Provence & French Riviera Itinerary

By Rick Steves and Steve Smith

So much to see, so little time. How to choose? To help you get started, I've listed my top picks for where to go in Provence & the French Riviera, my plan for your best two-week trip, and tips on when to go.

Depending on the length of your trip, and taking geographic proximity into account, here are my recommended priorities:

  • 6 days: Arles and day trips to Pont du Gard and Les Baux, a night in a Côtes du Rhône village, and Nice with a day trip to Monaco
  • 9 days, add: Avignon and Cassis
  • 12 days, add: Luberon, Grand Canyon du Verdon, and Antibes
  • 14 days, add: Nîmes, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence, and the Camargue

Provence and the French Riviera's Best Two-Week Trip by Car

Day 1:  Fly into Nice. Settle in at your hotel, then take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais up to Castle Hill (sleep in or near Nice)

Day 2:  All Day in Nice. Start the morning with my guidebook's self-guided walk through Vieux Nice (take time to smell the fougasse and sample un café); spend your afternoon at one or more of Nice's fine museums, then have dinner on the beach (sleep in or near Nice)

Day 3:  Coastal Route to Monaco. Take the train or bus to nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer, explore, and have lunch. Consider my guidebook's seaside walks in Cap Ferrat, or take the one-hour boat cruise from Nice's port. Spend the afternoon or evening in almost-neighboring Monaco (sleep in or near Nice);

Day 4:  Inland Riviera. Pick up your rental car as early as possible in Nice. Drive north to Vence or Grasse (you choose), then continue on to the Gorges du Verdon (sleep in tiny Aiguines or Moustiers-Ste-Marie)

Day 5:  Drive to Provence. Continue west into the Luberon and explore the villages ofthe Provençal heartland — la Provence profonde (sleep in or near Roussillon)

Day 6:  Luberon Hill Towns. Spend your day sampling hill towns in the Luberon — taste a village market, then drive over the hills to the valley of the Côtes du Rhône. From late June to late July, when the lavender blooms, the drive to Vaison-la-Romaine via Sault is a must (sleep in or near Vaison-la-Romaine; Monday arrival is ideal because market day is Tuesday)

Day 7:  Côtes du Rhône Villages. Explore Vaison-la-Romaine's upper medieval village and lower Roman city, then set sail along the Côtes du Rhône wine road and visit a winery or wine cooperative. Tour little Crestet and take a walk above Gigondas (sleep in or near Vaison-la-Romaine)

Day 8:  Orange and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Start your day touring the Roman theater in Orange and consider a quick stop in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Continue south and set up in Avignon. In the afternoon, take my self-guided Avignon walks and enjoy dinner on one of the town's many atmospheric squares (sleep in Avignon)

Day 9:  Nîmes and the Pont du Gard. Spend the day visiting Nîmes (Roman amphitheater) and the Pont du Gard (Nîmes works better first). If the weather's good, bring your swimsuit and float on your back for views of the 2,000-year-old aqueduct (sleep in Avignon)

Day 10:  The Camargue. Take a joyride through the Camargue (but if it's summer, when flamingos are scarce and mosquitoes aren't, skip it and visit Les Baux instead). Wind up in Arles (sleep in Arles; big Saturday-morning market)

Day 11:  All Day in and near Arles. Spend most of your day in Arles, then drive to Les Baux for late afternoon sightseeing and dinner (sleep in Arles)

Day 12:  Aix-en-Provence or Marseille. Drive to Cassis, stopping for lunch and a midday visit to Aix-en-Provence or Marseille, then set up in Cassis and watch the sun set from the old port while you savor a bouillabaisse dinner (sleep in Cassis)

Day 13:  All Day in Cassis. Spend all day in Cassis enjoying la vie douce. Take a boat trip or hike to the calanques, watch the pétanque balls fly, and end your day with a drive up Cap Canaille (sleep in Cassis)

Day 14:  Fly Away. Fly out of Marseille today or, if leaving from Nice, drive to Antibes and spend your final day and evening there (sleep in Antibes)

Day 15:  Trip over

Provence and the French Riviera's Best Two-Week Trip by Train and Bus

Note that on Sundays, fewer trains run, and buses often disappear.

Day 1:  Fly into Nice. Settle in at your hotel, then take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais up to Castle Hill (sleep in or near Nice)

Day 2:  All Day in Nice. Start the morning with my guidebook's self-guided walk through Vieux Nice (take time to smell the fougasse and sample un café); spend your afternoon at one or more of Nice's fine museums, then have dinner on the beach (sleep in or near Nice)

Day 3:  Coastal Route to Monaco. Take the train or bus to nearby Villefranche-sur-Mer, explore, and have lunch. Consider my guidebook's seaside walks in Cap Ferrat, or take the one-hour boat cruise from Nice's port, then spend the afternoon or evening in almost-neighboring Monaco (sleep in or near Nice)

Day 4:  Inland Villages. Take a bus north to Vence and St-Paul-de-Vence; stop for a stroll and visit the Fondation Maeght and/or Matisse's Chapel of the Rosary — or link Vence with Grasse by bus, skipping St-Paul-de-Vence to save time (sleep in Vence, or back in Nice)

Day 5:  Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Take a train from Nice to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue via Marseille (best to arrive on a Saturday or Wednesday, and awaken the next morning for market day); wander and explore the town, and consider a canoe ride down the crystal-clear Sorgue River (sleep in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue)

Day 6:  Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Avignon. Enjoy market day this morning, then take a train to Avignon. Follow my guidebook's Avignon walks this afternoon and enjoy dinner on one of Avignon's many atmospheric squares (sleep in Avignon)

Day 7:  Day Trip to Nîmes and Pont du Gard. Visit Nîmes (Roman amphitheater) in the morning and the Pont du Gard in the afternoon. If the weather's good, bring your swimsuit and float on your back for views of the 2,000-year-old aqueduct. Have dinner and sleep back in Avignon (sleep in Avignon)

Day 8:  Vaison-la-Romaine. Take a morning train to Orange (frequent departures), then connect to a less frequent bus to Vaison-la-Romaine, then explore the town's upper medieval village and lower Roman city in the afternoon (sleep in Vaison-la-Romaine; market day is Tuesday, so a Monday arrival is ideal)

Day 9:  Côtes du Rhône Villages. Get to a wine village near Vaison-la-Romaine. Take a minivan tour of the wine road, bike to Séguret and Gigondas, or hike to Le Crestet for lunch (taxi back) (sleep in Vaison-la-Romaine)

Day 10:  Orange and Arles. Take a morning bus back to Orange, visit the Roman theater, then hop a train to Arles and explore the city in the afternoon (sleep in Arles; big Saturday-morning market)

Day 11:  Les Baux and Arles. Take a minivan tour or a taxi (or, in summer, a bus) to Les Baux and have breakfast with a view. Return to Arles by taxi or bus (minivan tours will probably include other destinations), and spend your afternoon there; or take a taxi from Les Baux to St-Rémy, explore there, then catch a bus back to Arles (sleep in Arles)

Day 12:  Marseille, then Cassis. Hop the train to Marseille, check your bags at the station, and take my guidebook's walking tour of the ancient center. End your day in Cassis and watch the sun set from the old port while you savor a bouillabaisse dinner (sleep in Cassis)

Day 13:  Cassis. Spend all day in Cassis enjoying la vie douce. Take a boat trip or hike to the calanques, then watch the pétanque balls fly (sleep in Cassis)

Day 14:  Fly Away. Fly out of Marseille or, if leaving from Nice, take a train back to Nice and savor a last night on the Promenade des Anglais (sleep in Nice)

Day 15:  Trip over

When to Go

With more than 300 days of sunshine per year, Provence and the Riviera enjoy France's sunniest weather. Spring and fall are best, with generally comfortable weather — though crowds can be a problem, particularly during holiday weekends and major events (May is worst). April can be damp, and any month can be windy.

Summer means festivals, lavender, steamy weather, long hours at sights, and longer lines of cars along the Riviera. Europeans vacation in July and August, jamming the Riviera, the Gorges du Verdon, and Ardèche (worst from mid-July through mid-Aug), but leaving the rest of this region relatively calm. Though many French businesses close in August, the traveler hardly notices.

September brings the grape harvest, when small wineries are off-limits to taste-seeking travelers. Late fall delivers beautiful foliage and a return to tranquility.

Although you can find mild, sunny weather in any season, Provence is famous for its bone-chilling temperatures when the wind blows. Winter travel is OK in Nice, Aix-en-Provence, and Avignon, but you'll find smaller cities and villages buttoned up tight. Sights and tourist-information offices keep shorter hours, and some tourist activities (such as English-language castle tours) vanish altogether.

Thanks to Provence's temperate climate, fields of flowers greet the traveler much of the year:

  • May: Wild red poppies (coquelicots) sprout.
  • June: Lavender begins to bloom in the lower hills of Provence, generally during the last week of the month.
  • July: Lavender is in full swing in Provence, and sunflowers are awakening. If you can find adjacent fields with lavender and sunflowers, celebrate! Cities, towns, and villages everywhere overflow with carefully tended flowers.
  • August–September: Sunflowers flourish.
  • October: In the latter half of the month, the countryside glistens with fall colors (most trees are deciduous). Vineyards go for the gold.

Steve Smith is the co-author of the Rick Steves Provence & the French Riviera guidebook.