On this self-drive tour, you'll get behind the wheel and take off into the south of France, discovering the highlights of the famed Provence region in just over a week. The tour will take you from the nation's oldest city, Marseille, to the markets and cafés of charming Aix-en-Provence. It continues to the historic city of Avignon, on the Rhône River, as well as into the Alpilles Mountains and over the fertile valleys of the Luberon region. This is in addition to visiting many other exceptional heritage sites in Provence. And at the end of each day, you'll hang your hat in some of the most charming hotels and B&Bs in all of France.

Highlights

  • Stroll the streets of Marseille, France's oldest city
  • Visit Avignon, a historic city that was once the seat of Catholicism
  • Take a private cruise around the secluded beaches of Calanques National Park
  • Go wine tasting in the Mediterranean
  • Enjoy the lavender fields and hillside villages of Provence's famous Luberon region

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Explore Marseille, France's Oldest City Marseille
Day 2 Half-Day Cruise to Calanques National Park Marseille
Day 3 Cassis and Bandol Rosé Wine Tour Marseille
Day 4 Cultural Aix-en-Provence Aix en Provence
Day 5 Tour of the Luberon Bonnieux
Day 6 Avignon and a Wine Tour of the Rhône Valley Avignon
Day 7 Cooking class in the Alpilles natural park Saint Rémy de Provence
Day 8 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 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, in fact, 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, 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), 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: Half-Day Cruise to Calanques National Park

Calanque National Park
Calanque National Park

Located 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 520 square kilometers between Marseilles and the seaside town of La Ciotat, protecting both land and ocean. Calanques 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 get back to your hotel in Marseille.

Day 3: Cassis and Bandol Rosé Wine Tour

The port of Cassis
The port of Cassis

On the coast of France's southeastern Provence region lies two charming Mediterranean villages: Cassis and Bandol. Besides old-world charm, these villages are known for their breathtaking natural beauty. Cassis sits on the edge of Calanques National Park, which boasts hidden coves and large limestone sea cliffs. Bandol is known for its crescent white-sand beach, which appeals to sunseekers of all stripes. Both areas, however, are deservedly famous for their hundreds of acres of vineyards that produce stellar wines. On a full-day wine tour of these two villages, you'll get to sample some of the best.

Provence, in general, is renowned for its fine rosé wines, but Cassis is more famous for whites while Bandol is known for reds and rosés. You'll visit some of the most famous wineries in this region and enjoy tastings overlooking beautiful terraced vineyards and the Mediterranean Sea. The tastings also include tours of the facilities for some insight into the production process. Plus there's a stop at Cape Canaille, which overlooks Cassis from the east, for even more jaw-dropping views. The excursion ends with a leisurely lunch back in the postcard-worthy fishing village of Cassis.

Wine-tour duration: 5-7 hours 

Day 4: Cultural Aix-en-Provence

Street life in Aix
Street life in Aix

This morning you'll uncover the rich heritage, art, and culture that defines the famous city of Aix-en-Provence. On a two-hour walking tour, you'll stroll a labyrinth of narrow streets, passing historic fountains as your expert guide points out both famous and hidden gems.

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. 

After the walking tour, you'll have the rest of the day to enjoy the city however you see fit.
You can enjoy a 3-course menu in a gourmet restaurant very close to your hotel in the heart of Aix-en-Provence. 

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: Avignon and a Wine Tour of the Rhône Valley

The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), in Avignon
The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), 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 7: Cooking class in the Alpilles natural park

Olive oil mill in Fontvieille
Olive oil mill in Fontvieille

This morning you head to Fonvieille to visit an olive oil mill and participate in a cooking class based on the use of olive oil with a chef! 
Anne and Magali, the hostesses and owners of the estate, offer a visit (in English) in their Provencal farmhouse of the 13th century. Your guides will then give you a tasting course where you will learn how to taste olive oil, its qualities and flaws, and tips for the best use in cooking. Then, the chef will give you a cooking class around the mill's olive oil. You will finally taste the culinary preparations altogether!
(activity shared with other participants; activity duration: 2h30)


At the end of the day, visit with your guide Saint Remy de Provence, the charming and typically Provençal village that inspired the works of the famous painter Vincent van Gogh.

Stages: Aix- Les Baux de Provence 70km 
What to see: Fontvieille, Les Baux de Provence, Saint Remy de Provence, Les Alpilles Nature Park

Day 8: Departure

Goodbye, France!
Goodbye, France!

After breakfast, depending on your schedule, you'll transfer to the airport in Marseille to catch a flight, or head to the TGV station in Aix-en-Provence to board a high-speed train. This marks the end of your trip to Southern France. A bientôt!

Map

Map of Self-Drive Culture, Wine, and Food Tour of Southern France - 8 Days
Map of Self-Drive Culture, Wine, and Food Tour of Southern France - 8 Days