Air France (www.airfrance.com) is the main national carrier, and provides the most links between French cities – although it's often cheaper and faster to catch a TGV. Budget airlines (including easyJet, Flybe, Cityjet and Ryanair) serve various European destinations.
Airports & Airlines
Provence has two major airports: Marseille-Provence and Nice-Côte d’Azur. The much smaller regional airports in Avignon, Nîmes and Toulon offer seasonal flights.
Aéroport Avignon-Provence Eight kilometres southeast of Avignon. Currently only served by budget carrier Flybe (Southampton and Birmingham).
Aéroport Marseille-Provence Twenty-five kilometres northeast of Marseille. Year-round flights around France, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Canada.
Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport Six kilometres west of Nice. Year-round flights to most European cities, plus North Africa, the Middle East, New York and Quebec.
Aéroport de Nîmes Alès Camargue Cévennes Fifteen kilometres south of Nîmes. Served by Ryanair, with current flights to London Stansted, Brussels and Fez (in Morocco).
Toulon-Hyères Airport Twenty-five kilometres east of Toulon. The next best option after Marseille and Nice, with daily flights to Paris, as well as seasonal flights to other cities including Lyon, Bordeaux, Brest, Strasbourg and Bastia and Ajaccio (in Corsica). There are also flights to Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Geneva, Brussels, London and Southampton.
Airport taxes are automatically included in flight tickets.
European Bike Express Transports cyclists and bikes from the UK to destinations across France.
Europe’s largest international bus network, Eurolines has routes between major cities, including Nice, Marseille and Avignon, and the rest of Europe. Buses operate daily in summer, several times a week in winter; advance tickets required.
From within France – and often from other nearby countries such as Spain and Italy – it's easiest to reach Provence by train.
Car & Motorcycle
From Paris, consider riding the high-speed TGV to Avignon or Marseille, then picking up a rental car; this shaves four hours off travel time to Provence and dodges tolls and driving time.
To bring your own vehicle, you’ll need the registration papers, proof of third-party (liability) insurance and a valid driving licence. Vehicles entering France must display a sticker identifying country of registration.
Between the UK and France, high-speed AutoTrains run by Eurotunnel transport vehicles through the Channel Tunnel between Folkestone and Coquelles (35 minutes, 24 hours, up to four hourly), 5km southwest of Calais. Note: LPG and CNG tanks are not permitted, and campers and caravans must take ferries.
Rail Europe Offers online booking and general advice on European rail travel.
The Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com) Another great resource, with timetables and insider tips.
From the Rest of France
France's pride and joy is the state-owned SNCF (www.oui.sncf.com), which runs the country's entire rail network.
The SNCF's flagship train service is the high-speed, formidably punctual TGV (train à grande vitesse), which is capable of carrying you all the way from Paris to the Côte d'Azur in under four hours. The route runs from Paris' Gare du Nord via destinations including Orange, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille (unfortunately, a second proposed route to Nice has been shelved). Note that the TGV stations are several kilometres from the town centre but are linked by trains or shuttle buses.
- You can choose to travel in 1st or 2nd class; 1st has bigger seats, better food and free wi-fi.
- Booking online in advance is always cheaper than buying on the day, especially for intercity services. Travelling off-peak gets a considerable discount.
- You can also buy tickets direct from mainline train stations, or SNCF ticket centres (boutiques).
- As a rough guide, a single 2nd-class fare from Paris to Marseille starts at around €90 and the trip takes just under 3½ hours – but booking early non-flexible tickets can sometimes bring fares down as low as €38.
- An important note if you buy online with a foreign credit card: SNCF automated ticket machines often have trouble recognising overseas cards, so you will probably have to collect your tickets from the ticket office instead (just show them your reservation receipt or reservation number).
With a Car
SNCF AutoTrains take the discomfort out of cross-France travel, allowing you to drop off your car at the AutoTrain station at Paris Bercy, and let the train driver do the rest of the work. Cars are loaded one hour before departure, and unloaded 30 minutes after arrival at your station of choice. (Avignon, Marseille, Nice, Fréjus and Toulon are all options.) As a price guide, a one-way fare to the south starts at £106.50; at the time of writing, bookings were taken only by telephone. Note that you have to arrange your own travel separately.
With a Bicycle
On certain trains (flagged with bike symbols on timetables), bikes are allowed in luggage vans without being packed; you don't have to reserve space except on TGVs, but space is limited, so it's often wise to book space along with your ticket for a small fee (between free and €10 for standard trains, €10 for TGVs). See www.sncf.com/sncv1/en/services/travelling-with-your-bike.
The useful Bagages à domicile luggage service transports bicycles door to door in France. Small bags (with combined dimensions of up to 2.5m) cost €38, larger bags €80; the maximum weight is 25kg. Delivery takes 48 hours, excluding Saturday afternoon, Sunday and holidays.
From the UK
The Eurostar whisks you between London and Paris in 2¼ hours, with onward trains across the rest of France. Eurostar's new integrated service to the south of France runs direct from London to Lyon (4¾ hours), Avignon (5¾ hours) and Marseille (6½ hours). All trains travel via Lille, where you are required to leave the train briefly for security and immigration checks. Standard single fares start at £99.
For other destinations in the south (including Aix-en-Provence), you can catch the Eurostar to Paris, and then catch a high-speed TGV – although it’s worth noting that this requires a schlep on the metro across Paris from the Gare du Nord to the Gare du Lyon, which can be a real pain if you have lots of luggage.
From Italy & Spain
Nice is the major rail hub along the busy Barcelona–Rome line. Prices vary widely according to times and dates; those given are a very general guide.
- Nice–Rome from around €69.90, nine hours
- Nice–Barcelona from around €103, 10 hours
Ferries cross from Nice, Marseille and Toulon to Corsica (France), Sardinia (Italy) and North Africa. Vehicles can be taken; reservations essential.
From Corsica (France)
Ferries from Corsica to Provençal ports are operated by the following companies. Depending on the departure and arrival ports, journeys take between 5½ and 15½ hours. Fares vary depending on demand and sailing times, but expect to pay between €30 and €100 for a foot passenger.
Corsica Ferries Ferries from Nice and Toulon to Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Île Rousse.
Corsica Linea Ferries from Marseille to Bastia, Ajaccio, Porto Vecchio, Île Rousse and Propriano.
La Méridionale Ferries from Marseille to Bastia and Ajaccio.
From Sardinia (Italy)
La Méridionale runs an overnight ferry between Marseille and Sardinia (adult one-way €66.30, with car €150.04).
From the UK & Ireland
There are no direct ferries to Provence, but year-round ferries connect the UK with French ports, including Calais, Roscoff, Cherbourg, Dunkerque and St-Malo. Dover to Calais is shortest. There are lots of companies, including big players Brittany Ferries and P&O Ferries (www.poferries.com).
Check out online booking agencies such as Ferry Savers for cheap fares; phone bookings incur fees.