Car-Free Holidays in The Luberon

Recently, I’ve seen quite a few questions about whether it’s possible to visit The Luberon without having to come by car. The queries range from how to get to the area from airports across France to whether it’s possible to explore, once they arrive. The simple answer to them all is yes.

It may be a National Park and there are no railways running through the valley, but with the TGV stations at Avignon and Aix, which are both well connected to the area with regular bus services, it’s actually easier than you may imagine to enjoy a visit, without having to consider hiring a car.

Pretty Bonnieux

Over the past few years, we’ve followed just about every possible route to get home and I thought it may be useful to share some of them with you, as not only is it actually a really nice way to arrive, but being rather selfish, The Luberon is always so much nicer with fewer cars on the roads around the valley.

For this blog, I’ve used Apt as the end point for each journey, as it is a great base for a holiday, with everything you need readily on hand and one of the best markets in Provence. It’s also a good transport hub and you can catch a bus, hire bikes or if necessary book a taxi to get you to where you are staying, or to explore the valley and further afield.

Beautiful Apt rooftops

With visitors coming from all over the world, I’ve focused on the main routes into the country, although there are others (eg Lyon, which is well-served with ski-flights for winter visits), but with a bit of work, car-free options can be found to get to The Luberon from these too.

Arriving in France at Nice Airport:

To be honest Nice is a great place to start your holiday in Provence and if you arrive late, I would suggest staying a night in the city and taking a gentle stroll along the iconic Promenade Des Anglais, before starting the onward journey, as it really is a lovely place to stay.

Even in winter the Promenade des Anglais is a lovely place to walk

However if you have to travel the same day, you will also have the chance to enjoy glimpses of the sun sparkling on the Mediterranean, as you sit on the tram that takes you from the airport terminals directly to the city centre stop at Jean Medecin. From here it is just a short walk to the main train station.

Take Line 2 trams for the Aeroport

The sleek and modern tram system has only recently been extended to access the airport and Tram Line 2, which runs directly from both Terminals 1 and 2, offers a quick, cheap and easy way of getting you and your luggage across the city, to catch one of the regular trains that will take you to the TGV station at Aix en Provence.

There are easy to use ticket machines at each stop, where you can pay with both card and cash and once you board the tram, you simply validate the ticket in the machines that are just inside the door, before sitting back and watching the streets of Nice slip by.

The comfortable, modern trams

The train journey from Nice to Aix isn’t quick and certainly not something for anyone with any time pressures, but it is rather beautiful. The line hugs the coast and the carriage windows offer delightful glimpses of the picturesque villages and towns of the Cote D’Azur, as the train makes its way on a regular stopping-service towards Marseille, where it finally joins the fast TGV line for the last few minutes to the station at Aix.

Aix TGV station is actually several kilometres from the town itself, but it is well served by the regular Aix to Marseille airport shuttle buses and these will take you straight to the Aix bus station, from where you hop on one of the local ‘Zou’ buses for the last leg of the trip to Apt via Lourmarin.

Pretty Lourmarin

It may sound quite complex and it is probably the longest journey time of all the routes we have taken, but with a little bit of planning, it is a lovely way to arrive and all you can do, is sit back and enjoy the journey and the views of Provence, whilst others do the driving.

To help with planning for this route the websites you will need to look at are:

Tram Line 2 Nice: https://www.nice-facile.fr/tramway-aeroport-nice/

Train to Aix TGV station: https://www.thetrainline.com/fr/horaires-train/nice-a-aix-en-provence-tgv

Shuttle bus to Aix bus station: https://www.lepilote.com/fr/part10/navettes-aeroport/1062/aix-en-provence-aix-tgv/1071

Timetable for the local ‘Zou bus from Aix to Apt: https://www.luberon-apt.fr/sites/aptluberon/files/brochures/files/zou84_ligne9-909_apt_cadenet_aix-en-provence.pdf

Arriving in France at Marseille Airport:

If you’ve ever watched the film ‘A Good Year’ you will have watched Russell Crowe trying desperately to escape the car hire parking area in front of the airport terminals. We know his pain, as we too have spent time trying to find our way out of the labyrinth of car parks, before eventually getting out onto the motorways to head back to the Luberon.

Using public transport saves you from this stress, as you just have to walk to the bus stops at the front of Terminal 1 and find the regular shuttle bus that will take you directly to the bus station in the centre of Aix en Provence.

Marseille Airport

Once in Aix, it’s very easy to pass an hour or so, enjoying a coffee at one of the cafes on the Cours Mirabeau, simply settling down and relaxing into a more gentle way of life after spending time on a plane. Alternatively, if you just want to get on with your journey, you pick up the regular line 9, Zou bus, which takes you directly to Apt, via the pretty villages of Cadenet, Lourmarin and Bonnieux, arriving at the bus station in the centre of Apt about an hour and a half later.

This is probably the simplest of all the trips we have done and Andy is now very fond of the bus ride from Aix to Apt, trying to relax as the bus driver fearlessly negotiates the constant twists and turns of the road through the Combe de Lourmarin, before he feels able to sand back to enjoy the views across the valley, as they head down to Apt from Bonnieux, .

Beautiful Bonnieux

To help with planning for this route the websites you will need to look at are:

Shuttle bus to Aix bus station: https://www.lepilote.com/fr/part10/navettes-aeroport/1062/aix-en-provence-aix-tgv/1071

Timetable for the local ‘Zou bus from Aix to Apt: https://www.luberon-apt.fr/sites/aptluberon/files/brochures/files/zou84_ligne9-909_apt_cadenet_aix-en-provence.pdf

Arriving in France at Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport:

Distance-wise this is by far the longest journey, but there is a wonderful simplicity about arriving at Charles De Gaulle Airport and taking one of the regular TGVs that travel from the airport’s station, directly to Avignon, which really takes the pressure off the trip down to Provence.

Travelling by TGV is a joy, as they are fast (about 300 kph), comfortable and almost always on time. The trip takes less than 3 hours and all you need to do is sit back and watch the french countryside flash by as you head south. If you book in advance, it is really good value and you can often get first class tickets for just a few euros more than standard class, which makes the journey even more comfortable.

You know you’ve arrived in Provence, when you catch sight of Mont Ventoux and the dramatic skyline of the Pope’s Palace, as the train arcs around before it pulls into Avignon TGV station, which is just outside the city itself. If you’re staying in Avignon, you can catch a local train to the City Centre station, but if continuing on to Apt (or any of the villages en route) then there is a purpose-built bus station just behind the terminal, by the main car parks.

Here you need to look for the stop for the ZOU line 15, (which from 01/01/23 will change to the 915) , which will take you through Avignon, directly to Apt, with a number of stops on the way. There are a number of services that run from mid morning till late into the evening and if you are bringing a bike, that’s not an issue as the majority of the buses are fitted with rear-mounted bike racks too and a space can be reserved in advance (more info on the website)

The Zou, local buses

Once on the bus, you can just enjoy the views as you make your way through the valley towards Apt, catching sight of some of the areas famous villages on the way. It’s also great value, with a one-way trip costing about the same as a cafe au lait too.

To help with planning for this route the websites you will need to look at are:

TGV from Paris CDG Airport to Avignon TGV: https://www.thetrainline.com/fr/horaires-train/aeroport-paris-roissy-charles-de-gaulle-cdg-a-avignon-tgv

Timetable for the local ‘Zou bus from Avignon TGV to Apt: https://www.luberon-apt.fr/sites/aptluberon/files/brochures/files/zou84_ligne15-915_avignon_apt.pdf

Arriving in France by Eurostar into Paris Gare du Nord:

If we’re honest, this is by far our favourite way to travel, with the trip feeling like a holiday itself, as it involves walking through London to get to St Pancras and then another walk through Paris, between the Gare Du Nord and the Gare de Lyon, where we pick up the TGV to travel to Avignon. We always travel as light as possible, so we don’t have to drag large cases with us, but if you have luggage, there is an easy rail connection between the stations, which is listed below.

Taking the Eurostar

Arriving at the Gare du Nord is always an experience, with busy concourses and so many people dashing in every possible direction that it can be rather daunting. If you have luggage and need to take the train to the Gare De Lyon then follow the signs, going down the escalator towards the RER line D, which then takes just 8 minutes to cover the distance between the stations, with only one stop at Chatelet Les Halles en route.

If, like us though, you fancy a walk through Paris, it is a flat easy route that takes just over an hour. It is a delightful, almost straight walk that takes you through the Place de la Republique, with its iconic statue of Marianne and across the Place de La Bastille, before taking you past the artist studios and shops that are built into the arches beneath the superb planted promenade, which has been created on the bed of an old railway.

Artisan workshops under the arches

Which is just a few minutes away from the Gare De Lyon….

The Gare De Lyon

We now try to book the onward TGV much later than we actually need to, giving ourselves enough time to do the walk and have a slow coffee too, which always makes it an even more enjoyable experience. Walking through the city is always a delight and I find myself ambling along, absorbed by city life, admiring the buildings, the incredible stonework and classic Haussmann designs that just anchor you to Paris.

Stunning Paris

Once at the Gare De Lyon, there are two separate areas, but the quai for the TGV will be listed well in advance of it leaving and once on board, you can relax and enjoy the rest, whilst the train hurtles its way south.

Approximately 2 1/2 hours later you’ll arrive, refreshed at the Avignon TGV station, where you seek out the bus stops, by the car parks and car hire offices and pick up the Zou bus, Line 15 (915 from 01/01/23) for the final leg of the trip to Apt.

Apt really is the perfect base

To help with planning for this route the websites you will need to look at are:

RER D timetable for train travel between Gare Du Nord & Gare De Lyon: https://www.horaires-de-trains.fr/horaires_rerd-Paris_Nord-Paris_Gare_de_Lyon.html

Suggested walking route between railway stations in Paris :https://www.google.fr/maps/dir/Gare+du+Nord,+18+Rue+de+Dunkerque,+75010+Paris/Paris+Gare+de+Lyon,+Place+Louis-Armand,+Paris/@48.8626211,2.3477294,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x47e66e6bfc58a37f:0x4fb63768d2dd790c!2m2!1d2.3553137!2d48.8809481!1m5!1m1!1s0x47e6721b2000bf4b:0x3ca1c23108bb64!2m2!1d2.3743773!2d48.8443038!3e2?hl=en&authuser=0

TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Avignon TGV: https://www.thetrainline.com/fr/horaires-train/paris-a-avignon-tgv

Timetable for the local ‘Zou bus from Avignon TGV to Apt: https://www.luberon-apt.fr/sites/aptluberon/files/brochures/files/zou84_ligne15-915_avignon_apt.pdf

Having arrived in the Luberon …… What then?

You’ve made it to Apt and on the way there, you will have seen some of the beautiful sights that you have added to the list of places you want to visit, whilst you’re here. But without a car, how will you get there? Will you just be stuck in one place with limited options to get around….

Happily the answer again is no. Once you have arrived there are plenty of options available to allow you to get out and about to get under the skin of this beautiful area.

Walking:

You may be happy just exploring the local area on foot (although I wouldn’t recommend it in mid-summer, when the temperatures make it uncomfortable and at times dangerous to exercise at the height of the day) and there are some incredible walks to be done from Apt, which will take you to Caseneuve or Saignon or just out into the open countryside around the town. The paths and trails are really well-marked and the views are incredible, as you follow the paths, some of which have been used for centuries. You may also stumble across more unusual sights, such as the dramatic old fort ‘Rocher Des Druides’ hidden deep in the woodlands, high above the town….

The Rocher des Druides above Apt

Of course, if you plan the walk well, then you can incorporate a boulangerie stop on the way round, for coffee and a croissant, just to keep energy levels up.

Coffee time

If you want to walk further afield, then there is always the option to catch the bus to a different starting point and walk back to Apt from there, Bonnieux being a great option, as there are regular buses and the routes back to the town have fantastic views across the valley

Or take the bus to a different starting point for a circular walk from there.Perhaps catching the local bus to Saint Saturnin Les Apt and walking up to the abandoned village of Travignon, a wonderful place trapped in time Read more about the village here

Views from Travignon are worth the walk

If you enjoy walking then there are so many options available here that you could easily fill a week exploring and enjoying the fresh air and views that the area has to offer.

There is a good guide of walks available at the local tourist office and lots of routes available on the website too:

Cycling:

If you fancy going a little further afield, then why not hire bikes for your stay, whether its a normal pedal bike, or one of the wide range of e-bikes that can be rented from local companies, many of which will deliver them to your accommodation. In my mind there really is no better way to explore this wonderful area, than on a bike and an e-bike takes the strain out of some of the hills too, so that’s even better.

Cycling is the perfect way to see the area

On the bike you really get under the skin of the area and experience it with all your senses; a far cry from driving from A to B in an enclosed car. As you turn the pedals you will fill your lungs with lavender or pine-scented air, be deafened by the mid-summer chatter of cicadas, feel the warm breeze on your face and be stopped in your tracks by the views. It also gives you the perfect excuse to stop at a local cafe for a cool drink or an ice cream, refuelling and resting, before moving on again.

In late spring you can take a rest in a poppy field, surrounded by the shimmering flowers…

Glorious poppy fields

Or in summer take a route through the lavender fields, stopping at the side of the road to enjoy the sight and scent whilst you’re lulled by the gentle hum of the bees, busy in the flowers…

Lavender scented rides

Then in autumn, just be wowed by the vibrant vines and orchards, as they change into their autumn colours….

Autumn cycling

I know you may think, well I can do all that in a car, but honestly there is a huge difference and once you get the bug, it really is rather addictive. We once bumped into a couple of women, when we were sitting on the wall at Menerbes, who had hired e-bikes for the first time and were chatting about their first experiences that morning. As they cycled off, one of them called back to us, ‘I’m going to be doing this until I’m a hundred now’ and I really hope she does.

The range of the e-bikes, means that you can ride a considerable distance between charges, planning routes around the area to visit all the main sights, from Roussillon to Gordes and Bonnieux to Saint Saturnin les Apt. Thanks to the flat, totally off-road Veloroute Du Calavon running the length of the valley, there is an easy and safe way to travel, before you turn off, following the quiet back roads to get to where you want to go.

The quiet winding roads

With many of the buses also having bike racks there are options available to take bikes further afield if you want to, although there are enough wonderful rides around the valley that keep me happy for weeks, if not months on end.

Buses:

One of the reasons that I used Apt as the arrival point for all the trips (apart from it being a delightful town, with one of the best markets in France), is that it has excellent bus connections across the area. I’ve mentioned a couple of the routes above and you can very easily have a day out in Lourmarin, Aix-en-Provence or Avignon using these, but they are just two of the options and the local bus company ‘Zou; has an excellent local network that allows you to hop around the valley and further afield too.

The buses are easy to use and cheap too, so with a little bit of planning, you can plan day trips out around the valley, visiting the local sights that have caught your attention ….

Visit Lacoste

Some of the local buses have retractable roofs too, which makes summer travelling even better, as you bimble around the villages.

From Apt you can also take buses to Sault, perhaps to visit the Wednesday market there or see the lavender fields in the Aurel valley…

Lavender at Sault

Or maybe, consider taking the bus towards Digne Les Bains and amble round the wonderful Monday morning market in Forcalquier, before heading back.

Full details of the local buses can be found here Bus routes from Apt

I know sometimes we feel we need a car and I appreciate that using public transport to get about can involve a bit more time-planning, but there really is no need to have a car to enjoy the area…..

Beautiful Gordes

And you can use all the money you save on parking fees to buy that extra coffee!


3 thoughts on “Car-Free Holidays in The Luberon

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