FRANCE – Orange, Avignon & Arles, leg 3 of our South France road trip itinerary

South France Road Trip Itinerary Leg 3 : Montpellier - Orange - Avignon - Arles - Marseille

In a South France road trip itinerary the cities of Orange, Avignon and Arles must be visited. Each of the cities has a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth visiting. To visit these three places in one day (total 3:00 hours driving) is a challenge but it is possible. I did it with my family including the kids! We drove from Montpellier through Orange, Avignon and Arles to a hotel close to the Marseille airport to make sure we would end up with a free trip. I wrote about the planning of the trip before (Planning a “free” south France road trip and the first day in Carcassonne) and how we would end up earning money on the trip. Now it’s time to share with you the third leg of our trip.

TIP! Make sure you start at 08:00 AM or earlier if traffic is announced to be bad to be able to finish this leg!

 
South France Road Trip Itinerary Leg 3 : Montpellier - Orange - Avignon - Arles - Marseille
South France Road Trip Itinerary Leg 3 : Montpellier – Orange – Avignon – Arles – Marseille

Orange: Roman Theatre, its Surroundings and the Triumphal Arch

Orange is located in the Rhone valley just over an hour drive from Montpellier. Have your navigation take you to the Roman Theatre and park in that area. The city walk will take you to the Arc de Triumph and back to the Roman Theatre. We came in the first place to see the Roman Theatre and the Arc de Triumph which are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The theatre was build just two decades A.D. which is just a decade after which Orange was founded. The theatre with a stage wall of 103 meters long and 37 meters high is the finest example that remains today. The Arc the Triumph is located in the north of the city which is a 10 minute walk from the theatre. It was the entrance to Orange and is decorated with very fine artwork. Walking through the city you come across some other roman remains and various (newer) churches. We finished within two hours and drove (35 minutes) further to Avignon, the second city on the 3rd leg of our South France road trip itinerary.

Historic Centre of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge

If you have done your planning correctly you arrive to Avignon before lunch time leaving time to visit first the Papal Palace. Avignon was the place where the popes fled to from Rome in the 14th century when Rome was not safe. At that time it was not part of the French crown anymore but under Papal rule. The Papal Palace was built in a short time and has not much decoration but it is an imposing Gothic building. Because of its leading role in Christian Europe it is worth to spend some hours and learn its history. The building looks like a castle and inside most rooms are empty with some frescoes remaining. In some rooms are exhibitions explaining the history. It will take you not more than an hour to explore the Papal Palace.

TIP! Park your car under the square Place du Palais because the Papal Palace (Palais des Papes) is right there and this is the place to visit before taking lunch.

Now it is time for lunch! From the Papal Palace you can walk across the square into the small streets and look for a restaurant. Or, if you do not mind the price, take lunch on the square and watch the people passing by. We were on a tight schedule so after a nice salad and a few glasses of wine we continued our walk to the 12th century bridge over the Rhone. A 15 minute visit will do there. Now walk back to the square but before leaving have a look at the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms if open. It should be not later as 2:30 PM when you leave Avignon as otherwise you won’t be able this day of the South France road trip itinerary.

TIP! If your schedule permits then Avignon is the best place for an additinal night stay in the area. It has a great atmosphere.

Tarascon Castle on the Rhône River

The itinerary of our South France road trip today was full but we went through Tarascon on the way from Avignon to Arles. So why not stop there? Tarascon is located just a 25 minute drive out of Avignon halfway to Arles. In Tarascon you find one of the most beautiful medieval castles of France. The massive castle was built in the mid-15th century on the spot of an old Roman post at the edge of the Provence. When you enter the castle over the bridge a nice surprise awaits you as the inside is of totally different design. A lot of fine artwork and details make it a nice castle to wander around for 30 to 45 minutes. The towers reach over 50 meters above the Rhone giving a great view over the Rhone and the city of Tarascon. Just next to the castle you find the Church of St. Martha. We were only interested in the castle as the other places in the city of Tarascon are familiar to other places we saw so we headed quickly to our last stop of the day before it would close.

TIP! If you take the tour as we did and you run into time problems than skip the Medieval Castle of Tarascon.

Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments

We drove FAST from Tarascon to Arles and parked the car at the amphitheater entrance. Probably in a place it was not allowed but time was running out. We bought quickly the entrance tickets and walked to the top to have a view inside. The amphitheater dates back to the early second century and is still in use today as a bull arena. A lot more than to have a view you cannot do there so we headed to the theater and walked around the grounds for a while. The theater is much more in ruins but well worth a visit and its located just a few minutes walk from the amphitheater. We walked a bit around old town to see a bit of the city and ended up on a nice terrace for some great glasses of French wine and a lovely dinner.

TIP! Make sure you arrive in Arles at around 4PM latest to have a quick look at the amphitheater, theatre and church before they close.

The end of leg 3 of our South France road trip itinerary

After dinner we drove to the Holiday Inn Express hotel near the Marseille Airport. It is located north of Marseille which was a good place for us as the next day we would explore more of the area about which I will tell you in a next blog post. If you don’t collect hotel loyalty points as I did in this South France road trip itinerary then do stay in Arles to have the evening there. It IS more convenient. We managed to see all; it was tight, but it worked.

 
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Did you visit Orange, Avignon or Arles too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery South France road trip itinerary

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

 

1 Comment

  1. I always loved Avignon – but then France has always been my favorite country to begin with. History and culture around each bend, and if your tired the best food and wine on the planet. ah..heaven!

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