One Week in Provence by Rail Made Easy

Do you have one week in Provence but no car? Not a problem! It is easy to explore Provence by rail.

To help you plan a perfect South of France itinerary by train, here are some tips on how to do it, based on my 7-day trip as a solo traveller.

arles-provence

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Provence has something for every traveller

The region’s architectural wonders, such as the Palais des Papes in Avignon, are a lasting legacy of its rich history. These are equalled by its natural wonders, like the famous Calanques near Marseilles or its acres of lavender fields.

Provence has a wonderful climate, charming towns, and an idyllic coastline. It is also a foodie’s playground.

It’s no surprise that Provence has been the setting for many movies set in France.

4 women dressed in medieval costume

How I spent a week in Provence

In an ideal world, you would tour Provence by car, especially if you want to explore its remote villages and dramatic landscapes. Although you can visit the lavender and sunflower fields on a day trip, having a car at your disposal is more convenient.

But if, like me, you don’t want to drive, it’s easy to see the best of Provence without a car. Just accept that Provence is vast and you can’t do it all in one week. Pick an area and stick with it using one or two places as hubs to visit the other places on your itinerary.

I used Avignon and Cassis as bases, taking day trips by train to other destinations in Provence. Although this worked well, given the choice again, I’d be tempted to ditch Cassis for Marseille as the latter is a major transportation hub. I travelled from London by Eurostar.

brasserie awning at harbourside in cassis in provence
Lovely Cassis was one of my bases in Provence

The best places to stay in Provence without a car

It’s important to stay in a town that has good rail connections. Over a week, I recommend splitting your time between two bases: one to explore the west of the region and a second to visit eastern Provence.

Avignon is an ideal base for exploring western Provence without a car. Marseilles, Cassis or Nice are good bases to visit eastern Provence.

My 7-day South of France itinerary by rail

map of places on a 1 week provence itinerary
My 1-week Provence itinerary (bases indicated in pink). Map data @ Google 2024.

Day 1: Avignon

Avignon to London by Eurostar

exterior of eurostar train carriage at station

Sadly, the direct Eurostar train between London and Avignon will not be operating for the foreseeable future. Instead, you will need to change trains in Paris or Lille.

Catch a morning train from London St. Pancras to Paris Gare Du Nord and change to the Marseille service from Gare de Lyon to Avignon.

I’ve changed trains in Paris many times and it’s easier than you might think. From Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon it’s a quick and direct journey on RER line D.

Changing trains at Lille is simpler, just requiring a platform change.

There are two stations in Avignon: Avignon TGV (where the high-speed trains stop) and Gare d’Avignon-Centre. A shuttle train – La Virgule – will whisk you between the two stations in four minutes.

Why not start and finish your week in Provence in comfort by upgrading to Eurostar Standard Premier? It can be an affordable way to inject a dose of luxury into your itinerary.

Introducing Avignon

Founded by the Romans, the centrepiece of Avignon is the UNESCO world heritage site of Palais des Papes. Built in the 14th Century for popes fleeing Rome, this is one of the most stunning European palaces and the largest Gothic palace in the world. It’s a great place to start your tour of the city.

beige stone exterior of palais des papes on a sunny evening

After your visit here, take a leisurely stroll through the old town before heading out to Pont Saint-Bénézet, Avignon’s famous Pont D’Avignon.

Much of this bridge was washed away in the 17th Century, stranding its remains in the middle of the Rhône River. Today, only four of its original 22 stone arches remain.

arched bridge reflected in still water in avignon-provence
Pont St Benezet, Avignon

GOOD TO KNOW! If you have time, try to catch a concert in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame des Doms. I got a ticket for a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which was sublime.

Where to stay in Avignon

Avignon Grand Hotel

I stayed at this lovely 4-star hotel just outside the city walls, and five minutes walk from the train station. A perfect location, both for day trips around Provence by rail and for exploring Avignon.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM

Here are some other places to stay in Avignon that are also worth considering:

Villa de Margot

Although further from the train station, this centrally-located guest house is a five-minute walk from the Cathedral and Palais des Papes and has a lovely garden and terrace.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM

Hôtel Le Bristol

Another 4-star hotel choice within the city walls but close to the train station. Reviews are good and it has a bar and lounge.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM

Where to eat in Avignon

Le 46, 46 rue de la Balance

A fantastic bistro near the Palais des Papes.

L’epicerie, 10 place St. Pierre

A traditional Provençal restaurant complete with checked tablecloths.

Day 2: Arles

Avignon to Arles by train – typical journey time 17 minutes

Arles, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, was my favourite town on this trip. Its Roman ruins, pastel-hewn houses and cobblestone streets lend it an instant charm.

2 women in medieval costume walking along a narrow Arles street
Arles

Arles’ Roman amphitheatre takes pride of place. Built in the 1st Century BC for an audience of 20,000 to gawp at gladiators and cheer chariot racers, it now hosts cultural events.

Arles is also where Vincent Van Gogh famously chopped off an ear, and a free self-guided walking tour will take you around sites associated with the artist.

GOOD TO KNOW! Keep an eye out for the traditional celebrations in Arles. Purely by accident, I timed my visit with the Festival of the Herdsman, which was quite a spectacle.

Day 3: Orange & Pont du Gard

Avignon to Orange by train – typical journey time 30 minutes

Get an early start and visit Orange in the morning.

The main attraction in Orange is the Théàtre Antique, its spectacular Roman theatre. This UNESCO World Heritage site has its original stage wall intact. I’ve visited many Ancient Roman sites over the years and this ranks among the best.

Amphitheatre Orange stage
Amphitheatre, Orange

Avignon to Pont du Gard by bus – 35 minutes

Take bus number 115 from Avignon’s bus station. In peak season, there are seven buses a day. The last returning bus leaves Pont du Gard around 7 pm.

If you don’t fancy taking your chances with the local bus service, why not visit Pont du Gard from Avignon on an organised tour that also includes Uzès and the Roman city of Nîmes? Check here for availability and prices.

Pont du Gard is another sensational piece of architecture the Romans left behind, a must-see during your week in Provence.

Towering almost 50 m above the Gard River, this is the tallest aqueduct bridge in the Roman world. Featuring 35 arches – there were originally 47 – this was an essential part of an aqueduct that supplied water to the city of Nîmes.

pont-du-gard-provence
Pont du Gard

GOOD TO KNOW! The Pont du Gard is exceptionally photogenic, best viewed in the soft late afternoon light when there are also fewer visitors. Just make sure that you check the time of your last bus back to Avignon.

Day 4: Cassis

Avignon to Cassis by train – typical journey time 1h 30m. Change trains at Marseille.

Cassis is the quintessential Provençal portside town. Overlooked by towering cliffs and the Château de Cassis, and blessed with beautiful beaches, it is a relaxing and picturesque base for travelling around Provence by rail.

It is small enough to get to know in a short space of time and boasts some great restaurants. Soak up the sun at the beach, stroll through the old town, walk along its pier and treat yourself to a local lavender ice cream.

cassis-provence-boats inport
Cassis, Provence

Don’t miss visiting the Calanques, limestone cliffs rising out of the sea. I took a boat trip from Cassis to visit the Calanques and was blown away by their scale. Several companies offer regular departures from the port.

Where to stay in Cassis

Mide-range hotel – Sure Hotel Couer de Cassis

I stayed in this charming 3-star hotel, tucked in one of the streets leading up from the port. Its location couldn’t have been better and it has a spa and a small pool.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM

Alternative mid-range hotel – Mirabeau – Chambre Meublée

This 3-star hotel is for you if you want a room with a sea view. It’s situated right on the seafront by Cassis Harbour and some rooms have balconies overlooking the harbour.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM

Splurge – Hôtel Les Roches Blanches Cassis

Live like a rock star at the swankiest hotel in town. The 5-star Hotel Les Roches Blanches Cassis is a ten-minute stroll from Cassis Beach.

Its infinity pool is just gorgeous.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES & BOOK A ROOM

None of these places takes your fancy? Click here for other great accommodation deals in Cassis.

Where to eat in Cassis

Le Chaudron, 4 rue Adolphe Thiers

Family-run bistro with great food and attentive service. So good that I went there for dinner for my entire stay in Cassis.

Day 5: Marseille 

Cassis to Marseille by train – typical journey time 23 minutes

Marseille is France’s oldest city and third-largest urban region. Initially put off by its reputation as a gritty city, I didn’t use Marseille as a base for visiting Provence. I was delighted to have my preconceptions turned on their head.

Stroll around the Vieux Port, or Old Port, and make your way to Le Panier, the oldest part of Marseille. Then, head to Notre Dame de la Garde for the best views of the port.

Whatever you do, don’t miss the MuCEM, Marseille’s Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations.

The poster child of the city’s reign as the European Capital of Culture, this building is extraordinary. Cube-like in shape, its skin of ornamental filigreed concrete throws intricate patterns on its floors and corridors as the sun streams in.

Cross a footbridge to visit the Fort St-Jean for further fantastic harbourside views.

mucem-marseille-provence
muCEM, Marseille

Day 6: Aix-en-Provence

Cassis to Aix-en-Provence by train – typical journey time 1 hour. Change trains at Marseille.

Cards on the table; I was a little underwhelmed by Aix-en-Provence. The problem is I can’t put my finger on why that was.

The city’s multitude of splashing and gurgling fountains tell of Aix’s origins as a Roman spa town, known in Roman times as Aquae Sextiae (The Waters of Sextius). Home to Cézanne and Zola and an inspiration for other artists including Monet and Renoir, it is a Provençal town straight out of casting central.

Picture cobblestoned lanes, sun-drenched squares, local markets and the low hum of chatter emanating from café terraces. Perhaps I felt that it was just a little too perfect?

aix-en-provence square with fountain
One of Aix’s many fountains

To learn more about Aix’s favourite son, take a Cézanne self-guided walking tour of the city. Starting at the city’s tourism office, key landmarks associated with the artist’s life are marked with studs stamped with a “C”.

Day 7: Travel from Cassis to London via Marseille

Cassis to London – Approximately 8 hr 30 minutes. Change trains at Marseille. You will need to alight the train for immigration checks at Lille.

My top tips for travelling around Provence by train

  • Check train timetables in advance

Don’t just rock up at the train station, expecting to board a train in the next 15 minutes. Even from a major hub like Avignon, trains to neighbouring towns did not run very frequently and I was surprised at the gaps in the services.

  • Be aware that some trains may require compulsory reservations
  • Train travel in France is not cheap.

If Provence is part of a longer rail itinerary, it may be worth considering a Europe train pass. An Interrail pass is available for  European citizens or residents. Opt for a Eurail pass if you are a non-European citizen or resident.

You can find out more in my guide to Interrail passes.

Visiting Provence’s lavender fields & vineyards

As Provence’s lavender fields and vineyards are not served well by public transport, your best bet is to rent a car or join an organised day tour from Avignon. Here are a few highly-rated excursions from my favourite platform, GetYourGuide, which offers free cancellation up to 24 hours before your day trip.

Half-day vineyards tour from Avignon

Learn about wine production and grape varieties in this 5-hour guided tour in the Côtes du Rhône. This highly-rated excursion includes two wine tastings.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK AVAILABILITY AND PRICE

red grapes in the vine

Châteauneuf du Pape afternoon wine tour

Spend a relaxing afternoon with a scenic drive through the rolling vineyards of Châteauneuf du Pape. Includes wine tastings at two different wineries.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK AVAILABILITY AND PRICE

Day tour of the lavender fields

Get your lavender fix on this half-day tour that includes a visit to Sault, one of the most beautiful Provencal villages of the Luberon.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK AVAILABILITY AND PRICE

Half-day tour of Luberon villages

This half-day tour takes you to the villages of Roussillon, Gordes and Fontaine de Vaucluse, which rank among the most beautiful in France.

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK AVAILABILITY AND PRICE

When to visit Provence

This is a bit of a trade-off. Visit Provence in the summer to view the lavender and sunflower fields in full bloom.

However, this region is not exactly a well-kept secret and the South of France will be very busy, especially in August. Hotels will be more expensive and restaurants will be rammed.

I travelled to Provence in May. Whilst it was too early to visit the lavender and sunflower fields, I had good weather and it wasn’t too busy or expensive.

How many days do you need in Provence?

You could easily spend two weeks or more exploring the vineyards, lavender fields and picturesque towns of Provence.

As a minimum, I recommend five days in Provence to soak up its landscapes and history. But if you are travelling by train or don’t want your itinerary to be too rushed, spend one week in Provence.


And that’s a wrap! Whichever way you decide to travel and wherever you base yourself, enjoy your week in Provence.

It’s an enormously seductive region, steeped in history with some of the best food and wine I’ve had anywhere. Moreover, it’s one of the best destinations in France for solo travellers.

DISCOVER MORE PLACES TO VISIT IN FRANCE!

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About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.