14 Mar 2012

Travelling To Provence… Part One…

illustration – paper fashion

I am often asked about travelling to Provence and while I am neither an expert nor a travel guide, I do love Provence with all my heart. I spend most of my year getting there, being there and dreaming about being there… I thought I would put together a series with travel tips, websites and information that might help when planning a trip… Simple details, that I take for granted… yet if I had known them way back… it would have made all the difference…

When to come

This is a tough one as my immediate reaction is to tell you that Provence is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year. You know I am biased when it comes to Provence… the mere hint that someone is thinking of coming and I can’t wax lyrical enough… so for this series I will try and be practical and pragmatic…

When you choose to travel depends on your purpose for visiting… If sightseeing is your main game then I would suggest April, May… September or October. The weather is usually fabulous and the crowds haven’t peaked. If lavender and sunflowers are a must then July must be braved. If you want to rent a property with friends and do nothing but relax, then the summer months of July and August are about as lazy as you could imagine. The only downside… crowds… Provence is popular for a reason… and seeing and doing what you have planned will have to be shared with many others. The markets are crowded and the sites are jam packed… but if you can deal with the multitudes then the atmosphere makes up for that. Winter in Provence is less ideal as many places are closed for their annual break, although Christmas and New year are very festive. Provence is very much about the seasons so I am afraid you must choose… or return for frequent visits. But be warned… that’s what happened to me…

How to get there

Starting off in Paris makes perfect sense if you are travelling from a distance. Where better to acclimatise and Frenchify? Three or four days in Paris (of course longer is always better) cures a case of jet lag, warms the camera up and makes everything pretty well right in the world. The easiest way to Provence form Paris is via fast train, TGV. Driving is long and unless you have months to spend your time will be spent on the autoroute worrying about speed cameras and lurking gendarmes.

The TGV train leaves from the Gare de Lyon regularly each day and takes 2hours 37 minutes to Avignon TGV station. Be cautious when reserving seats that you are booking on the fast train (anyone who reads me regularly knows that it is an easy mistake to make…) and that you are arriving at Avignon TGV not Avignon Centre. They are two different stations in two different areas of Avignon.

The best sites to reserve your tickets are:
SNCF –  It is possible to choose English option on the top right hand side of the website
RAIL EUROPE – Another site offering the same destinations and prices
TGV EUROPE – This site offers many European destinations if your travel is on going
IDTGV – A lesser known site that offers a cheaper ticket with more travel time restrictions. Well worth browsing… Do not be confused by the choice of ‘idZAP’ or ‘idZEN’… it means a choice of carriage… one that is more child friendly or one that is a silent-no-noise carriage.

*These sites can be clunky and difficult to navigate so take care and time when booking your tickets.

Starting a trip in London means taking the Eurostar to Paris or flying into Provence and these are both good options. The Eurostar leaves from Kings Cross International and the journey time to Paris is 2hours 15minutes. Flying to Paris from Heathrow International Airport takes far longer and is much more tiring.

Flying direct to Provence is easy from Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton or Stansted Airports which can all be reached by express train from central London.  Marseille or Nice are the best cities to embark, depending on your itinerary. British Airways and the budget airlines EasyJet and RyanAir offer daily flights to these destinations.

Reservations are best and cheapest if made directly:

EUROSTAR 
BRITISH AIRWAYS
EASYJET
RYANAIR

 

Booking ahead is advisable because prices are time sensitive. My preferred choice is BA if booked ahead, followed by EasyJet…

To learn how to negotiate the TGV fast train and what not to do… click HERE

The most successful trips are those where there is a mixture of in depth planning and local knowledge… You may find the guides listed below helpful… they are the ones I use and the ones that I share with my friends… I always cross reference with a couple of different guides… Some I prefer for the local intelligence, addresses and maps… others for the historical recap…

Happy travelling, xv.

In The Luggage

 

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38 Comments

Chris

Thank you so much for all of your most practical advise. I keep almost all of your posts as 'educational' material for French travel! Your posts are filled with such great advice as to how to think, be, eat, travel and love everything French and I love it all!
xoxo, Chris

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wydevendesigns.com

Very nice and informative article. We traveled to Provence in May and took the train from Paris. The weather was mostly nice – although we did hit a rainy spell. The outdoor markets were amongst our favorite activities and the crowds not too bad – got some very nice bargains! Thank you,

Gerrie

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heather @ new house, new home, new life

You are so right about the TGV – it makes travelling in France so much easier. We went from Paris to La Gacilly to visit the home of Yves Rocher (for whom I worked) a couple of years ago and the TGV was a wonderful part of the experience. One word of advice – book first class – the seats are so much better.

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Meaghan

Thank you Vicki. That's great advice. I wish I had it when I blindly booked a trip from Australia in 2007. My Mum, Aunt, Uncle & I arrived from Paris on the TGV, collected a car(that took us quite some time to work out how to start) and proceeded toward our destination in Graveson – which due to getting dreadfully lost and stuck on the motorway took us 4 hours (instead of about 20 minutes)to find. Fortunately we were there for a week and had the most beautiful time. I hope I have the opportunity to return again in the not too distant future. It's a truly spectacular part of the world.

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Karen

Vicki,
I have always wanted to visit Provence…this is great. I will keep your tips and ideas. Maybe your next book should be a travel book combined with must see attractions (which you are always so willing to share). Thank you.
Karen

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Joyce

What a helpful post. We're planning a trip to Provence next September. Can't wait. The only catch is I just discovered I can no longer eat gluten. It sounds like that's going to be a huge challenge in France. Looking forward to reading more of your tips.

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Splenderosa

I already knew you were a detail person, and now I'm so happy about that. Knowing what you know would be a wonderful way to experience your frequent haunts. And all the info about how to get everywhere is really needed for us novices. Great post, Vicki. One to keep for our dream vacations. Believe it or not, I've never spent any time in Provence as Ned always preferred the coast…he was a former Navy officer and I think the sea was in his soul. Thank you so much for taking the time to provide this much needed info.
xx's

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Maura

This post is perfectly timed as we're planning a family trip in the beginning of June when my daugthers are out of school. I love the idea of taking the train from Paris but wonder how the train system is from town to town. Would we rent a car once in Provence if we want to explore the smaller towns and markets? We rented a car in Tuscany a few summers ago and while it was convenient, it was also stressful since we got lost virtually every day we ventured out!

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Laura

Valuable information Vicki. Thank you for sharing this insightful post, personal experience is always the best reference!

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Hallie

Wonderful advice Vicki. I have taken both the Eurostar and the TGV, and a plane. The train is the BEST way to go. Word of advice about the TGV, sometimes they overbook! I've had problems with seats. Buy early. They sell tickets at the station, last minute, but it does not guarantee you a seat for the duration of the trip. TGV is wonderful. Bring food on both unless you are going first class. Kings Cross has a fantastic market in which to buy delicious things for the ride to Paris. Also get through security early for the Eurostar! If you arrive too close to departure and have a suitcase, they will not let you through and you have to go and adjust your ticket for the next train! All lessons learned the hard way.

TGV is not difficult, but the Europeans run on time!! Wish we had such a great system in the US. Happy travelling to all!

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Sally-Ann @ a beautiful space

Thank you Vicki,
My husband and I feel we need a gap year and are currently looking at a few months in France and Italy combined. Do you know any good websites to find houses one can rent of a month in Provence? We are also undertaking a major garden renovation and would be interested In seeing some beautiful garden there. We have visited Eringnac in the Dordoyne region and this is one of our favorite European gardens so far.Is your garden ever in any open garden days as it looks beautiful from your books

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Elizabeth Eiffel

I wish I had read this years ago before our first foray into this magical region of France. I have to confess that I resembled the lady in the picture with the loads of luggage on our return journey home! So much temptation for a shopper. Now I am far more discriminating…. and also have a need for less!
Warm wishes

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Shabbyfufu

Thank you for the post! We will be in Provence at the end of April and I'm happy to have loads of information to go with…

Janet

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Lisa

I turn 40 at the end of the year and my dream is to go to France in my 40th year. The plan is to stay in Paris for 4-5 days and then head somewhere to rent a house for a week or so with family and friends and emerse myself in the area food, wine and lifestyle. Thank you so much for this post. Lisa

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Shell Sherree

Vicki, thank you. I've bookmarked this page. When I visit Provence, my plan is to arrive via Paris. Maybe I'll take the slow train for one of the trips and inhale the changing scenery. {I love Katie's illustration ~ her work is beautiful.}

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quintessence

You are making me wish I had a reason to use all this very handy and practical information. Last time we were in Provence was early November several years ago. We were incredibly lucky with the weather – almost springlike, and with very few crowds, it was lovely!! Most everything we wanted to do was still open. We started in Monte Carlo (yes, I know, not Provence but fun nonetheless) and worked our way west to Aix.

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quintessence

You are making me wish I had a reason to use all this very handy and practical information. Last time we were in Provence was early November several years ago. We were incredibly lucky with the weather – almost springlike, and with very few crowds, it was lovely!! Most everything we wanted to do was still open. We started in Monte Carlo (yes, I know, not Provence but fun nonetheless) and worked our way west to Aix.

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quintessence

You are making me wish I had a reason to use all this very handy and practical information. Last time we were in Provence was early November several years ago. We were incredibly lucky with the weather – almost springlike, and with very few crowds, it was lovely!! Most everything we wanted to do was still open. We started in Monte Carlo (yes, I know, not Provence but fun nonetheless) and worked our way west to Aix.

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beverly murphy

THANK YOU!! I’m so looking forward to reading your next post. You’re a doll to take the time to do this. Planning a trip soon.
You definitely have a talent for writing.

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Pamela

Provence is one of the most wonderful places ever as Vicki’s lovely blog shows.
However, if French Essence readers are nervous about hiring a car and driving on the narrow country roads – or if you want to hire an expert travel guide/driver who will do all the work for you, you might like to hire Cecile Beillieu, http://www.tours-in-provence.com. She’s based in Aix en Provence and is an expert on the region, including the Luberon. We’ve travelled with Cecile in her comfortable minibus on a number of occasions now, including our most recent trip in June when we stayed both in Aix and in Vicki’s beautiful Le Petit Bijou. Cecile organised fabulous day trips for us from both locations – we had the most wonderful time, including a lovely day visiting the Camargue with lunch at Vicki’s favourite local restaurant La Chassagnette near Arles. Cecile definitely provides a 5 star service, 11/10 as Faux Fuchsia would say! Best wishes, Pamela

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Pamela

We’ve always been really happy with Cecile. She’s a gem and has become a friend. She speaks English well, also Spanish. She’s very reliable and knows the region so well, including good restaurants, vineyards, gardens and boutiques.
For new visitors she has a range of excellent options – but is also superb for people like my husband and myself who’ve been going to Provence for many years. She tailors day trips specially for us. Every trip is always a delight.

Sometimes we say what we’d like to do – but she also suggests other things we hadn’t thought of – and because we trust her to know what we’ll enjoy we take up those options – they’ve always been wonderful.

It’s currently raining cats, dogs and elephants in Sydney. Best wishes, Pamela x

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Babs Tomlinson

Loved reading all of your great ideas/information! I spent October 2015 in Provence! I am hooked! Loved every place we visited For different reasons. St. Remy was my favorite. I think I channeled Van Gogh!😃❤️

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Jessica

Such a fabulous article!! We are going to be in Prague at the end of October & I wanted to make a trip to Provence/Paris afterward through the first 2 weeks of November…will this still be enjoyable or will most markets and shops be closed by then?

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Vicki

Jessica, you will still find plenty to see and do… especially in the larger towns and villages.. often November is stunning and still lovely and sunny… :)

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