See the scenery that attracted the likes of Rénoir, Cézanne, Picasso, and Van Gogh on this 12-day self-drive itinerary. You may even find some artistic inspiration of your own as you cruise down the glittering coastlines, wander through picturesque villages, and sip the vintages of old-growth vineyards.

Highlights

  • Get hands-on with history in a Marseilles soap-making atelier
  • Wander the labyrinthine streets of Aix-en-Provence
  • See some of France’s most beautiful villages
  • Follow the Route de Vins in the Baux-de-Provence Valley
  • Cross the celebrated bridges of Avignon

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Marseille Marseille
Day 2 Cooking Class & Soap Atelier Experience Marseille
Day 3 Private Boat Cruise & Photography Workshop Marseille
Day 4 Pick up Rental Car, Drive to Aix-en-Provence & City Tour Aix-en-Provence
Day 5 Free Day in Aix-en-Provence Aix-en-Provence
Day 6 Provençal Cooking Class in Aix-en-Provence Aix-en-Provence
Day 7 Drive to the Luberon Region & Explore Hilltop Villages Bonnieux
Day 8 Drive to Les Baux de Provence & Saint Rémy de Provence Saint Rémy de Provence
Day 9 Olive Oil Experience & Wine Estates Saint Rémy de Provence
Day 10 Drive from Saint Rémy to Avignon & Afternoon in the City Avignon
Day 11 Chateauneuf du Pape & Gigondas Wine Tour Avignon
Day 12 Return to Marseille & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Marseille

The district of Le Panier
The district of Le Panier

Welcome to France! Your journey starts in Marseille, a historic Mediterranean city. "Historic" might even be an understatement—with 2,600 years of history, this is France’s oldest city, founded on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Massalia around 600 BCE.

We recommend exploring Marseille's most impressive and historic neighborhoods, like the colorful district of Le Panier. This is the "old Marseille," where the city was founded. It's a working-class enclave on the central port and is the picture of Mediterranean beauty, with old plazas, ancient churches, and brightly colored facades on tenement buildings. You'll also find street art on the walls in the form of colorful frescoes. 

Other must-visit areas of Marseille include the waterfront, the hilltop basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, and the Roman monastic foundation of Saint-Victor Abbey. You can also follow a walkway to Fort Saint-Jean, a fortification dominating the port that was built in 1660 by Louis XIV. Be sure to pay a visit to the fascinating Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MUCEM), which features permanent exhibits devoted to the history of these regional societies from ancient times to the present day. You'll want to end the excursion in Vieux Port, in the heart of the city, where you can finish the day by enjoying a good pastis or beer as the sun goes down.

Day 2: Cooking Class & Soap Atelier Experience

Provençal soaps
Provençal soaps

From the daily fish market to the chef’s kitchen, you’ll explore French cuisine today in a cooking class. Start your day with a local gastronome and explore the Vieux Port. Shop here for the day’s catch: red mullets, sea breams, or sea bass, depending on your preferences. From here, your stroll around town continues to the Capucins Market, on the famed Canebière Street. Here, the smells of spices, fresh fruit, and local vegetables blend together in a tantalizing mix.

Make your selections with recommendations from your guide, then continue to Paradis Street to visit your host’s favorite wine shop to buy a bottle that complements your meal. Once you’ve purchased all your ingredients, gather at the host family’s apartment in Marseille for the cooking class.

Spend the next two hours taking advantage of the savoir-faire and culinary skills of your passionate host, the authentic ambassador Marseille’s cuisine. The best part of the day, of course, happens on the terrace at the end of the class. Savor your creations, take in the Southern France sunshine, and chat with your host. After your meal, return to the city center.

In the afternoon, explore a different art form as you learn about the region's emblematic "Savon de Marseille." A master soapmaker will teach you about soap history along with its manufacturing process and historic secrets. After you've been introduced to the making and mixing procedures, you'll create and personalize a soap of your own.

Day 3: Private Boat Cruise & Photography Workshop

Malmousque
Malmousque

Spend the morning discovering the hidden gems of Marseille. Just a stone's throw from the tumult of the city center, you'll find one of the world's most beautiful coastal regions. Make your way to the port, then set sail on a private boat tour. Your personal skipper will navigate to the day's first stop: the Frioul Islands archipelago. With its little port and famous Château d'If, this neighborhood of Marseille includes four small islands with great views of little rocky coves and the ancient castle.

From here, continue your tour to Malmousque to explore hidden rocky inlets and turquoise water—perfect for a dip in the water. Finish your trip at the beautiful Vallon des Auffes, an ancient fishing port located under a huge bridge. You'll have ample time for swimming in these hidden coves, which are difficult to access without a boat.

Back on solid ground, enjoy the golden afternoon hour with a local photography guide. Bring your phone or camera with you and explore the colorful streets of Marseille while improving your photography skills with your photographer guide's help.

At the end of the day, enjoy dinner in the city center.

Day 4: Pick up Rental Car, Drive to Aix-en-Provence & City Tour

Quiet day in Aix
Quiet day in Aix

In the morning, pick up your rental car, then transfer from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence, a half-hour drive away. Spend the morning exploring the famous city on a two-hour guided walking tour and uncover the rich heritage, art, and culture that defines the city. Stroll a labyrinth of narrow streets, passing historic churches and squares as your guide points out famous and hidden gems.

Visit the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral, a Romanesque/Gothic church built on the site of an ancient Greek temple to Apollo. Stop and see the Town Hall (known locally as the Hotel de Ville), which dates to the 14th century and sits on a plaza from the same era. The tour also includes a walk along the Cours Mirabeau, a busy thoroughfare lined with leafy trees and full of markets and cafés—perfect for people watching. Keep your eyes peeled for ruins dating back to the days of the Roman Empire. 

Spend the afternoon exploring the city on your own. Visit the flower market and the Provençal food market to find local specialties such as macarons, calissons, goat’s cheeses, olive oil, honey, and fantastic local wines. Wander the narrow streets go shopping in the fashion boutiques of this “mini-Paris," or relax with a luxurious spa or hammam. 

Enjoy dinner on your own at one of the city's farm-to-table restaurants. 

Day 5: Free Day in Aix-en-Provence

Town hall in Aix-en-Provence
Town hall in Aix-en-Provence
Plan your trip to France
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

Today is free time to explore the small city of Aix-en-Provence. Pick from the following options to make the most of your time in the capital of Provence:

  • Take a walk on the famous Cours Mirabeau, with its archway of sycamores shading sidewalk cafes and terraces
  • Every day of the year, it's possible to stock up regional specialties in the city's markets. The larger markets happen three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings - Place des Prêcheurs, Place de la Madeleine and in the Encagnane and Jas de Bouffan neighborhoods), as well as the flower markets (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday across from the Town Hall).
  • Visit Cezanne's studio and garden where he painted some of his greatest masterpieces
  • Spend some time visiting the Caumont Art Centre, a cultural institution devoted to the Fine Arts. It's located in the former Hôtel de Caumont Mansion, a remarkable 17th-century building
  • Visit the Granet Museum, which displays more than 12,000 works and masterpieces of 17th to 21st-century paintings from the French School, 10 paintings by Cézanne, a sculpture gallery, and rooms devoted to archaeology and the Celtic-Ligurian civilization
  • Discover the Archbishops' Palace, adjoining to the St. Sauveur Cathedral, the former palace of the archbishops of Aix-en-Provence. It houses the Tapestry Museum on an upper floor (and during the month of July, the principal events of the Festival of Song)
  • Enter the Pavillon Vendôme with its magnificent French-style gardens. In addition to a beautiful collection of portraits and furnishings, the museum displays contemporary and modern art exhibitions

Day 6: Provençal Cooking Class in Aix-en-Provence

Join a cooking class in the countryside of Provence
Join a cooking class in the countryside of Provence

The southeastern French region of Provence is like a postcard. This is the land of the Riveria, medieval villages, lavender fields, and endless olive groves and vineyards. But Provence is as much a way of life as it is a point on a map. Today you'll experience Provence's culture and rich way of life on a foodie tour of one of the most beautiful towns in all of France, Aix-en-Provence.

On this day-long cooking adventure, you'll browse the myriad food markets of Aix's Old Town, meet local purveyors, and pick up some of the fresh regional produce that the area is famous for, like herbes de Provence, olive oil, truffles, figs, honey, and more. You'll bring these ingredients to the home of your host and then work on recipes and prepare the feast. On the way back to the country house, which follows a route that passes through the scenic Montaiguet Forest, you'll stop at a local chateau to select some local wine to pair with your meal. 

Upon arriving at the country home, you can take a stroll around the property and search for wild aromatic herbs. Then it will be time to start the cooking class, and you and a group of culinary enthusiasts will actively participate in the preparation of various recipes. After approximately two hours of cooking, it will be time for everyone to sit down at the long convivial table and share in their gastronomic creations. 

Later in the afternoon, return to Aix en Provence, where you'll overnight.

Day 7: Drive to the Luberon Region & Explore Hilltop Villages

Gordes at dusk
Gordes at dusk

In the morning, leave Aix in the rearview window and drive to the Luberon Region, an area known for its countryside vineyards, orchards, and postcard-worthy hilltop villages.

Travel at a leisurely pace over the course of your time here. Visit the village of l'Isle Sur la Sorgue, famous for its outdoor weekend markets, antique stores, and old wooden waterwheels churning over the Sorgue River, which bisects the town. There are few better spots to enjoy a relaxing lunch than here in town.

You can also drive to Gordes, arguably the most beautiful of all the hilltop villages in the Luberon. Its fortified castle dominates the skyline of Gordes, and from its winding cobbled streets, you can look out to wide views over the valley and surrounding hills. From Gordes, it's just a few kilometers to the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Sénanque, a Cistercian abbey founded in the 12th century. Nearby is the village of Roussillon, famous for its colorful ochre. Hike on the Ochre Trail to a former quarry before heading to another hilltop village, Bonnieux.

Bonnieux, like many villages in the area, dates back to Roman times. Nearby, a forest of cedar trees that were imported from North Africa during the Napoleonic era covers the hillsides. Spend the night in this peaceful town.

Day 8: Drive to Les Baux de Provence & Saint Rémy de Provence

Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux de Provence

This morning, you'll make the drive to Les Baux de Provence, which dates back as far as 6,000 BCE. Les Baux became a defensive fortress stronghold in the Middle Ages, and today it's regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in France, receiving a million visitors each year—a large number compared to its few hundred permanent residents. 

Upon arrival, you'll have the day to explore on your own. Consider strolling around the historic streets of this well-preserved township, visiting ancient churches as well as its famous 10th-century fortified castle, Château des Baux de Provence. You can also experience an unforgettable treat called Les Carrières de Lumières. This can't-miss multimedia art show is held in a former quarry near the castle. Projected on its cavernous walls and expansive floors are enormous, moving images of famous painters' artworks set to music, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, da Vinci, Chagall, and Picasso.  

For a nearby excursion, you can drive to the Val d'Enfer. This valley is filled with unique limestone rock formations that have been carved by water erosion over thousands of years. Moreover, the area offers panoramic views of the town and surrounding valley, which gives you the best vantage points for snapping photos.

In the afternoon, you'll drive to nearby Saint Remy de Provence for your overnight. Enjoy an evening soaking in the charm of this town's boulevards and the typical Provençal way of life.

Day 9: Olive Oil Experience & Wine Estates

Valley between Les Baux de Provence and the Alpilles Mountains
Valley between Les Baux de Provence and the Alpilles Mountains

Take a day trip out to Fontvieille, a village in the Alpilles Mountains famous for its olive groves. Fittingly, your first stop is a 13th-century Provençal farmhouse, where the owners will take you on a guided tour of their estate. Sit down for a tasting of olive oils, learning about nuances across types and how to differentiate between them, as well as tips on their best use in cooking. Follow along with a professional chef as they lead you in a cooking class based on these local olive oils, then sample the fruits of your labor.

On your drive back to Saint Rémy, follow the Route de Vins through the Alpilles Nature Reserve to visit the wine estates along the small roads. You'll start at the Estoublon Chateau in the Baux-de-Provence Valley, a luxury estate known for its rich history and unusual architecture. Continue to the pine forests and oak groves that surround the Domaine du Grand Fontanille. The estate sits in a microclimate that creates wines with distinctive aromas, particularly organic reds and roses made from syrah, grenache, and cabernet sauvignon grapes.

Turn toward Arles to stop at the Grand Castelet wine estate, covering 200 hectares along the Rhône River with vines, woods, and other crops. The wine-making knowledge of the owner's family has been passed down through generations, as they harvest fresh grapes on paths under 100-year-old sycamores.
 
Your last stop is the Mas Carlin, a family estate serving red and rose wines exclusively crafted using the saignée method, with notes of citrus, mango, and dried fruit. You'll sip these varietals alongside the Roman road, which once linked Rome to Spain before you return to Saint Rémy for the night.

Day 10: Drive from Saint Rémy to Avignon & Afternoon in the City

The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in Avignon
The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) in Avignon

After breakfast, hit the road heading north, toward the beautiful city of Avignon in the heart of Provence. 

You'll have the rest of the day to explore this medieval city that housed the Pope in the 14th century. While here you can visit the soaring Palais des Papes—the largest Gothic palace in history and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A tour of the palace, which includes the popes' private apartments with their fabulous frescoes, is a must.

You'll also have time to explore the city's pretty squares and the medieval bridge along the Rhone River. Head to Place de l'Horlog, the city's historic heart, to see the City Hall, the 15th-century belfry, the theater, and the still-functioning Belle Époque style carousel. During the 1st century BCE, the plaza was used as Avenio's (then-Avignon) by the Romans as a forum. It's a great place to sit at a cafe and spend the afternoon people watching and enjoying various street performers. 

Keep in mind that during July, thousands of visitors flock to Avignon for France's largest art festival.

Day 11: Chateauneuf du Pape & Gigondas Wine Tour

Barrels of wine at Chateauneuf du Pape
Barrels of wine at Chateauneuf du Pape

Depart today for a day trip to one of France's world-renowned wine-growing regions—this time in the southern Rhône Valley, particularly a sun-drenched Provence appellation called Châteauneuf du Pape. The region makes both red and white wines with up to 13 different grapes and is especially known for its bold Grenache-based blends.

The area's winemaking legacy can be traced all the way back to the papal schism in the 1300s, as Avignon's popes encouraged the development of viticulture. During this excursion, you'll walk through a vineyard with an expert to learn more about the grape's specific terroir, including characteristics and the origin of the formation of soils, as well as the connection between the climate and the grape varieties. 

Stop for lunch in the village before you continue to Gigondas, often thought of as Chateauneuf du Pape's younger sibling to the north. Enjoy the views of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range along with another tasting before you return to Avignon in the late afternoon.

Day 12: Return to Marseille & Depart

Goodbye, Provence!
Goodbye, Provence!

After breakfast, depending on your schedule, you'll make your way to the airport in Marseille to catch a direct flight or head to the nearest TGV station to board a high-speed train to Paris or Nice. This concludes your grand Provençal adventure. Au revoir!

Map

Map of France Road Trip: Ultimate Self-Drive Tour of Provence - 12 Days
Map of France Road Trip: Ultimate Self-Drive Tour of Provence - 12 Days