Provence was once the first Roman territory beyond the Alps, and while you won't be riding in as a conqueror, you'll see why they wanted it for their own after this eight-day self-drive trip. Craft your own soap, cruise around the coast of Marseille, cook with ingredients from local markets, and more as you explore the region.

Highlights

  • Get hands-on with history in a Marseilles soap-making atelier
  • Wander the labyrinthine streets of Aix-en-Provence
  • Cross the celebrated bridges of Avignon
  • Sample the famous vintages of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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 Provençal Cooking Class in Aix-en-Provence Aix-en-Provence
Day 6 Drive from Aix to Avignon & Afternoon in the City Avignon
Day 7 Chateauneuf du Pape & Gigondas Wine Tour Avignon
Day 8 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: Provençal Cooking Class in Aix-en-Provence

Fresh vegetables for sale
Fresh vegetables for sale

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 6: Drive from Aix to Avignon & Afternoon in the City

Saint Michel de Frigolet Abbey
Saint Michel de Frigolet Abbey

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 7: 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 8: 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 - 8 Days
Map of France Road Trip: Ultimate Self-Drive Tour of Provence - 8 Days