Avis, Hertz and Europcar do car hire from Avignon TGV station, as well as Nîmes and Grenoble airports (www.avis.com; www.hertz.com; www.europcar. com). The A7 is the main artery from the north.
Access the region from Nîmes, to the west in neighbouring Languedoc-Roussillon, or Marseille. From the UK, Ryanair flies to Nîmes from Liverpool and Luton (www.ryanair.com); or travel to Marseille from Gatwick with EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) or British Airways (www.ba.com).
From the UK, put your car on the Autotrain at Paris, catch a separate train and be reunited in Avignon (0844 848 4050). Or take the Eurostar - probably the most civilised option - and change at Paris for Avignon or Aix (www.eurostar.com). Trains from Paris Gare de Lyon to Avignon take around three hours (www.tgv.com).
Country code for France: 33. Provence: (0)4.
The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles by Martin Gayford; Caesar's Vast Ghost: Aspects of Provence by Lawrence Durrell. The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. Market Day in Provence by Michèle de La Pradelle.
Do go / Don't Go
Spring and autumn are perfect: the weather is warm and there are fewer crowds. May is a riot of flowers, and September sees the grape harvest.
There are taxi ranks in the main towns, railway stations and airports. Prices are cheaper than on the Côte d'Azur, but there may be a charge for luggage. Your hotel should be able to arrange transfers by cab.
A 15 per cent service charge is included in French restaurant and café bills by law; it's usual to round up the bill or leave a few euros, as well.
Take cobble-friendly sandals, rather than stilettos, and his 'n' hers straw hats. Pack binoculars for bird-spotting in the Camargue.
Arles and Orange each has an impressive amphitheatre, used for cultural events, such as open-air opera. Just outside Les Baux, you can wander among vast art images projected onto the walls of a huge quarry cave, the Cathédrale d'Images (www.cathedrale-images. com). The Granet Museum in Aix-en-Provence has a special room dedicated to Paul Cézanne, born in Aix in 1839. Avignon's Unesco-protected architectural finery includes the famous pont from the song (aka Saint- Bénezet bridge), and the Popes' Palace, a Gothic powerhouse, left beautifully bare within (www.palais-des-papes.com).
The Camargue is almost as famous for its mosquitoes as for its horses. If you're venturing to its boggy expanses, go armed with box-fresh repellent.
Apart from giant blocks of savon de Marseille, the best buys are olive-wood kitchenwares and lavender products (we like the Popée family's tiny shop on the road from Sault up to the Ventoux). In Sault, nougaterie André Boyer (+33 (0)4 90 64 00 23; www.nougat-boyer.fr) sells sweet treats amid historic decor. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue hosts a famed antiques market every Sunday morning. Aix-en-Provence has enticing design boutiques on Rue Fabrot, and a food market every day on Place Richelme.
There's a wonderful view towards the Camargue from the battlements of the fortress in Les Baux-de-Provence. In summer, go early in the morning to avoid crowds. High above the village of Beaumes de Venise (ask a local for directions), Domaine de Durban offers not only a superb vista but also some of the finest pudding wines in the world (+33 (0)4 90 62 94 26; www.domainedurban.com). Or you can take the twisty route up Mont Ventoux.
Vincent Van Gogh painted almost 200 canvases during the year or so he spent in Arles. Many of the places he worked are marked by a series of panels dotted around the city.
April The Feria de Pâques takes place in Arles, opening the bullfighting season in France. Some half a million revellers turn up to watch the spectacle in the Roman amphitheatre. May Gypsies from all over Europe gather in Saintes- Maries-de-la-Mer to pay their respects to St Sarah, the Black Madonna. Les Baux holds its annual Fête des Vignerons, when you can join villagers in tasting local vintages (www.lesbauxdeprovence.com). July The Festival d'Aix-en-Provence attracts world-class opera singers (www.festival-aix.com). The Festival d'Avignon (www.festival-avignon.com) sees all manner of street art around the city, as well as formal concerts, and a fringe festival (www.avignonleoff.org). Mid-month, Carpentras stages Les Estivales de Carpentras, a two-week celebration of music, theatre and dance (www.estivales-de-carpentras.com). Opera and classical music fill the magnificent amphitheatre in Orange for France's oldest festival, the Chorégies d'Orange (www.choregies.com). Mid-August Sault, the heart of the region's lavender industry, hosts the fragrant Fête de la Lavande. September With paella, sangria and bull-running, the Rice Festival in Arles feels decidedly Spanish.