How to choose the right Provence France Tour for you.
We’ve compared the offerings of the main small group tour operators for you, to ensure you choose the right Provence France Tour.
We’ve also put together a comprehensive list of things to consider before booking a tour of Provence, in the South of France.
At the end of the article you will find our info-graphic which compares the offerings and prices of the main group tour operators. You’ll also find links to all their websites. We hope once you have considered all the options you’ll choose us.
Visitors frequently refer to the whole of the South of France as Provence. In many foreigners’ heads Provence stretches from Nice near the Italian border all the way to Nimes, a couple of hours from the Spanish border.
However, Provence is much smaller than many tourists imagine. The French government does not recognise an administrative area called Provence. Instead the Provencal have roughly defined their own boundaries. The consensus is that Provence is made up of the following French departements – The Vaucluse, The Bouches du Rhone and the Var (as far east as Saint Maximin La Sainte Baume and Toulon on the coast).
When searching for a Provence tour it therefore pays to be careful about geography. Are you interested in visiting cities such as Nice, and Cannes, and resorts such as Antibes and Juan Les Pins. If yes be sure to include the keywords “Riviera” and “Cote d’Azur” in your search terms. If Roman monuments are your area of interest, then make sure the tour crosses the Rhone and visits the Languedoc for monuments such as the Pont du Gard and the Nimes Roman Arena.
Time of Year
Spring and Autumn are great times of year to tour Provence, France.
From April onwards Provencal towns and villages wake up from their winter slumber. Colour paints the fields – cherry and almond blossom drift in the air and vibrant red poppies adorn roadsides. Market traders sell strawberries, and cherries, and as summer nears melons and peaches, all fresh from local suppliers. Day time temperatures can still be high, reaching the mid-twenties (77 Fahrenheit), but the nights remain cool and air conditioning is rarely needed. It is a great time of year for a Provence vacation.
The summer months of July and August are busy and hot. Temperatures during the morning and evening are tolerable but afternoon temperatures frequently exceed 40 degrees making touring uncomfortable. Air conditioned rooms for sleep are essential.
From September to early October is another great time to tour. Day time temperatures are pleasant, and rainfall is low. The summer crowds have departed and the grape harvest is in progress in the fields. For many residents it is their favourite time of year.
Clientele on Provence France Tours
When you book a group tour you take a chance. Are you going to like the other people on the tour? Are they going to be the same age and have the same interests as you? Will they come from the same part of the world? To understand who you might be touring with, first ask why people book Provence, France, tours.
Provence as a vacation destination is renowned for its history, its art, its beautiful countryside and its wine and food culture. It therefore attracts a wide variety of people. The composition of any group is likely to be cosmopolitan and drawn from anglophone nations around the world. Americans, Australians, and the British make up the majority of tour groups. The average age on a tour group is around 55. Single travelers are not unusual.
Tours attract this demographic for two main reasons: By booking onto a tour with an organised itinerary clients are able to see more in a short space of time and secondly travel is tiring and stressful. Arriving at an airport / train station, carrying heavy bags to a car hire office, queuing, and then coping with a foreign road system are all demanding.
Large vs Small Group Provence France Tours
Larger group tours are attractive for budgetary reasons. The organisors are able to offer economies of scale and block book hotel rooms and restaurants, offering 7 day tours at very competitive prices.
Those able to spend a little more, however, will find that the experience of touring with a group of say 14 rather than 28 is qualitatively much better. Large groups involve a lot of waiting around, they move slowly, and are difficult to organise. They eat in large restaurants and only visit sights which are capable of dealing with large groups. For example small traditional wine makers would never welcome a large group for a tasting. It is this opportunity to experience the real Provence that is lost on a large group tour of Provence.
Major Provence sights, attractions and cities
The major cities of Provence visited by Provence Tours are Aix en Provence, Arles and Avignon.
Out of three, Aix en Provence, is the city not to miss. It is the most pleasing to spend time wandering around. Its old town is filled with narrow streets, squares and fountains. There are plentiful boutiques, the world renowned Musee Granet plus Cezanne’s artistic heritage to explore.
Arles is a must for lovers of Roman history and also boasts a Van Gogh trail and Van Gogh Foundation.
Avignon, is famed worldwide for the Palais des Papes and the Pont d’Avignon. However, it is a busy, often workmanlike city and the least visually appealing of the big three. If you need to give one a miss, then consider skipping Avignon.
The Provence Countryside
The Provencal countryside is at its most alluring in the Luberon region. The hills and surrounding fields are full of fields of vines and at the right time of year lavender (see heading – a word about Lavender). The villages of the region, such as Lourmarin, Gordes, Bonnieux and Roussillon are rightly world famous. This is the region where Peter Mayle wrote his seminal book “A Year in Provence.” Sadly now deceased Peter lived out his last years in the village of Lourmarin in the Southern Luberon. It was his favourite village in the region, and the village Provence Guru has chosen to use as a base for its Provence Small Group Tours.
The countryside adjacent to Arles and Avignon is known as Les Alpilles. Its landscape is much harsher than the Luberon. It is rockier, dryer and hotter. The villages are more spaced a part. They are less visually attractive than their Luberon cousins but produce fantastic olive oil. The main town of the region, Saint Remy de Provence has a wonderful twice weekly market.
The Provence Coast
Finally, most Provence France tours will take in Les Calanques: – large rocky inlets cut into the coastline to the east of Marseille. They are famed as the most unspoilt part of the French Mediterranean coast. Cars are largely banned and access is on foot or by boat departing from the town of Cassis. When the sun is shining, the water glitters like a blanket of diamonds. Part of the experience of visiting Les Calanques is stopping at the port of Cassis, which is delightful and full of restaurants offering the local speciality – bouillabaisse fish soup.
A word about Lavender.
Many clients come to Provence lured by images of great fields of lavender breaking over the horizon like a wave. The vibrant purple of these photos is like a siren song. However, the summer sun quickly burns away the blaze of colour, so that lavender fields are only in full bloom for a couple of weeks. Complicating the timing still further, when a field of lavender blooms is dependent on its altitude and weather conditions leading up to the summer months. As a general rule of thumb lavender in the Luberon reaches peak colour from mid June to early July, lavender on the high plateaus near Sault and Valensole in mid to late July. Small group tour operators can adjust their schedules more easily to make sure they visit the right field of lavender for your week.
These can be tourists traps or truly enlightening experiences. Chateauneuf du Pape producers, in particular, have cashed in on the fame of their wine. Tastings tend to take place in the center of the village not at the winery itself. The wines offered to taste are often too young. By the time a Chateauneuf du Pape has spend 10 years ageing, it’s too expensive to offer in all but the most upmarket tastings. Look for Provence France tours that offer tastings with small producers, where you get to visit the vineyard rather than just a generic tasting room in a village.
Provence Tour Leader
The importance of choosing a tour with a knowledgeable tour leader cannot be overstated. Look for companies that use experts in their field, authors of books or academics.
Provence Tour Itinerary
Examine any proposed tour itinerary carefully. The temptation for many tour operators is to pack their itineraries with as many sights as possible. This ensures they do not lose out on clients because for example they do not visit the Palais des Papes. However, so much about visiting Provence is soaking up the ambiance, and partaking in the relaxed style of life. It’s not possible to truly enjoy your Provence vacation if you are being rushed from place to place, slaves to an over ambitious itinerary.
Provence Transport hubs
The main Provencal airports are Nice and Marseille
Nice airport is around 1hr 40m drive from the centrally located Provencal town of Aix en Provence. Ask your tour provider if they charge a supplement for a Nice airport pick up.
Marseille airport is connected with most European hubs. It is located outside the city and is an easy airport to fly in and out of. Most Provence tour operators will pick up from Marseille airport.
In addition Avignon airport also has a limited number of low-cost flights from the UK.
The TGV train is the other main way of travelling to the South of France. Trains run from Paris hourly to Aix en Provence and Avignon TGV stations. There are also frequent trains from Lille in the north of France to both of these stations.
From Easter to the end of the tourist season it is also possible to get a direct train from London to Avignon.
Compare the market graphic (click to enlarge) and conclusions
Provence Guru offers the smallest group size – Max 10 people.
Slow Tours is the least expensive tour. This needs to be set against the inconvenience of multiple bases and the use of 3 star hotels. The tour concentrates more on the coast than the Provencal countryside and cities. The tours also run infrequently
Provence Guru and Off the Beaten Path offer very similar tours concentrating on the main Provencal sights. The differences between the operators are as follows:
- Provence Guru is €500 cheaper per person and includes 2 more meals in its price than Off the Beaten Path.
- Off the Beaten Path uses a 3 star hotel whereas Provence Guru bases clients in a 4 star hotel.
- Provence Guru includes a visit to Aix en Provence, Off the Beaten Path does not.
- Off the Beaten Path has a strict cancellation policy. Provence Guru has a more flexible “best of kind” policy including a full refund up to 21 days before departure. Read more here.
- Provence Guru tours are owner led.
- Off the Beaten Path offers 3 guided walks inc. in the price. Provence Guru offers guided walks for a small supplement of €30 per person.
- Provence Guru has a smaller group size – Maximum 10 persons vs Maximum 16.
The Luberon Experience is the best choice for clients specifically interested in visiting the Luberon Hill Villages.
Classic Journeys is the most expensive operator. It uses 5 star hotel and is a good choice for luxury and clients interested in the Languedoc and Southern Rhone regions.
If you have any questions about touring Provence then please do not hesitate to get in touch with Jamie Ivey, author of this article, and the Moon Guide to Provence. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You may also like our recent article on Planning a South of France Vacation