If you are going to the east end of Provence – the Luberon, Aix-en-Provence, Marseille, you should fly to Marseille Provence airport. For the west of Provence – the Cote d’Azur/French Riviera – you should fly to Nice airport. Nice is the bigger airport and has direct flights from New York, London and many European cities.
Marseille has only one direct transatlantic flight, Air Canada/Air Transat from Montreal, but many connections from Europe, including the UK. It may work out better for you to fly to Nice even if you are staying to the west – the drive from Nice is 1.5 hours to Aix-en-Provence, 2 hours to Marseille and 2.5 hours to the Luberon.
For Marseille, if you are coming from North America, depending on the airline you choose, you will change planes in either London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, Amsterdam or almost any other European hub for the short flight on to Marseille (90 minutes from London, 1 hour from Paris). If you’re coming from the UK, you can fly direct from the main London airports and from some other cities around the UK in the summer months.
In the summer there are other interesting seasonal routes from the UK. For example, FlyBe do Birmingham or Southampton to Avignon, which is perfect for the Luberon, and also Southampton to Toulon, ideal for the western Cote d’Azur. Two airports that are well placed for a drive to Provence and may offer more affordable flights are Montpellier and Nimes, while Lyon is 2 hours to the north of Avignon.
France has an excellent fast train service called the TGV. In Provence there are TGV stations at Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.
Direct trains from Paris CDG airport get you to Avignon in 2 hours 40 minutes. Avignon and Aix-en-Provence’s TGV stations are modern creations out of town, with plenty of car rental firms on site. Make sure you rent a car from the TGV station and not the regular stations which are in town. There are shuttle services from the normal station to the TGV station.
The French national rail service is called SNCF, and the TGV trains are a part of that. You can book tickets online at sncf.com and collect them at the station from a machine using your reference number (English language is an option on these machines). At smaller stations there are no machines and you need to retrieve your tickets from the ticket office, so you need to go during working hours. Tickets can be retrieved whenever you like, whether 3 months or 3 minutes ahead of your departure.
From London you can also take the Eurostar train from St Pancras station direct to Avignon and Marseille, with departures 5 days a week from May to September. The trip takes just under 7 hours to Avignon. There are also many one-change daily options, starting on the Eurostar from London and changing to a TGV train at either Lille (change of platform) or Paris (change station). These take you on to Avignon, Aix-en-Provence or Marseille. Lille is the recommended option for changing trains, because in Paris you have to change station from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon.
To complete your journey from station or airport, you will most likely be hiring a car, unless you are staying in a city and don’t need one. You will find the major car hire firms present at all airports and TGV stations. You should bear in mind that in Europe the cheapest hire cars are not necessarily automatics, and some may not have a/c. This will be stated on whichever site you use to book. From June to September in Provence you will definitely appreciate a/c.
For getting around to explore Provence we highly recommend a car, as public transport can be sparse or non-existent depending on where you are.