One region that perfectly encapsulates France's rich culture is Provence. On this, 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. Hike canyons, kayak along the coast, and participate in a cooking class and wine tour to fully experience this French classic.  

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 Marseille
Day 2 Kayak in Calanques National Park Marseille
Day 3 Visit Uzès Avignon
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 Transfer to Paris and Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Marseille

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—with 2600 years of history under its belt, this is France’s oldest city. It's so old that it was 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, waterfront, hilltop basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, and 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 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, 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 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 various hidden coves and bays in the park. As you paddle you'll enjoy Calanques' stunning scenery, including its towering limestone cliffs and crystalline waters tinged multiple shades of green and blue. Many areas are only accessible by boat, so you can enjoy the park's coastal beauty in relative quiet, away from the tourist crowds. 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

Uzès Cathedral
Uzès Cathedral

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 free to explore Uzès however you like. Perhaps visit its Medieval Garden, 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. Indeed, the best way to enjoy Uzès is to meander along its streets and get happily lost as you chat with locals and glean insight into the rich 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 gathering around a table and enjoying the meal together accompanied by some excellent wine of the Côtes de Provence. 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 hillside village of Gordes
The hillside 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. On today's guided tour 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 winding 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. Its fortified castle dominates the skyline of Gordes, and from the town's 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. 

You will cap the tour with a visit to Roussillon, a village notable for the vivid red cliffs that surround it. This is due to the town's location in one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world. Walking through Roussillon's narrow streets, you'll note the striking contrast between the bright green of the surrounding pine trees and the artist's palette of earthy browns, yellows, and reds that define its buildings. Like the other destinations mentioned above, Roussillon is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages of France. 

After touring the town, you will return to your hotel.

Day 7: Travel to the Verdon Gorges

Kayaking is a fun excursion in the Verdon Gorges
Kayaking in the Verdon Gorges

In the morning, you'll travel from Bonnieux to one of the most beautiful villages in France: Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Located in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department of southeastern France, the area is known for its alpine vistas, limestone mountains, and fields of lavender. The village sits at the edge of a mountain, out of which a spring flows and creates a waterfall that provides hydropower to the town.

The population of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is less than 1,000. However, even though few people live here, there is a thriving industry: Its residents have been steeped in the pottery trade for generations. The village is famous for producing uniquely refined and decorated ceramics, which you will discover at Christine’s Workshop. Upon stopping in at this earthenware manufacturer, you will 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. Kayaking and canoeing along the river and Lake Sainte Croix are popular excursions in the Verdon Gorges, as is hiking, canyoning, and rock climbing.

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, where you'll overnight.

Day 8: Guided Hike of the Verdon Gorges

Hiking the Verdon Gorges
Lake views

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 human-made reservoir constructed in 1971.

Throughout the excursion, you'll hike through oak and pine forests 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 as your guide reveals 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, a historic city set amid villages and 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 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. You'll also see the town hall (also known as the Hotel de Ville), which dates to the 14th century and sits on a charming old plaza. The tour includes a walk along the Cours Mirabeau, a busy thoroughfare lined with plane trees and abounding with markets and cafés—perfect for people-watching. You'll even see some ruins dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.

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 sits 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 the historic city.

Day 11: Transfer to Paris and Depart

Say goodbye to Provence
Say goodbye to 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!