon. This was all part of our Air France reservation. But our return is Lyon to Amsterdam. Then to Atlanta. That was the best trip price we could get. What should we be sure to see in Lyon? I will get an itinerary together soon so that I can get feedback. I really appreciate all the suggestions.

Posted by
2916 posts

For car rental, I always use either the brokers Auto Europe or Kemwel (both now under the same ownership). And I second the advice about not spending too much time in Avignon.

Posted by
263 posts

We rented a car in Arles through EuropeCar. There is also an Avis rental at the train station...and we have rented one through Avis also. Different companies have different approaches to returning a car. At EuropeCar we had to have a full tank upon return, and I did fill it up. However, the guage must have been off because it did not show full. The lady said I could put more fuel in and show the receipt or they would fill it and charge me an additional 80 E. I filled it and gave them the receipt, and the gauge still did not register full, but she did not charge me extra. Go over the car carefully. My initial Avis rep just gave me the keys. The car was missing a hub cap and had a dent in the front. I called her over, pointed out the problems and she noted them on the rental form. Cars are usually stick shift..if you can't drive stick, specify you want an automatic. We relied a lot on trains during our time in Provence. I wish we had rented a car for longer than a weekend, we did not get to some of the hill towns I wanted to explore. Travel between towns was fine...no reservations needed. Finally, we also used a rail pass. Leaving the area was a bit difficult because rail pass seats on some trains seem to be limited. We had to leave two days earlier because we could not make a rail pass reservation on our first or second choice days of travel.

Posted by
70 posts

We are planning to rent a car probably through Kemwel (thanks, Robert). I have checked prices and they seem reasonable. As it stands now we are thinking of finding hotels as we travel as it seems very difficult to determine how long we will be spending in each place. We are leaving on the trip May 31. Do you think it will be difficult to get spur of the moment reservations?

Posted by
10340 posts

When renting a car, be sure to use the US website of the company in order to avoid paying the same VAT Europeans have to pay. It's cheaper using AutoEurope and Kemwell than going directly to the French agency or even the Autoeurope.fr website.

Posted by
837 posts

While there are very good arguments to be made to stay in one of the smaller Luberon or Rhone towns, Avignon makes a pretty good place from which to explore. The Rhone villages are to the north, the Luberon to the east, Arles, Nimes, and Pont du Gard to the south. While not picturesque, a reasonable place to stay and convenient is the Holiday Inn. It is a block from the TGV station and car rentals. It has a large, free parking lot. There is a shuttle bus into Avignon which takes about 10 minutes and costs a euro or two. If you stay there, I would recommend staying to the west (along the river) to exit Avignon to go to the north or east.

Posted by
70 posts

We have set up the following itinerary: Arrive at CDG and take train to Lyon. Spend two days in Lyon and then with rental car drive to Arles. Spend four days there exploring the surrounding areas and then drive to Cassis and spend four days there exploring nearby areas. We have not made other hotel reservations yet as we're not sure our plans and hoping we can make those as we go. We have six days open right now. Any idea if we can make hotel reservations when there? Or will it be a problem?

Posted by
10340 posts

It depends on the time of year and where exactly you are going. Winter, you would probably be ok unless a lot of hotels were closed for the winter. Summer, you should reserve, even if only a couple of days ahead of time while you are on the road going for one place to the next.

Posted by
837 posts

Your current plan is very workable. However, I would point out that your chosen base points are at the extreme edge of the areas you wish to explore. Arles is at the southwest of Provence with Nimes, Pont du Gard, Avignon and Cote de Rhone to the north and Luberon to the northeast. Cassis is at the west end of the Cote d'Azure with Cannes, St. Tropez, Nice, Monte Carlo and environs all to the east. While Cassis is charming and Arles has many ardent supporters on the board, I would choose elsewhere in each case.

Posted by
70 posts

We originally had planned to stay in Avignon but had difficulty finding places to stay. We figure we will try to visit those places further away and work our way back to Lyon.

Posted by
3580 posts

In Avignon I like to stay at Hotel du Parc. It is family-run, convenient to the TI and a park, inexpensive, and close enough to bus and train stations. I've stayed there several times.

Posted by
4132 posts

Arles a better base than nearby Avignon in my opinion. Smaller, more charm, plus great Roman antiquities. And there is no logistical advantage to Avignon if you have a car.

Posted by
837 posts

Nancy, did you try the Holiday Inn in Avignon? It is located one block from the TGV station and car rentals. Has a large, gated parking lot. Large hotel, about 6 to 7 years old. At least in 2006 it served a very acceptable continental breakfast. Logistically it is very well located to get to the highways which take you toward the other areas of Provence. There is a frequent and inexpensive shuttle bus from across the street to downtown Avignon. Takes about 10 minutes.

Posted by
10387 posts

I liked staying in Arles. I stayed at the Hotel Regence. It isn't far from the train station, and if you have a car there is free street parking. I never had trouble finding a parking space.

Posted by
70 posts

David, I will check Holiday Inn again. I think when I checked it, it was either no availability or rather expensive. I will check it again. Thanks.

Posted by
2916 posts

I second Adam's suggestion -- choose Arles over Avignon if you have a car. Arles is more charming, and much easier to navigate.

Posted by
70 posts

Just wanted to tell everyone that we had a great trip in Provence. The car rental through Kemwel worked out very well and inexpensive--$420 for over two weeks. We ended up making reservations on the internet a couple of days before our arrival in the next city. Our only down side was an hotel in Cassis recommended by Steve and the problem may have been because we got the last room-paper thin walls due to bad plumbing. The name of the hotel is Le Golfe. And yes Arles was probably a better place than Avignon in so many ways--easy to get around, less crowded and touristy and easy to reach other places. All in al lwe loved our trip and the weather was heavenly--70's with little humidity.