• Leslie

10 Day Itinerary for Southern France, in the Gorgeous Occitanie and Provence Regions

Updated: Aug 30


beautiful old town of Simiane la Rotonde with a lavender field
beautiful old town of Simiane la Rotonde with a lavender field


Here's my guide to the perfect 10 day road trip in southern France, in the drop dead gorgeous regions of Occitanie and Provence. This road trip route is dense with amazing must see medieval villages, Roman ruins, UNESCO-listed landmarks, and loads of lavender and old world charm.


Occitanie lies in France's warm and sensuous southwest corner, a merger of the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and the Midi-Pyrenees. Occitanie is a secret out-of-the-way land of wine and wonder -- chock full of art, castles, wine, and cassoulet. And not chock full of tourists.


Provence is a dreamy, bucolic history book of a land, perfect for a geographical cure. Provence has everything the mind conjures when you think of Provence -- medieval lanes, clifftop panoramas, lyrical seascapes, pastel houses with French blue shutters, and a "step back in time" vibe.



Epic 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary for Southern France


Provence is beguilingly romantic. Everything is sun-kissed and lavender wafts in the air. Provence is so beautiful that artists like Renoir, Chagall, Cezanne, and Picasso flocked there to paint its landscapes. They adored the sun-drenched light, which Matisse described as "soft and tender, despite its brilliance."


There are plenty of great destinations to explore in this southern France road trip. This super detailed 10 day itinerary is perfectly adjustable. You can make it shorter or longer, depending on your available vacation time or personal fast/slow travel pace. I've tried to give you a balance of cities and leisurely villages, with day trip options as well.


I think driving in France is a breeze for the most part, easier than other European countries. But, if you want some driving tips, click here.



roses in the town of Lourmarin
roses in the town of Lourmarin


Recommended Itinerary for 10 Days in Southern France


Day 1: Explore Toulouse

Day 2: Day Trip to Carcassonne

Day 3: Day Trip To Albi and Cordes-sur-Ciel

Day 4: Drive to Arles, stop in Uzes and Pont du Gard on the way

Day 5: Explore Arles

Day 6: Day trip To Les Baux and Avignon, dinner in St. Remy

Day 7: Drive to Lourmarin, stop in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and/or Menerbes on the way

Day 8: Explore Lourmarin and Bonnieux or Lacoste

Day 9: Day Trip to Gordes and Roussillon Day 10: 3 Options for a Day Trip: Aix-en-Provence, Vaison-la-Romaine, or Moustiers-Sainte-Marie + Verdon Gorge


This itinerary assumes you've already flown into Paris and taken the high speed TVG down to Toulouse. The train takes 5 hours. Or flown directly to Toulouse, where your south of France sojourn begins.


You'll have 3 bases in southern France: (1) Toulouse (3 nights); (2) Arles (3 nights); and (3) Lourmarin (4 nights). Distances between towns and destinations are close in southern France, so you don't really have to move around that much. These three bases give you a taste of Occitanie, Provence, and the Luberon Valley in Provence.



the Pont Neuf in Toulouse
the Pont Neuf in Toulouse


Day 1: Explore Toulouse


Toulouse is an incredibly beautiful and underrated city in southwest France. Toulouse is set ablaze with reds, pinks, and oranges. Known as La Ville Rose, Toulouse is easy to fall for. It makes the perfect base for day tripping in this area. You'll be there 3 nights.


In the morning, head to the Place du Capitole, Toulouse's grand central square. It's been the seat of government since the 12th century. Pedestrianized since 1995, the square is lined with lavish red brick buildings. It has a polished marble floor emblazoned with the Occitan cross, a medieval symbol of the region.


The Place du Capitole is where Toulousains and tourists congregate. It's a central hotspot filled with shops, cafes, and restaurants galore. You can easily wile away time people watching over an espresso. A popular spot, where you'll have to vie for a table, is Le Florida. At night, the Capitole is lit up, to stunning effect.



Basilica of Saint Sernin
Basilica of Saint Sernin


Then, head out to inspect some of Toulouse's magnificent churches. The Convent of the Jacobins has 14th century frescos. The adjacent church is exquisite and houses a column that resembles a “palm tree,” called the “Palm of the Jacobins.” It's an architectural wonder made up of a double nave and star-shaped vault under a massive column.


The Basilica of Saint Sernin is a magnificent well-preserved Romanesque basilica, and one of the greatest churches in France. It is Toulouse's most defining landmark and a must see site. Built between 1080 and 1120, the basilica is now a UNESCO site.


After lunch, head to the best museum in Toulouse, the Musee des Augustins. Musee des Augustins houses a treasure trove of Roman, Gothic, and Renaissance sculpture. And it has an eclectic cache of paintings from the 17th to 20th centuries, including art by Rubens, Ingres, Delacroix, Courbet, and Rodin. The medieval cloister and garden are especially magical, surrounded by salons filled with evocative statues, sculptures, and gargoyles.



cloisters of the Musee des Augustins
cloisters of the Musee des Augustins

pretty Carmes neighborhood in Toulouse
pretty Carmes neighborhood in Toulouse


In the late afternoon, stroll through the Carmes neighborhood. I was absolutely entranced by this neighborhood, where I stayed in an air bnb. Carmes feels like a small village with ancient streets and an authentic vibe. The neighborhood's colorful architecture is just stunning. Carmes is also home to myriad small organic food markets, restaurants, music shops, and small cafes.


When you’re ready for a pre-dinner cocktail, head to N°5 Wine Bar on Rue de la Bourse. In 2017, N°5 Wine Bar was voted the best wine bar in the world. It’s a relaxed hipster spot with an expert-level menu for oenophiles. There's a very small and cozy restaurant downstairs.


I was in Toulouse for four days, so I had plenty of time to sample the carnivore-heavy food. Toulouse is quite the culinary powerhouse. I can recommend the following restaurants: Michel Sarran, Le Florida, Le Colombier, Le Carpaccio, and Les Jardins del'Opera.



the medieval walled town of Carcassonne
the medieval walled town of Carcassonne


Day 2: Day Trip to Carcassonne


Carcassonne is a 1:15 drive from Toulouse, a pretty easy day trip. Carcassonne will take your breath away. Carcassonne is the middle ages revealed. It's a 13th century fantasy world of towers, turrets, walls, winding alleys, and moats set on the Aude River. As historian Anthony Horowitz has said, "In no other city I've visited does history feel so alive."

Carcassonne boasts an almost surreal double row of fortified walls stretching nearly 2 miles with 52 watch towers -- each one crowned with fantastical “witch hat” turrets. It will appeal to fans of the knight in shining armor era, a group in which I unabashedly include myself. The medieval streets are fairytale perfect.





Not surprisingly, Carcassonne was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List list in 1997. The old town of Carcassonne is free. But you need a ticket to access the city walls. To avoid queues, pre-purchase an online ticket and access the storied site via Chateau Comtal, the medieval keep.


Because tourists flock in droves to the walled city, you should attack the citadel at off peak hours or off season. You can also cross the Pont Vieux and visit the lower city, the Bastide St.-Louis.


It's inappropriately named the "new town," when in fact it was built in the 13th century. It has a magnificent tree-lined square, the Place Carnot, where you can relax and let the world go by over a coffee or glass of wine.


For the full scoop on this dreamy UNESCO town, read my complete guide to Carcassonne.



the historic town of Albi
the historic town of Albi


Day 3: Day Trip To Albi and Cordes-sur-Ciel


1. Albi


Albi is a serious and ancient town, a wondrous and surprising must see destination in southwest France. Even if you're a Francophile, you might not have heard of Albi. In France, though, it's a favorite among art lovers.


Albi has been inhabited since the Bronze Age. The town was listed as a UNESCO site in 2010. It's a strangely affecting place, despite the weight of its past or perhaps because of it.


Situated on the Tarn River, Albi is a perfect combination of medieval architecture and a vibrate urban center. Albi is an episcopal city, clad in orange-red brick and militaristic architecture. The town symbolizes the Catholic victory over the pesky Cathar rebels, a monkish religious sect that defied accepted convention.



the monumental Albi Cathedral
the monumental Albi Cathedral


Albi has two truly imposing citadels -- Albi Cathedral and the Berbie Palace -- that are both UNESCO-listed. The mighty Saint Cecilia Cathedral is a 13th century masterpiece of southern Gothic style. Built by the Bishop of Albi, it's a place of superlatives both inside and out. It's nicknamed the "crucible of faith" and is one of the largest brick structures in the world. Inside, you're swathed in blue.


Like Albi Cathedral, the 800 year old Berbie Palace is an all brick affair with stout walls of extraordinary height and thickness. Aside from the Pope's Palace in Avignon, it's one of the best preserved castles in France. The palace was formerly the residence of the Albi's archbishops.


The Berbie Palace also houses a truly amazing single artist museum, which is a French treasure. It's dedicated to an artist you've likely heard of and that the Albigeois adore -- Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, one of the founding fathers of Modernism.



the Berbie Palace, which houses the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum
the Berbie Palace, which houses the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum


The Post-Impressionist artist of exalted birth was born and lived in Albi, before decamping to absinthe-sodden Montmartre in Paris to paint dancers at the Moulin Rouge. He died at a young age, just 36, of complications of syphilis and alcoholism.


But Toulouse-Lautrec didn't really leave Albi. Some of his most seminal works are there, in one of the best small museums in Europe. Sure, there's great Lautrec works in Paris. But, in Albi's museum, you get a comprehensive picture of his entire life and career, not just a snapshot.


Click here for my complete guide to visiting Albi.



the hilltop town of Cordes-sur-Ciel
the hilltop town of Cordes-sur-Ciel


2. Cordes-sur-Ciel


When you're done admiring Albi, drive 30 minutes to Cordes-sur-Ciel, which seems to float in the sky. Hence its name, which translates to ropes on the sky. Cordes-sur-Ciel is so ancient, so cobbled, so dreamy that it has a time warp feel. The dawn of modernity seems to have passed it over, exodus style, leaving a sweetbox escape for those who want to step back in time.


The little village began life in 1222, founded by Count Raymond VII of Toulouse. During the Albigensian Crusade, the 20 year war between the Cathars and the French crown, Cordes-sur-Ceil was prosperous. Its wealth derived from the leather, textile, and silk industries.


Today, Cordes-sur-Ciel is an artsy village, a treasure trove of local art. Its cobbled streets are filled with quaint galleries, ateliers, and cats. You can find contemporary painting, pottery, sculpture, handmade jewelry, glassware, woodcarvings, and artisanal leather.



Cordes-sur-Ciel in southwest France

Cordes-sur-Ciel in southwest France


You can also visit the Musée de l'Art du Sucre et du Chocolat, dedicated to sugar. As a lover of backed goods, I applaud this kind of museum. And Cordes boasts the lovely Jardin des Paradis, which is recognized as one of the most "Remarkable Gardens in France."


If you happen to visit between December and February, don’t miss the town’s annual truffle market, where harvesters come to sell their “black gold." If you want to read more about this idyllic hilltop village and how I almost lost my friend's iPad there, read my story.


If you want to stay in the area for dinner, try Estepona. It's set in the rolling countryside with a view of Cordes-sur-Ciel. If not, head back to Toulouse where you have so many foodie options. It's a 1:20 drive back to Toulouse.



the beautiful village of Uzes
the beautiful village of Uzes


Day 4: Drive to Arles: Stop in Uzes and Pont du Gard on the way


On day 4, you'll head to your next base, the wonderful town of Arles in Provence. On the way, stop in the classic French village of Uzes and the UNESCO-listed Pont du Gard, a well-preserved Roman aqueduct.


1. Uzes


Uzès is a honey hued historic town dating back to Roman times. It's a honeypot of a village with a charming baguette-in-hand-on-the-way-home-from-the-market vibe.


Uzès' Renaissance architecture is beautiful. Its elegant squares are the perfect place for lunch or espresso. I chose the outdoor patio of Restaurant Ten, with its atmospheric ribbed vaulted ceilings, on the Place Aux Herbes for lunch.



a picture perfect cobblestone street, complete with pastel shutters and ivy
a picture perfect cobblestone street, complete with pastel shutters and ivy


You can also visit Le Duché, the duke's residence. The dukes of Uzes have lived in this impressive chateau castle on and off for a thousand years.


But, mostly, just stroll the creamy limestone streets and admire the renovated architecture. Along the way, you'll see the Cathedral of St. Theodorit, the leaning Fenestrelle tower, and the medieval garden.


READ: Guide to Uzes



the UNESCO-listed Pont du Gard
the UNESCO-listed Pont du Gard


2. Pont du Gard

Just 20 minutes from Uzes lies the mighty Pont du Gard. It's a surviving scrap of a Roman aqueduct that's a UNESCO site. The aqueduct was an engineering marvel that originally took water from Uzes to Nimes.


The aqueduct is massive, despite taking only 5 years to build. The bridge is 48.8 meters high, 275 meters long, and sports 52 arches. Pont du Gard was the highest aqueduct in the Roman Empire. There are three tiers of arches, one on top of the other. You can only access the upper tier via a guided walk in July and August.


The aqueduct soars over the Gardon River and its dramatic gorge. Don't hesitate to dip your feet in or indulge in a cooling-off swim. Then, you'll leave Occitanie and head into Provence. It's a 45 minute drive to your next base, Arles.



the Roman Arena (right) in Arles
the Roman Arena (right) in Arles


Day 5: Explore Arles


Arles is a fantastic and underrated UNESCO town in Provence, just brimming with historic treasures. To be sure, Arles is not synonymous with the languid romance and Disney perfection of Provence's tiny hilltop villages. But for the more discerning, Arles awaits, ready to wrap its tentacles around the warm blood of your heart.


Arles is beautifully situated on the Rhone River. It brims with sensuality, Rose, the smell of lavender, and Roman goodies a plenty. Throw in a huge dollop of art, two smidgeons of Mediterranean influence, and a dash of Italian flavor, and you have an ideal base for Provence.


Plus, Arles is a veritable playground of ancient Roman ruins. You'll find the massive Amphitheater (inspired by Rome's Colosseum) a Roman Theater, and Constantine's Baths. You can also stroll through Les Alyscamps, a famous tree-lined Roman necropolis a short distance outside the walls of the old town that dates from 241 B.C.



the embankment in Arles, which is perfect for strolling
the embankment in Arles, which is perfect for strolling

Roman Arena in Arles
the Roman Arena in Arles


Arles was also home to Post-Impressionist star Vincent Van Gogh. It was here that Paul Gauguin and Van Gogh formed their "studio in the south," launching a new movement in art history. Some of Van Gogh's best paintings were created in Arles, like Starry Night Over the Rhone, Yellow House, Sunflowers, and Cafe Terrace at Night. Van Gogh claimed that, in Arles, he painted "with the gusto of a Marseillais eating bouillabaisse.”


You can get your Van Gogh fix at the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh. Recently opened in 2014, it's housed in the beautifully restored Hotel Leautand de Danines, a stone mansion off the Place du Forum. You can also follow in Van Gogh's footsteps by walking the Van Gogh Trail in Arles. It's marked by 10 steel and concrete “easels” with photos of the paintings.


For dinner, head to Rue du Docteur Fanton. Try Gaboulet, Les Filles du 16, or Le Plazza la Paillotte. Near the Roman Arena, I also loved Le Criquet and Chardon. If you are ready to splash out on a Michelin-starred restaurant, head to L'Atelier.


Here's my complete guide to visiting Arles, with practical information and tips for visiting. If you love all things Van Gogh, check out my article on the Van Gogh murder mystery -- did Van Gogh really commit suicide or was he murdered?



the hilltop town of Les Baux
the hilltop town of Les Baux


Day 6: Day Trip To Les Baux and Avignon


1. Lex Baux


The stony hilltop town of Les Beaux is a popular spot, just 25 minutes down the road from Arles. It's the second most visited site in southern France (after the Pope's Palace). But don't let that put you off. If you want to avoid tourist clogged streets, go there in off season and spend a half day. Les Baux is tiny, after all.


Les Baux is home to a great medieval castle. It's now mostly in ruins, but the stone slabs are very atmospheric. And they remind you that Les Baux once fended off mauranding bands of medieval villains. It was eventually destroyed by Cardinal Richelieu in the 14th century, when the fortress fell into rebel hands.


Nowadays, Les Baux is just the castle ruins and the lovely cobbled town. There's only one main street with some side alleyways to meander down. You won't get lost and you don't need a guide. There are souvenir shops aplenty, the best ones sell beautiful Provencal fabrics. There are also quite a number of good art galleries.


If you want to lunch in Les Baux, try La Cabro d'Or or Le Mas d'Aigret.



Pont Saint Benezet and the town of Avignon
Pont Saint Benezet and the town of Avignon


2. Avignon


It's just a 45 minute jog north from Les Baux to Avignon. Though famous for its rhyme and medieval bridge, I didn't find Avignon quite as charming as other towns in Provence. Though the town is full of trendy outdoor eateries and boutiques. But Avignon is a must visit for history buffs just for its brooding Popes Palace.


The popes haven't always lived at the Vatican in Rome. I had long forgotten this little factoid until I was plotting an itinerary for my southern France road trip. From 1309-77, the popes lived in the enchanting riverside town of Avignon, rather than in Rome. That period was called the "Avignon Papacy."


Today, you can tour the magnificent Pope's Palace, where these rebellious French popes once lived. Built in 1335-52, it's the largest Gothic building in western Europe and Avignon's main attraction.



Pope's Palace in Avignon
Pope's Palace in Avignon


The imposing facade resembles medieval fortified churches. You can gasp at the Pope’s private apartments, frescoes, and the soaring chapel. And see what it actually looked like in the 14th century on a histopad.


Be forewarned, parking in Avignon is a nightmare. It's easiest to head straight to the parking garage in the Pope's Palace. The entrance is right outside the city walls.


Be sure to enjoy the other splendors of Avignon. Stroll down Rue de Teinturiers. Walk out on the famous bridge that inspired the children's song, Pont Saint Benezet. For stunning views, head to the Jardin des Doms. From there, you can even spy Mount Ventoux, of Tour de France fame.


Have dinner in Avignon. Alternatively, on your way back to Arles, stop in the immaculate village of Saint-Remy-de-Provence for dinner. That's what I did. Popular St. Remy is overflowing with high quality restaurants. We had a wonderful meal at Maison Drouot. In 35 minutes, you're back in Arles.


L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue


Day 7: Drive to Lourmarin, stop in L'Isle-sur-la Sorgue or Menerbes on the way


On day 7, you'll drive to your next base, Lourmarin, in Provence's Luberon Valley. On the way, you can visit L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Menerbes, or both towns.


1. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue


L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is just an hour from Arles. Dubbed the "Venice of Provence," L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a lively market town, split in two by the Morgue River. Its crystal clear water babbles under pedestrian bridges adorned with flower boxes. It's not as adorable as the classic Provencal villages, but still unique with mossy waterwheels and geraniums.


The town revolves around its church square and two pedestrianized streets, Rue de la Republique and Rue Carnot. There are plenty of shops, eateries, and museums to entertain.


The town erupts in a carnival-like market frenzy each Sunday and Thursday. Held along the quay of the Morgue River, the Sunday market is world famous for its antiques. Outside of the Saint-Ouen in Paris, it's one of Europe's largest flea and vintage markets.



the idyllic town of Menerbes
the idyllic town of Menerbes


2. Menerbes


Pretty Menerbes is just 20 minutes away from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The town is another one of France's "les plus beaux villages." It was the village that launched a thousand book sales. Menerbes is famous as the setting for Peter Mayle's book A Year in Provence.


The pretty town is dressed in French blue shutters and pink bougainvillea. It's fairly upscale with tony shops, wine bars, and chic cafes. Rue Corneille lead to the town's cute chateau, which you can admire from the outside. Stop in at the House of Truffles and Wine for lunch/dinner or a tasting. Or try Le 5, a cute outdoor bistro.


Menerbes is also home to the beautiful 18th century Dora Maar House. The lothario Pablo Picasso purchased it in 1944 for his former lover and muse, Dora Maar, a Surrealist photographer. He did it out of guilt. Maar had a mental breakdown after Picasso dumped her. The house is now an art foundation.


Your next base, Lourmarin, is just 20-25 minutes down the road. I think it makes a perfect base in the Luberon because it's quieter, less crowded, and less touristy than other uber popular villages in the area.


READ: Guide to the Picasso Museums in Europe



pretty street in Lourmarin
pretty street in Lourmarin


Day 8: Explore Loumarin and Bonnieux or Lacoste (or both)


1. Lourmarin


Spend your morning exploring your new base. Lourmarin is a secret Luberon village not too far from tourist-fly Gordes. Aside from its 15th century castle, there's delightfully not much to see or do in Lourmarin. Just soak up the quaint town center and views. Its narrow lanes spiral up to the belfry.


After your walkabout, indulge at one of Lourmarin's chic eateries or boutique stores. The cafe culture clusters around the Place de l'Ormeau.


Lourmarin also has a 15th century Gothic-Renaissance chateau. The chateau decayed into ruin and was scheduled for auction and demolition. But it was rescued in the nick of time by Robert Laurent-Vibert, a rich industrialist and literary scholar, who restored it. The chateau now hosts wine tasting and performances in the evening.


Lourmarin has some literary cache to boot. Existentialist writer and philosopher Albert Camus lived in Lourmarin in the 1950s and is buried there. Author Peter Mayle also lived in Lourmarin. Both add to the village's cachet.



cobbled beauty in Lacoste
cobbled beauty in Lacoste


2. Lacoste


In the afternoon, meander 15 minutes down the road to Lacoste or Bonnieux (or both). Lacoste is fetchingly perched on a hilltop overlooking the nearby (and much larger) village of Bonnieux. In the sunset glow, Lacoste has a nice rusty coral hue.


Lacoste is paved with stone and is full of cobbled narrow alleyways and picturesque houses. Its oldest building, the Mason Forte, dates from the 9th century. Most other buildings date from the 16th century.



the hilltop town of Bonnieux
the hilltop town of Bonnieux


3. Bonnieux


The village-perche of Bonnieux is especially spectacular from a distance. It's one of the few Luberon towns that isn't pedestrianized. Still, it has cobbled film set alleyways for you to wander and artsy galleries for you to explore.


Friday, there's a local market with the usual tasty produce. If you're interested in bread, the Boulangerie Museum is housed in an ancient stone building.


But the best reason to visit Bonnieux is for the panoramic views from the church at the town's tip top, the 12th century Vielle Eglise. You look out over the valley and Mt. Ventoux. Stay in Bonnieux for dinner. For a splurge, reserve a spot at the two Michelin star restaurant Edouard Loubet.



the picture perfect village of Gordes
the picture perfect village of Gordes


Day 9: Day Trip to Gordes and Roussillon


On day 9, you'll head to two of Provence's most famous and popular villages, Gordes and Roussillon.


1. Gordes


The photogenic village of Gordes is just 40 minutes away from Lourmarin, perched on an escarpement of the Vaucluse Mountains. Gordes is the Luberon's most impressively situated hill town and perhaps its crown jewel. A long winding road takes you there. And you won't be the only one. Gordes gets crowded during the day.


Though it's hard to imagine, Gordes was once a ghost town of derelict buildings. It was revivified by Avignon's theater festival. Directors clamored to find picture-perfect Provencal villages for their films.



cobbled lane in Gordes
cobbled lane in Gordes