Oh, Provence. This stunning region has become a major destination for people across the world, thanks to its adorable villages, gorgeous lavender fields, and everyone who visits posting photos of both on social media. Fortunately, certain spots have still remained relatively untouched, despite being a stone’s throw away from popular destinations like Valensole. The best part is, it’s actually very affordable once you get here! If you’re looking for the perfect French summer getaway, look no further than a road trip in Provence.
The Ultimate Guide to a Road Trip in Provence
When to Go
This is admittedly a more and more difficult question over the years, if you’re trying to catch the lavender in bloom. In 2019 our trip dates were 4-9 July, and by the last days we were passing lavender fields that had already been harvested. As blooming periods are shifting earlier, I would recommend the last week of June and first week of July for optimal lavender visiting. However, there are plenty of non-lavender related activities to do in Provence, so don’t worry if you can’t make it there during this period!
How to Get There
BY TRAIN: It’s only a 2h45 TGV ride from Paris Gare de Lyon to Avignon TGV, and 3h09 to Aix-en-Provence TGV (be aware, if you’re looking to base yourself in either Avignon or Aix, these two stations are located a ways out of the center of town- you’ll need to take another train or rent a car to get there).
If you’re coming from Paris, this is by far the easiest option. We chose Avignon because there are multiple car rental locations within the train station complex, and it only took a little while before we had the keys and were on our way.
Check out train ticket options HERE (booking through Omio will give me a little commission, and their customer service is great- I once got strep throat and had to cancel a train the day before my trip and easily got the majority of my money back).
BY PLANE: The largest international airport in the center of the Provence region is Aéroport Marseille Provence, located in Marignane next to Marseille down on the coast. From there, you can take a free shuttle bus from the airport’s bus station (platform/quai 5) to the train station Vitrolles Aeroport Marseille Provence. The buses run every 10-15 minutes. From the train station, take a TER (regional train) up to Avignon (18.30€) or Aix-en-Provence (11.90€). There is a small regional airport near Avignon but your flight options will be limited.
BY CAR: From Paris, take the A6 highway towards Lyon and then the A7 from Lyon to Avignon (around a 7 hour drive, traffic permitting). Once you approach Avignon, follow signs for the D900- many of the villages and lavender fields are located off of this route.
How to Get Around
As great at the train systems are, for a road trip in Provence, renting a car is non-negotiable. You’ll get the most out of the trip if you can make your own itinerary and have the freedom to change it at will- we spent a lot of time pulling over next to random fields and often changed destination at the drop of a hat. Additionally, most of the locations you’ll want to stop at (and nearly all in this guide) are only accessible by car.
Where to Stay
Airbnb is the way to go in this region, as many people rent out their summer homes when not staying there, and you can find some incredible places for great prices. We stayed in one which I unfortunately can’t recommend as we weren’t huge fans (though it served its purpose), but I found a few others in the area that have great reviews!
All photos courtesy of Airbnb. Links: Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3
(Vaucluse, Luberon and Alpes de Haute Provence)
Oppède-le-Vieux: This adorable hilltop village in the Luberon is accessible to tourists only by foot; leave your car in the parking lot at the bottom of the hill and make the 10-15 minute well-marked trek up through the woods and olive groves. Once at the top, you can wander the cobblestone streets in the shadow of the remains of a 12th-century chateau, discovering the restored 15th and 16th century houses and workshops.
Colorado Provençal: Before you ask- yes, it’s named for the state! These former ochre quarries, like the ones in Roussillon, were mined for the natural pigments in the clay between 1871 and 1993 (over 20 different shades in the Colorado Provençal alone).
They’re now a protected historical monument and can be visited from February through December, with two paths (one long, one short) that will take you through the quarries to marvel at the natural beauty of the site, despite its heavily industrial past.
It will cost you 5€ to park your car in the lot at the entrance to the quarries, and opening times vary depending on the month. You can find the most up-to-date information on the hours and prices HERE.
Roussillon: This charming village is unlike most you’ll find in the south of France, with its buildings dyed orange and red thanks to the ochre found in the local clay. It won’t take you long to wander its streets and explore, as it’s quite small, with a population of only around 1300 people. The real attraction lies outside of the village.
A few minutes’ walk from the center of town, you’ll find yourself at the start of the Sentier des Ocres, a set of paths which will take you through the ochre quarries (one takes about 30 minutes, the other around 60 minutes). The colors here are less diverse of those in the Colorado Provençal but no less spectacular, especially at the end of the day when the light turns golden and hits it just right.
Entry will cost you 3€, and opening hours vary by season (find them HERE). After visiting the quarries, head back into town and grab an ice cream to eat while sitting by the town hall (pictured above).
Plateau de Valensole: No summer road trip in Provence is complete these days without a stop at the lavender fields in Valensole, easily the most famous and popular in the region. The most photographed fields are those of Lavandes Angelvin, off of the D6-Route de Manosque highway. Not only are there lavender fields, there are also sunflower fields for a bit of diversity in your photos.
Because of its popularity, there’s now a large designated parking area across the highway from the fields, making it quite easy to stop for photos. Be careful crossing however as cars don’t really slow down- I saw quite a few tourists nearly get hit.
Tip: If you do decide to stop here, be sure to get here early to avoid the crowds (although there still will be crowds)! If you’re looking for fields with no people around, I recommend continuing east on the D6 past the village of Valensole- you’ll find many views with the Alps in the background (see the first picture in this post).
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie: Built into a cliffside over the western edge of the Gorges de Verdon, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is known not only as one of the most beautiful villages of France but also for its production of faïence, which is pottery covered with a white tin glaze and often decorated with colorful motifs on top.
There’s a spring that flows from the cliff, creating a waterfall through the village, a means of hydroelectric power for its inhabitants, and a place to refill your water bottle after climbing up and down the hilly streets. The Chapel Notre-Dame de Beauvoir, perched above the village, is a historical monument and accessible via the Way of the Cross, a pathway with 262 steps leading up the cliff.
Gorges du Verdon: Known for its stunning, naturally turquoise water, the Gorges de Verdon and Lac de Sainte-Croix have become an increasingly popular summer destination for French and visitors alike. It gets its color from the minerals in the water.
The most famously photographed view, pictured above, is from the Pont du Galetas on the D957 highway, which sits just above where the Verdon River feeds into the Lac de Sainte-Croix. The D957 will take you all around the lake, and there are plenty of little beaches to stop at- I recommend heading further south away from the bridge to avoid the crowds, unless you want to rent a canoe or paddleboat.
However, for the picture above, there are parking lots on either side of the bridge, and a big sidewalk so you can stop and admire the gorgeous scenery.
Simiane-la-Rotonde: Inspired by a photo on my friend Mary’s Instagram, once I saw that Simiane-la-Rotonde was only 20 minutes away from our Airbnb, I knew we had to go! A few fields are around the village, though some are private property (please don’t trespass for the sake of a photo!). We chose this one for the great view of the village in the background.
Tip: if you’re looking for the best light, come a little over an hour before sunset, as the sun goes down behind the village from this angle.
Fun story though: I was aiming to come when the sun was at a certain height, and it wasn’t quite low enough when we arrived, so we thought we’d go park and walk around the village. As we drove up, we saw white smoke billowing above the rooftops, and discovered that a building was on fire and the road into the village was closed! Hoping no one was hurt, but with nothing we could do, we decided to drive to Sault to check out the nearby fields, and then stopped here on our way back.
Gordes: While it has gotten admittedly more touristy in recent years, it’s for good reason- Gordes is one of the most picturesque and lovely villages in the Vaucluse department. Driving into the village, there’s a clearly marked lookout point, from which you’ll find the view pictured above.
The commune dates back over a thousand years to the Roman empire, and the chateau was built in 1031. It was also an active resistance center during WWII, and was bombed in 1944 due to the resistance efforts. Strolling the streets today and marvelling at the views over the surrounding countryside, or relaxing poolside at La Bastide de Gordes, it’s hard to imagine the wonders and horrors this village has seen.
Tip: If you’re looking for the best light and the fewest people, come in the morning- the photo above was taken around 6:30am. Head to Le Cercle Républicain afterwards for a coffee and a hot croissant or pain au chocolat (they get them from the local boulangerie). They open at 7:30 and have an adorable little balcony with a couple of tables overlooking the surrounding landscape- the perfect spot for a morning bite.
Abbaye de Sénanque: This beautiful little abbey is tucked away behind the village of Gordes and surrounded by lavender fields, which are tended by the abbey’s monks. They also raise honey bees, and sales of their honey and lavender help cover their living expenses and building maintenance.
Unfortunately, due to overzealous tourists trampling the lavender in their quest for the perfect photo, the lavender fields are surrounded by high fences, making many of the angles you’ve seen on Instagram now impossible. However, it’s still worth a visit if you’re also visiting Gordes, just to see its beauty! You can also visit the abbey itself (see visiting hours and entry fees HERE) or buy a jar of delicious lavender honey from the monastic shop.
Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt: With its charmingly colorful streets and medieval castle ruins, Saint-Saturnin is both idyllic and interesting- not just a spot to stop for photos, but a place where you can climb the cobblestone steps and stand where people once stood nearly a thousand years ago.
The château ruins and restored chapel that sit on the hilltop date back to 1056, and the dam next to it was built in 1863 as a water source for the village. From this vantage point you can admire the rooftops, the steeple of the Saint-Étienne church, and the 17th century windmills. Down in the village, don’t miss the 3 gorgeous doors that are listed as historic monuments.
Tip: I recommend stopping for a meal at Le Saint Hubert– we went for brunch/lunch and it was the best omelette of my life (be sure to tell Lise and Eric that I sent you!).
What to Bring Back
Market baskets & other local goodies: The Marché d’Apt is one of the area’s biggest and best markets, for food as well as other souvenirs. We headed there to stock up on fresh produce, and of course made a stop at a few other stands as well. You can buy classic French market baskets (ironically most of which are made in Morocco), local honey, sachets of dried lavender, jams and spreads made with local ingredients, and massive jugs of olive oil. My item of choice was a small woven straw purse (I already own two market baskets) to replace my other summer bag whose handle had just broken.
Wine: If you’re road tripping in Provence, you absolutely must heed the signs at the sides of the road alerting you to the fact that a winery is nearby. There’s a huge variety of options for Provençal wine depending on the types of grapes- some domaines have many different choices, others are smaller family farms that offer just two or three each of whites, reds, and rosés.
When you stop, you’ll be taken into their designated tasting area- a cool, humid wine cave attached to their home for some, a large counter with uniformed staff for others. You’re encouraged to taste as many wines as you wish, and you’ll be able to buy bottles for close to wholesale prices. And of course, DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE!
Some of our favorites from the trip:
Domaine de Tara (we learned about this one from Le Saint Hubert- great sparkling rosé!)
Domaine de la Citadelle (probably the most “established” of the ones we visited)
Domaine du Puy Marquis (not the friendliest welcome but great dry rosés and a scenic drive to get here)
Domaine de Grand Saint-Julien (pictured above- there is a friendly dog and some adorable cats here!)
I’ve put together a handy map to help you find all the locations on this list!
Have you ever taken a road trip in Provence? What would you add to this list?
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