Unsplash / James Orr
Provence is one of the most magical regions of France, stretching from the Alps to the Cote d’Azur. This is a land that inspired artists with its light and landscapes, entrances visitors with its summer fields of lavender, dazzles with its food, beckons with its vistas of mountain and sea, and invites exploration of its charming villages and the cultural offerings in its cities.
Here are five reasons that Provence merits choosing as your next vacation destination.
1. Visit a quartet of fascinating cities
Four cities stand out in the rich offerings of Provence. Seaside beauty Nice, engaging and bold Marseilles, medieval Avignon and lively Aix-en-Provence France should be at the top of your Provençal urban adventures.
Nice bewitches with its gorgeous setting along the Mediterranean. Stroll the Promenade des Anglais, swim at one of the many beach clubs, explore the back streets of Vieux Nice and the food and craft temptations of the Cours Selaya market, including unique edibles like the Socca crepes made of chickpeas, and venture up into Cimiex to see the outstanding Chagall and Matisse museums.
Muscular Marseille is a port city with an air of mystery that rewards exploration. Take a walk around the old harbor, visit the dynamic MUSEM museum to learn about Mediterranean civilization and culture, wander the Le Panier area and take in the views from the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica.
Inland Avignon (see a Provence France map here to get your bearings on what is where in this large region) is famous for its Papal Palace, from the nearly 70 year period in the 14th century when the popes took up residence here. Tour the palace, explore the medieval streets of the Old Town and see the picturesque remains of the Pont St. Benezet on the river.
Known as the city of Fountains, Aix-en-Provence beguiles with its slice of Provençal life, embodied by its cafes, squares, markets and joie de vivre. The Cours Mirabeau is the main avenue for strolling and shopping. Be sure to see the St. Saveur Cathedral and the Atelier Cezanne. Overlooking the city is Mont St. Victoire, which inspired Cezanne to feature it in many of his paintings.
2. Explore scenic villages
There are so many charming towns and villages vying for your time that it’s hard to trim the list, but three of the most extraordinary are Cassis, Gordes, and Les Baux de Provence.
Cassis is a charming small fishing village and a great base from which to seek out the scenic Calanques for a beach visit or boating excursion. Wander the port area, watch earnest Frenchmen playing pétanque and be sure to sample the local bouillabaisse.
Gordes is a picturesque hilltop town of stone houses, and just a short distance away is the Abbey of Notre Dame de Senanque, set amidst fields of lavender that come brilliantly alive in the summer months.
But nothing tops the dramatic views of Les Baux de Provence, built high up on its mountaintop. Wander the castle ruins and walk the medieval streets of this beautiful village.
3. Admire the Roman architectural heritage
The Roman Empire left a strong architectural mark on Provence, nowhere more in evidence than in the cities of Arles and Orange.
Set along the Rhône river, Arles boasts a Roman coliseum, a theater and the baths of Constantine, plus the streets of its Old Town are fun to wander.
Orange has a wonderfully preserved Roman theater, indeed the only one in Europe that has the original back theater wall still intact. Performances are still given here. The Arch of Triumph celebrates Roman military victories.
4. Wonder at stunning mountain and sea vistas
From the Mediterranean to the mountains, Provence offers a wealth of gorgeous views to entrance you. Head offshore to the beautiful Isle de Porquerolles, whose beautiful beaches require relaxation and the active pursuit of leisure.
Between the village of Cassis and Marseille are the spectacular Calanques, narrow fingers of the sea that snake fjord-like to hidden beaches. Take a boat trip or hike to see these gems. And perched as in an eagle’s nest overlooking the Mediterranean is tiny Eze. Wander among the cacti in the Jardin Exotique or find a restaurant table on a balcony overlooking the awe-inspiring scenery.
5. Gorge on art, art and more art
The landscapes of sea and mountain have attracted painters and artists to Provence, particularly the Cote d’Azur. There are a staggering number of artistic treasures to be explored. A sampling of top museums would include the modern art and sculpture of the Fondation Maeght, the Chagall and Matisse collections in Nice, the Fernand Leger museum in Biot and the Picasso Museum beautifully set in the Chateau Grimaldi overlooking the sea at Antibes.
Other art to seek out Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, Jean Cocteau’s Chapelle de Saint-Pierre des Pecheurs in Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Renoir’s house and studio in Cagnes-sur-Mer where he lived and painted the last 12 years of his life. And in the Hotel Colombe d’Or in St. Paul de Vence, see an impressive modern art collection garnered from the artists like Calder and Matisse who exchanged art for rooms or meals.
These are many more top sights and discoveries to be made in magical Provence, which will leave an indelible imprint on you with its rich tapestry of postcard-perfect villages, transcendent art, spectacular sea and mountain landscapes, unique food and culturally vibrant cities.