Provence to Tuscany Itinerary

Why Choose? You Can Visit Both on This Cross-Cultural Road Trip

arles picture, arles amphitheater picture
••• Arles in Provence. James Martin, Europe Travel

Two of the most popular regions in Europe to visit are Provence in France and Tuscany, Italy's largest region. The distance between them isn't far; you can easily drive it in a day, and there are lots of very interesting places to stop along the way if you get tired, or just want to see something you hadn't planned on seeing.

Both regions are quite similar. Both are known for achievements in art and both have a cuisine with a huge following.

Neither is known for mega-cities, and the main attractions tend to be rural, meaning you might want a car to make this a sort of grand road trip, although you can get between the two regions easily enough on a train.

If we start our itinerary near the western boundary of Provence, say at Avignon, a charming city along the Rhone known for its Palace of the Popes, and were to eventually travel to Florence, the heart of Renaissance Tuscany, we would drive a little over 7 hours. The train would take over 13 hours. A car is best. You can check out the options: Avignon, France to Florence, Italy. Other options include buses and the fly/train combo.

But you don't want to see just Avignon and Florence. Just south of Avignon are the art towns of Arles and St. Remy. If you like, why not spend a couple of days in Arles and a day in St. Remy? Nature lovers will want to head down to the Camargue for a day or two.

Other fine places include the Luberon, just west of Avignon and make famous by Peter Mayle. We spent a week in this part of Provence and enjoyed it very much.

After a week or so (or longer if you can) it's time to head for Tuscany. The route takes you along the Mediterranean coast, so you have many options for breaking up the drive by spending the night in interesting towns along the way.

For example, along the Cote d'Azure you'll find towns like Roquebrune-Cap-Martin with a castle to explore, or Menton, a place of artists and citrus, with sunshine virtually assured most times of the year. Both are easy to park in and have plenty of tourist services.

Then you cross the border with Italy, heading down the coast on the Autostrada dei Fiori, the motorway of flowers (watch for the greenhouses, or visit Hanbury Gardens just across the border), passing Genoa on your way towards Pisa (where you could stop and take a little self-guided walking tour or just park near the train station and hustle it to the leaning tower). Pisa is where the A11 Autostrada leads you inland towards Florence, although if you're ready for another stop, Lucca with its encircling Baroque walls will not take you far off the route.

On your way to Florence you'll pass Pistoia, a town that gave its name to the pistol and is a sort of miniature Florence with an interesting church square and thriving market that has been going since medieval times (where you can still see intact medieval market stalls).

Then you've arrived. The Renaissance art city of  Florence has been charming visitors for a very long time.

If you've nearly run out of time after exploring Provence and the coast, you will want to at least hit the highlights. But leave time for visiting Florence's historic squares, a few of the top museums, and when you get good and hungry, take a local's advice and visit some of the best bars and restaurants in Piero's Florence.

Where to stay in Florence? If you're staying a while you'll want to look for a place to stay in the historic center. Beware of driving into the center though, the Zona Traffico Limitato or ZTL prohibits cars in the center who don't have authorization (See: Driving Tips in Italy). You can get a permit that allows you to enter the center temporarily to drop off luggage, however.

Enjoy planning your road trip to two of Europe's best regions to visit.