This self-drive 12-day itinerary highlights the best of the Rhône Valley, from north to south. Perfect for the whole family, you'll start in food forward Lyon, then work your way through the colorful countryside of Provence and down to Marseille on the Mediterranean coast. Along the way, you'll taste full-bodied wines, marvel at ancient Roman ingenuity, and enjoy the majestic beauty that is southern France.

Highlights

  • Wander the maze of stalls in Lyon's Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse market
  • Experience a wine tour of the Northern Rhône Valley 
  • Discover Avignon's impressive Pont du Gard
  • Bike through lavender fields and olive groves to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
  • Kayak along the southern French coast in Calanques National Park

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Lyon Lyon
Day 2 Culture & gastronomy tour Lyon
Day 3 Day trip to Northern Rhône Valley & wine tasting Lyon
Day 4 Drive to Avignon; Visit Pont du Gard Avignon
Day 5 Drive to Arles; Discover Roman architecture Arles
Day 6 Drive to Les Baux-de-Provence Les Baux-de-Provence
Day 7 Electric bike tour to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence Les Baux-de-Provence
Day 8 Drive to Bonnieux - Explore the Luberon hill-top villages Bonnieux
Day 9 Drive to Aix-en-Provence Aix-en-Provence
Day 10 Drive to Marseille; Kayak in Calanques National Park Marseille
Day 11 Hike in Calanques; Explore Marseille Marseille
Day 12 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Lyon

Notre Dame de Fourvière, Lyon, France
View over Lyon from atop Notre Dame de Fourvière

Welcome to Lyon! Lyon is France's second-largest city and offers urban explorers a wealth of enticing experiences. Leading museums, vibrant cultural life, busy clubbing and drinking scenes, a thriving university, and fantastic shopping all lend the city a distinctly sophisticated air, while adventurous gourmands can indulge in their wild gastronomic fantasies.

Upon your arrival, transfer to your hotel in the heart of the city, in time for a welcome dinner at a traditional restaurant in the Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon) neighborhood.

Day 2: Culture & gastronomy tour

Tourists visiting the jacobins square in the vieux lyon district, France
Tour the 16th-century Place des Jacobins (square) in Vieux Lyon

You'll get to experience all that Lyon has to offer from the history and culture to the food on today's walking tour of the city. Start at Lyon's heart in the UNESCO-protected historic Presqu’île, before working your way through the narrow alleyways and past Renaissance-era mansions in Vieux Lyon. It's here where your foodie tour begins, as your local guide reveals the city's gastronomic heritage via culinary anecdotes and tastings at the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a labyrinthine municipal market whose various food stall offerings are a delight for the taste buds. 

Your guide will then lead you to the colorful houses and tree-filled plazas of the historic Croix-Rousse ("The Hill that Works") neighborhood. Here you will discover Croix-Rousse's lasting cultural legacy: silk weaving. As many houses in this riverfront neighborhood were formerly weavers workshops, you'll have the opportunity to visit one as well as observe a silk printing demonstration.

Day 3: Day trip to Northern Rhône Valley & wine tasting

Castle Overseeing Vineyards with Rows of grapes from a Hill on a Clear Summer Day
Explore the Northern Rhône Valley

Together with your guide, you'll head south from Lyon toward Vienne (30 minutes) to discover the surrounding northern Rhône Valley as well as to sample the area's famous wines. 

The first stop on this private, half-day tour is the prestigious Cote-Rôtie vineyard. Here you'll quaff delicious varietals, like Syrah and Viognier, on terraced vineyards overlooking the Rhône River. Throughout the tour, you'll have an opportunity to taste and learn about seven different varietals of Cotes-du-Rhône wines. 

Day 4: Drive to Avignon - Visit the Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard, Provence, France
The 2000-year-old Roman Pont du Gard in Provence

This morning you will drive to the fascinating medieval city of Avignon (2.5 hours). Explore the UNESCO Heritage Sites of Le Palais des Papes and the St-Bénézet medieval bridge, the subject of the famous song, Sur le Pont d’Avignon. Discover the countryside to the west of Avignon where you will cross another bridge, the Pont du Gard, an ancient Roman aqueduct built in the 1st century and located in a beautiful setting.

Day 5: Drive to Arles - Discover Roman architecture

Arles, France
Discover Arles' Roman influences like the 1st-century amphitheater

Today you'll continue your journey south to explore the ancient city of Arles (1 hour). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Arles sits between the Rhône River delta and the Camargue Natural Park wetlands and is defined as much by its historic Roman architecture as it is by its quintessentially French shaded squares and café-lined streets. Begin your self-guided tour at the unremarkable Le Café Van Gogh in Arles' historic core and visit the exact spot where Vincent Van Gogh painted his 1888 masterpiece, Café Terrace at Night.

Meander the old streets, stopping to check out some of Arles' most famous Roman, Christian, and medieval sites and monuments, including the well-preserved amphitheater and the 11th century Church of Saint Trophime. For artistic insight into the contemporary face of Arles, don't miss the photography exhibits at the Luma Foundation which holds the Les Rencontres d'Arles—one of the most revered photo festivals in the world—every summer since 1970.

Day 6: Drive to Les Baux-de-Provence

Lavender field
Wake up to the sweet scent of lavender

After breakfast, you have the option of returning to the Avignon train station or heading to the Marseille airport to rent your vehicle for the next leg of your tour.  Drive into the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles and directly to your country-house hotel in the picturesque Les Baux-de-Provence. Settle into your accommodation taking the afternoon to tour its gardens of lavender and olive and pine trees. Relax poolside before it's time for your gourmet dinner of traditional southern French cuisine.

Day 7: Electric bike tour to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Les Baux-de-Provence, Provence, France
Explore Les Baux-de-Provence by bike

Meet your guide today for a half-day e-bike tour of the Alpilles region. Ride along the small country roads, discovering the peaceful Provence landscape as you follow trails that lead you from Les Baux-de-Provence to nearby Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Explore Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a charming, typically Provençal village that inspired the works of Van Gogh, before returning to Les Baux-de-Provence to wander its medieval streets. If there's interest, sign the kids up for a treasure hunt for a unique way to discover the village.

Day 8: Drive to Bonnieux - Explore Luberon hilltop villages

Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, Gordes, France
Visit the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque

Today you will carry on east to Bonnieux, stopping along the way to explore the medieval town of Lourmarin. Take the rest of the day to visit the nearby sites and drive through aromatic lavender fields (in summer) to visit the 12th-century Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, a Cistercian abbey that lies just outside of the famous hilltop village of Gordes. Dominated by its fortified castle and church, wander Gordes' cobblestone streets taking in the enchanting views over the valley and surrounding hills.

You will then visit one of Frances most beautiful villages, Roussillon, home to significant ochre deposits (yellow to red pigments found in the clay), before returning to Bonnieux.

Driving duration (Les Baux-de-Provence - Roussillon): 2.5 hours
Driving distance: 67 miles (108 km)

Day 9: Drive to Aix-en-Provence

Street life in Aix
People watch from an outdoor café in the historic center of Aix-en-Provence 

This morning you'll drive south to Aix-en-Provence. Here, you'll join a two-hour walking tour to uncover the rich heritage, art, and culture of the city as you stroll through a labyrinth of winding narrow streets. You'll stop to visit historic sites like the national monument of France, the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, a Romanesque and Gothic church built on the site of an ancient Roman temple and the 14th-century town hall, Hôtel de Ville. Walk along the Cours Mirabeau, a busy thoroughfare lined with plane trees and bustling markets and cafés—perfect for people watching. 

The rest of the afternoon is yours to discover Aix-en-Provence at your own pace. 

Driving duration: 1.25 hours
Driving distance: 34 miles (54.7 km)

Day 10: Drive to Marseille - Kayak in Calanques National Park

Calenques National Park, France
Kayak calm waters in Calanques

Drive the short distance to Marseille on Frances southern coast to check into your hotel before venturing out to Parc national des Calanques for your kayaking excursion. Together with your guide, you will paddle along the protected coast, stopping in narrow inlets to explore the charming fishing villages, like Cassis just outside of the park. Enjoy the stunning scenery of the area, taking in the towering limestone cliffs and crystal clear waters. Amplify the experience and schedule your excursion for later in the day to catch a Mediterranean sunset from the vantage of your kayak.

Driving duration: 1 hour
Driving distance: 29 miles (47 km)

Day 11: Hike in Calanques - Explore Marseille

France - Marseille - Vieux Port, Saint Jean castle, and mucem in south of France
Aerial view over Vieux-Port, Fort-Saint Jean, and MuCEM

Meet your guide this morning for a private trekking tour in the Calanques National Park. Enjoy the encompassing vistas over sheer cliffs and pristine waters as you work your way along the circuit.

Return to your car and make the short drive back to Marseille. Leave your car behind and walk to Marseille's Vieux-Port (Old Port). Relax with a pastis (anise-flavored French apéritif) in hand as you take in the sights and sounds of France's oldest city. Stroll through the Le Panier quarter and along the footbridge to reach Fort Saint-Jean and the Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM) for exhibits detailing the history and culture of the region.

Day 12: Depart

Vieux-Port, Marseille, France
Sunset over Marseille's Vieux-Port and Basilica of Notre Dame

Take the morning to enjoy one last café in southern France before you return your rental in Marseille or Avignon and board a train to Paris for your scheduled flight home. Au revoir!