11 things you should know before your Provence road trip
Provence is made for a road trip, and in May, we spent fourteen days driving around its miles of vineyards and quaint stone villages.
This was not the first time we have driven in France, so we were no more concerned about our road trip than we would be driving around South East London. Nevertheless, there are a few things you should know before setting off, and here are our top ten.
Nº 1 - Bigger is not better
"Let's get a better car this time," Matt suggested. As he was the designated driver, I agreed. So, when we were told that we had a Jeep, initial excitement was replaced by the reality that we had a cumbersome machine that, whilst it had greater off-road capabilities (perfect for getting to those hidden vineyards down dusty tracks), it was a pain to manoeuvre into small parking spaces and slink through tiny cobbled villages.
Nº 2 - Roads can be incredibly narrow
Following on from the above, some roads, especially in the Luberon villages, are very narrow. If you are an even slightly anxious driver who finds driving through small spaces stressful, consider parking on the outskirts of a town, as well as making sure that any car you hire is small!
Nº 3 - EXPECT Diversions
Due to markets, sporting events and never-ending road maintenance work, we came across several diversions during our road trip. Unfortunately, these diversions rarely showed on our mapping applications (e.g. our car's GPRS system, Google Maps, Waze) and so we didn't know we were heading towards a diversion until it was too late. Most of them are signposted pretty well, but it's something to be aware of – especially if you are staying in, or planning on reaching, the centre of a town on a market day, or when an event is on.
Nº 4 - Google Maps isn't always right
Along with diversions, Google also didn't show us some road blockages or private roads. If your route is looking a little complicated or you have a lot of ground to cover in a day, consider getting a more accurate paper-based map to assist, in the event that you are delayed by faulty directions.
Nº 5 - Mobile phone and internet signal are intermittent
This is especially true if you are travelling around the Gorges du Verdon. Do yourself a favour and download any maps or music you need before you set off for the day. It may be worth letting people know you may not be contactable if you're expecting a call, and advising your accommodation of your ETA before you set off.
Nº 6 - There are lots of places to rent a car from
We were chuffed to find a handful of reasonably-priced car rental spots at Avignon's TGV station on the outskirts of town. Most other main TGV stations have rentals right outside and it saves the hassle of taking public transport into the centre to pick up a vehicle. Some car rentals in the city or in a different location may be slightly cheaper, however we didn't find this – our car rental with Budget cost just £220 for two weeks.
Nº 7 - Some tolls roads are unavoidable
For many of us, avoiding tolls (and pay and display parking) calls for a fist bump. Unfortunately, there are some tolls (particularly around Cassis – and most likely other areas along the coast) that are unavoidable. Just suck it up and pay the 2 Euros…
These toll roads differ from most UK tolls – you take a ticket, and when you reach the 'exit' toll, you pay the fare. Basically, don't lose your ticket.
Nº 8 - Gas stations can be complicated
Unlike most gas stations in the UK, in France (and other European countries) you hazard a guess at how much petrol or diesel you reckon you need, pay, and then fill up your vehicle. Granted, this is not always the easiest thing to do when you are driving an unfamiliar car and paying in an unfamiliar currency. In addition, we found that our British debit and credit cards would not work at some stations - Total gas stations seemed to be the most reliable when it came to accepting payment.
Nº 9 - Indicators are a novelty
We lost track of the amount of times we reached a roundabout or T-junction and had no clue where our fellow drivers were heading. Be a hero and lead by example.
Nº 10 - Parking can be challenging
Do not underestimate the lack of parking in some towns in Provence, especially in the Luberon. Try heading to a popular hilltop village on market day and you may find yourself in gridlocked traffic or attempting to squeeze into a parking spot designed for a vintage Volkswagen's dainty wheels.
We advise visiting popular spots with a potential lack of parking early in the day, and when organising accommodation in such places, check to see if parking is available.
Nº 11 - It is the best way to see Provence
Without your own wheels, getting around Provence would be difficult. Not only that, but the freedom a car gives you when travelling village backstreets or deserted country lanes is unrivalled. You never know if your wrong turning could lead you to somewhere magnificent.
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