FRANCE – The ultimate 10 day South France itinerary for a road trip packed with culture

France: some love it, some hate it. I love it! During my teenage years I travelled a lot in France but this was mostly the upper half of the country. I always wanted to do a road trip in Southern France and show my kids the area. The autumn holidays are a perfect time to do this as it isn’t that hot anymore and I wanted to go for culture, not the beach.

I planned a 10-day itinerary which was packed with culture and activities. With packed I mean really packed, but you’ll enjoy it. My family enjoyed it too! I used tricks to book hotels for free and used EasyTerra Car Rental to get the best deal on the rental car. This ultimate South France itinerary is perfect for an autumn (or spring) road trip in Europe!

South France Road Trip Map - South France Itinerary

Preparing a South France itinerary

When I prepare a road trip like this one in South France I start by printing, yes printing, the region on paper. I then start to do research of all the places of interest and marking them including estimated time to see it. The latter is something you’ll learn from experience. Then, I’ll group places into day trips allowing an hour or two drive from my hotel to get somewhere. I prefer to stay multiple nights somewhere and drive somewhere rather than to change hotel each day. If the road trip is to long I’ll leave out items at the start or the end making the A to B shorter. In this ultimate South France itinerary for example, I left out Toulouse as I’ll be flying there again to drive to Andorra and Barcelona. Then I’ll finish the total itinerary and start booking hotels, reserving the car and the rest.

How I arranged the hotels for this trip for free I already explained in the first day article; read it. A good car with insurance and service is necessary for a road trip. I used EasyTerra Car Rental to find the best car for me. Their search engine compares all the major car rental services for the best price. They don’t have reservations fees, free cancellation, and a best price guarantee: 3 things I like when booking cars. While booking they offer a cheap way to add full insurance cover which, I think, is necessary. I have my driver’s license now 18 years without accidents, but you’ll never know. Booking with EasyTerra Car Rental was simple and quick, their service also outstanding. I highly recommend them for getting a good deal on a car rental.

Now let’s look at this ultimate South France itinerary packed with culture! I think it’s overcomplete.

Day 1 – Carcassonne, the start of the road trip

Getting up early morning after a late-night arrival is always difficult but with a road trip so full packed with activities I had no choice. At 9 AM, an hour late, I drove from Toulouse to Carcassonne to explore this medieval city.

Carcassonne is strategically located on a hill between Toulouse and the Balearic Sea and was of great importance for centuries. My kids were excited to see this medieval city as the city offers lots of activities for kids too including a medieval spectacle that day. After wandering through the narrow streets of the citadel for several hours it was time to go to the lower town. There are various churches and old remains of interest there plus lots of cafés for a coffee and small lunch. In the (late) afternoon it was time to continue onwards to Montpellier, the second stop of this road trip in South France.

ALTERNATIVE ROUTE! You can stay overnight in the old citadel of Carcassonne this day instead of Montpellier. It’s an awesome experience and doesn’t matter schedule wise.

Read a detailed description of this day in the day article:
FRANCE – Planning a “free” south France road trip and the first day in Carcassonne

- South France Itinerary

Day 2 – Montpellier and area

The second day of this South France itinerary includes four places outside of Montpellier and Montpellier itself. It was a rainy day and a road trip isn’t fun in the rain! I had to use the heating of the rental car instead of the airconditioning!

The first stop was at the Saint-Michel de Grandmont Priory which is the last remaining of the Grandmont order. Make sure to arrive early morning as the hilly country side is amazing in the cool morning mist. After exploring the priory and nearby prehistoric sites continue to the Grotte (cave) de Clamouse which is an awesome limestone cave system.

Now drive to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert for lunch and to see the local abbey. The last place of interest on the way back to Montpellier is the Valmagne Abbey.

I arrived back in Montpellier around 4PM and did a quick city walk. Montpellier isn’t a city that old and it doesn’t take much time to see most places of interest, but if you want to go see the museums you’ll need more time. I stayed overnight in Montpellier.

EXTEND YOUR TRIP! An additional full day in Montpellier is easily filled! It has great nightlife, museums and more to explore.

Read a detailed description of this day in the day article:
FRANCE – Montpellier, leg 2 of our South France road trip itinerary

- South France Itinerary

Day 3 – Orange, Avignon and Arles

Three cities in a day by rental car? Yes, why not if you stick to the places of interest. Of course, it’s possible to wander around each city for a day: sit on each terrace, explore each small street, but in my opinion, you should do that not in every city as it’s more of the same.

Orange city trip

Orange is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Roman Theatre, its surroundings and the Triumphal Arch which takes about 90 minutes in total to explore. It was the first stop on this day and you should arrive there around 9AM when the place opens.

Avignon city trip

The next stop was the historic center of Avignon which is a place to spend some time. I explored the Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge which are the main places of interest. It’s a great city to wander around too and have lunch. It was probably 3PM when I drove towards Arles to see the Roman and Romanesque Monuments but on the way, I couldn’t resist stopping at Tarascon Castle.

Arles city trip

I arrived past 5PM in Arles which gave me just a few minutes to see the inside of the Roman remains; but if you have seen theatres before you don’t need to walk every step in it anyway. This day was probably too long; but it was well worth it! Good thing the rental car had unlimited mileage. After dinner in Arles I drove towards Marseille and stayed overnight near Vitrolles.

EXTEND YOUR TRIP / ALTERNATE ROUTE: If you have time for an additional day I suggest planning an additional day in Avignon, the nicest city of all three. I stayed near Vitrolles only due to hotel loyalty programs; it’s better to stay overnight in Arles!

Read a detailed description of this day in the day article:
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

Day 4 – Montmajour & Silvacane Abbey, Glanum and Salagon

Two abbeys, an old Roman village and a priory are on the South France itinerary for today; a long road trip. The first is the Montmajour Abbey where remains date to 3 BC and the buildings are in very good shape. If you want to visit an old Roman village I suggest visiting Glanum Roman Village which is very well preserved and gives a great insight on how the Romans lived. Pick nick was for lunch today, fresh baguettes and French cheeses. Delicious! After lunch, the first stop was at the Silvacane Abbey which is a Cistercian Monastery. It takes about an hour to explore after which I drove to the Salagon Priory & Gardens where I arrived just 30 minutes before it would close. Dinner is served late in France so when I arrived by rental car in Marseille it was time for fois gras, entrecote and creme brulée!

TIME TIP! If you run out of time or if the schedule is too busy then skip the Salagon Priory & Gardens which are quite far away.

Read a detailed description of this day in the day article:
FRANCE – Montmajour & Silvacane Abbey, Glanum and Salagon: leg 4 of our South France road trip itinerary

Montmajour & Silvacane Abbey, Glanum and Salagon: leg 4 of our South France road trip itinerary

Day 5 – Marseille

The only day of this South France itinerary that doesn’t include any driving! No road trip today; no use of the rental car. A full day in Marseille is perfect to explore the city. Start by walking around the harbor and its corniche in the morning, then go to the The Notre-Dame de La Gard and return to old Marseille for lunch. Keep wandering through the old town, visiting museums until it’s time for dinner. Just relax this day!

Read a detailed description of this day in the day article:
FRANCE – Two nights in Marseille during leg 5 of our South France road trip

Day 6 – Marseille to Cannes

Today the road trip continues by rental car and there are 3 stops included in the South France itinerary for today. They are: Tour Royal Fort of Toulon, The Chartreuse de la Verne, and the Abbey of Thoronet. The best route is to take the scenic route from Marseille to Cannes along the coast. This road can be closed at times if weather is bad but if it’s open it’s an awesome road to drive. Except the fort both places are located deep into the hills and forest away from the cities. They are great places to walk around and enjoy nature! In the late afternoon, I drove to Cannes where I would stay for one night.

EXTEND YOUR ROAD TRIP: I didn’t explore Cannes at all as I want to visit during the film festival one day. To extend your trip add a day in Cannes.

Read a detailed description of this day in the day article:
FRANCE – From Marseille to Cannes, leg 6 of the South France roadtrip

Day 7 – St. Tropez and area

A South France itinerary isn’t complete without a visit to St. Tropez! The idea was to first explore the Roman remains and episcopal buildings in Frejus but these were quite disappointing compared to the other Roman remains. I already arrived in St. Tropez in the morning and walked around the city until about 2PM for a late lunch. There are plenty of restaurants in the harbor and I suggest going for some delicious Oysters! After lunch, I drove to Nice where I stayed downtown.

ALTERNATE ROUTE TIP: Unless you are a history buff then I suggest skipping Frejus and spend more time in St. Tropez. You could also completely skip this day and add one day as suggested in the other tips.

Day 8 – Monaco road trip

Monaco isn’t South France of course but a country of its own. If you do a road trip in South France then Monaco should be on your itinerary as well. I drove to Monaco as a day trip from Nice which gives enough time to explore Monaco. Make sure to stop by the tourist office to get a Monaco passport stamp! In Monaco, you’ll see the most expensive cars, yachts, and restaurants but a day trip doesn’t have to be expensive! There are budget options to eat too and watching the splendor is free. Make sure to visit the old core too and learn about Monaco’s history. This South France road trip was the perfect way to tick off a new country too; I think it was my 40th country or so.

Day 9 – End of the South France itinerary

Everything ends and so does this ultimate South France itinerary. The last day of this road trip left some time to wander around Nice before an evening flight back to Amsterdam. I dropped my EasyTerra Rental Car at the airport before my flight which was just a 5 minute process; quick! I really enjoyed the road trip although a few days included too much if I look back. I would plan again like this in a heartbeat but if it looks too much for you then I hope my tips on how to extend (or shorten) the trip are useful.

South France is the perfect place for a road trip and I hope this ultimate South France itinerary can be your guide to make one too. I had lots of fun with my family and I was happy to show my kids France too. Did I miss something? Then please let me know in the comments below!

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