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 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.
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.
Spring and Autumn 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.
A winter 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.
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 brings to mind 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 modern centre 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
and its Spring sibling the nude 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 de 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 where-ever 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 wild, 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. 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. Behind this resort some of the most famous red wine in Provence is produced in the Bandol appellation. For further information on Cassis visit the Cassis tourist office
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 Manon de Source by Marcel Pagnol, is another most read before a trip to Provence