In July, we spent a week in Provence and the French Riviera and it was our favorite trip in 2018. I’m already wishing we could go back. Lavender fields, charming hillside towns and villages, and quaint farmhouses offer simple, yet stunning beauty.
We set out to see and experience as much as we possibly could during our time in Provence. We explored the most charming villages, enjoyed some of the best meals of our time here in Europe, tasted amazing wine in Côtes du Rhône and the famous rosé of Cotes de Provence, shopped the local markets for ingredients for picnic lunches, and relaxed at the beach. Even though we did so much, this was our most relaxing trip! We never felt hurried, rushed, or overcrowded. We visited this area in mid-July which is high tourism season, but it was very tolerable! Especially when compared to Rome, the Amalfi Coast, or London at this time. We decided to visit Provence in July for a few reasons: 1) this is when the lavender is in bloom, 2) great weather, 3) compared to our other choices for July, Provence seemed the least likely to be overrun with tourists.
I’ll go into more detail for each town, but here’s a quick overview of our itinerary, how we got around, and some of our favorite things to do and eat at each spot. After a lot of research, we decided to use Saint-Rémy-de-Provence as our base for most of this trip. We couldn’t be happier with this decision! Saint-Rémy was one of our favorite places and was centrally located to everything we wanted to do. It was also a little bigger than some of the other towns, so it was easy to find gas stations, food, shopping, and restaurants. As a bonus, Saint-Rémy also has one of the best markets in Provence. This market is also very popular so parking can be stressful, so it was SO nice to just walk there from our hotel! If you’re visiting the area, I highly recommend using Saint-Rémy as your base. We flew in and out of Marseille and rented a car right at the airport which is also where we returned it. So easy! You definitely need a car to explore this area as there is not much public transportation.
7 Day Provence and Côte d’Azur Itinerary
Day 1: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Highlight: We flew into Marseille early that morning, picked up our rental car and headed to Saint-Rémy. The drive took a little over an hour and was beautiful! On the day we arrived, France was playing Croatia in the World Cup. We explored Saint-Rémy, did the Van Gogh walk, and had a delicious lunch at Creperie Lou Planet . Once it got closer to game time, everything started closing down early so everyone could watch the game! We joined most of the town at a bar/cafe called Le cafe de la place. They had set up screens outside so everyone could watch the game. We ordered some drinks and cheered on France with the rest of the crowd. France ended up winning, which was so fun to experience!
Stay: Hotel l’Amandiere
Day 2: Côtes du Rhône, Vaison La Romaine + Lavender fields
Highlight: This day started out a little rainy so we headed north towards the Côtes du Rhône where the forecast was sunny. Côtes du Rhône is a wine region with sweet, fruity wines. The wineries are super casual and we didn’t have any reservations. We just drove along the wine road and stopped in any village that looked interesting. We had a few wineries saved on our maps that we wanted to hit, but we stopped at quite a few we had not heard of as well. On the way home, we stopped at the lavender fields in Vaison La Romaine just as the sun was setting. This was in late July, so the lavender was in FULL bloom, just about to be harvested. In fact, the lavender bloomed really early this year in the Saint Remy area and was already harvested by the time we arrived. So we were really happy to see it in Vaison La Romaine!
Stay: Hotel l’Amandiere
Day 3: Gordes, Oppede, Bonnieux, Menerbes, and Lacoste
Highlight: We woke up early and went to the Gordes market. Gordes itself is very picturesque and the market was lively. We grabbed some cheese, meat, a baguette, and a bottle of wine from the market and then found a spot with a gorgeous view of the valley to have a picnic lunch. All of these towns are so close to each other, and each is very walkable so four towns in one day was very doable. In between towns, we stopped in Bonnieux at Chateau la Canorgue, the winery that is featured in the movie A Good Year. We actually didn’t realize this until after our wine tasting. This was one of my favorite days!
We had dinner at La Bastide de Marie in Menerbes. La Bastide de Marie is a gorgeous property with a vineyard, hotel, and restaurant. The hotel and restaurant are inside a French Farmhouse and is exactly what you picture a French country home to be.
Stay: Hotel l’Amandiere
Day 4: Saint Remy, Pont Du Gard, and Avignon
Highlight: This was the market day in Saint Remy! Saint Remy’s market was my favorite. It has a huge selection of vendors, and the food we had there was the best! We again bought ingredients for lunch and then had a picnic on the grounds of our hotel. Hotel l’Amandiere has a BEAUTIFUL outdoor seating area. After lunch we headed to cool off with a swim at the Pont du Gard and then made our way to spend the late afternoon and evening in Avignon. Avignon is one of the bigger towns in the area and during that time their famous Festival d’Avignon was going on. Festival d’Avignon is their annual performing arts festival, and we enjoyed seeing all the costumed performers walking around to advertise their show.
Stay: Hotel l’Amandiere
Day 5: L’isle sur la Sorgue, Aix-en-provence and Cotes de Provence
Highlight: We got up bright and early to head to the antique market in L’isle sur la Sorgue, but the real highlight of the day was our lunch at Le Jardin du Quai. They have one fixed menu, and everything was fresh from the market. We sat in their outdoor garden area and it was such a relaxing, leisurely lunch.
After antique shopping and lunch in L’isle sur la Sorgue, we continued on with a quick stop in Aix-en-provence, and then spent the afternoon wine tasting in Cotes de Provence. I’m a big rosé fan, so I was super excited to go to the Cotes de Provence, which is known for their rosé. We ended the day at our final stop of the trip at the Grand Hotel des Sablettes Plage. We had picked up some wine during our tastings and enjoyed it after dinner on our balcony. Perfect ending to the day!
Day 6: La Seyne-sur-mer
Highlight: We woke up bright and early and hit the beach. We were so excited to relax and just spend the day at the beach, we ended up spending about 8 hours in the sun and I ended up with a sunburn. This night we had the best meal of the trip, and I think we agree the best meal we’ve had in Europe so far. We had made dinner reservations at Chez Daniel et Julia, which has a Michelin star. The restaurant is right on the sea and the ambiance is amazing. They specialize in seafood and I don’t think I’ve ever had such fresh seafood. They offer a fixed course menu which is what we had and we had about 7 courses, four of which were seafood! SO GOOD!
Day 7: La Seyne-sur-mer and Les Baux-de-Provence
Highlight: We spent the morning at the beach before packing up the car and heading back towards Marseille. We had such a good time in Saint Remy that we headed back one last time to say goodbye. While in Saint Remy, we stopped at some of our favorite shops to get ingredients for another picnic and ate dinner while watching the sunset over Les Baux-de-Provence.
Stay: We flew out very early the next morning, so we stayed at a hotel right by the airport with shuttle service.
Day 8: Fly home!
Road Trip Basics and Costs
Fly in and out of: Marseille
Car Rental: We rented a car right at the Marseille airport.
Fuel: Gas stations were very easy to access from the highways and were available in most places.
Driving around Provence: Super easy! Mostly country roads with not much traffic. Do have some coins ready if you need to take a toll road. The roads were well marked.
Planning day trips: Before our trip, we did a lot of research to find small towns to visit, which we added to our Google Maps. Usually, we’ll decide on our final destination and then fill our day with things that are along the way. We typically find and save on the map way more than we can possibly visit in a single trip. This way, when we plan out our day we can take a slightly modified route to add an extra spot we might not have otherwise have seen.
When to go to the markets: Towns will host markets on different days, so if you know you want to go to a market or a particular town, make sure to do some research first. You can find up to date market schedules here. If you want to beat the crowds (and find parking easily), it’s best to arrive at the markets right when they open.