You know a place is magical when you never want days with hot leather seats, wrong turns, and backseat drivers to end. A road trip in Provence is an approachable, scenic way to appreciate the South of France and visit areas not easily accessed by public transportation.
I spent a sticky, tasty, beautiful summer week driving between small towns in Provence with my family. We explored favorite spots recommended by local friends and admired the historical architecture. During the drives in the Provencal countryside, we laughed, bickered, and blasted French pop songs in the car.
Keep reading for recommendations from my road trip in Provence.
Road Trip In Provence | High-Level Itinerary
I recommend the following high-level itinerary for your road trip in Provence:
- Day 0: Arrive in Aix-en-Provence
- Day 1: Aix-en-Provence
- Day 2: Aix-en-Provence
- Day 3: Arles (rent a car from this day as you don’t need one if you stay centrally in Aix-en-Provence)
- Day 4: Les Baux-de-Provence & Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
- Day 5: Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon
- Day 6: Les Calanques
- Day 7: Gordes
Assuming you stay in Aix-en-Provence during the entirety of your stay, the above itinerary requires about 2-3 hours of driving each day.
Where To Stay
Depending on how rooted you’d like to be during your road trip, you can pick one base for your stay or several. I elected to stay only in Aix-en-Provence during my time in the region and drove to other cities as day trips. Aix-en-Provence is one of the larger cities in Provence, has a direct TGV train to/from Paris, and is centrally located in the region.
In Aix-en-Provence, I spent time at Château de la Gaude, a five-star chateau just outside of the city. The chateau features an exquisite French garden, several restaurants, unique artwork, and elegant rooms. The grounds were so beautiful that it made driving away each day difficult. Even if you don’t stay at Château de la Gaude, I recommend having a meal on the property and peeking at the garden.
If you would like to stay in multiple places during your road trip, I suggest spending a night or two in Arles and Gordes.
In the old town of Arles, stay at Hôtel La Muette, a centrally-located boutique hotel tucked away on a quiet street. For a more secluded experience, try Hotel La Bastide d’Eygalières, a Green Key-certified luxury hotel in a rural area.
Aix-en-Provence is one of the most dynamic and historic cities in Provence, France. Foodies, fans of art and architecture, and nature enthusiasts will have their interests piqued.
As I shared above, I used Aix-en-Provence as my base during the entirety of my road trip in Provence. You can easily spend 2-3 days within the city exploring, but its central location makes it a convenient base from which to discover the region.
Tip: The two most convenient parking lots in Aix-en-Provence are Parking Aix-en-Provence Krypton – EFFIA (just south of the downtown area) and Parking Cardeurs (about as central as it gets).
Aix-en-Provence | Food & Drink
Some of my favorite places to eat in Aix-en-Provence include:
- Mana Espresso (brunch/coffee -📍14 Rue Courteissade, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France)
- La Fromagerie du Passage (cheese shop -📍55 Cours Mirabeau, Pass. Agard, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France)
- Restaurant Le Art, Château de la Gaude (haute French cuisine -📍3959 Rte des Pinchinats, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France)
- La Pastisserie (pastis shop -📍2 Rue Paul Bert, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France)
- Aux Pâtes Fraîches (pasta -📍12 Rue Laurent Fauchier, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France)
- Le môme (French -📍57 Av. Maurice Plantier, 13770 Venelles, France)
One of my best memories from my road trip in Provence was picking up cheese from La Fromagerie du Passage and having a picnic. We went to a hidden cliff overlooking Montagne Sainte-Victoire (my local friend swore me to secrecy not to reveal the exact location) to share cheese, wine, and some bread while watching the sunset.
Aix-en-Provence | Activities
Many of Aix-en-Provence’s most popular and enjoyable activities center on art and architecture. You can spend many pleasant hours wandering through the city’s golden streets, admiring local shops and cafes. The famed French artist Paul Cézanne was born in the city and his studio, Atelier de Cezanne, is a must-visit (make a ticket reservation in advance).
The 17th-century Pavillon Vendôme invites visitors to enjoy its stunning grounds and art exhibits. The museum is fairly small and can be visited in under 30 minutes, but you’ll want to spend more time recharging in the garden.
A less familiar attraction in the Aix-en-Provence region with incredible modern architecture is Château La Coste. This luxury hotel and winery is set on an expansive vineyard and features sculptures from renowned artists. Japanese architect Tadao Ando designed the striking art center at the heart of the property. You can either stay at the hotel, visit one of its restaurants, or book an art and architecture tour.
Tip: If you enjoy walking or running, head to Promenade de la Torse. The park has large green spaces and easy trails along the river.
Arles, the city famous for inspiring the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, entices visitors with its ancient Roman remains and traditional French streets. The Rhône River cuts through the town, providing a clear divide between the old town and newer developments.
You can pass hours exploring the narrow streets of Arles. Particularly if you arrive early in the morning, you’ll find many alleys largely free from pedestrians.
Arles | Food & Drink
Restaurants and cafes are not hard to find in Arles as they seem to dot every corner. Unless you have a very specific restaurant that you must go to during peak hours, you can find somewhere to eat without a reservation. Restaurants I enjoy in Arles include:
- Restaurant L’Oriel (haute French -📍6 Rue du Forum, 13200 Arles, France)
- Le Petit Arles (galettes & crepes -📍29 Rue de l’Hôtel de ville, 13200 Arles, France)
- Glacier Arelatis (ice cream -📍8 place du Forum, 1 Rue Jean Jaurès, 13200 Arles, France)
Arles | Activities
An informative way to tour the city is to walk a marked path through Arles tracing Van Gogh’s footsteps.
I spent a day of my road trip in Provence in Arles, mostly wandering aimlessly through the town but also seeing a few of the major sights. Arles Ampitheatre, an ancient Roman gladiatorial theater, is arguably the city’s most famous landmark. Nearby Saint-Trophime Primatial Catholic Church and Le Jardin d’été are also popular destinations.
Les Baux-de-Provence & Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
A combined visit to Les Baux-de-Provence and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence makes for a scenic day in the Provencal countryside.
Les Baux-de-Provence is a small commune set on a rocky outlook overlooking agricultural fields. The crowning jewel of the area is Château des Baux-de-Provence, a ruined castle with horizon views of the surrounding plains.
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a small town with pastel-colored buildings. The village has ties to Vincent van Gogh, who spent time there after he famously cut off his left earlobe.
Les Baux-de-Provence & Saint-Rémy-de-Provence | Food & Drink
While Les Baux-de-Provence has a few restaurans, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence offers a wider selection. Many of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence’s restaurants are encircled by the city center’s main boulevard. Top restaurants include L’Estagnol (📍7 Bd Marceau, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France) and Le Marilyn (📍13 Bd Marceau, 13210 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France).
Les Baux-de-Provence & Saint-Rémy-de-Provence | Activities
Château des Baux-de-Provence is the central attraction of its namesake area. This 10th-century, medieval fortress towers above the village and agricultural fields and offers visitors spectacular views. You will need to park your car at the base of the castle and walk up a hill for about 10 minutes to reach it.
In Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the main attraction aside from the town itself is Les Antiques. Situated just south of the central town, Les Antiques dates back to 30-20 BC and once marked the entrance to the Roman town of Glanum.
The two towns sit less than a 15-minute drive from each other so can comfortably be explored in an afternoon.
Take advantage of the car and drive to Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. This small lakeside commune offers lovely cobblestone streets, picturesque mountain views, and a lake for a summertime swim.
Bring a towel, your swimsuit, and a book for a few hours on the shores of the Lake of Sainte-Croix. This feels like the South of France.
Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon | Food & Drink
Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon has a few restaurant options perched on the hill overlooking the lake. During my visit, I sipped a glass of rosé at La Taverne du Lac (📍Rue des Fenières, 04500 Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon, France) as I watched sailboats below.
Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon | Activities
Pretty much the whole point of visiting Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon is to enjoy its lake. I recommend arriving prepared with a swimsuit, towel, and change of clothes so that you can spend the day by the water.
If you need a break from swimming and laying in the sun, head up to the town area for a drink or bite to eat. Note that the roads of Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon wind up a somewhat steep hill with many switchbacks and may not be navigable for people with mobility challenges.
Spend a day hiking along the coast in Les Calanques, a rugged national park south of Marseille. The park’s limestone formations create dramatic vistas against the ocean background.
Les Calanques | Food & Drink
Depending on where you access Les Calanques, you can find food and beverage options in the nearby cities of Marseille (by far the largest), Cassis, or La Ciotat.
In Marseille, I recommend Chez Sauveur (📍10 Rue d’Aubagne, 13001 Marseille, France) for mouth-wateringly good pizza. I didn’t spend time in Cassis, but in La Ciotat, I enjoyed Restaurant-Pizzeria La Mamma (📍2 Quai François Mitterrand, 13600 La Ciotat, France).
Les Calanques | Activities
Les Calanques National Park stretches for 20km and offers a variety of hiking routes and access points. During my road trip, I hiked near Calanque de Figuerolles. La Ciotat is the closest city to this section of the park.
The easiest way to access the hiking trail near Calanque de Figuerolles is from the 20 Avenue des Falaises Parking lot.
You can either take a short walk down to the beach or follow the trail from the parking lot as far as you’d like west (I did the latter).
One of the most beautiful villages in France, Gordes, is perched on a large rock in the Luberon region of Provence. The cobblestone, winding streets of this sunkissed town are idyllic for stretching your legs as you drive through the South of France.
Since its origins in the 11th century, Gordes endured wars, natural disasters, and population decline – all while developing as an industrial and artistic center in the region.
Gordes | Food & Drink
A number of excellent restaurants and cafes dot the village, but my favorite restaurant, Le Mas, sits about a 10-minute drive from the city center. I discovered the restaurant through a local friend who claimed it was the best spot near Avignon for a leisurely French lunch. Along with Le Mas, I suggest the following places to eat in Gordes:
- Le Mas ( French -📍chemin de saint blaise, 84220 Gordes, France)
- Le Potager Du Chateau (fruit/juice/cheese shop -📍Rue de la Poste, 84220 Gordes, France)
- Le Teston (French -📍Rte Neuve, 84220 Gordes, France)
Gordes | Activities
In addition to walking through the golden alleyways of Gordes, drive about ten minutes north to Sénanque Abbey. This Provencal abbey was built over the 12th and 13th centuries and is today a working, monastic church closely tied to agriculture.
Lavandin, a lavender hybrid, is grown on the abbey’s grounds and can be seen during summer visits. You can take a guided tour through Sénanque Abbey or individually explore its main areas.
Road Trip Tips
- If you are in France for a short holiday, you can drive in the country with your foreign license or an international license (see here for more details). The foreign license must be valid and either written in French or accompanied by a French translation.
- Discover Cars is a convenient rental car platform where you can reserve a car in advance.
- None of the places recommended in this road trip in Provence itinerary are particularly rural. However, half the fun of a road trip is buying snacks for the drive. Take the opportunity to explore local markets or French supermarkets such as Carrefour, Lidl, or Intermarché.