The purple fields of lavender, the heart and soul of Provence are integral to this road trip itinerary through the southern reaches of France. As the premier fruit growing region in France, the agricultural land of Provence is covered in orchards growing such things as apples, pears, figs and stone fruit. You’ll see these interspersed with olive groves the further south you travel.
The landscapes change considerably in these parts, from agricultural land, steep cliffs and sheer ravines falling away into turquoise waters below. The food develops a Mediterranean feel to it, as the cities edge closer and closer to Italy.
This itinerary covers a two-week itinerary in the south of France. These are our tips to make the most of what is on offer in these regions.
Regions covered in the South of France road trip
Separate regions before 2015 when the French administration merged many of the existing regions and departments, Auvergne brings the towns of the central-south whilst the Rhône-Alpes adds those from the south-eastern Alps area. Combined, it’s an area that is well known for outdoor adventures and sports, making the most of the mountainous landscapes.
In this region you’ll find the highly regarded area known collectively as Provence, influenced by the Mediterranean, home of many incredible national parks and outdoor adventure locations and the world-famous lavender fields. It is combined with the coastal areas that run along the French Riviera, brimming with visitors, celebrities and fancy cars, yachts and hotels.
South of France Itinerary summary
- Gorges du Verdon
- Luberon Valley
- Mont Ventoux
South of France Itinerary highlights
- World-famous lavender fields of Provence
- Spectacular natural landscapes; gorges, national parks, mountains, thermal springs
- A blend of large cities, mid-sized towns and small villages
- Home to some of the “prettiest villages in France” – Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
- Regional food like ratatouille, bouillabaisse and tapenade and the wines of the Rhône along with many local fresh food markets plus the gastronomic city Lyon
- Medieval architecture
How to get around in southern France
Road trip checklist
Make your road trip a breeze with some quick pre-planning
- Motorhome hire – We use and recommend France Motorhome Hire. Read our comprehensive review here and if you are getting a quote, be sure to use our special discount code BEERCROI.
- Car hire – If you are just planning on taking a road trip and staying in hotels, we use and recommend Rentalcars.com
- Travel insurance – We always recommend travel insurance, even more so when on a road trip in a motorhome or a rental car.
- France road rules – Take the anxiety out of your road trip in France with this simple guide to driving in France.
The regions of Auvergne Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur are perfect for a road trip. Apart from the major cities, public transport is not common, so having your own vehicle gives you freedom and flexibility. Having a motorhome, as we did for this journey, means you are fully self-contained. Hiring a car and staying in hotels is another option.
This itinerary, along with all others we write, is an example of areas that you can travel in France as a short journey. Many travellers, particularly those who may come from the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe, or retirees, often spend many months, even years travelling throughout this great country.
Others though, come from far away and often do not have the luxury of time. For these people, many from Australia and New Zealand, even South Africa, Canada and the USA, can only come for a few weeks at a time. Sometimes four weeks is the maximum they can get away.
We’ve done six and 12-week road trips through Europe, but this is not the norm for many. Our itineraries can be seen as building blocks. With a selection of short road trips, travellers with only a few weeks at their disposal can choose from our selection and just follow one of them. However, they can all be tacked together to turn a short trip into a much longer one.
For an extended road trip, this itinerary can be easily bolted onto our Burgundy itinerary.
Road trip in Burgundy France
Looking to spend more time in the south of France? Start with this itinerary that takes in Burgundy first.
We are huge fans of using the France Passion network whenever we are in France. Throughout this itinerary, you can assume that we have stayed at one of these wonderful locations, usually sampling on local wines and fresh food, proudly made by the property owners. If we haven’t stayed in such a place, we will note the name of the campground we used.
There are 284 France Passion locations in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes and 144 in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (taken from 2020 France Passion Guide)
Lyon is one of France’s most significant cities and is universally known as being at the centre of all things food-related. From Michelin starred chefs to incredible food markets, its matched with a long and proud history.
Lyon is a beautiful town situated where the rivers Saône and Rhône join. Divided by the river, there is old Lyon and the new Lyon. Both are very different, and if you are visiting, it’s the old town that you want to see.
You’ll need a lifetime to get to know Lyon well, but for those who don’t have that luxury, try to spend at least 48 hours in Lyon.
Things to do in Lyon
There is so much more to do in Lyon. These are some of the highlights.
Explore the streets of the old town (Vieux Lyon)
The best way to get to know Lyon is by putting on your best walking shoes and walking all over the old town. Up and down the lanes. In and out of tiny nooks that you’ll find, exploring the traboules.
Lyon has such beautiful architecture that you’ll be enthralled just with the everyday buildings as much as the most important, historical ones. Lyon’s wealth was made centuries ago on the silk trade.
Lyon was known to be a city of great wealth and there is no more splendid exhibition of this than in the Renaissance buildings. You can see many of these right in the heart of Vieux Lyon in the Saint-Jean, Saint-Georges and Saint-Paul districts.
Find and explore the traboules
Lyon is known for its traboules. Across the old town, a simple door can hide a secret passageway. Many of them run between several buildings, connecting them to streets, the river and other buildings.
These ancient thoroughfares were built to give the silk workers a path to the river, where the silk was transported to other locations.
If you know what you are looking for, you can identify the door by a bronze plaque that is placed nearby, usually providing you with some information about that particular traboule.
Some have open doors. Others have doors that are not. In this case, you need to know to press the button to open the door and let yourself in.
Residents of the buildings have an agreement with the local authorities to ensure the traboules always remain accessible. They must agree to keep the laneways clean and open to the public until 7 pm each night. In return, those who use the laneways must be respectful of the residents and their right to privacy and peace and quiet.
Each traboule is different. Some have exquisite balconies and others have unique pastel-coloured plasterwork. Gardens and courtyards can be a feature. Some are only within one building, whilst others run under four buildings panning an entire block.
It’s a unique way of getting to know a city.
La Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière
Take the funicular up to the top of the hill that overlooks the old town of Lyon. Here you will find the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière, built in the latter part of the 1800s.
If you go inside, you’ll be rewarded with the opulence and wealth usually found inside these centuries-old European churches. The Museum of Sacred Art resides here as well.
If you make it here, don’t miss the opportunity to get a photo from the best seat in the house.
St Jean Cathedral and Place
Lyon’s oldest pedestrian square, St-Jean Place is always a hive of activity. The St-Jean Cathedral watches over it, an impressive, part Romanesque building has also been influenced by Gothic architecture, especially on the facade.
Chill out in Place Bellecour
The largest pedestrian square in Europe is home to cafes, restaurants, buskers and a throng of people daily. Here visitors mix with locals on a work commute or simply moving from place to place.
Eat Lyonnaise food
Foodie or not, you can’t come to Lyon without having some kind of food experience. Chefs the world over suggest that Lyon is the culinary capital of the world, partly because Chef Paul Bocuse, a name synonymous with food in France, lived here.
Lyonnaise food culture sits at the heart of everything here. From the incredible Les Halles permanent market to fine dining restaurants and the traditional Bouchon, finding good food won’t be difficult here.
Traditional Lyonnaise cuisine comes with a few different flavours and different foods, not eaten often in many parts of the world. Andouillette sausages made with intestines, boudin noir (blood sausages), kidneys, Lyonnaise saucisson, quenelles (fish dumplings ) are just a few of this city’s specialities.
Tours in Lyon
Short on time? Have your ticket already purchased for the Hop-on-Hop-off bus and see all the main sights of Lyon.
Lyon City Pass
We also recommend these passes if you are planning on being in Lyon for a few days. They include entry to all the major sights as well as public transport.
Where to stay in Lyon
There is no shortage of hotels in Lyon. For those driving, if you are planning on staying in Lyon, we recommend staying at a campground. Free parking is not possible in Lyon and finding a street park where you can fit a larger vehicle in the city centre is difficult, if not impossible.
When in Lyon, we head straight to the campground and just take public transport into the city.
Camping des Barolles
Accessible for tents, caravans and motorhomes, there are bungalows here as well.
Open all year round, there is a small grocery store, bar, laundry and good bathroom facilities. Bread may be ordered for the following day and tickets for the buses and metro can also be purchased here.
The campground is approximately 7.5km outside Lyon (to the south-west) and access to the city is possible (and recommended) by bus. The journey will take about 30 minutes.
Location: 88 avenue Maréchal Foch 69230 Saint Genis Laval
Note: If you don’t want to drive the entire distance from Lyon to Gap, Grenoble is a larger city that sits at the halfway point between the two.
Gap is the next larger city as you leave Lyon to head further south through the Provence region. Gap is very close by the southern French Alps and as such, the mountains can be seen surrounding the city. It’s a city where the Mediterranean vibe is still highly visible, but you are left in no doubt that you are in the mountain country too.
Many of the things to do in Gap rely heavily on being in the outdoors, from hiking and walking to exploring the parklands.
In the city itself, visit the local markets if you can and take the time to explore the city streets. There are also several museums here.
It’s hard to know where to look as you approach Sisteron. Regardless of direction, your gaze will firstly be drawn to the citadel that sits on top of a seriously craggy mountain. The kind of mountains that define this area. In the shadows of the citadel is the village of Sisteron, their brightly coloured buildings pops of colour against the wall of mountain grey.
Cast your eyes down even further and you’ll be met with the turquoise waters of the Druance River.
Things to do in Sisteron
The citadel is the main reason to visit Sisteron. The citadel has seen its fair share of change since it was first built in the 12th-century. Some of the original architecture still exists along with additions from more modern times.
During the second world war, it was used by the Germans as a prison. The French government, then based in Vichy, did the same. The citadel was also impacted by bombings during the same war.
Visit the village centre
Sisteron is an easy town to walk. Take your time to explore the town full of wonderful medieval buildings and winding laneways.
Before you leave, be sure to find the town clock and the Notre Dame des Pommiers Cathedral (Sisteron Cathedral)
Pénitents des Mées
Not far from Sisteron, (22km south), Les Mees is worth pulling off the road for. The small town, an agricultural area with fruit orchards and olives, has its own unique claim to fame.
Behind the town, 100 metre high rocks have created quite a sensation.
Known as the Pénitents des Mées, they are steeped in folklore in these parts. Said to represent the monks who were turned into stone when they fell in love with some local women, each rock is hooded as the monks held their heads in shame.
We learned all about the dreaded French Mistral in Digne-les-Bains. As we jumped on our bikes, a must for any motorhome trip, the fierce, icy wind pushed at our backs.
The yellowish leaves of the plane trees shimmered almost silver as we were pushed about by it. We’d always been fortunate to miss this wicked wind that descends from the icy Alps and down into the Rhône Valley, onwards to the coast of the French Riviera. You certainly know you’re alive when this one blows into town.
Digne-les-Bains, or simply Digne, is known as a spa town in these parts. Nestled down between the convergence of three valleys, the mountains both protect it and provide a source of water.
Long associated with being a health resort, the waters coming from the mountains are said to have healing qualities.
Digne-les-Bains also provided the backdrop for the opening scenes in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable.
Things to do in Digne-les-Bains
Digne-les-Bains isn’t packed with well-known tourist attractions, but there is still enough to keep you occupied for a while.
Learn about lavender
The town sits at the heart of the lavender producing area of Provence, affectionately known as the lavender capital.
Lavender is celebrated each August with a month dedicated to the strong- smelling flower that covers fields all across Provence. The first weekend of August sees their love of lavender celebrated at the festival Corso de la Lavande.
Towards the end of the month, Foire de la Lavande is a fair where you can find any kind of lavender product possible.
Explore the historic town centre
It’s easy to ride bikes or walk around the town centre. It’s small and flat. Visit Saint-Jérôme cathedral and the Gassendi Museum. A former hospital from the 16th-century, the building alone is worth the visit. Inside there are exhibitions of all kinds; modern artwork, 16th to 19th-century paintings and taxidermy.
For some time out, visit the Cordeliers Botanical Garden.
Relax in the thermal waters
The hot springs that run nearby have long been touted as having medicinal and therapeutic qualities. So much so that people come to Digne-les-Bains specifically to bathe in the thermal waters.
Buy from the local market
Every Wednesday and Saturday, the Provençal market takes place in the main street, Boulevard Gassendi. The Marché bio & “Bienvenue à la ferme” market occurs every Tuesday and the smells from the rotisserie chicken, Toulouse saucisson and other delights being cooked in the square, linger down the road, calling out to everyone to come and visit.
We couldn’t resist buying a local cheese that had been matured in leaves. Wrapped in chestnut leaves, we had seen a story on this aged chèvre back home in Australia.
Gorges du Verdon
From Castellane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, the road of the Gorges du Verdon has you clinging to the edge for approximately 42 km. Winding through the mountains, sometimes even driving through them, it’s a ride that can be a little unsettling at times if you are a nervous passenger.
If you can get past the sheer drops that seem to appear out of nowhere beside your window, you’ll enjoy the stunning scenery that this area keeps on delivering at every turn.
Tip: If you are driving in a motorhome here, you’ll just need to be on your guard for drivers that don’t have as much respect for others as they should. Whether it be that they go too fast, or too close, a trip along the gorge usually comes with a smattering of close encounters and in a large vehicle, it can be a little trickier than a standard car.
Castellane, dominated by the enormous rock that sits over it, with a church perched right on the very top, is a lovely town to spend some time in. It’s also the starting point for many of the water sports like rafting.
Not far from Moustiers-Saint-Marie lies the largest artificial lake in France, Lac de Saint Croix. It is spectacular, especially on a bright, sunny day. Its bright turquoise water, the result of the combination of glacial waters and rock minerals that are suspended in the water, shine even in the day time.
Things to do in Gorges du Verdon
This area is home to adrenalin based sports, with rafting, rock climbing and some serious hiking trails. In summer, this area is packed full of people trying their hand at one of these pastimes.
Make a stop at Point Sublime. Here you can walk to the edge of the mountain to score a dramatic view of the mountains and the deep ravine that carries the water into Lac St Croix. It’s also the point at which many hikes start from.
Spanning over 600 square kilometres, the Luberon Valley wraps up many of the things we love about France, all in one area. Throw a blanket over the top of the Luberon and you’ll pick up many glorious small towns.
As the hills of the valley rise up and down, small villages hug their highest points, spilling over the edge, making the landscape picture postcard perfect.
Other credentials lie in the fact that a number of them are also officially regarded as Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the prettiest villages in France).
Once a sleepy area, the Luberon Valley was made eternally famous by author Peter Mayle and his love of Provence. His book, A Year in Provence kickstarted a love affair for visitors to this area.
These are some of our favourite towns but any drive through the valley will include so many more.
This town is all about the colours of red, yellow and orange. In the Luberon Valley where the green of the rolling hills and forest trees is usually the dominant colour, this town is a standout.
Roussillon is built on the largest ochre area in the world and its loudly on display here. Follow the Ochre Trail cut through the hills. There are trails marked out for a short 30-minute walk or an hour.
Roussillon is now a heritage-protected town and mining, once an industry here, is no longer possible.
Reminding us a lot of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie in the Lot Valley of France, Gordes has the pick of the locations in the Luberon. It comes into our view from a distance, the buildings seeming to cling onto the edge of the hill on which they are built. Once a rundown village in the 1960s, today it’s one of the most upmarket, with many global celebrities owning property here.
There is a terrific market here and an 11th-century castle. Kill two birds with one stone and go on Tuesday to see both. The markets are spread around the castle and neighbouring streets. Wandering the streets here is like being in a fairytale.
The villages surrounding Menerbes are home to many local artists. Menerbes has had its share of famous artists including Picasso. It’s not hard to find an art gallery here either.
Many of the historical buildings that are important in this town are now privately owned, but you can still visit Saint Hilaire Abbey and the Saint-Blaise Chapel.
Still, there are many signs of its former medieval past in the many buildings that line the cobbled streets and fortifications that once protected the town.
Don’t miss a visit to the incredible Maison de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon (House of Truffles and Wine). Not only is it located in one of the most prestigious Renaissance-era buildings in the village, but inside it’s a world of wonderful food and wine.
Here you can enjoy a long and distinguished lunch, or take part in a wine tasting. If learning more about wine is your thing, then take a class or workshop. If you love French food, good luck escaping the shop without buying something for your road trip or to take home.
Some special locations give an an incredible view over the valley.
No visit to the Luberon is complete without strolling the cobbles of Lacoste. Starting at the bottom, work your way up the winding streets until you reach the top of the hill.
At the top of the hill sits the ruins of the Marquis de Sade’s château. Some of it was redeveloped by fashion designer Pierre Cardin, who now lives here. He also owns a sizeable portion of the village.
Cardin also uses this area for his art exhibitions like the one below.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is known as the Venice of Provence, a term that is thrown around ubiquitously in France. Here, it refers to the small waterways that circumnavigate the small town, fed by the River Sorgue, and dotted with the waterwheels of a bygone era.
These wooden water wheels dated back to the early 1800s and were used to power mills and factories in this former industrial town. Silk and wool weaving factories also used the water source.
These days, the factories no longer reside here. Instead, L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a well-known player in the antique market. Large barns line the entrance to the town, but look closely and you will find many small dealers here too.
Each weekend, the town comes alive as the antique markets open up with more than 300 vendors selling their wares. Twice a year, at Easter and in August, the international antique fair brings in people from all over the world.
Things to do in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is divided into “villages” of antiques. With over 300 antique dealers and many more sellers of second-hand goods and bric-a-brac, visitors come to this town specifically to buy. It is the largest location of antiques in France outside of Paris.
With the town already bursting at the seams come the weekend the Sunday market pushes it into overflow. Vendors line Quai Jean Jaurès, the main street of town. It’s one of the most scenic spots you’ll encounter for a market, with the River Sorgue bubbling away alongside the road.
Here you’ll find many fresh food vendors. Fish, vegetables, fruit, pastries and fabulous French bread are intertwined with flea market oddities, handmade soaps and straw shopping baskets. The market also spreads into the streets behind and in front of the cathedral.
During the first week of August each year, the river plays a different role, hosting the floating market.
In the main waterways of the town, you will see many flat-bottomed boats, not dissimilar to the punts you might have seen in the United Kingdom. The Nego Chin has been purposely designed to be able to manoeuvre in areas of shallow water. They have historically been used for hunting and fishing.
In town, you can catch a ride on one to take you from one part of town, or one side of the river, to another. Alternatively, watch for fishermen giving displays during the weekend, the floating market or various festivals and races that occur during the year.
Things to do near L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Partage des Eaux
Located about 1.5 km from the centre of L’isle -sur-la-Sorgue is the Partage des Eaux, a large area of water with a leafy green backdrop of plane trees. The same trees are prolific throughout the town also. It is here that the River Sorgue is divided into two sections running in different directions.
It is said that the Sorgue maintains a constant temperature of 13° Celsius, making it a hive of activity during the hot summer months. Even on the hottest day, 13° is way too cold for me.
Fontaine de Vaucluse
8.6km along the D24 takes you to Fontaine de Vaucluse and the commencement of the River Sorgue. This tiny town, seemingly hidden away, with a population of around 600, sees visitors thronging to it each summer.
The emerald green waters that originate from the rainwater and melted snow from surrounding mountains swirl around this town, creating a feeling of peace and tranquillity. Fontaine de Vaucluse is the only location where this underground network of rivers come to the surface and can be seen.
This area, where visitors walk and swim, is flanked by the plane trees that sway in the breeze overhead. It’s a beautiful place to come to chill out, particularly when the weather is warm.
The water source here is one of the most powerful in the country, with over 630 million cubic metres making its way to other areas each year.
It’s a little bit touristic here with souvenir shops lining the pathway down to the waterhole, but that’s not a reason not to visit. It’s truly a beautiful town.
Bishops of Cavaillon castle
On a rocky outcrop perched above the village, the Bishops of Cavaillon castle, also known as Château des Evêques de Cavaillon can be seen. Built in the 12th-century they are now ruins.
To visit the ruins and to get an incredible view of the area, take the stairs near the Museum and Library Petrarca. The stairs do turn into a rather steep, unsurfaced pathway so it is not recommended for visitors who require more accessible walking tracks.
The Galas Aqueduct Bridge
We love aqueducts, so you can imagine our delight at seeing one in this region. The Galas Aqueduct was constructed as part of the Carpentras Canal, built in 1853 as part of the irrigation infrastructure for the area, drawing its water from the Durance River.
Avignon is one of those French towns that you can just keep coming back to. It’s easy to get to it and simple to navigate. Personally, I also think Avignon receives a bit of a raw deal from many who seem keen to miss it altogether, or to think of it as more of a base for trips to other parts of Provence.
The attraction for us starts at its walls. Once a completely walled city, its ramparts are still highly visible, wrapping this beautiful city in its arms.
During the 14th-century, Avignon became the home of the Popes, who resided here outside Rome until the late 1370s. Much of the city is dedicated to and celebrates this history.
Things to do in Avignon
Commonly known as the Pont D’Avignon, this bridge was once the only place that the Rhône River could be crossed. It was also part of the path the pilgrims travelled from Italy through to France.
Originally spanning almost 1200 metres long, the bridge, finished in 1185 had 22 arches. But, it had its share of drama. The bridge was heavily damaged during a siege in 1226, leaving only a small portion of it remaining. Surprisingly, the chapel on the bridge remained intact and locals later rebuilt the bridge.
The bridge was destroyed once again in the early 1600s when floods and constant water pressure wiped out some of the arches. Today only four arches and the Chapel of Saint Nicholas remain.
For a different perspective, go across the river to the park L’ile De Barthelasse. Alternatively, for a higher view, head up to the Rocher des Doms in the centre of the city.
Need to know: Tickets must be purchased to gain access to the bridge and chapel. Buy a ticket to both the bridge and the Palais des Papes to secure a discount. Access to the bridge is available for visitors with disabilities.
Palais des Papes
The Pope’s Palace commands your attention once inside the walls. It should also command your presence inside. As the largest Gothic palace constructed in medieval times, it’s a brilliant place to visit to get an understanding of the influence the Catholic Popes had on this city and its surrounds.
Not being a massive fan of museums and organised tours, here you can do it independently and interact with many of the rooms, features and exhibits with the aid of technology.
Whether it’s taking a stroll across the cobbled square, people watching or having a coffee, take some time just to get involved in what is going on. It’s a hive of activity with locals and visitors blending here in the rich mosaic of daily life.
L’ile De Barthelasse
Many years ago, we stayed overnight in our motorhome at a great campground on this small island in the middle of the Rhône.
Pedestrian and vehicle access is possible via the Pont Édouard Daladier. There is also a free river ferry that goes back and forth across the river. Catch the ferry at Quai Joël Bameule, near the Pont D’Avignon.
Explore the streets within the walls
Avignon is perfect for just taking your time and meandering through the cobbled streets that project out from the main town square. You can’t get lost in Avignon so make the most of a few hours to explore. The inner parts are also pedestrianised, making for a safe and hassle-free place to walk.
Note: When the river cruises are operating, Avignon, as one of the major ports on these journeys, can become quite crowded as guests try to make the most of their few hours onshore.
Climb to the top of Rocher des Doms
With plentiful trees and places to sit on the grassy hill, enjoy a picnic with fresh food you can buy at the local Les Halles market. Grab a bottle of champagne and take in the view, or simply watch the animal life hop in and around the fountains.
Enjoy a light meal or drink at the cafe and watch the world go by. As the highest point in Avignon, it’s also the best spot for a view across the river, towards Villeneuve-lès-Avignon or to Mont Ventoux in the north-east.
There are several options for access to the gardens. Walk up the steps near the cathedral, the Sainte-Anne steps or from the river.
Visit the Les Halles market
One of our favourites in France, this food market follows a typically French architecture style, used in many of its markets. Industrial looking, it permanently houses the best fresh produce and food vendors in the region.
You’ll find plenty of things to buy here for your picnic by the river or in the Rocher des Doms. Or, if you’re like us on a road trip, stock up the onboard fridge for our eating pleasure.
If you are looking for a bite to eat, there are many places within the market where you can eat and drink.
Museums of Avignon
The Musée du Petit Palais has a collection of medieval art, whilst the Musée Angladon will keep you enthralled with archaeological exhibits and the work of Picasso, Cézanne and Van Gogh.
Even better, many of the museums in the city are free.
Tours in Avignon
For those who want some extra information and assistance during a visit to Avignon, we can recommend the following tours.
3-hour walking tour of Avignon
- View Avignon from the top of a medieval rampart
- Visit the Pope’s Palace (includes express entry)
- Visit Place de l’Horlage, town clock and theatre
- Wine tasting upon completion
Full and half-day tours from Avignon
Depending on your timing and where you are staying, there are many excellent full day and half-day tours that start (and end) in Avignon.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a small village in the centre of a vast wine-growing region. Here over 300 winegrowers produce wine that is grown in unusual terroir. Around 13 different grape varieties are grown here, kept warm at night by the rocks underneath that have soaked up the warmth of the Provence sunshine during the day.
The village itself is beautiful. Its size makes walking around very easy. Park your car and get out and walk in the streets, visiting the numerous
cave à vin (wine houses) you’ll find. Most of them offer wine tastings and will be happy to talk to you about their own varieties.
If you don’t have time to visit them individually, try Vinadea. Located in the centre of town, you can select from a vast range of local wines.
Things to do in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Built for Pope John XXII, this castle is a shell of what it would have been when built in the early 1300s. The majority of the castle was destroyed, like many significant buildings in France, during World War Two.
Visit here to walk around the ruins and get a spectacular view of the valley below.
Tours in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Private Guided Walking Tour
- Guided tour through village
- Visit castle ruins
- Walk through the vineyards learning from the producers, wine tasting
- Take your own picnic lunch for a special picnic in the vineyard
- Note: Approximately 7 km of walking on uneven terrain
- Pickup from hotel in Avignon
Mont Ventoux can be added into any part of your trip once you get down into the Luberon area. You can deviate from the Luberon itself, make a day trip from L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue, or venture east on your return back to Lyon. If you have the time and enjoy the driving, fit in a visit to the highest mountain in Provence.
At 1912 metres above sea level, on a good day, Mont Ventoux offers one of the best views across the region. It’s also a great drive with views possible along the way.
The roads leading to the summit are excellent, but you will need to be mindful of cyclists. Crazy as you might think they are, there is no better achievement for many bike aficionados than to reach the top under pedal power.
Often part of the Tour de France course, hardcore cyclists, many either emanating their tour de France heroes or wanting to be one, use Mont Ventoux as a training ride.
As I watch them from the comfort of my comfy motorhome, I take my hat off to them. What incredible stamina.
As the road takes you higher, the pine forest trees thin out and the landscape becomes more barren, not unlike some of the scenery I’ve seen in Iceland. There is less vegetation as the limestone rock face shows itself. I can totally imagine this mountain top being covered in snow.
We couldn’t believe the number of people at the top. It was so lively. I guess if you’d cycled 1912m you’d have plenty to celebrate.
There is a great sweet shop up here and a few other market stalls. There’s also a cafe where you can grab a coffee, or in our case, a tasty cold beer to sit back and enjoy the view.
Note: You can also do a trip to Mont Ventoux from L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Valence is a small city which depending on your timing can be a longer stop or merely a stopover point before making your way back to Lyon.
How long should you spend in southern France
Notwithstanding additional driving to and from other locations, the total distance for this itinerary is approximately 900 km (560 miles). The distances from Lyon to Gap and Valence to Lyon are the largest. All other stops in between require relatively short driving times.
If you drive fast and don’t spend much time in these towns, this trip is easy in seven days or less. We recommend spending at least 10-14 days in this area to do it justice.
Tips for travelling in southern France
Take it slowly. These regions are some of the most beautiful in France and you should take the time to savour it. Stop on the side of the road to pick an apple from a wild tree, or pick some lavender growing on the kerbside. Stop in at the small villages, spend your money locally, and see everything these areas have on offer.
Unless you are in a hurry, stay off the toll roads and take the D roads.
The BAC level in France is 0.05. Don’t drink and drive.
English is spoken in all the big cities but less so in the small village. Try your hand at speaking some French, or use a phrasebook if necessary.
People who haven’t driven motorhomes will always say you can’t drive them in these regions. If that were the case, no one would ever drive one anywhere in France. Whilst smaller rental cars make things easy, if you are driving large motorhomes, just park them on the outskirts of the larger towns. We recommend having bikes or e-bikes to get around on.
Make sure whatever vehicle you are driving has a sound GPS system, or you have data access for your phone (maps), or offline maps downloaded. Or you can go old school and have driving maps.
Best time to visit southern France
Winter is perfect for skiing and outdoor winter sports in the alps regions. It’s also a much quieter time, with fewer visitors. This means accommodation will be less expensive, queues will be shorter and you’ll get more places to yourselves more often. On the flip side, the weather isn’t as good as it is in summer or the shoulder months, some places will be closed and campsites might not be open.
We’ve always travelled here in Spring. It’s still t-shirts and shorts weather, but towards the end, there’s a crispness in the air. Beware the Mistral though. It loves to blow in Spring. There are fewer people than in summer, but everything is still open and able to be accessed. The shoulder season of Autumn is similar.
Summer is the premier time to visit, but it comes with some downsides. The weather is brilliant, Mediterranean style with the sun shining most days, although the heat can be stifling and thunderstorms are possible. August is when the French take their annual holidays so this adds to the hordes of visitors making their way to the south of France.
Everything is more crowded, more expensive and booking in advance is necessary for many areas to avoid disappointment or issues.
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About the author
Kerri left her corporate career to pursue a different lifestyle, establishing the successful travel website, Beer and Croissants.
Kerri and her husband Stirling now regularly travel the world, where eating great food, sampling local beverages and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.
You also won’t find them too far away from an epic road trip either, with motorhomes their speciality.