Provence mostly no car

Old Feb 7th, 2020, 08:02 PM
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Provence mostly no car

I've just been accepted to give a presentation at a week-long conference in Marseille in June (this is a first!), and I'll have roughly a week to take a vacation before or afterwards. I need to decide my dates in a couple days, so I could use some quick help!

I've been to Marseille before on a cruise stop, and spent five days in Avignon a couple years ago. I'm excited to be going back. I know what I would love to see and experience; I'm looking for the least stressful way to connect them all. I will not have a car for the most part, though I can rent one for the day as needed. I'd like to run a couple itineraries by you all, and see which ones look more realistic. I like slow travel, and would prefer to have a few bases rather than move around a lot. And as much as I love les plus belles villes ... I'd rather stay in towns.

High importance: Walk or bike in the Camargue, walk or bike in the Calanques, visit Le Pont du Gard, visit Les Baux de Provence and the Carričres de Lumičres. Possibly visit the Luberon and the lavender fields (this would be around June 20).

No interest: Shopping. Lots of driving. Long days of driving. Bus and coach tours.

Option 1
4.5 days in Arles (day trips to Camargue, Le pont, Les Baux). 8 days in Marseille. 2 days in Cassis. 2 days in Aix-en-Provence (day trip to Luberon).
Pros: I get all my known bucket-list items. Aix is better placed to get to the airport the next morning.
Cons: There is one longer transport day. No Nīmes

Option 2
2.5 days Nīmes (day trip to Le pont). 3 days Arles (day trips to Camargue, Les Baux). 8-9 days Marseille. 2-3 days Cassis.

Pros: A weekend in Nīmes is probably more lively than a weekend in Arles. Possible free day in Marseille. There will be no long days of transport.
Cons: Longer trip from Cassis to airport at the end. Not sure if it's rushed in the beginning. Would need to visit Luberon on coach tour from Marseille or Cassis.


The option I choose will impact which day I fly out on, so I should make up my mind soon! Thanks for any advice.

Last edited by michael_cain_77398; Feb 7th, 2020 at 08:47 PM.
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Old Feb 7th, 2020, 08:20 PM
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Either should be wonderful! That said, Aix is within my comfort zone for a flight out of Marseille. Cassis is not.
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Old Feb 8th, 2020, 04:40 AM
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Renting a car by the day is usually not a very cost-effective solution (usually costs about the same to rent a car for 3 days), but I can't see walking in the Camargue, and the mosquitoes there would probably put me off biking even if I were a biker, which I'm decidedly not. So I would definitely have a car for the Camargue. There's a lot more to see there than Aigues-Mortes, and it would be impossible to hit the highlights without one.

I'm very fond of both Arles and Nīmes, and haven't really got a handle on the liveliness of weekends in either, though I know the Saturday Arles market is almost always packed, but I wouldn't assume that Nīmes is the livelier of the two - you can google the official websites of both of them for your dates to see what's going to be happening.
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Old Feb 8th, 2020, 08:39 AM
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Originally Posted by StCirq View Post
I can't see walking in the Camargue, and the mosquitoes there would probably put me off
Without trying to change StCirq's perfectly legitimate choice, I would note that there's a rather interesting short walk at the Musée de la Camargue, for which a good insect repellent is definitely in order. And walking around the Parc Ornithologique -- with insect repellent -- can also be a great way to spend an hour or more.
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Old Feb 8th, 2020, 02:42 PM
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You have different priorities than I do, but given all the time you plan to do day trips. I'd rent a car for more than a day and build those into that part of the trip. I guess your option 1. I don't know why you think Nimes is so lively, I thought it was fairly dull myself. The problem is you need a car for the calanques, it sounds like. You can easily do that as a day trip from Marseille, but not if you want to do the hiking thing. I think your itinerary is difficult because you are interspersing cities with wanting to do these rural day trip things and they are on opposite sides of Marseille.

I would go with your option 1.
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Old Feb 8th, 2020, 02:49 PM
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(Oops! I meant to say "without trying to CHALLENGE," not "without trying to CHANGE."

I don't know why one would need a car for the calanques -- one can hike or take a boat from either Cassis or La Ciotat, either of which can be reached by public transportation.
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Old Feb 8th, 2020, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by kja View Post
Either should be wonderful! That said, Aix is within my comfort zone for a flight out of Marseille. Cassis is not.
I stayed up late reading your last trip report ' wow! I definitely picked up some fresh ideas from you. Like you, I enjoy diversity in a trip.

I think you made a good point about being in Aix rather than Cassis the night before my flight. I looked into staying near the airport the last night, but that is not appealing.

Originally Posted by StCirq View Post
Renting a car by the day is usually not a very cost-effective solution (usually costs about the same to rent a car for 3 days) ...

I'm very fond of both Arles and Nīmes, and haven't really got a handle on the liveliness of weekends in either, though I know the Saturday Arles market is almost always packed, but I wouldn't assume that Nīmes is the livelier of the two - you can google the official websites of both of them for your dates to see what's going to be happening.
After reading all the replies I think that renting a car for three days makes the most logistical sense. Of course, that opens up new options, like starting in Arles and ending in Nimes, and spending a few days in the rural areas ....

As for Arles vs Nīmes, I have read every post I can find and still cannot make up my mind. The forums on the Guide de Routard say that Nīmes is low energy, but it does have a small gay scene. Arles has none. That is a small factor for me, but a very minor one.

I saw a lot of advertisements for bike and hiking loops in the Camargue, but after digging deeper I think you are right that a car that day would be best, and I can do short walks as needed at various spots.

Originally Posted by Christina View Post
You have different priorities than I do, but given all the time you plan to do day trips. I'd rent a car for more than a day and build those into that part of the trip. I guess your option 1. I think your itinerary is difficult because you are interspersing cities with wanting to do these rural day trip things and they are on opposite sides of Marseille.
Part of the challenge (and fun of planning) is that I am constrained by the conference dates, and when I can take vacation time. For the Calanques, it is the hiking that appeals to me the most. The trails look gorgeous, though I know that they might be closed in June if there is a fire risk.

I am definitely thinking I should get a car for three days (I want to be mostly car free, but not completely). I will use this for trips through the Camargue, Les Baux, and Le pont.

All in all, I will go with the dates for option one,, and plan to rent a car for x days in Arles. Of course, that opens up new options to spend a night or two elsewhere - but I have time to ponder that. Thanks everyone.
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Old Feb 8th, 2020, 04:10 PM
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I'm glad you found some useful ideas in my trip report -- thanks for letting me know!

I agree that renting a car for 3 days makes a LOT of sense for your priorities.
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Old Feb 9th, 2020, 02:36 AM
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Sounds like a good plan. If you rent a car for 3 days, even if it sits unused by the side of the road a few times while you hike, it will cut down on your overall time trying to use public transportation to get around.

If you end up driving around the Camargue, see if you can find La Telline for a lunch or dinner - Restaurant La Telline : spécialité produits Camargue It used to be just the dining room of a fisherman's small house, but apparently it's become "legit" now, as it should be. The food is amazing.

Bonne route!
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Old Feb 11th, 2020, 07:16 PM
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Our fiscal office forced me to modify my plans a bit (because, bureaucracy) but I've got my ticket in hand! The final plan is:

2.5 days Aix-en-Provence
5 days Arles (with car for three of the days)
8 days Marseille (working, mostly)

I'm happy with this itinerary. And since I already spent five days in Avignon without a car, I'm sure I'll have plenty of advice for that perennial question: Arles Avignon or Aix?

I looked hard at the hill towns, but I'd rather be in a town where I can just stroll around. I've stayed in villages before, and while they are stunningly beautiful for a night I find I get restless quickly in them.
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Old Feb 11th, 2020, 07:48 PM
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Should be great!

If you haven't already seen my trip report, you might find some useful information in it:
A stellar month in southeastern France

Have fun!
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Old Feb 11th, 2020, 09:01 PM
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I can’t wait to read your trip report upon your return! Have a great trip!
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Old May 19th, 2021, 04:01 PM
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After two (or was it three?) delays we are finally, definitely, heading to Marseille this September! It doesn't even feel real.

Four days: I still can't decide, Nīmes or Aix-en-Provence. I change my mind every hour. I won't have a car; there's no way I'm driving after a twenty-plus hour plane trip. There's no one must-see site for me in either; this will be my relax-and-chill and practice my French part of a much longer trip. I'm 80% leaning towards Nīmes, even though I'll also be in Arles later on. It's much more affordable than Aix, and seems both very pretty (in the center) and much less touristed.

Nine days: Marseille (work). I'll be staying in an Air B&B near the Chartreux metro stop, in the Chutes-Lavie neighborhood in the 4th arondissiment. It's not a touristy area, but it's convenient to transport, and the host couple have an excellent reputation. Also, I need to keep costs down on what is going to be a long trip.

Five days: Arles. Staying at L'Aubergine Rouge. It's a bit over my budget, so I'll save elsewhere. The first two days in Arles is the Feria du Riz, This sounds exciting. This time I'll have a car, so I'll be able to explore the Camargue and some of the smaller towns in the region.

... and then on to Greece for 3 1/2 weeks!

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Old May 19th, 2021, 09:29 PM
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Only my opinion, but after a few days in each, Arles and Aix en Provence, I thought Aix was absolutely lovely. I like Arles, especially the market, the Roman colosseum and the connection with Van Gogh, and it was convenient to do some sightseeing by train and bus, but it was no comparison with Aix for beauty. The huge trees, the cafes, the wonderful Moroccan food in Aix was all incredible.
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Old May 20th, 2021, 08:25 AM
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michael_cain_77398, see if this getting dated trip report gives you some no car ideas:

Trip Report: A Provence Sandwich

We based in Aix and loved it. We trained and took van tours. Looking forward to reading your report!
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Old May 20th, 2021, 09:01 AM
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OP MC, the Fest du Riz will be a blast. Hope you like paella! And Aix on market day can be very interesting.
Where to in Greece?
I am done. the voyage
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Old May 20th, 2021, 09:29 AM
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Without a car, we took the shuttle bus from the airport to Aix station and a taxi to our air BnB. Stayed twice in Aix, beginning and end of trip, no need for a car.

We took a train/bus from Aix to Aigues Mortes. The trip was long and not too convenient, but it was cheap and DH did not want to bother with getting a car, driving and parking.

We stayed three days and took tours (one by boat) right from outside the city walls. They were great!

I misread the schedule for Saturday and missed the bus from Aigues Mortes to Arles. We wanted to see the morning market and had a little house rented, so sprung for a taxi. It was so quick and convenient, worth every penny.

We stayed four or five days in Arles. It was a short, cheap (Senior rate tickets), bus ride to Les Baux and a ten or fifteen minute train to Avignon. We took a day for each. Both trips were great: cheap, easy, quick, no parkingj.

We took the train back to Aix and a taxi to the airport.

Unfortunately, we did not see other places because our priorities were Arles, Aix and Aigues Mortes, (plus Avignon and Les Baux), but we like to meander, sitting in cafes, etc. At any rate, you would certainly need a car for some places, but all of the places we went were easy without a car.

Marseilles is vibrant, interesting and different, with a gorgeous harbor. Most visitors to Provence miss it, but we spent a couple of hours just walking and liked what we saw.

Last edited by Sassafrass; May 20th, 2021 at 09:33 AM.
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Old May 20th, 2021, 12:50 PM
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Originally Posted by TDudette View Post
michael_cain_77398, see if this getting dated trip report gives you some no car ideas:

Trip Report: A Provence Sandwich

We based in Aix and loved it. We trained and took van tours. Looking forward to reading your report!
I've studied that one, thanks! I should change the title of the thread, if I can. I decided to rent a car for the last five days. I stayed in Avignon years ago without a car, and was perfectly fine - but there are some places that aren't convenient by public transportation. The Camargue in particular appeals to me.

Originally Posted by Sassafrass View Post
Only my opinion, but after a few days in each, Arles and Aix en Provence, I thought Aix was absolutely lovely. I like Arles, especially the market, the Roman colosseum and the connection with Van Gogh, and it was convenient to do some sightseeing by train and bus, but it was no comparison with Aix for beauty. The huge trees, the cafes, the wonderful Moroccan food in Aix was all incredible.
Aix does look stunning, and if they ever let me redesign my home city that's what I want it to look like! For this trip I decided to start in Nimes. Affordability was a major factor - the nicer places with moderate prices in Aix were all closed, booked, or far from the center. I found a Bed and Breakfast in Nimes that looks really nice, right in the center. I still hope to at least visit Aix on a day trip.

Originally Posted by zebec View Post
OP MC, the Fest du Riz will be a blast. Hope you like paella! And Aix on market day can be very interesting.
Where to in Greece?
I love paella! And I love that Occitan culture feels like a mix of Spanish and French. I've only met a few native speakers, and I was surprised how much it sounded like the Catalan language.

I have a whole thread on my Greece planning. That trip is going to be a bit more epic - I'm starting in Thessaloniki, then driving across the north, then down to Meteora and Delphi, looping around the Peloponesse, and finishing in Athens. That's also the reason I'll need to be watching my budget a bit in France.
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Old May 20th, 2021, 02:21 PM
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Marseille is absolutely a highlight of the area, no matter what certain ignorant people say.
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Old May 20th, 2021, 03:58 PM
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I also hope you get to Aix, and plan to get there early and stay late, for dinner. Otherwise, I think you will be sad not to have spent more time there.
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