Provence offers one of the most complete holiday experiences/lifestyles
available in the world.
The scenery is stunning with the Luberon national park, Les Alpilles region, and Les Calanques (between Cassis and Marseille) offering amazing walking and cycling territory. For the more sedate, Provence has a seemingly endless supply of enchanting villages to discover. Never have cafe terraces been so enticing. It's possible to lose entire afternoons just sitting and watching the world go by.
For culture vultures Provence has an unrivaled artistic heritage, with its celebrated light inspiring artists such as Van Gogh and Cezanne. Today their work, and that of other world famous artists is celebrated in the major cultural centres of Aix en Provence, Arles and Avignon.
Still need a reason to visit? The seaside is simply stunning with ports such as Cassis competing with better known Riviera destinations such as St Tropez for easiness on the eye. Nature lovers will adore the wilderness of the Camargue, and getting off the beaten track by taking a horse ride into the flamingo filled salt marshes.
For the gastronomic Provence has the cuisine of numerous Michelin starred restaurants
offering their take on classic Provencal dishes. And of course Provence is filled with the most marvelous vineyards. The quality of Provencal wine gets better with each passing year. There are plenty of Provence wine tours
available, or visitors can choose to just explore by themselves.
Golfers will find plenty of courses to delight them in and around Aix en Provence and Avignon. In particular the Seve Ballesteros designed Pont Royal
is a great challenge as well as being scenically spectacular. Near the antique centre of L'Isle Sur La Sorgue, the Provence Country Club
is a mature and challenging park land course. With stunning views of the Les Baux de Provence medieval citadel and conveniently located for Saint Remy de Provence, Domaine de Manville
is the latest 18 hole addition to the region. Located in the grounds of a 5 star hotel, there are villa and golf lodge rentals available as well as hotel rooms.
The climate means that year round people can plan vacations and tours of Provence.
The majority of tourists visit Provence during the months of July and August
. The weather is normally warm and sunny with an average temperature of around 35 degrees. Hotels are full, as are rental villas. There is a full program of festivities in the cities and villages. Market days are so busy it can be hard to find a parking space. It's a wonderful time to visit this wonderful corner of the world.
offer a much overlooked alternative. The weather is cooler but sunny days still abound with the temperature hovering around 28 degrees. Swimming pools are still open, shops and restaurants busy, but there is a gentler pace to life. For those who can watch the weather forecast and book late, out of season is a truly magnificent time to visit Provence.
visit to Provence is a joy. The skies are often a clear blue and the air cold and crisp. Around Christmas times towns and villages put on festive Christmas markets and the illuminations in places such as Aix en Provence compete with the best in the world. A winter trip to Provence can be combined with a few days skiing in the southern Alps.
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Aix, Arles and Avignon are the three cities in Provence most visited by tourists. But if you only had time to take a tour of one, which would it be? The three golden cities of Provence have very different feels, here's a run down to help you pick which to visit.
Aix en Provence
Known only half jokingly as the Paris of the south, Aix en Provence is the most visually attractive of the three cities. Grand streets like the Cours Mirabeau and the attendant cafe society call to mind the boulevards of the capital. But it is not just the look of the place that recalls Paris, it's the inhabitants as well. Nowhere else in Provence will you encounter people who dress so smartly. There's an old saying about the Aixoise, their wardrobes are full but their fridges are empty. And while it's certainly possible to buy excellent food in Aix, the city is given over to clothes shopping. You can find designer brands that only usually bother with capital cities, as well as small boho boutiques. The city is a mecca for shoppers. Partners who don't share the retail impulses of their spouse can easily pass the time viewing major exhibitions at the Musee Granet
. Beware the unusual opening time of midday. For further information on Aix en Provence visit the Aix tourist office
Not as pretty as Aix, not as packed full of sights as Avignon, Arles might harshly be considered the ugly sister of the three. The major lure is the link with Van Gogh and the foundation
where his work, and that of modernist painters following in his footsteps can be viewed. There's also the stunning Roman arena, second only to that of Nimes, in its state of preservation and glory. The streets of Arles are tight and cobbled, there are plenty of appealing cafes and restaurants, there's also the sense that the city is a gateway, standing as it does between inland Provence and the Camargue, with its gypsy history and cowboy bull herders. It's a city that tries very hard to be liked, attracting visitors with its annual summer international photography festival
. For further information on Arles visit the Arles tourist office
First impressions are that it takes a long long time to get to the walled centre of Avignon. The outskirts seemingly go on for ever with roundabout after roundabout, but even if the traffic is routinely dreadful its worth persevering. Built in the 14 century during the papal schism, the Palais du Pape
, is an absolute must see, a brutal monolith of a building that above all exudes power, and hides secrets. The golden dome shining over the city hints at the wealth hidden within the Palais. The pedestrian centre around the Palais is enjoyable to explore. The cafes and restaurants are notably more given over to the tourist trade than those in Aix. Small hidden museums such as the Collection Lambert offer respite from the sun and the often crowded streets. Shopping in Avignon is good but not as good as Aix. For further information on Avignon visit the Avignon tourist office
Nowhere else in France are there so many delightful villages in such close proximity to each other. Drive through the hills, between the vines and the lavender fields and wherever you decide to stop you are bound to be delighted. There are the show stopping villages such as Gordes, Bonnieux, Menerbes, Roussillon and Lourmarin, but even their lesser siblings like Goult, Cucuron, Oppede, and Lacoste, have plenty to offer. To wake up on a sunny day in the Luberon is to have the world at your feet. Get further tourist information here
Harsher, hotter and more arid than the Luberon, the Les Alpilles region is centred around the delightful town of Saint Remy de Provence. A busy ring road preserves the charming pedestrian interior filled with art galleries, restaurants, and boutiques. A visit to the nearby medieval fortress town of Les Baux de Provence is a must, but arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat. Maussane Les Alpilles is the most charming and chic village in the Les Alpilles region, it's a mini Saint Remy, surrounded by expensive villas hidden between the rocks. Get further tourist information here
To enter the Camargue is to enter a different world. These salty marsh lands stretch from south of Arles to south of Nimes. They are filled with flamingos, bulls and the world famous white horses, which are born with dark coats. To experience the wildness of the Camargue properly its imperative to take a tour, preferably on horse back. It's a harsh landscape, home to possibly the biggest mosquitoes known to man, and strange biblical legends, such as the supposed landing of Mary Magdalene in France, celebrated every year at Saint Maries de La Mer. For further tourist information click here
Most people when they think of Provence and the seaside, call to mind the Riviera, cities such as Nice and Cannes, and resorts such as Eze, Villefranche sur Mer, Beaulieu, and St Tropez. Residents however make a distinction between the Riviera, and the actual Provencal coast which, the Camargue aside, roughly stretches from Marseille to Toulon.
The most famous and most photographed resort is Cassis
, a pretty fishing village, from which you can take boat tours to see Les Calanques
, a series of coves with lagoony blue water. Most of the Calanques can be accessed on foot, some such as Mugel Calanque
and Calanque de Sourmiou
can be reached by car. The resort of La Ciotat
offers the best beach clubs
and an open bay which can have impressively large waves. The most child friendly resort is Saint Cyr Sur Mer
which has a sandy half moon bay. For a quick dip before getting on or off a plane, try Carry Le Rouet
the closest resort to Marseille Airport.
North Luberon driving tour
Leave Bonnieux on the D3 towards Menerbes. This beautiful road splits the Luberon countryside. To the north views of Mont Ventoux are sensational. Closer to the road is the hill village of Lacoste, once made famous by the Marquis de Sade and now almost entirely owned by fashion mogul Pierre Cardin
. Just before Menerbes on the left hand side is the house lived in by Peter Mayle when he wrote A Year in Provence.
Keeping Menerbes on your left, continue on the D3 and stop for a wine tasting and tour of the corkscrew museum at Domaine de La Citadelle
. From Domaine de La Citadelle take the D218 north towards Goult. Park and enjoy a wander through this typical village, making sure to take in the view from the windmill at its highest point. Continue from Goult on the D104 towards Roussillon. The landscape gradually turns a vibrant reddy orange as you enter the lands of the ochre mines.
Pause in Roussillon for a coffee and to admire the red cliffs. Continue on the D104 direction Apt, looking out for signs for Domaine de La Coquillade
, a luxury hotel which offers a competitive lunch time menu. After lunch head on the D900 direction Cavaillon until the intersection with the D108. Here get out and enjoy the view of the Pont Julien
, an old Roman bridge. A paddle in the water is an excellent way to cool down. Take the D149 back towards Bonnieux, stopping at Chateau La Canorgue
, the location for the film A Good Year, for a final tasting.
South Luberon to Saint Remy de Provence driving tour
Ask google maps the way and you'll be directed on the main road through Cavaillon and the on towards Saint Remy. Yes it might be quicker, but it's a lot less scenic than the Provence Guru back route. At Merindol turn off the D973 onto the D32 direction Lamanon. At Eyguieres turn north on to the D569 and then west on to the D25 direction Eygalieres. This is a spectacular minor road favoured by cyclists. It winds through pine forests and rocks before arriving at the picturesque village of Eygalieres. Enjoy a coffee and a wander before a wine tasting at nearby Domaine Vallongue
. The sensuous red wine tastes and smells of the wild summer herbs of Provence. Take the D24 and then the D78 towards Mausanne Les Alpilles. Book lunch and celebrity spot at the famous Bistrot du Paradou
. Finally take the D5 north to Saint Remy de Provence, detouring to visit the stunning multimedia art exhibition at Carrieres de Lumieres
, Les Baux de Provence.
Mont Saint Victoire circular
Leave Aix en Provence on the D14 direction Le Puy Sainte Reparade. Stop at Chateau Lacoste
for a 'installation art' themed walk through the Provencal countryside. Work up a thirst for some wine tasting.
Continue on the D15 and then D561 towards Jouques. Enjoy a hearty and traditional lunch in the Souvenirs d'Avenir
restaurant. Head south on the D11 towards the village of Vauvenargues. Stop and enjoy the views and visit the Chateau
which was once owned by Picasso.
Take the D10 towards Puyloubier and then head on the D17 towards Le Tholonet. Just before Le Tholonet turn off at Saint Antonin Sur Bayon for a wine tasting at Domaine des Masques
. Take the dirt road which leads onto the belt (lower level of rock) of Mont Saint Victoire. Enjoy the sensational view and of course the wine before returning to Aix.
Love the books or hate the books, if you hang out in Provence long enough someone is sure to mention Peter Mayle's best selling work A Year in Provence
which was first published in 1989. A former advertising executive Peter introduced the world to the concept of taking time out to enjoy the pleasures of rural life in the South of France. The book was so successful that tourists have been flocking to the Luberon region where it was set ever since. Some naysayers blame Peter for ruining the authentic lifestyle that was once available in the area. The French government has taken a much more positive and realistic view awarding Peter the country's highest award The Legion D'Honneur for his services promoting the region. If you love wine, food and France, then any of Peter's books
are well worth a read.
On the literary theme Jean de Florette and Manon de Source
both by Marcel Pagnol, are another most read before a trip to Provence. Jean and his daughter Manon arrive from Aubagne to take up an inheritance in a Provencal country village. To drive them away the locals hide the water source on their land...