Experience the quintessential highlights of the Provence region from the Mediterranean Sea to the deepest gorge in France (Gorges du Verdon) on this self-drive itinerary. Along with a mix of outdoor activities and cultural tours, you'll have plenty of free time to explore charming villages, famous vineyards, and UNESCO-listed monuments at your own pace for an adventure to remember.

Highlights

  • Walk the ancient streets of Marseille followed by a sunset pastis
  • Boat to beautiful beaches and hidden coves in Calanques National Park
  • Join a two-hour cultural tour in Aix en Provence with a local expert
  • Take a sunrise hot air balloon ride in the Alpes de Haute Provence
  • Enjoy a day of sailing, swimming, and kayaking in Lac de Sainte Croix

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Marseille - Pick-Up Rental Car Marseille
Day 2 Cruise to Calanques National Park - Drive to Les Baux de Provence Les Baux de Provence
Day 3 Explore Les Alpilles Natural Park & Saint-Remy de Provence Les Baux de Provence
Day 4 Explore Avignon & Chateauneuf du Pape Les Baux de Provence
Day 5 Explore Villages in the Luberon Les Baux de Provence
Day 6 Explore Alpes de Haute Provence Forcalquier
Day 7 Hot Air Balloon Ride - Watersports in Lac de Sainte Croix Forcalquier
Day 8 Explore Moustiers Sainte Marie & Gorges du Verdon Forcalquier
Day 9 Drive from Forcalquier to Aix en Provence Aix en Provence
Day 10 Return Rental Car - Depart Marseille  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Marseille - Pick-Up Rental Car

The Old Port of Marseille
The Old Port of Marseille

Welcome to Marseille! Upon arrival, pick-up your rental car and drive to your hotel where you'll have the rest of the day to explore France's 2nd largest city on foot.

With more than 2,000 years of history, Marseille is also France’s oldest city. It's so old, in fact, that it was founded on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Massalia around 600 BCE. A good place to start is by visiting Marseille's most notable neighborhoods, like the district of Le Panier. This is "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 tenement buildings. You'll also find creative street art on the walls.

Additional must-sees around Marseille include the waterfront along the Mediterranean Sea, the hilltop basilica 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.

Consider ending your self-guided tour in Vieux-Port, the heart of the city, where you can sip a good pastis (anise-flavored apéritif) or beer as the sun goes down.

Day 2: Cruise to Calanques National Park - Drive to Les Baux de Provence

Calanque National Park
Calanque National Park

Today you'll take an excursion to Calanques National Park. This is one of the European continent's newer protected areas, as it was established in 2012. It's also unique in that it comprises 323 square miles (520 km) between Marseilles and the seaside town of La Ciotat, protecting both land and ocean. This is a true natural treasure of France's Mediterranean coast, and the best way to experience it is on a private cruise.

This half-day tour leaves from Marseille on a private vessel skippered by a local expert. It only takes a few minutes to enter the park and glimpse its stunning limestone sea cliffs and hidden coves. The waters in these famous inlets are an irresistible kaleidoscope of blues that become milky turquoise and crystalline the further you get to shore. You'll have ample time for swimming in these hidden coves, which are only accessible by boat.

After returning to Marseille, you will journey to the medieval mountain village of Les Baux de Provence, located just north of the Rhone River city of Arles in the heart of Provence. Enjoy the rest of evening exploring the narrow cobbled streets, charming houses, and fortified castle built during the 10th century.

Day 3: Explore Les Alpilles Natural Park & Saint-Remy de Provence

Explore the scenery in the Alpilles
Explore the scenery in the Alpilles

After breakfast in Les Baux de Provence, you'll explore Les Alpilles Natural Park—the perfect place to come for rock climbing, hiking, and horseback riding in the pine and oak forests.

You can also take a short trip north to the adjacent village of Saint Rémy de Provence, another gem nestled at the foot of the mountains. With boutiques, markets, and stone fountains among its winding streets, it's the perfect place to sit under the shade of a plane tree and enjoy views of the surrounding olive groves and vineyards. After all, it's this Provençal village that inspired the works of Vincent van Gogh.

Other activities in the area include visiting an old olive oil mill and taking a cooking class taught by a famous local chef named Fabien Morréale.

Day 4: Explore Avignon & Chateauneuf du Pape

Visit the top sites in Avignon
Visit the top sites in Avignon

Today, you'll spend the morning in Avignon, the 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. You'll also have time to explore the city's pretty squares and the medieval bridge along the Rhone River. Keep in mind that during July, thousands of visitors flock to Avignon for France's largest art festival.

After lunch, you'll drive through the countryside north of Avignon to Châteauneuf du Pape where you'll enjoy a leisurely afternoon of wine tasting. The Rhone wine region makes both red and white wines with up to 13 different grapes and is especially known for its bold Grenache-based blends.

Day 5: Explore Villages in the Luberon

Roussillon's surroundings
Roussillon's unique landscape

Today you'll choose your own adventure as you weave through the beautiful villages, vineyards, and orchards in the fertile Luberon area.

A good place to start is Fontaine de Vaucluse, the stunning location of the largest natural spring in France. Then drive to Gordes, a hilltop village surrounded by lavender fields followed by a visit to the ancient Sénanque Abbey, founded in 1148 by Cistercian monks.

Next is the village of Roussillon located in an area known to be rich in ochre, a natural clay prized for its rich yellow-to-orange color palette. Wander the town's colorful streets or opt for a horse-drawn carriage ride through the nearby hills.

Day 6: Explore Alpes de Haute Provence

Visit the town of Sisteron
Visit the town of Sisteron

Today you'll depart Les Baux de Provence to explore another section of the region—this time the Alpes de Haute Provence, a geographically varied area from the pre-Alpine mountains to the hills and plateaus of Haute Provence.

Start with a visit to Manosque where you can join an hour-long tour of L'Occitane's headquarters, which makes fragrances, soaps, essential oils, and skincare products. Following the tour, trek up to Mont d'Or for panoramic views of the town its surroundings.

Then head to Forcalquier where you'll marvel at the architecture and other remnants of 13th and 15th-century life. You can even drive to the citadel and see the many fountains of Sisteron located on the banks of the Durance River.

After your tour, you'll spend a restful evening in Forcalquier.

Day 7: Hot Air Balloon Ride - Watersports in Lac de Sainte Croix

Start the day with sunrise hot air balloon ride
Start the day with a sunrise hot air balloon ride

Today starts bright and early with a sunrise hot-air balloon ride for birds-eye views of the Alpes de Haute Provence.

After this amazing experience, you’ll be ready to drive to the Valensole Plateau. With a name meaning "Valley of the Sun," the Valensole is blanketed in fields of brilliant lavender, golden wheat, and almond trees. You'll want to snap plenty of photos of this exceptionally picturesque landscape before making your way to Lac de Sainte Croix du Verdon, where you can enjoy sailing, swimming, windsurfing, or kayaking in its emerald-green waters.

If you'd rather appreciate the lake's beauty from dry land, grab a seat and a drink on one of the many lakeside patios and enjoy the view.

Day 8: Explore Moustiers Sainte Marie & Gorges du Verdon

Moustiers Sainte Marie
Moustiers Sainte Marie

Today starts with a visit to one of the most beautiful villages in France: Moustiers Sainte Marie. Surrounded by Lac de Sainte Croix and the lavender fields of Valensole, this tiny town is known all over the world for its unique, intricately decorated ceramics. 

Moustiers Sainte Marie is also near the entrance to the spectacular Gorges du Verdon, the deepest canyon in France. It reaches depths of up to 2,200 feet (700 m)—the remarkable result of slowly eroding limestone in the plateaus of Haute Provence. Gorges du Verdon is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, and you can choose to participate in a plethora of adventurous activities like hiking, kayaking, or rock climbing, to name a few.

Day 9: Drive from Forcalquier to Aix en Provence

Street life in Aix-en-Provence
Street life in Aix-en-Provence

After breakfast, you'll make the drive to Aix en Provence. "Aix" (as it's commonly called) is a historic city set amidst Provençal villages and surrounding countryside famous for vineyards, lavender-blanketed fields, and limestone cliffs of Sainte Victoire Mountain. These landscapes are so iconic they've been immortalized in the works of painters such as Cezanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky.

Once you've checked into your hotel, you can discover the city's rich heritage, art, and culture on a walking tour with an expert guide. This two-hour begins with a stroll through a labyrinth of narrow streets passing historic fountains as your guide points out both famous and hidden gems of the city. You’ll visit the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral, a Romanesque/Gothic church built on the site of an ancient Greek temple to Apollo, and the Hotel de Ville, which dates to the 14th century.

The tour also includes a walk along the Cours Mirabeau, a busy thoroughfare lined with plane trees and plenty of markets and cafés—perfect for people watching. During this outing, you'll even see some ruins dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.

Day 10: Return Rental Car - Depart Marseille

Goodbye, Provence!
Goodbye, Provence!

It's time to say goodbye to Provence! After breakfast, you'll drive back to Marseille and return your rental car. Then catch a 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!