By far, our favorite way to get to Lourmarin from our home, is to fly direct to Paris (Charles de Gaulle airport) and take the high-speed train (called the TGV, short for train à grande vitesse) to the Aix-en-Provence TGV station, where we rent a car and drive on lovely back roads for less than an hour to Lourmarin. (Specific directions for this drive to Lourmarin will be sent to you when you make your reservation.)
The TGV station is located within the CDG airport, just a short walk from the Air France International terminal. The high-speed train takes three hours to reach the Aix station. It is infinitely convenient and comfortable. You can stretch out, walk around, enjoy a petite déjeuner, and take a brief snooze before you reach your destination.
A couple of caveats: Tickets and reservations are mandatory for the TGV and can be made via http://www.sncf.fr/indexe.htm or through your local travel agent. Do make sure you have booked your TGV trip from CDG airport rather than one of the central Paris stations. Before boarding, validate your tickets by inserting each one into one of the ubiquitous orange machines. (This way, you can avoid the irritation of the conductor as well as a small fee.) The Aix-en-Provence TGV station is NOT in Aix-en-Provence; it is 37 km outside of Aix. Therefore, make sure you have rented your car from the Aix TGV station. There are regular buses that can take you to central Aix, if that is your first destination. Avignon also has a TGV station and is a good alternative destination as it is also less than an hour from Lourmarin. Finally, do be ready to board and de-board quickly; the station stop may be as brief as a few minutes and the TGV waits for no one!
Another way to reach Lourmarin is to fly into the Marseille Airport and rent a car for the drive to Lourmarin, less than one hour away. There are quite a few daily flights from Paris and other European cities. Traveling by air to Marseille is typically a little less expensive than taking the TGV from Paris. Air France has particularly good deals that often make this alternative more appealing than the TGV option. (Specific directions from Marseille Airport to Lourmarin will be sent to you when you make your reservation.)
Nice airport is a third alternative. There are direct flights from London and from New York City (and probably other major American cities, too). This airport is about 2 ½ hours, via the autoroute, from Lourmarin, which can be a very long trip after a sleepless night on an overseas flight. We have done it several times, but I wouldn’t recommend it to visitors unfamiliar with the area.
Having a car in Provence is essential, especially in small villages such as Lourmarin. There are busses connecting many of the villages to one another and larger cities, but they run infrequently and irregularly. Many of the most interesting sites require a car. You will see much more of Provence with a car. (For information about local transportation options, see "Transportation to and from Neighboring Villages and Cities.")
Make arrangements to rent your car from the states. We usually rent our cars through Auto Europe. Make sure to choose the correct pick-up point for your car. We have had several guests arrive at the Aix-en-Provence TGV station only to find that their car is waiting for them in the city of Aix-en-Provence! Car rental agencies are typically found in or near airports and train stations and in large cities. There are no car rental agencies in Lourmarin (or in any of the small villages).
Select a compact- or medium-sized car. We recommend strict avoidance of SUVs and vans because they are simply too large for the roads in the villages and even parts of some cities. We recommend getting a diesel (and, in fact, most of the rental cars are diesel). If you prefer an automatic, make sure to specify that that is your preference.
(If you get a manual, you may want to make sure you know how to put the car in reverse before you leave the rental car parking lot. For an American, the requisite pulling up of the gear shift may be unusual and I wouldn’t want readers to find themselves in the same situation I was in one time when a police officer asked me to move the car and I couldn’t get it in reverse and was unable to explain to him in French that I couldn’t figure it out!)
An international driver's license is not required in France. Seatbelts are required. Hand-held cell phones are frowned upon and may yield a fine. France has very tough laws prohibiting driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Most of the major highways are toll roads and are called autoroutes. Sometimes you pick up a ticket at one toll booth (péage) and pay at another. There are also both manned and unmanned toll booths in which you pay before you enter. Always carry coins with you and be prepared to pick your jaw up from the floor of your car when you see how expensive the tolls can be.
French drivers are notorious for their fast driving and tailgating, but this may be one case in which the majority, fortunately, fail to live up to this reputation. We prefer driving in almost any French city to driving in Boston.
Signage is particularly good on major roads as well as the smaller ones. The key to following the signs is to know the main villages and cities along the route to your destination; most directional signs will note the next main village or city. (Keep a good map handy.) If you don’t see a sign for a destination that lies along your route, follow signs for Toutes Directions or Autres Directions (meaning all over directions) until you see a sign for one of your destinations.
On small roads, be mindful of passing cars, cyclists, tractors, herds of goats, and the like. You never know what you might see in Provence. We have been held up several times for goats to cross the road to new pastures. The last time we were there, we were stopped in a line of traffic, hugging the side of the road with two tires up on the sidewalk, holding our breath as a caravan of huge trucks from a Circus squeezed through the tiny road. As the last one rounded the corner, we were face-to-face with the biggest hippopotamus we’ve ever laid eyes on.
When en route to Lourmarin with a trunk full of luggage, we would not recommend leaving the car unattended. Unfortunately, thieves are drawn to Provence as well. But the drive is relatively short and easy, and Lourmarin beckons you.
However you get to Provence, a magical place awaits you and Lourmarin, in Lourmarin, is an ideal base from which to explore it.