France is known the world over for its romance, but there might be no other region that encompasses its quintessential beauty—the cities, villages, hills, and beaches—quite like Provence. This is where the countryside meets the coast, where the Alps meet lavender fields, and where the French Riveria runs from Marseilles to the Italian border. Experience it all on this luxurious 12-day driving tour. 

Highlights

  • Stroll the historic streets of Marseille, France's oldest city
  • Take a private cruise around the secluded beaches of Calanques National Park
  • Indulge in a wine tour around Avignon and the Rhône River Valley
  • Hike the Verdon Gorges, the deepest canyon in France
  • Pamper yourself in Aix-en-Provence, which might be the most beautiful village in France

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Marseille, France's Oldest City Marseille
Day 2 Half-Day Cruise to Calanques National Park Les Baux de Provence
Day 3 Les Alpilles Natural Park Les Baux de Provence
Day 4 Avignon and a Wine Tour of the Rhône Valley Avignon
Day 5 Tour of the Luberon Avignon
Day 6 On the Road to Forcalquier Forcalquier
Day 7 Valensole Plateau and Lake Sainte Croix du Verdon Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 8 Verdon Gorges, The Largest Canyon in Europe Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Day 9 Aix-en-Provence, the Jewel of Provence Aix en Provence
Day 10 Private Winetasting in Côtes de Provence  Aix en Provence
Day 11 Free day in Aix en Provence Aix en Provence
Day 12 Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Explore Marseille, France's Oldest City

Saint Jean Castle, in the port of Marseille
Saint Jean Castle, in the port of Marseille

Welcome to Provence! Upon arrival at Marseille's airport or train station, you'll collect your rental car and head to your hotel. After checking in, you'll get to 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, in fact, that it was founded on the site of the Ancient Greek colony of Massalia around 600 BCE.

We recommend exploring 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. Be sure to pay a visit to the fascinating Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM), a modern museum featuring 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: Half-Day Cruise to Calanques National Park

Calanque National Park
Calanques National Park

Located just outside of the city of Marseille lies 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 520 square kilometers between Marseille and the seaside town of Cassis, 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 our local expert, Laurence. 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 this experience, you will journey to the very heart of Provence, to the medieval mountain village of Les Baux de Provence, located northeast of the Rhone River city of Arles

Day 3: Les Alpilles Natural Park

Les Baux de Provence, gateway to Les Alpilles Natural Park
Les Baux de Provence, the gateway to Les Alpilles Natural Park

France abounds with protected nature parks, and Les Alpilles is one of the most stunning. Located at the western edge of the Provence region, in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, it's home to the Alpilles, a limestone mountain range dotted with colorful Provencal villages. This is one of France's smallest national parks (just 196 square miles), yet it is the perfect place to come for rock climbing, hiking, and horseback riding through the pine and oak forests.

On this day tour, your base of operations will be Les Baux de Provence. This stunning medieval village is carved into a limestone plateau and offers panoramic views of the surrounding Alpilles. From here it's a short trip north to the adjacent village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, another gem nestled at the foot of the mountains. With the many boutiques, markets, and stone fountains among its winding streets, it's the perfect place to pull up a patio table, sit under the shade of a plane tree, and enjoy an afternoon refreshment and 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 you can partake in here include horseback riding through pine forests, visiting an old olive oil mill, and taking an olive-oil-themed cooking class taught by famous local chef Fabien Morréale.

Day 4: Avignon and a Wine Tour of the Rhône Valley

The Palais des Papes, in Avignon
The Palais des Papes, in Avignon

Today you'll travel to the medieval city of Avignon. There's quite a bit of history here, as this is where Pope Clemente V moved his court in the 14th century, and for several decades thereafter it was the seat of the Catholic popes. You'll visit the Unesco Heritage Sites of Le Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the Pont Saint-Bénézet medieval bridge, which is the subject of the famous song Sur le Pont d’Avignon, composed back in the 15th century. 

The journey continues into the Rhône Valley wine country, just north of Avignon, and the region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This is where, during the papal schism, the Avignon Popes encouraged the development of viticulture and promoted winemaking in the region. On a tour of the vineyards, Paul, our expert guide will lead you on a relaxed yet delicious tasting tour of the famous varietals produced here, such as Grenache and Syrah.

Day 5: 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-worthy 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 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. This is arguably the most beautiful of all the hilltop villages in the Luberon. The skyline of Gordes is dominated by its fortified castle, and from its 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 6: On the Road to Gréoux-les-Bains

Drive along lavender fields and pass by medieval villages
Drive along lavender fields and pass by medieval villages

Today you'll embark on an unforgettable road trip through the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region of southwestern France. The ultimate destination is the medieval city of Forcalquier, a paragon of provençal beauty situated near the Verdon nature park. However, all along the 158 km/98-mile journey, you'll be treated to Provence's famous countryside beauty as you pass alongside sprawling olive groves and fields of lavender, thyme, and rosemary. The route also passes by other charming villages like Gréoux-Les-Bains and Manosque.

But you won't merely enjoy these singularly beautiful landscapes from the ground; once you reach your destination you'll take to the sky in a hot-air balloon and marvel at the entire Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region laid out below. Make sure your camera has a full battery because on this ride you'll be passing over medieval villages like Lure and over the French Alps that surround them.

Day 7: Valensole Plateau and 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), which is the most famous area in all of France to see the blooming lavender. 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.

After taking some time to snap photos amid the glory of nature, you'll continue a short way to Lake Sainte Croix du Verdon.  This lake, which is 14 km/8 miles long and 2 km/1 mile wide, is located adjacent to the Verdon Gorges, the largest canyon in Europe. Here you can enjoy sailing, swimming, windsurfing, or kayaking/canoeing on its emerald green waters. On the lakeshore lies the pleasant 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 8: Verdon Gorges, The Largest Canyon in Europe

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

Start your day by visiting 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 creating a waterfall that provides hydropower to the town. The population is less than 1,000, but its residents have been steeped in the pottery trade for generations, and the village is famous for producing uniquely refined and decorated ceramics. You'll visit Christine’s Workshop, an earthenware manufacturer, where you will practice ceramic decoration before painting 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 50 km (31 miles) and reaches up to 700 meters (2,296 feet) in depth 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.

Day 9: Aix-en-Provence, the Jewel of Provence

Aerial view of Aix-en-Provence
Aerial view of Aix-en-Provence

You're going to end your tour of Provence in style because today you'll make the 56-km/34-mile drive from Gréoux-les-Bains to your last destination: Aix-en-Provence. "Aix" is a city in an exceptional geographic location, set amid the picturesque charm of the surrounding villages. The rural landscapes here, famous for their vineyards, lavender-blanketed fields, and limestone cliffs of Sainte Victoire Mountain, have 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. On this outing, you'll even see some ruins dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.

Day 11: Private Winetasting in Côtes de Provence 

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 the historic city.

Day 11: Free day in Aix en Provence

Spend the day relaxing poolside in your hotel
Spend the day relaxing poolside in your hotel

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 12: Departure

Say goodbye to Provence
Say goodbye to Provence

After breakfast, depending on your schedule, you'll transfer 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 Pure Provence Road Trip: Marseille, Avignon, Verdon Gorge & More  - 12 Days
Map of Pure Provence Road Trip: Marseille, Avignon, Verdon Gorge & More - 12 Days