Provence is one of the most beautiful areas in France, and Avignon is perfectly located as a holiday base to explore the region. You can pile on board our comfy trains in London St Pancras in the morning, and arrive in Avignon in time for a late lunch and a cool drink on a sunny terrace. Our 2-bag luggage allowance means you can pack everything you need for your holiday at no extra cost, so just sit back and enjoy the view as you speed through the French countryside to Avignon.
There are fabulous food markets bursting with fresh local produce for foodies, and wines from the vineyards of the southern Rhone, cotes de Provence and costieres de Nimes, on your doorstep. Families can kayak on the local rivers and visit the national parks for trekking and bike rides. There's no shortage of culture either with Roman ruins, aqueducts, castles and historic villages, perched on hillsides.
There's so much to do, you may have difficulty deciding where to start, so we've created a few itineraries for day trips around Avignon, to give you some ideas of places to go and things to see on your holiday in the South of France.
Uzes is a beautiful medieval town, seat of the Dukes of Uzes, about 40 minutes from Avignon. Don’t miss the Duke’s Palace, the Medieval Garden and the atmospheric central square, the Place aux Herbes. There’s a market twice a week in the town centre on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Wednesday’s market is mainly food and drink and Saturday’s is a full Provencal market with clothes, pottery, leather goods as well as food and drink.
St-Quentin-la-Poterie is a village about 10 minutes’ drive north of Uzes. The food market here takes place on Fridays and is generally a lot quieter as it’s much smaller. The market itself is not very pretty as it’s held in a 1970s car park, however the village has a lot of charm and there are a few restaurants with outdoor terraces so it's a pleasant spot for lunch or an aperitif.
You’ll pass the Haribo museum on the road out of Uzes, back towards the Pont du Gard. The museum itself is quite interesting, covering the history and the making of sweets with several interactive exhibits, but younger kids will be more excited by the free sweets and the shop where you can buy 1 kg tubs of Haribo.
So, if the length of the queue puts you off, you may be able to get away with popping into the Carrefour down the road and picking up a few tubs of Haribo there instead.
The Pont du Gard is just a few minutes down the road, heading back towards Avignon. Take a picnic and your swimsuits and spend the day swimming in the shadow of the historic aqueduct or kayaking under its arches. You can also visit in the evening for the light show that’s projected onto the structure.
The visitors' centre has loos, a café and shop. There’s also plenty of parking and some shade. The aqueduct is quite a long walk from the entry, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes and take a pushchair for small children if you don’t want to carry them.
There’s enough to do and see in Nimes to merit a full day spent exploring. Find yourself parking as soon as possible, the private car parks are well signposted from Boulevard Gambetta, the ring road that runs around the centre of town.
Parking Les Halles is in the same building as Nimes’ covered food market, so it’s quite a handy one, and is an easy walk to all the sights including the Maison Carrée and the Norman Foster designed Carré d’Art Museum.
Whether you are looking to buy food or not, it’s definitely worth popping in to Les Halles market to see what’s on sale. The choice of fresh meat, fish and veg and local products such as bread, cheese, olives, olive oil, tapenades and pestos is impressive.
You may notice the unusual crocodile and palm tree emblem on the floor tiles in the market and around the town, this is the ancient emblem of Nimes and dates back to 1535.
The old centre of Nimes is perfect for a day of shopping. You’ll find specialist food shops, high street brands and lovely squares where you can sit and have coffee or a bite to eat in the shade.
Place de l’Horloge and around the cathedral are good spots for lunch with plenty of restaurants and cafés with shady terraces. Nearby Avenue du Général Perrier is the main shopping street for high street outlets, but you'll also find independent boutiques on the smaller streets around the centre.
Driving into town you can’t really miss the Roman amphitheatre in Nimes as the one-way system means you’ll probably drive around it at least once.
Les Arenes de Nimes is one of the best-preserved amphitheatres in the world. It seats 24,000 people and is regularly the venue for concerts and even re-enactments of Roman games with chariot races and gladiators. It’s open every day (with the exception of days when there are special events taking place) with last admission at 7pm during the summer months.
The drive into this town doesn’t look too promising, but once you arrive it’s an antique lovers dream. On Sundays, all along the banks of the river you’ll find antique shops and stalls selling everything from knickknacks to serious pieces of furniture and artworks. You probably won’t find any bargains, but you’ll have great fun looking. There’s also a food market in the morning, but the antique stalls stay open all day. Get there before 9 am to get parking.
You can visit the oldest synagogue in France in Cavaillon. Dating back to the 1400s, the synagogue hides a very pretty rococo interior behind the rather plain façade. The town is also famous for its melons and has a festival in July to celebrate them. So, if you’re a major melon fan, visit the weekend before the 14th of July for tastings, recipes, exhibitions and a big party in honour of the local fruit. The town also has a museum of archaeology and a cathedral with a very beautiful cloister.
St Remy is best known for the psychiatric hospital just outside the town where Van Gogh spent a year and did many paintings of the gardens. You’ll notice brass plates in the pavements of the town with Van Gogh’s signature, these are part of a walk you can do around the town and to the asylum. You can pick up a map of the walk at the tourist office. There is also a very good Provencal market on Wednesdays so, as always, get there early for parking.
This old quarry, near the town of Les Baux de Provence, has been turned into an amazing space where artworks are animated and projected onto the walls of the cavernous interior. The current show, Van Gogh, Starry Night, runs from March 2019 – January 2020 and is an amazing collage of the artists work animated and set to music. This show is very popular and tickets run out fast so pre-book well in advance so you don’t miss out. The current programme also includes Dreamed Japan, a beautifully animated experience that children will love.
Heading north from Avignon takes you to the heart of the Southern Rhone vineyards. Chateauneuf-du-pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras – names synonymous with heavy, heady reds that pair perfectly with local lamb dishes and strong cheese.
Visit the domaines or go to the shops in town and taste before you buy (or if you’re driving, spit!). The pretty village of Gigondas has a shady square, perfect to sit and have lunch before your next ‘degustation’.
Orange is best known for its beautiful Roman theatre, used as the venue for classical music and opera festivals during the summer months. The town itself is very pretty with shady squares where you can sit and watch the world go by, and quite often listen to live music.
Try and park on or outside the ring road - Boulevard Edouard Daladier or near the theatre, as once you get into the narrow streets of the old centre you’ll end up in a maze of one-way streets.
Vaison la Romaine is a very pretty village on a hill with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. The village is in two parts, the upper village with the castle ruins and the lower village on the other side of the river with the Roman ruins and the modern town. Both parts are connected by an ancient Roman bridge that was nearly destroyed in devastating floods in 1992. The ruins are in the centre of town so easily accessible and well worth a visit. The town has a good weekly market on Tuesday mornings so get there early for parking if you're planning to visit.