Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

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Provence. Idyllic, quiet, peaceful. Known for its incredible scenery, scenery which has inspired countless artists and poets over the past few centuries. Renowned for its comfortable tradition of home cooked food and fresh produce. Dipping its toes in the Mediterranean, it stretches all the way to the foothills of the towering French Alps. With art, culture, scenery, fine cuisine, and a host of tiny villages to explore, the Provençal region is without a doubt one of the greatest road trip destinations in Europe

Exploring the Back Roads of Provence


Each and every Provençal town has its own market days, local products, and boutiques, making the area perfect for a relaxed four day drive with souvenir stops along the way. The local air of quiet comfort keeps this from becoming an all-out shopping trip, however. Shops are generally small family businesses and the sleepy French towns encourage passerby to rest a while and enjoy a heady glass of wine or a platter of fresh goat cheeses. 

Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

Feel free to stop anywhere along the route, as this road will take you through one of the most picturesque regions in France. The rural backroads you travel will wind through quiet olive groves, vineyards, fruit orchards, and stony medieval towns with ancient castle ruins. Along the way, you’ll experience the cultural legacy of the Provençal people, sampling local foods, viewing local pottery shops and wine cellars, and supporting the traditional artwork of the area.

Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

Start in Avignon:

Avignon is spectacularly set on the Rhône River, its crumbling Saint-Bénezet bridge stretching halfway across the river. Once the home of Catholic popes, it maintains its old legacy of splendour in the medieval stone ramparts and Palais des Papes that have stood for hundreds of years. To get here, take the two and a half hour express train from the Paris Gare de Lyon station in the morning and enjoy the scenery as you begin your journey. Be sure to reserve your seats in advance to avoid hassle and delay. Upon arrival, rent a car at the rail station and make sure you have everything you’ll need for the upcoming 224 mile journey (see our road trip packing list below). 

When you’re finished prepping your tour, take a walk around Avignon. You may want to visit the Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace), where the Roman popes temporarily stayed during the 14th century. Now stripped of most adornment, the palace is now a haven for architecture and history buffs, filled with quiet chapels and empty banqueting halls. Surprisingly, the basement is its main attraction. Here, French culture has blossomed as this religious landmark has been converted to a highly acclaimed wine cellar and sommelier. 

Avignon. From Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

If you time your visit well, you may be able to stroll down the Les Halles markets to start your souvenir shopping with a bang. Open in the morning, Tuesday to Sunday from 6am onwards, this covered market is one of Avignon’s highlights. Home to about 40 stalls, Les Halles proudly displays local produce and embraces community. Look for fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices, olive oil, and other culinary specialities of Provence. This is a good place to buy some snack-type food for the upcoming trip. 

Snacks at Avignon's Les Halles market. From Exploring the Back Roads of Provence


From Avignon, drive 16 miles southeast on the N7 (then switching to the D907, the D900, and the D938) to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a typical Provencal town and commune on the Sorgue River. Here you can experience the local market on Sundays, but be warned: it’s extremely busy. You may find your time better spent in arriving on Saturday, when the famed La Maison Biehn (7, avenue des 4 Otages) is open. Here you may bask in the beauty of the region’s most prized collection of brightly coloured Provençal textiles to your hearts content. The “les Indiennes” 18th century hand-blocked printed cotton wedding quilts found here are worth thousands of euros. Printed with soft local hues such as the deep blue-purple of the lavender fields, the cheerful yellow of sunflowers, the romantic red of the wild poppy, and the dusky grey-green of the olive orchards, the textiles are a beautiful sight. Owner Michel Biehn is an expert on the origin of the cloth and the making of the blankets, and continues the tradition today by crafting the much more affordable newly printed les Indiennes pillows, shirts, and bedspreads. 

Dollmakers and collectors may also be interested in visiting the local doll museum, the Musee du Jouet et de la Poupee Ancienne. One passionate dollmaker’s private collection, the museum captures the quaint and whimsical side of French history. As it is a very small museum, plan your visit to take less than an hour. 

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. From Exploring the Back Roads of Provence


From L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, continue 18 miles to Roussillon (take the D901, D900, and the D149). Stop for lunch here, or simply explore the cobblestone streets, art shops, and red-ocher cliffs surrounding you. Shop Tapiezo boasts stunning local artwork on display and for sale, while the tiny Premier Pression Provence is a fantastic souvenir shop with locally produced soap, olive oil, honey, herbs, and more. Pick up snacks here for the drive ahead, as next you’ll be exploring the longest stretch of road: a 65-mile drive that twists between towering mountains, winds past picturesque farmlands, and showcases the beauty of the Alpes de Haute-Provence region. 

Roussillon. From Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

(follow the D900 through Apt, then switch to the N100, right on D907, right to D4, left on D82, and continue on the D952)


Balancing precariously on the mountainside sits the beautiful village of Moustiers. Famous since the 18th century for its brightly coloured glazed ceramics, there are more than a few village pottery workshops here for you to explore. Take the time to talk to the shop owners, who will happily relate the long history of their work and its popularity in Versailles, particularly among Marie Antoinette and her ladies of the court.

Also worth visiting here is the acclaimed La Bastide de Moustiers, a gourmet inn opened by world renowned top chef Alain Ducasse. Working almost entirely with local produce (some of it comes from the inn’s private garden), chef Wilfrid Hocquet creates traditional Provencal cuisine with a twist. It is usually unnecessary to make reservations in advance, however, if you’d like to be sure of seat or book for a large group, call a few days before you arrive. 

Moustiers-Ste-Marie. From Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

Plan to spend the night here before heading back west, 22 miles south of Avignon, to Les Baux-de-Provence, a 97 mile drive. Take the D952 west to E712, then E80 to N569, D113, D5, D17, and D27. 

Les Baux-de-Provence

Set vertically in the mountainside, Les Baux-de-Provence sits directly beneath the ville morte (the dead town), a ruined village home to a medieval fortress. Here, a glittering court once ruled over 80 towns. The ruins are well worth exploring. Beneath, in the more lively “new” town, you can do some last minute souvenir shopping and enjoy a delicious lunch at one of the tiny cafes on the square. Here in Les Baux you can find hundreds of santons for sale at local shop Santons D’Arts on Rue de L’Orme. These hand-painted miniature figurines are made of terracotta, and depict scenes you’ll be familiar with by now: fishwives, dairy maids, farm animals, shop vendors, and more. 

Les Baux-de-Provence. From Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

After enjoying some refreshment and doing some last minute shopping, make the 22 mile drive back north to Avignon, taking the D27 to the D78F, the D17, the D33A, the D33, the D32, the D570N, and finally the N570. Your road trip is at an end, but the memories made will stay with you forever. 

Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

Further information:

Provence is a lovely place to visit during most seasons. Avoid coming in the winter, as the drive will be more treacherous and walking more of an ordeal. 

When packing, bring clothes for all weather and comfortable shoes. Consider that you’ll be traveling at the foot of the Alps for part of your drive, and pack layers. Raincoats may come in handy, though we hope you won’t need them!

Exploring the Back Roads of Provence

For more information about the area, see: www.francetourism.com/practicalinfo/regionssoutheasternprovence.htm and www.provenceweb.fr/e/villages.htm.

For driving maps, see www.viamichelin.com or use Google Maps. See www.meteofrance.com for local weather conditions.

The loop above takes you 224 miles through the Provençal countryside beginning in Avignon, heading east through L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Roussillon, and Moustiers-Ste-Marie, then returning back west through Les Baux-de-Provence and on to Avignon once more. 

Exploring the Back Roads of Provence



About Hannah Miller: I’m a twenty year old girl, with a serious case of wanderlust. Over the past few years I’ve traveled to over twenty-four countries, on five different continents, using bikes, buses, trains, planes, and of course, my own two feet. Wherever I go, a video camera and three instruments follow. I’m trying to change the world, one step at a time. By the end of my life I want to have visited every country in the world, and do it all through travel writing. In my opinion, there’s no better school than the big world around us, and no better way to learn about the planet I live on than to see it myself! My greatest fear: to reach the end of my days only to be filled with regret for the adventures I never had. Find me at http://www.edventuregirl.com/


All photos creative commons.
Avignon Les Halles: Bruce Tuten
Les Baux-de-Provence: BlueBreezeWiki