7 Days in Provence Highlights for Trip Planning
A Week in Provence
Key to a great holiday in Provence (or anywhere) is striking a balance between activity and downtime. We have been fortunate to have many friends visit the region. Of course, we like to think it all about us, but the reality is Provence is magnetic. After observing several families and multiple generations visiting the area, our recommendation is to allow enough to enjoy the pool and meals at “home.” The following is a proposed 7-day trip in Provence.
Provence Trip Planning
Day One – Arrival
Whether you arrive by plane into Marseille Provence Airport or train to either the Avignon or Aix-en-Provence TGV stations, your first order of business is likely the car rental. Each one of these locations has extensive rental facilities. Don’t worry about testing your jet-lagged, high school French; most agents are bilingual.
Book your car in advance.
Insist on a car with GPS.
If you don’t drive standard, make sure to reserve an automatic.
Unless your rental accommodation includes provisioning, we recommend that you stop at a grocery store along the way for the basics. Look for Intermarché, Casino, Lidl, Aldi, or Super-U, among others. Trust us, once you settle-in, the last thing you will want to do is head out to buy groceries.
Day Two – Sunday
A cure for jet lag is to head to Isle sur la Sorgue for the Sunday market. There is nothing that will heighten the senses faster than fighting for a parking spot first thing in the morning. But, it’s worth the effort. Strolling the streets of the “Venice of Provence” while browsing market stalls is a lovely way to enjoy your first morning in Provence. This large market in Isle sur la Sorgue offers a cross-section of local produce, food from other parts of France, and a choice in clothing, handicrafts and souvenirs.
Stop for a coffee at Le Café de France and enjoy some people watching. For lunch, there are plenty of restaurant choices in town. Maison Jouvard is one of our favourites for a light bite. Take a walk along the river to see the 15 remaining waterwheels. At one time 66 waterwheels provided energy for mills for processing food, fabric production and the manufacturing of paper. The owners of Domaine de Palerme, a luxury B&B, offer these suggestions for visitors to Isle sur la Sorgue.
Enjoy a leisurely afternoon and perhaps even a nap, after all, you are on holidays.
Day Three – Monday
Ready to tackle city life?
Head to one of what we call the A-list cities: Aix-en-Provence, Arles or Avignon. These three centres are very different. Sadly, in a week we recommend visiting only one of these centres, but again that will depend on the energy levels of your group. Here are some highlights for each city to help you decide which one best suits everyone’s interest levels.
Aix-en-Provence is the City of Art and the City of Water. The city began with a Roman settlement in 122 BC named Aquae Sextiae after consul Sextius Calvinus and the natural springs (aquae). Today, Thermes Sextius is a day spa offering a wide range of services. Take a peek in the window by the spa’s entrance to see the remains of the old Roman baths.
It’s easy to see why beautiful Aix draws the attention of artists. The famous painter Paul Cézanne lived, attended school and painted in Aix and the surrounding countryside. However, surprisingly, his work was not accepted by locals during his lifetime. Visit his studio and watch the short film at Hôtel de Caumont to gain a better appreciation for this famous artist.
There are many reasons to visit Aix, but certainly one of them is the museums. Hôtel de Caumont typically has one or two high-quality exhibits per year. The Musée Granet, located only a few blocks from Hôtel de Caumont, has an impressive permanent collection including a handful of Cézanne’s works.
After a long and frustrating (for residents) construction period, Aix-en-Provence has enlarged the pedestrian walking areas in the old centre and life is back to “normal.” The old town and Quartier Mazarin are easy to visit on foot. Discover some of the city’s remaining fountains. Or, enjoy a drink or a bite to eat in one of the many plazas. Stop at the Cathedral and look inside this large church built over many centuries. Note: there is a smartphone app that you can download with lots of information on the Cathedral.
This city is located on the banks of the Rhône River and considered the gateway to the Camargue.
As a result of the river access, Arles became a significant trading centre in Roman times. The Roman imprint on Arles is ever-present. The restored arena remains a centre for many public events from bulls to concerts throughout the year. There is not much remaining of the antique theatre, but the site is worth visiting. Today the Hôtel de Ville sits atop what was in Roman times the central commercial trading area. Head underground to the Cyptoportiques – A Roman version of a retail mall. The Alyscamps burial ground was outside the walls of the old city, as it was unacceptable to bury the dead close to the living. Before leaving the Roman era head to the Musée départemental Arles antique. Among the museum’s archives are a bust of Julius Caesar and a 102-foot-long Roman wooden barge extracted from the muddy bottom of the Rhône River.
For the last fifty years, Arles has been the centre for an international photography exhibition – Recontres d’Arles which runs annually from early July to the end of September.
Arles has two market days. The extensive Saturday market is said to be two (2) kilometres in length, and a smaller version on Wednesday mornings.
Swiss art collector Maja Hoffman engaged Frank Gehry to design a suitable contemporary home for her LUMA Foundation. This not-for-profit centre supports emerging artists in a wide array of mediums (photography, publishing, dance, and multimedia). The building corkscrews upwards, clad in glass and aluminum panels, to a height of 56-metres. The interiors spaces are designed for exhibitions and collaborative workshops.
The massive Papal Palace dominates the skyline in the old section of Avignon. The construction of this castle-fortress occurred during the reign of successive Popes in Avignon during the 14th Century. Clement V assumed the role of Pope in 1309 but refused to move to Rome. A total of seven (7) French Popes ruled the Catholic Church from the Kingdom of Avignon until Pope Gregory XI moved his court to Rome in 1376. If time permits, a visit to the Papal Palace is enjoyable, but make sure to get the audio-guide. There is a combination ticket that allows access to the Pont d’Avignon.
The bridge that isn’t. The Saint Bénézet Bridge is probably most famous because of this song:
Sur le pont d’Avignon,
L’on y danse, l’on y danse,
Sur le pont d’Avignon
L’on y danse tout en rond.
Les belles dames font comme ça
Et puis encore comme ça.
Sur le pont d’Avignon
At Avignon, the Rhône River is wide, fast-moving and still to this day subject to flooding. Before the bridge, boat was the only way to cross the waterway, which presented numerous challenges. The original wooden bridge was completed in 1185 and destroyed in 1226. Reconstruction started in 1234 on an all-stone bridge. However, the Rhône gained the upper hand, and the bridge collapsed in stages, only four of the original 22 arches remain. Read more here.
Avignon is a lively city, especially in July when two performing arts festivals run concurrently. The OFF Festival in Avignon has all kinds of performing arts; theatre, book readings (classic and modern texts), circus acts, dance, music, and street performances. There is something for everyone. The full program is available online in mid-June, and the subscription cards go on sale at the same time for up to 30% off on shows. The original Festival d’Avignon (IN Festival) is also a series of theatrical performances that run every July since Jean Vilar created the event in 1947. This festival has an annual budget of roughly 12 million euros. Buy tickets in advance for the performances historic venues in the city, including the Cloister of the Carmelites, the Carrière de Boulbon, and the Court of the Palais des Papes.
Only a small percentage of Avignon’s 92,000+ population lives “Intra-muros” inside the walls of the old ramparts of the city. Those who are lucky to live inside can enjoy the village “feel” of the town with plenty of shopping, shaded squares, and the covered Les Halles market. There has been a market in this location since 1859, although the covered version you see today opened in 1974. Marché des Halles is open every morning except Mondays, and there is a parkade on top of the market.
Day Four – Tuesday
No visit to the region would be complete without tasting the wines of Provence and the Rhône Valley. However, a visit to the vineyards is a great way to spend a day. Depending on your location, you can attempt to self-guide and drive a vineyard route. Or, hire a professional guide to take you to a selection of their favourite vineyards. The benefits of a guide start with being able to sip and not worry about driving. Also, expect “behind the scenes” access that you are not likely to get on your own. Ask us about guides.
Day Five – Wednesday
St Rémy’s Wednesday morning market stretches from the church through the streets of the old town, past the Hôtel de Ville to Boulevard Victor Hugo on the opposite side. There are countless stalls selling everything from olives to tablecloths. The boutiques in St Rémy leverage market day to showcase their wares. Here, are Keith Van Sickle’s recommendations on how to visit the market, and where to find parking.
Since you are already in St Rémy, this is an excellent opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh. The painter lived at the St Paul de Mausole mental hospital from 1889 to 1890. During that time, Van Gogh painted some of his most famous canvases. Start at Musée Estrine. The onetime private house, constructed in 1749, is now a museum. Visit the museum’s interpretative centre and make sure to watch the film on Vincent Van Gogh. St Paul de Mausole is a short walk from the old town. The Tourist Office (Place Jean Jaurès) is along the route. Here you can pick up a map and even rent the audio guide on St Rèmy’s history. Along the way to St Paul de Mausole, there are information panels with images Vincent Van Gogh’s works along with explanations on each piece.
After your visit to St Paul de Mausole, it’s time to assess your group’s energy level.
If energy allows, head to Les Baux de Provence. The remains of an impressive castle dominate this hilltop village. Stroll through Les Baux to the lookout for the sweeping view of the olive groves. Just around the corner from Les Baux is an old bauxite quarry, which closed in 1935, emerging in 2012 as Carrières de Lumières it is the largest fixed multimedia installation in France. Here, the 14-metre high quarry walls are the backdrop for the 70 video projectors broadcasting images. Every year there is a different featured artist it’s a techno-fabulous French light show.
Buy your tickets for Carrières de Lumières online in advance
Parking can be a challenge. The best times for parking are either at the opening 9 am or late in the day.
There is a small café on site.
It’s cool inside, which is nice during the heat of the summer, but even then, it is not a bad idea to have an extra layer.
For the really high-energy crowd:
Visit Glanum. Evidence uncovered from archaeological excavations, which started in 1921, confirm Glanum was built in three phases (Celtic-Ligurian, Greek and Roman). Limestone quarried nearby in the Alpilles was the primary construction material for the buildings and monuments. Glanum is easy to navigate for a brief historical excursion. When you visit, make sure to walk up to the highest point on the site, for the panoramic views of St Rèmy and the Rhône Valley to the north.
Day Six – Thursday
Take a road trip to the Gard
Visit the Pont du Gard the remains of an aqueduct built by the Romans to transport water to Nîmes. This incredible structure was added to the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1985. Back in 1978 a visit to Pont du Gard included walking across the top. No railings. No barriers. Today, the authorities are more safety conscious, so unless you are with an official guide, there is no access to the top level. If you are visiting in the summer, one great way to see the Pont du Gard is to rent a kayak upriver and float under the bridge. There are several outfitters, but we recommend Kayak Vert.
Buy your tickets online in advance.
The guided tour is excellent.
Don’t miss the short movie for a terrific overview of the entire infrastructure project.
The museum is well worth visiting.
There is a small café at the entrance and a larger restaurant on the opposite side of the river. Alternatively, bring a picnic.
Uzès sits on a hilltop near to the Pont du Gard. It is a chic destination with boutique hotels, a variety of restaurants and small retail shops. Discover the charms of this medieval town with its one-time strategic position above la Vallée ‘d’Eure (Eure Valley). Food (grain, grapes, olives) and livestock (sheep and goats) continue to flourish in the fertile fluvial plain as they would have during the Middle Ages. The Romans identified the source of the Eure River as the starting point for their massive hydro-engineering project to transport water over the Pont du Gard to Nîmes – 50 km away.
Uzès was one of the first towns to have benefited from French state funding for restoration and preservation work. Where shops during the Middle Ages would have existed under the arches of the Place aux Herbes, boho-chic stores and artisan gelato fill the nooks. Don’t miss the Duchy’s residence, the medieval gardens, the Tour Fenestrelle and the view from the terrace by Cathédrale Saint-Théodorit ‘d’Uzès.
Day Seven – Friday
How to spend a Friday in Provence? We will let you decide.
Village Visit & Market
Located on the northeastern edge of the Parc naturel régional des Alpilles, Eygalières’ official population is roughly 1,900 residents. However, in the summertime when second homeowners and short-stay visitors descend upon the village, the population swells well beyond the formal count.
The setting for Eygalières is idyllic. The hamlet has one vibrant main street surrounded by village houses and nourishment options. At the time of writing, there were three bar-cafés, one bakery, a butcher, an épicerie, a wine store, a decent assortment of restaurants and far too many real estate agents. Stroll up the road into the ancient village, and you get the sense that you stepped back in time. Over many years, the town’s elected officials maintained strict controls over the exterior design of homes and a tight rein on the number of building permits. If you get a chance to peek behind the old walls, it becomes clear that many restoration and upgrade projects have been completed to bring these homes up to modern standards.
The market in Eygalières is on Friday mornings, with stalls opening around 8:30 – 9 am and closing at 13h.
Luberon Driving Tour
The Luberon consists of three mountain ranges protected by the Parc naturel régional national du Luberon. The Luberon Valley is fertile agricultural land for grapes, lavender, fruit and vegetables. The area is naturally beautiful, but it is the perched, stone villages that will capture your heart. Unless you want to spend the whole day driving, we recommend a 3-4 village maximum. Here are a few ideas:
Ansouis: Perched on a hillside with its back to the Mistral wind, Ansouis is a gem that earns its status as one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. With its tiny laneways, houses built into ancient ramparts, and stone facades with brightly painted shutters, this town oozes charm while retaining elements from its medieval past. And there is even a Michelin star restaurant – La Closerie.
Bonnieux: This enchanting village snakes up a hillside to a church at the top, where the view is spectacular. The larger Bonnieux market is on Friday mornings. Enjoy the sights, sounds and tantalizing smells of Provence on the tiny streets of this village. The market stalls start near the new church with textiles and gifts for the home. As you wind your way into the old town, there is fresh produce and local products (honey, sausage, jam, and baked goods). There is also a remarkable garden – La Louve – in town that is well worth visiting if it is open.
Gordes: Cantilevered to a Luberon hillside are the striking remains of an ancient oppidum and its defensive dry-stone walls. Gordes can rightly boast about its ranking among les Plus Beaux Villages de France. However, at the height of Provence’s tourist season this town, becomes a traffic jam, which easily eclipses any limestone covered beauty.
Lourmarin: Strolling the laneways of Lourmarin feels like walking through a Provencal postcard. The town oozes with Provencal charm. It’s a photographer’s dream, with alleyways dappled with flowers clinging to old stone buildings. Visit the town’s dynamic Friday morning market with merchant stalls crowding the tiny streets. Any day of the week, there are plenty of tempting boutiques, art galleries and restaurants. One local’s favourite is Café Gaby.
Menerbes: Once you have visited this hilltop village, it is easy to understand why it has enchanted so many. The charming main street compels you to pause and wander through an art gallery. Or, have a drink at one of the restaurants, particularly so if you have biked up the hill. In recent history, author Peter Mayle may have put Menerbes and the Luberon on the radar for many of his readers. Long before Mr. Mayle, the town was discovered by those with creative talents including Pablo Picasso, Nicolas de Stael and Dora Maar (Picasso’s muse) among others.
Day Eight – Saturday
Downtime! Enjoy your last day in Provence.
Do you need help with travel planning?
Extra Reading on Provence:
Keith Van Sickle’s Guide to the Chateaux of the Alpilles Hilltop Castles
My three favourite places to visit in Provence by Janice of France Travel Tips
Lourmarin on Fridays by Caroline of Shutters and Sunflowers
A list of daily markets in Provence and on the Côte d’Azur: