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Help maximize our time in Provence

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In 2 weeks, my husband and I will be in Provence for 3 nights and days. We are based in St Remy and will have a car. Since the last day is a Sunday, we need to organize our time to see the most, while considering that on Sunday, many shops are closed. what would be our best plan? We are interested in seeing Aix, Arles, Avignon as well as small towns, villages, such as Gorges, Les Baux, Rousillon, Pont du Gard and L'isle sur la Sorgue flea market. We will be driving in from St Tropez on a friday. Thank you.

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    Ah, only 3 days - a shame, a there is so much to do, depending on your interests. We have spent twenty night in Provence on two visits (modest compared to folks like Stu Dudley, who may weigh in here), and have several extensive phototravelogues of our visits which you may find useful. They can be found at and

    When in the albums, be sure to click on the "i" in the white circle to bring up the captions.

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    Only visit one of the three big cities. Arles will take the least amount of time to park & visit - so that would be my choice. If you try to visit all three (Arles, Aix, & Avignon) - they will kinda look & feel the same about half-way through your second city, IMO. Aix is a little out of the way too - except on the drive from St Tropez. What keeps us returning to Provence is the charming countryside and cute villages. So spend more time in the Luberon & Alpilles.

    Stu Dudley

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    I think they do, more than the cities which I don't think look alike at all. Besides, each of those cities has different points of interest in it, which is one reason you go there, I presume, to see them.

    So I don't agree with that advice at all.

    There is more to life than shopping, so I don't think that matters much myself. IN any of those cities, you aren't going to starve on a Sunday, enough is open.

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    Christina is a known "non-shopper". If you are a non-shopper too and like to see shop windows either covered with iron bars or louvered shutters where you can't see inside at all - then spend a Sunday in a large city. If you spend most of your three available days in large cities, you won't be able do see much else in Provence. Avignon took us 3/4 of a day on our last visit - and we didn't visit any museums or the Palais des Papes. We usually arrive in Arles, Avignon, or Aix no later than 9:30. Here might by your "events" for the three days you'll be in Provence:

    Day 1
    Arles in the morning and Les Baux in the afternoon & some time in St Remy

    Day 2 Avignon in the morning and early afternoon, and Pont du Gard (maybe) in the later afternoon

    Day 3
    Aix en Provence all day (1 3/4 hrs to get there & park)

    You haven't seen the Provence that I love.

    Again - here is the "shops open" situation:

    Something to be aware of when visiting the cities, towns, & villages of Provence

    In many towns & villages, shops are closed on Sunday & Monday. Some shops open on Monday afternoon. We never plan to visit a town (for shopping) on a Sunday or Monday unless we know in advance that the stores will be open. Most non-food stores in Aix, Nimes, and Avignon are closed all day Sunday, and Monday morning. While in Aix in mid June ’10, I did a “survey” of about 30 shops that had opening & closing days & times posted on their storefronts. Of these 30 shops, 5 were open all day Monday (including a Gap and Monoprix – chain-type stores), 10 were closed all day Monday, and 15 were open Monday afternoon only. Only 1 shop was open on Sunday. Shops in very “touristy” towns like St Paul, St Tropez, and Gordes are always open. We were recently in St Remy on a Sunday. My wife visited 11 shops that interested her (she likes housewares – no clothes or souvenirs). Two other shops looked interesting from the outside, but were closed on Sunday. Of these 11 shops, 5 were closed all day on Monday, 2 were only open Monday afternoon (around 2:30), and 4 were open all day Monday. The very touristy shops that are prevalent in almost every tourist destination village in Provence (Olivades, Souleiado, Terre de Provence), are usually open on Sunday & Monday.

    Most shops & sites close for lunch – usually from 12:30 to 2:00, or 3:00, or 3:30, or 4:00. If you really want to “shop” a town, do so in the morning as soon as the stores open (usually at 10:00). If you roll in at 2:30, the shops might be closed for another hour. I’ve had numerous people tell me how disappointed they were when they drove to a town to shop, only to find almost all the shops closed – something that doesn’t happen in the US.

    When stores are closed on a Sunday/Monday or for lunch, they will often pull down ugly aluminum louvered shutters over their beautiful storefronts – so you can’t even window shop. In some towns, these louvered shutters might be covered with graffiti, and the town will look like a war zone. Also, as you drive through a town around lunch time, it might seem deserted, unfriendly, & very uninviting. They’re actually closed for lunch and all the pretty storefronts will seem like abandoned buildings. These closings make it much harder to pack as much into a day as you might expect. Stores stay open late (around 8:00 or so), but most vacationers usually stop their sightseeing by then and are settling into their hotels or getting ready for dinner.

    Stu Dudley

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    If Sunday is the last day, does it mean you are staying Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in St. Remy? Or did you mean Sunday is the last FULL day?

    There is another way to manage this trip.

    Since you have a car this time, one way is to visit small villages requiring a car. Gordes, Rousillon, and I would add a few villages on the south of D900 such as Lacoste, etc. It does not take too much time to drive in and to get around. These are probably the idyllic images of "Provence" you have seen in pictures.

    Les Baux is a snap from St. Remy. Don't miss the Carrières de Lumières show which you can just walk from Les Baux without having to change the parking space.

    The other big cities, Avignon, Arles, etc, would take considerably longer to park and get around. In fact, if you plan to visit the area in the future, you don't even need a car.

    For Sunday, non store destination, such as Pont du Gard, may be more relevant. It is also less pain to contend with the traffic to get to the other side of the Rhone river.

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    Our days will be Friday, sat, and Sunday. I was planning on seeing the cave show in Les Baux. I know I am trying to cram a lot in in 3 days but just want to get a feel of the area, we are used to doing a lot of sightseeing, have done busy schedules before and have visited other cities for short periods of time and have enjoyed what we have seen.

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    This is one of many times I wish we had sticky posts.

    Stu's information on shopping days and hours is so critical and so different from North America that everyone heading into provincial France (and Italy and Spain and Portugal) ought to be able to read it.

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    Debbielynn - it seems that you are just looking here for a confirmation that your busy schedule is doable. And unless you depart Provence mid-day on Monday - you really only have 2 1/2 days to see/do all this.

    I still recommend not visiting all the three big cities in your 2 1/2 days. Aix is our favorite, but it will consume the greatest amount of your time. That's the one I would give up. Perhaps visit Avignon and have dinner one night in Arles. We had dinner in Arles several times when we stayed near St Remy for 2 weeks.

    Stu Dudley

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    - Market in l'Isle sur la Sorgue - get there by 8:30 to avoid the huge crowds.
    - Drive around in the Luberon visiting Gordes, Roussillon (shops will be open in both of these towns), perhaps Menerbes & Saignon.

    Here is something I wrote about visiting the Luberon & the villages there. You won't have time for all of it.

    Visiting the villages in the Luberon
    If you stay in Gordes*, start by visiting this wonderful perched village. You should park in the large lot (pay about 4E) down below the town (steep walk up). Explore this village thoroughly – not just the areas directly around the Chateau. There is an ATM in town on the side of the chateau where the outdoor cafés are located. On Tuesday morning there is an outdoor market in Gordes. It’s a little touristy, but quite good. There is a GR (walking route) that goes through this village and it passes by the lower sections of Gordes. Try to pick it up & follow it down hill. The route is marked by red & white stripes, usually painted on the sides of buildings. As you face the Chateau with your back to the main entrance to town (the steep hill), there are several shops on your right (look for a Pharmacy) and follow one of these streets down to where it passes a church. The road turns right just past this church onto Rue d'Eglise (there is a GR mark where it turns right). (If you go straight past the church, where is a wonderful panoramic view - look for the “Point de Vue” sign). If you follow the GR down hill (after you have turned right past the church) you will see an old medieval wash basin (lavoir) and also get a close-up view of how they built these perched villages on top of rock outcroppings. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the center of Gordes down to this wash basin. There is a nice shaded area near the basins where you can relax & enjoy the surroundings without any tourists. This is a very interesting walk.

    After Gordes, head to Oppede le Vieux*. Leave Gordes on the D2 towards les Imberts. At Les Imberts, veer to the left just past a gas station. Then take a left opposite the “Exit” sign to Les Imberts. Go over a small bridge and past vineyards & a lavender field. At an intersection, keep going straight towards the D900 and the Luberon Mountain range. At the D900, take a right and then immediately turn left & go under the railroad tracks. Follow the signs to Oppede les Vieux. There is a village of Oppede that you will pass through which is not “le Vieux” (old). It’s a pretty drive getting there from Gordes. Part of the drive strangely passes through a parking lot. As you approach Oppede le Vieux, get the cameras ready.

    After Oppede, head towards Menerbes* (another pretty drive getting there). Explore Menerbes. If you have read Peter Mayle’s book, you’ll know that this is where he lived. Many people just drive through Menerbes – we did the first couple of times we visited. It’s actually a great town to explore on foot. Some of the most interesting areas are on back streets & even on some dirt streets. There are many artisans scattered throughout the village.

    After Menerbes, head to Lacoste. Although the “main road” to Lacoste (D109) will take you up on a plateau & directly into Lacoste from the west, I prefer either of the two roads south of the D109 - the D103 which connects to the D3, or the D3 further south which passes through the hamlet of La Peyriere. My two GPS systems, my current Michelin Map, and my IGN map all conflict with each other regarding which road is the D3 & which is the D103. Both of these roads south of Lacoste (D103 towards Bonnieux then the D3) pass through some pretty countryside with vineyards & cherry orchards (bypassing Lacoste). As I said, there is no wrong road in this area - if you have the time, take every one. Both Lacoste & Bonnieux are perched villages – staring at each other over a valley. The settings of both are quite spectacular. The best view of Lacoste is from the D3 just west of where it intersects the D109. Take the D109 into Lacoste & drive up into the village, but turn around at the Mairie parking lot & retrace your route (heading to Bonnieux). This will afford you good views of Bonnieux. One unfortunate situation is that you really can’t get good views of both Lacoste & Bonnieux at the same time of day because of the sun’s position. We usually view Lacoste on our morning drives and Bonnieux in the evening just prior to dinner.

    Explore Bonnieux*. Walk up the narrow R Mairie (see the green Michelin Guide) to the Terrasse to get a wonderful panoramic view of the area. Walk down R Voltaire & peek into the antique shop to see a very interesting interior.

    Drive through Bonnieux & head toward Lourmarin on the D36 & look behind you to see another great view of Bonnieux – more picture taking. When you get to the D943, head north toward Apt.

    An optional stop is at the Fort de Buoux (look for signs just after the turn onto D943) which was a refuge for the Waldensians and then destroyed by Louis XIV. Pick up the English guide & walk around the Fort. A bit of climbing is involved, but I found the fort more interesting than I expected and the views from the top were great. There are usually a lot of rock climbers in this area.

    Find Saignon on your map & drive there on the D232 from Bonnieux. There are some pretty lavender fields on each side of the road as you approach Saignon. There is a picturesque view of the village from this road too. Explore Saignon thoroughly on foot – there are only a few shops in town and 3-4 simple restaurants. The main square in town is very picturesque – covered with plane trees, a beautiful fountain, lavoire (washbasin), and an ivy covered building.

    Take the D48 to Apt. There’s another lovely view of Saignon from this road and another lavender field. Notice the rock formations west of this road. This Saignon/Apt excursion will add about 45 minutes to your touring, and the outskirts of Apt and some of the urban sprawl are not what you want to experience. However, Saignon is quite lovely & it’s in a pretty setting and the lavender fields make a wonderful experience (in early summer when the lavender is in bloom). If the lavender fields are not in bloom & you need to save some time, then skip this excursion. Instead of heading to Saignon after Bonnieux, take the D149 north to the D900. There is actually a very pretty lavender field with a view of Lacoste in the background along this road. My wife has taken several pictures of this scene.

    Head to Roussillon* and explore this village (map in the green guide). You will have to park below the village & walk up. There are a lot of shops in Roussillon and they are open on Sunday (never been there on a Monday). This is a good place for lunch and, although the cafes might seem a little touristy, it’s a fun spot if you happen on a sunny day. Visit the ochre fields close by, but do not wear white shoes, white sox, or touch your face with your hands. The ochre color is hard to get out. Don’t try to drive through Roussillon – my wife got stuck on our last visit & she was mad at me for hours for insisting that she drive through Roussillon.

    After Roussillon, take the D104 to Goult and explore this town. Pick up a free map/walking itinerary at the tourist office next to a parking lot (there are 2 parking lots). Check out the restaurants I recommended (Bartavelle & Le Carillon). Wander through this town that is a bit off the main tourist itinerary. Find the Chateau & walk along the streets around it. Like Gordes, notice how the Chateau engages the rock outcropping it is sitting on. There is an area near a windmill with some wonderful views looking south. There is another great viewpoint marked “panorama” – look for the signs at the windmill end of the village, towards the chateau. It is marked #5 in the TI map. Market day is Thursday (perhaps summer only). If I had to live in one of these pretty towns in the Luberon, this is where it would be.

    After Goult, drive through St Pentaleon, and then back to Gordes.

    Stu Dudley

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