Discover France’s Provence region on this marvelous trip starting in Marseille, France’s oldest city. Then stay five nights in Avignon, with its intact ramparts encircling the entire city, cobblestone streets and squares, and private mansions built in the 18th and 19th centuries. A guided tour of Avignon includes the Palace of the Popes, built in the 14th century as the sovereign popes’ residency. With a living space that is the equivalent of four gothic cathedrals, it is the largest gothic fortress in the world. From Avignon, excursions are included to Pont Du Gard, the three-tiered Roman aqueduct dating to the 1st century AD; Nîmes, with its Roman Amphitheater built to seat 24,000 spectators around 100 AD; Uzès, with its medieval towers and narrow cobblestone lanes; Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where you can sample local wines; Orange, home to the 9,000-seat Roman theater; Arles, with its 9th-century cathedral and 1st-century Roman amphitheater; and Les Baux de Provence. Before arriving back in Marseille, stop in Aix en Provence with its postcard-perfect Old Town. It’s a wonderful vacation featuring the Provence region’s historical treasures, beautiful scenery, and delightful towns.
Day #1 Arrive in Marseille, France. Check into your hotel. The rest of the day is free to explore this Mediterranean port city. Tonight, meet your Tour Director and fellow travelers.
Day #2 Marseille–Avignon. Capital of the Provence, Marseille, France’s oldest city, was founded by the Greeks in 600 BC and is packed with fascinating sights. An orientation of the city takes you to its bustling ancient heart, the picturesque Vieux Port (old port), where elegant markets and handsome townhouses surround the boat-filled harbor. Then, head for the hilltop Basilica Notre Dame de la Garde for a visit and stunning views of the city. This afternoon, travel to historic Avignon, where you’ll stay for five nights. (B)
Day #3 Avignon. Excursion to Pont du Gard. Start the day with a guided walking tour of this fortified medieval city, once the home of popes and famed for its Pont Saint-Bénezet, the arched bridge immortalized in the 15th-century French song Sur le Pont d’Avignon. Set alongside the Rhône River, the city’s pink sandstone buildings, cobblestone streets, and tree-lined squares are reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting. See the Romanesque cathedral and enjoy an inside visit to the Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace). Topped with fairytale turrets, the court of this citadel once attracted Europe’s most distinguished intellectuals and artists. The afternoon is dedicated to your visit of Pont du Gard. This stunning three-tiered Roman aqueduct dates back to the 1st century AD and was built to pipe water to the fountains, baths, and private homes in Nîmes—an attraction that more than warrants its UNESCO World Heritage status. (B)
Day #4 Avignon. Exursion to Nîmes & Uzès. Begin today in the Roman town of Nîmes, the original heart of the 19th-century denim (de Nîmes) industry. On your guided tour, see the lotus tree-lined boulevards and squares, the Roman arena, and Maison Carrée, a colonnaded 5th-century temple. Also on the agenda: visit the wonderfully preserved Roman Amphitheater, built around 100 AD to seat 24,000 spectators. This afternoon, explore the lovely town of Uzès, where medieval towers stand sentry over narrow cobblestone lanes. (B)
Day #5 Avignon. Excursion to Châteauneuf-du-Pape & Orange. Once the summer retreat of Avignon’s popes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is now known for its local wines and its quaint cobblestone streets filled with wine shops. The ancient ruins of the papal château, destroyed by the retreating Germans in 1944, still loom high above the village. Sample local wines at a wine cellar before heading toward Orange, home to a spectacular 9,000-seat Roman theater. (B)
Day #6 Avignon. Excursion to Arles & Les Baux de Provence. Van Gogh was so inspired by the delightful town of Arles that he painted his masterpieces Sunflowers and Starry Night here. Admire its café-filled squares, 9th-century cathedral, and breathtaking 1st-century Roman amphitheater. Later, visit the walled town of Les Baux de Provence, whose crumbled citadel gives wonderful views over the Camargue. (B)
Day #7 Avignon–Aix en Provence–Marseille. Provence’s medieval capital and once home to Cezanne, the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage city of Aix boasts a postcard-perfect Old Town that is simply bursting with medieval treasures. Enjoy a walking tour that shows off the elegant mansions, 12th-century cathedral, and tree-lined Cours Mirabeau, a virtual tunnel of greenery lined with grand fountains, famous cafés, and ornate town houses. Later, return to Marseille for a final overnight. (B)
Day #8 Marseille. Your vacation ends with breakfast this morning. (B)