Sink your teeth into 16 days of Southern French sensations with this itinerary. You'll experience the markets of Marseille along with a cooking class in a local chef's home, then find your courage to tackle Europe's largest gorge via hiking, horseback riding, canyoneering, climbing, and more. Wind down with more hikes and a bike ride through charming Aix-en-Provence before you head home.

Highlights

  • Learn Southern French cooking techniques in a Provençal household
  • Raft through the rapids in the Verdon Gorge
  • Hike into the Provençal Alps at sunset
  • Wander the labyrinthine streets of Aix-en-Provence
  • Ride an e-bike past landscapes that inspired Cézanne

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Marseille Marseille
Day 2 Cooking Class in Marseille Marseille
Day 3 Private Boat Cruise & Photography Workshop Marseille
Day 4 Soap Atelier & Marseille to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 5 Horseback Ride from Moustiers to Sainte-Croix Lake Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 6 Rafting on the Verdon River Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 7 Verdon Wildlife Photography Session Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 8 Valensole Plateau & Lake Sainte-Croix du Verdon Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 9 Via Cordata & Route des Crêtes Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 10 Sunset Summit Hike Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 11 Canyoneering in the Verdon Gorge Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 12 Drive from Moustiers to Aix-en-Provence & Cultural Tour Aix-en-Provence
Day 13 Sainte Victoire Mountain Hike Aix-en-Provence
Day 14 Free Day in Aix-en-Provence Aix-en-Provence
Day 15 E-Bike Tour Along Cezanne's Route Aix-en-Provence
Day 16 Return to Marseille & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Marseille

Aerial view of Marseille
Aerial view of Marseille

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 in Marseille

La Panier in Marseille
La Panier in Marseille

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 of 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. In the mid-afternoon, return to the city center. 

Spend the afternoon people-watching in a sunny daze on the waterfront before pausing at a neighborhood cafe for more wine and a relaxed dinner.

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: Soap Atelier & Marseille to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie village
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie village

In the morning, 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.

In the afternoon, set out for Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the gate to the Gorge of Verdon (approximately a 2.5-hour drive away.) It's the biggest canyon in Europe, drawing nature-lovers from around the world. Verdon is home to the small villages of Bauduen and Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon, as well as the hilltop villages of Aiguines, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (known for its fine porcelain), and Castellane

There's no shortage of activities in the park, from relaxing on the beaches to canoeing on Sainte-Croix Lake and hiking in the mountains. At the height of the flowering season, the Valensole Plateau is awash with color as the lavender blooms, covering the hillsides in spectacular purple swaths.

Day 5: Horseback Ride from Moustiers to Sainte-Croix Lake

Horse hike
Horse hiking

Explore the Verdon region on horseback with today's full-day tour. You'll meet up with a local expert in the morning who will prepare the horses for you, and you for them. Ride along rivers and forests up to a wild beach that isn't accessible by car to stop for lunch.

Picnic on local wine and cheeses along with canapes and desserts, then relax on the beach or go for a swim. Once you've finished basking, get back on your horse to keep riding through the wilderness for another hour and a half before you return to the equestrian center.

Day 6: Rafting on the Verdon River

Rafting on the Verdon river
Rafting on the Verdon river

Drive to the ancient city of Castellane for your morning adrenaline rush. Start off by rafting through the Verdon Gorge, the best way to truly grasp the scale of the canyon. Paddle your raft down the river for 2.5 hours of fast-flowing water, with sections of rapids spanning more than 8 miles (14 km).

Slow down your pace in the afternoon as you break for lunch and an exploration of the village of Castellane. The town is dominated by the Roc, a giant limestone rock that towers nearby. Wander the streets surrounded by the colorful facades characteristic of Haute-Provence villages and visit the three key monuments of the St. Victor Church, the clock tower, and the Pentagonal Tower. Then follow the Roc path toward the chapel and take in the views over the rooftops with the Verdon Valley in the distance

You'll return to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie in the evening.

Plan your trip to France
Customize your trip with help from a local travel specialist.

Day 7: Verdon Wildlife Photography Session

Vulture flying through the gorge
Vulture flying through the gorge

Enjoy the natural spirit and landscapes of the Verdon region with the help of a professional photographer on today's bespoke photography course. 

Your professional photographer guide is a frequent organizer of photoshoots to share their passions for photography and nature. Follow them around the edge of the Verdon canyon to get some expert insight into capturing the birds and other wildlife of the region for roughly 4-5 hours to make sure you get the perfect photo souvenir.

From golden hour to specific locations, today's tour is fully customizable.

Day 8: Valensole Plateau & Lake Sainte-Croix du Verdon

Lavender fields of Valensole
Lavender fields of Valensole

After breakfast, you'll drive to the Plateau de Valensole (Valensole Plateau), the most famous area in  France to see the lavender bloom. Each year, starting in June and peaking in early July, the fields in this part of Provence come alive with vivid displays of purple that stretch all along the countryside. As a pleasant contrast, many of these lavender fields sit alongside wide expanses of golden wheat.

You can also discover other aromatic plants in the heart of the Verdon Regional Nature Park. Some people cultivate and harvest Damask roses and other aromatic plants on a plateau overlooking the Grand Canyon, which they pick by hand and distill on the spot to transform them into essential oils, floral waters, and lotions. You'll learn first-hand about the distillation process, with your own specific botanical depending on the time of year.

You'll also visit the banks of Lake Sainte-Croix du Verdon, adjacent to the gorge. Sail, swim, windsurf, canoe, or kayak on the emerald green water of this 8-mile-long lake (14 km). If you aren't feeling aquatic, visit the lakeside village of Sainte-Croix du Verdon, which is filled with old houses, public squares, and viewing points that look out over the tranquil waters below.

Day 9: Via Cordata & Route des Crêtes

Enjoy the thrills of the via cordata

Start on a high note with a climbing experience on the mountain rocks. You'll follow a via cordata, a mix between climbing and walking with a rope attaching you to the route, along the "Fox Hole" section of the landscape.  Follow passages along the wall with abseils, a zip line, pendular jump, and monkey bridge to take in the nature from a new vantage point.

After your climb, discover the villages of La Palud Sur Verdon and Rougon with a drive above the canyon. La Palud was once a potters' village and is now home to a wealth of local products including trout, crayfish, lavender honey, truffles, ham, and country bread. It's also the starting point for a scenic drive along the Route des Crêtes, 14 miles (23 km) of views of the canyon. Go through Point Sublime overlook with one of the best views of the gorge, then to the village of Rougon. The petite village offers a view of Point Sublime from its castle ruins, where you can see how it earned its name.

Day 10: Sunset Summit Hike

Lake St. Croix at sunset
Lake St. Croix at sunset

Enjoy a leisurely morning lie-in and rest up from your previous adventures before you head out for a hike in the late afternoon.

You'll meet your guide in the center of the village to embark on a 4-hour trek through the rocky paths of the Verdon region. The roughly 5-mile loop (8-9 km) will lead you over high plateaus, ancient Roman roads, and forested trails up to the summit of a mountain. Take in the view over Sainte-Croix Lake and it's surrounding valleys as the sun sets.

This hike is a particular favorite for its excellent views, so make sure you bring your camera to capture the perfect scenic angles.

Day 11: Canyoneering in the Verdon Gorge

The Verdon River allows for some excellent canyoneering and water-sports activities
The Verdon River allows for some excellent canyoneering and water-sports activities

Return to the Verdon Gorge today to descend into the 31 miles (50 km) of the canyon, the largest in Europe. You'll follow the Route des Crêtes, keeping an eye out for the impressive views and wildlife such as the Fawn and Monk vultures.

Once you're down in the canyon, you'll embark on a roughly 5-hour canyoneering session down a tributary of the Verdon River in a narrow gorge with dramatic rock formations. You'll follow the tributary through cliff jumps, natural waterslides, swim breaks, and a 32-foot (10 m) abseiling descent along a rock face on this adrenaline adventure.

Those who are traveling with children or just in the mood for something more sedate can opt for an aquatic hike instead, which will see you floating through some gentle rapids along with optional jumps and hiking along the banks of the river.

Day 12: Drive from Moustiers to Aix-en-Provence & Cultural Tour

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

Get on the road after breakfast to drive to Aix-en-Provence. The road to this historic city will take you through a countryside full of vineyards, lavender fields, and the limestone cliffs of Sainte Victoire Mountain, landscapes so lovely they've been immortalized by artists such as Cezanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky.

Once you've settled into Aix, set out with a guide to explore the famous city on a two-hour guided walking tour and uncover its rich heritage, art, and culture. 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 back 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.

Day 13: Sainte Victoire Mountain Hike

Walking in the Sainte Victoire
Walking in the Sainte Victoire

Get back on the trails today with a guided hike up Sainte Victoire Mountain. The peak is celebrated for its appearances in paintings by Cézanne, and you'll experience an artistic perspective of your own as you start off in a shaded pine forest. Head up the mountain to a 17th-century prior and the Cross of Provence, along with panoramic views of the Luberon, Mont Ventoux, the Alps, and Cap Canaille, a vertical cliff just off Cassis.

The hike itself will take about 4 hours, with the whole experience covering about 6-7 hours. You'll stop for a picnic lunch of fresh local products and wine before you hike back down and return to Aix-en-Provence to spend the evening at your leisure.

A relaxing glass of wine in an open-air cafe is the perfect way to wrap up today. 

Day 14: Free Day in Aix-en-Provence

Charming local market in Aix

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 15: E-Bike Tour Along Cezanne's Route

Mount Sainte-Victoire in Provence
Mount Sainte-Victoire in Provence

Spend the morning exploring the countryside around Aix on a 3-hour e-bike tour. You'll follow the Cézanne Route from Aix-en-Provence to Sainte-Victoire via Le Tholonet as you ride in the footsteps of the great artist and experience the landscapes that inspired him.

With an average speed of about nine mph (15 km/h), you'll be able to cruise effortlessly through many of the region's landscapes. 

Along the way, stop in ancient chapels, visit small villages, and (in June and July) see the famed lavender fields. Return to Aix for a free afternoon.

Head to the Pavillon Vendôme with its French-style gardens. In addition to a beautiful collection of portraits and furnishings, the museum displays contemporary and modern art exhibitions. Alternately, tour the Vasarely Foundation, founded by the master of geometric abstract and inventor of visual art whose dream was to reconcile modern art with architecture and urbanism.

Day 16: 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 Provençal Alps Adventure: Marseille, Verdon Gorge, &  Aix-en-Provence - 16 Days
Map of Provençal Alps Adventure: Marseille, Verdon Gorge, & Aix-en-Provence - 16 Days