Touring Provence by car is easy, the roads are well-marked and with a GPS you can find your destination with little challenge. The major highways (autoroutes) have sign-posted speeds of 130km – and you will find cars driving faster. The rule is pass and then move back to the right lane. However, to explore Provence take some of the backroads and enjoy the vistas of vineyards, sunflowers, lavender and villages. Here is a centrally located rental agency.
Before you start driving checkout this handy reference list for common road signs. Unfortunately, young drivers (under 25 years) are subjet to a supplemental rate at most agencies. Also, important to note despite what your see in the movies you cannot park just anywhere – click here for details.
TOURING IDEAS AND CONTACTS:
AAGP Provence – Anglo-American Group of Provence is a non-profit organization serving the native English speaking community of Provence.
Take to the air! Gliding over the Alpilles near St Remy has to be a thrill of a lifetime (or at least a Provencal vacation). Read about soaring here.
French Travel Planner – Great resource, website with over 700 links (in English) to help you plan your trip to Provence and other parts of France.
The City of Art and Water. Aix-en-Provence inspired Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola in their respective creative crafts. Find out what is there to like about Aix-en-Provence? This Provencal city filled with fountains, shopping, historic streets and fine dining – here are our favourite things.
Just outside Aix-en-Provence is Pablo and Jacqueline Picasso’s final resting place. Read the story here.
Avignon is more than just the Palais des Papes and the Pont d’Avignon. Just across the river is an old monastery in Villeneuve les Avignon across the mighty Rhone river from Avignon. La Chartreuse is a beautiful restored structure that is now state owned and is the home of the Centre National des Ecritures du Spectacle (CNES)
The Calanque National Park runs from Marseille to la Ciotat just beyond Cassis. The cliffs and coves hug the Mediterranean rewarding walkers and boaters with fabulous views and sometimes secluded beaches. Here, is a great link for the calanques with details on parking and more.
Need to understand a little more about the French postal system here is a story on La Poste.
If you are lucky enough to be in Provence in time for the traditional movement of sheep and livestock (spring and fall) you might catch a transhumance as the animals head to greener pastures. Although, this is really for tourists and kids now it remains something worth seeing.
Do not miss the cowboys of Provence as summer is prime time for horse and bull events. There are some fun stories including Olivier Bourillon and The Rodeo Cowboys of Provence. Need a little guidance on this cowboy culture? Letters from the Fete de Village – an ABC guide for this equine tradition and the reason for the party the Fete de la St Laurent. The season finale is called the Festival D’Abrivado, which is held in Saintes Maries de la Mer every November 10th and 11th. Here are the fast facts and a video:
- 6 km of beach riding
- 11 teams of riders
- 44 bulls
- 2000 horses
- 15,000 spectators
Visit the Fortress of Aigues Morts where the brackish waters turn pink in late summer just before the fleur de sel (sea salt) is harvested.
On the subject of fortresses, pay a visit to the town of Tarascon and its castle that was also a prison. Discover the legend (or is it fact?) of Tarasque a river monster.
Let Provence carry you away and you might find yourself Dancing in the Streets of Salon de Provence. Or listening to a flute music concert in Eygalieres. Generally, summer is a time of festivals and music all over France. It is best to check the local guides for details as there is plenty to see in the way of art and music in Provence.
Take a drive to France’s Grand Canyon the Gorgeous Gorges du Verdon in Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon is a wonderful excursion for hiking, water sports, shopping for faience and general sightseeing.
Find a bench in any village near the boules pitch and discover Pétanque Provence’s Other Religion.
Check out the rougher, wilder, “native” side of the Cote D’Azur. Porquerolles is the biggest of three small islands that make up the Îles d’Hyères or les Îles d’Or (Golden Islands), located just off the coast from Hyères.
Visit a beautiful garden near Aix-en-Provence Jardins d’Albertas.
Spend some time hanging out in “authentic” villages such as Eygalières. Pay a visit to Beaucaire for a look at another side of Provence.
A man’s dream…fast cars and fast women track-side at the annual Monaco Grand Prix.
Eight military jets performing loops with tricolor smoke over the highway can be distracting. These jets are the Patrouille de France, the French equivalent of the Canadian Snowbirds.
Near Roussillon, visit the Mines of Bruoux to understand more about ochre production in Provence.
Les Gorges de Régalon close to Cavaillon is a moderate yet surprising hike with a slot canyon.
If you can find a parking spot near France’s second most visited site after Mont St Michel you will not be disappointed by Beautiful Les Baux de Provence of the villages that makes the grade for les plus beaux villages de France.
Many visitors shy away from France’s second biggest port scared off by Marseille’s somewhat edgy reputation. It would be a shame to miss these sights Palais Longchamp and Fort St Jean constructed in 1660 and now home to a wonderful garden. Lots of money was spent sprucing Marseille up for the European Cultural Capital of the year in 2013 you can read about it here.
Provence is a wonderful canvas for photo workshops and photo skill improvement with its unlimited inspiration. Here is a favourite local photographer Andrew Squires.
Tours and touring ideas:
Finally another way to see Avignon! Every visitor should see the Palais des Papes and the Pont d’Avignon, but once you have seen those it is time to dive into the local’s side of the city with Avignon Gourmet Tours. This 3-hour tour will introduce you to the city and some new taste sensations. Make sure to bring your appetite.
Antiquing and touring combined into fun holiday packages with Texas-based The Vagabond International a Unique Travel Company.
The Abbey of Montmajour outside of Arles has a large parking area, it is an easy stop for a self-guided visit. Or visit Thoronet in the Var of three Cistercian abbeys in Provence.
Explore Alyscamps in Arles the road leading to the kingdom of the dead…
Check out the Luberon views high up on the hill in the village of Banon. It is a great place for a hike or lunch, and don’t forget to buy some of the Banon goat cheese wrapped in brown chestnut leaves.
The Massif Saint Baume is a long windswept outcrop that reaches a summit of 1147m. It is also the place where followers of the Christian faith believe that Mary Magdalene retired to a life of penance for 30-years. Today, the sanctuary is a pilgrimage site for many. Regardless, of your beliefs the short hike up to the grotto is well worth it for the vistas.
Lyon’s Festival of Lights or Fête des lumières takes place on December 8th every year. On this date the people of Lyon place little candle lamps in their windows in honour of the Virgin Mary. Here and here are two fun videos of the event.
With its sobering history the story of the incredible Malpasset Dam that ruptured on December 2, 1959 killing 421 is definitely worth a visit if you are near Fréjus.
For a relaxing drive through an uncrowded part of Provence the Vallee de Jabron in Haute Provence has stunning vistas with plenty of artisanal vendors along the way.
Roman era aqueducts such as the impressive Pont du Gard and the antique theater in Orange should be on your list. If you are staying near St Remy, don’t miss seeing Glanum remains of the Greco-Roman oppidum that has been excavated in the Alpilles and the glorious views from there.
Aigue Mortes is definitely worth a visit to see the old town, walk the ramparts and visit the Salin d’Aigues Mortes.
Some fun ideas for a week in Provence.
Bright yellow flowers signal the start of spring in Provence. The mimosa is a beautiful flowering bush that is often found in gardens, green-spaces, and forests all over the south of France. They all typically flower between mid-January and mid-March. The region celebrates this early explosion of colour with a number of events, typically centred around the villages that form La Route du Mimosa.
Rent a vintage Citroën 2CV from a Dutch/French company called 2CV Experience and spend a day cruising in low gear.
Simply France with Dawn offers bespoke private tours of Provence for small groups. Dawn hand-picks luxurious accommodation to suit the group size, and she works with private guides to bring you the best of Provence. Her goal is to immerse you in a genuine, Provencal experience.
Visit the village of Ansouis at Provence’s Crossroads in the Luberon.
Too hot under the summer sun in Provence? Head to the grottos of Provence the caves located in Villecroze in the Var. Enjoy the caves, the gardens and an ice cream in town.
In Cavaillon, Cyclix Bike Rentals and for cycling gear
Near Mont Ventoux at Bédion Location