One region that perfectly encapsulates France's rich culture is Provence. On a self-drive tour, you'll stop in historic cities like Marseille and Aix-en-Provence as well as hilltop villages like Uzès and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. As an added treat you'll hike canyons, kayak along the coast, and participate in a cooking class and wine tour.  

Highlights

  • Stroll the historic streets of Marseille, France's oldest city
  • Explore the hidden coves of Calanques National Park by kayak
  • Take a cooking class and learn to prepare Provençal cuisine
  • Hike the Verdon Gorges, the deepest canyon in France
  • Taste the famous wines of the Côtes de Provence

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Marseille, France's Oldest City Marseille
Day 2 Kayak in Calanques National Park Marseille
Day 3 Visit Uzès Uzès
Day 4 Cooking Class in Uzès Uzès
Days 5-6 Tour of the Luberon Bonnieux
Day 7 Travel to the Verdon Gorges Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 8 Guided Hike of the Verdon Gorges Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 9 Aix-en-Provence Aix en Provence
Day 10 Côtes de Provence Wine Tour Aix en Provence
Day 11 Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Marseille, France's Oldest City

Saint Jean Castle, in Marseille
Saint Jean Castle, in Marseille

Welcome to Provence! Upon arrival at Marseille's airport or train station, you'll pick up your rental car and transfer to your hotel. After checking in, you can head out and explore this historic city on the Mediterranean coast. "Historic" might even be an understatement—this is France’s oldest city, having been founded on the site of the ancient Greek colony of Massalia around 600 BCE.

We recommend visiting the city'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, what with its old plazas, ancient churches, and brightly colored facades of the 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 city center, the waterfront, 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. You should 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: Kayak in Calanques National Park

Kayaking the Calanques
Kayaking the Calanques

Just outside of the city of Marseille lies Calanques National Park. This is one of Europe's newer protected areas, as it was established in 2012. It's also unique in that it comprises 200 square miles between Marseilles and the seaside town of La Ciotat, thus protecting both land and ocean. This is a true natural treasure of France's Mediterranean coast, and one of the best ways to experience it is on a kayak outing.

You'll leave in the morning on a guided excursion that stops at some of the park's hidden coves and bays. As you paddle you'll enjoy Calanques' stunning scenery, including its towering limestone cliffs and crystalline waters tinged various shades of green and blue. If conditions allow, you can schedule the outing for later in the day to ensure the end of the trip features prime views of that beautiful Mediterranean sunset. 

Day 3: Visit Uzès

The medieval towers of Uzés

Today you'll travel to Uzès, a historic town in the western Provence region. This little medieval village has preserved much of its authenticity, which you'll discover as you stroll its narrow cobbled streets, passing its stone fountains and expansive tree-lined plazas. The atmosphere here is thick with the Provençal spirit, as the town's outdoor markets, boutiques, antique stores, local artisan shops, and cafés will show. 

You'll have the day to explore Uzès however you like. Perhaps visit its Medieval Garden, which is nestled between some of the oldest towers in town—those of the King's Tower, Bishop's Tower, and cathedral. The garden features 400 varieties of plants, herbs, and trees, all of which thrived here during the middle-ages. You can then visit the historic cathedral or go wherever the mood strikes you, meandering along the village's streets and chatting with locals as you glean insight into the Provençal culture. 

Day 4: Cooking Class in Uzès

Outdoor market at the Place aux Herbes, in Uzès
Outdoor market at the Place aux Herbes, in Uzès

Provence is famous for its cuisine, and today you'll learn to prepare it yourself in a market-to-table cooking class. It begins in the morning with a visit to Uzès' outdoor market at the Place aux Herbes, the expansive town square. Accompanied by a local guide, you'll pick the best seasonal produce for the meal ahead. Of course, as you browse the market you'll be able to sample delectable local products such as artisanal cheeses and fresh-baked baguettes.

An integral part of the experience is chatting with the local vendors to learn the tips and tricks to selecting the best and freshest ingredients. After shopping, you'll head to the cooking school where you'll join a group of like-minded foodies and, under the guidance of a local instructor, prepare the ideal Provençal lunch. 

The outing culminates with everyone gathered around a table and enjoying the meal accompanied by some great wine of the Côtes de Provence wine region. Afterward, you can retire to your B&B and spend the remainder of the day relaxing, or head back out and continue to explore the village of Uzès. 

Days 5-6: Tour of the Luberon

The historic village of Gordes

The Luberon area of Provence is famous for rolling green hills dotted with vineyards and cherry orchards stretching as far as the eye can see. Perched atop many of these hills are postcard villages and little market towns where local farmers come to sell their produce. Over two days you'll visit this stunning countryside and its hilltop villages.

It's a relaxed outing that begins in the medieval village of Lourmarin, which is famous for its windy streets, charming patio cafés, and 16th-century castle. Then you'll travel a short way north to the village of Bonnieux, another hilltop gem whose residences also date to the 16th century. Perched atop the town is its iconic church, whose steeple points into the sky like a Christmas star.

Following this is a trip to the renowned village of Gordes, arguably the most beautiful of all the hilltop villages in the Luberon. The skyline of Gordes is dominated by its fortified castle, and from the town's winding cobbled streets you can look out to views over the valley and surrounding hills. You'll cap the tour with a visit to Roussillon, a village notable for the vivid red cliffs that surround it. Like the aforementioned destinations, Roussillon is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages of France. 

Day 7: Travel to the Verdon Gorges

The medieval alpine village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

In the morning, you'll travel to the medieval village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department, the area is known for its alpine vistas, limestone mountains, and fields of lavender. The village is sparsely populated yet has a thriving industry: pottery. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is famous for producing artisanal ceramics, which you'll discover at Christine’s Workshop, an earthenware manufacturer. Here you'll practice ceramic decoration and even paint your own plate.

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is also noteworthy in that it sits at the western entrance to the Verdon Gorges. This spectacular canyon runs 31 miles (50 km) and reaches up to 2,296 feet (700 meters) deep in places, making it the largest in Europe. The canyon was formed as a result of limestone erosion of the plateaus of Haute Provence by the Verdon River. You'll embark on a guided excursion into the area around the canyon, enjoying the scenery before returning to your B&B in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.

Day 8: Guided Hike of the Verdon Gorges

Saint Croix Lake, in the Verdon Gorges

Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast, because today you'll be hiking the Verdon Gorges. This is a guided hike above the canyon along a route that offers the most epic views of the valley sitting 2,300 feet below. It also affords views of the vivid turquoise waters of Saint Croix Lake, a man-made reservoir constructed in 1971.

Over the course of the excursion, you'll hike through oak and pine forest before arriving at the Saint Maurin Natural Reserve. This is a 50-acre protected area on the right bank of the canyon that's home to some stunning waterfalls. The best part is that you'll take a break and enjoy a picnic lunch next to one of these cascading falls. Afterward, you'll continue on the circuitous route back the way you came, and all the while your guide will reveal fun facts and insight into the region.

Day 9: Aix-en-Provence

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

Today you'll drive to Aix-en-Provence. "Aix" is a historic city set amid rural countryside famous for its vineyards, lavender-blanketed fields, and the 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. After checking into your hotel, you'll discover this city's rich heritage, art, and culture on a walking tour with an expert guide.

On this two-hour city tour, you'll stroll Aix's narrow streets 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. You'll also see the town hall (also known as 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 abounding with markets and cafés—perfect for people watching. 

Day 10: Côtes de Provence Wine Tour

Vineyard near Sainte Victoire Mountain
Vineyard near Sainte Victoire Mountain

It's time to savor the flavors of one of Provence's most famous products: its wine. On this private, guided tour, you'll venture out to the vineyards around Aix-en-Provence. You'll also visit the wine region of Côtes de Provence Sainte-Victoire, which sit in the shadow of Sainte Victoire Mountain.

The tour includes visits to family-owned wineries where you'll sample varietals from their cellars. Throughout this experience, your local guide/wine expert will reveal insight into the characteristics of the terroir and the winemaking process. Afterward, you'll return to Aix-en-Provence where you'll spend the remainder of the day exploring that historic city.

Day 11: Departure

Say goodbye to Provence
Farewell, Provence

In the morning you'll transfer to Paris by train, where you'll catch your flight home. This concludes your grand Provençal adventure. Au revoir!

Map

Map of Provence Highlights and Culture Self-Drive Tour - 11 Days
Map of Provence Highlights and Culture Self-Drive Tour - 11 Days