A guide to Provence
Think about Provence and what comes to mind? Fields of lavender, sunflowers and olive trees? A slower pace of life, a Sunday lunch under the shade of plane trees in a village square, a café crème at a sidewalk café, or a long walk through a forest of oak and chestnut trees?
You may think of a village clinging to the side of a mountain, a church tower with a wrought-iron campanile where the mistral finds little obstruction, or narrow cobble-stoned lanes. And, finally, when you're marvelling at the rocky inlets of the Mediterranean sea, or relaxing on the beach of Pampelonne, near Saint-Tropez, it's also possible to say, 'I'm in Provence!'
Provence, to many a surprised visitor, also includes the Côte d'Azur. The famous towns of the Riviera - Cannes, Nice, Antibes, St Tropez are also a part of this diverse area. The French divide up their country into 'regions' of which Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur (also referred to as PACA) is one. This 'region' is then split up into six 'departments': Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, and Vaucluse.
This is a vast region, of contrasts and connections, of snow-topped mountains and delightful sea resorts, of shepherds and yacht captains, of cork oak and palm trees, of a simple beef stew and an elaborate bouillabaisse. Provence is more than a lush vision that hides its complexity under a veil of simple delights. It is home to the incredible red colours of the Esterel mountains, the taste of tapenade, the scent of rosemary, the cadence of the Provençal accent, and, above all, the mistral, the fierce wind that blows down from the Alps.
History & Culture in Provence
The area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, evidence of this can be found at some of the ancient caves. But more recently the first real settlers were the Greeks and the Romans and their legacy is still very evident in many of the towns and cities. Arles and Avignon are both steeped in history and are filled with historical buildings and artefacts. Modern day is equally as evident in the industry sectors with lavender, herbs and wine being amongst their biggest export items.
Also see: History of Provence
Events in Provence
Provence has a busy calendar of events all year round. The peak times are obviously in main holiday season in June, July and August where you'll find world renowned music and cultural events like the Choregies d'Orange and the Avignon Festival, although there are events and festival happening in most Provencal villages all the time. Art exhibitions, local produce markets and cultural events are always taking place, all you need to do is type in the date you're coming to Provence in our events calendar and see what's on at that time.
Sights & Attractions in Provence
Provence is renowned for its incredible Roman ruins which you can find across the region. From the impressive amphitheatres in Orange, Arles and Nimes to the Maison Carre and the Pont du Gard, there are Roman ruins in almost every place you visit. Since there's so much history here you'll also find a large range of museums covering everything from prehistoric times to the more modern era. There are also a lot of art galleries housing works by famous painters such as Van Gogh and Cezanne and lots of historic houses and gardens, caves & rocks, plenty of castles, religious buildings, nature parks and reserves to explore. A trip to Provence wouldn't be complete without a visit to one of the many vineyards and estates where you can take a wine tour, taste the locally made wines and bring a few bottles home with you.
Where to Stay in Provence
Provence is a vast part of France, divided up into 6 large departments or regions from the calm and quiet of the Luberon and the Alpilles to the ever popular Riviera and its bustling coastal destinations. Choosing a place to stay may involve a bit of research if you've never been to this part of the world before, so take a look at our guide to the different regions, the towns and villages and then the types of accommodation on offer to help you decide.
Also see: Where to Stay in Provence
Luxury Hotels in Provence
Provence is packed with luxury hotels, from restored Chateaux, farmhouse and vineyard estates filled with gilded mirrors and antique furniture, to the more modern cutting edge designs you'd find in any large city. The norm, however is more for the quirky boutique style of hotel with four poster beds, plenty of drapes, great views of the countryside and a swimming pool and loungers to relax on during the summer months.
Things to Do in Provence
Well known as a wine region there are numerous vineyards to explore and vintages to try as you wind your way through this delightful part of the French countryside. And alongside the vineyards you will find plenty of beautiful rivers and pathways that attract cyclists to the area. Of course this can be a simple as a brief and leisurely cycle between vineyards or you can take on some of the biggest and toughest road cycles of the region, including the iconic Mont Ventoux. And if two wheels is not quite your thing then exploring on four wheels is the ideal way to get between villages and see more of the rural countryside.
For families there is plenty to do, with a good choice of waterparks and outdoor swimming spots, lots of activity companies offering treetop adventure courses, hiking, horse riding, canoeing, golf and the occasional zoo. Read more in our family activity guide.
Whether you are looking to totally relax and wind down, or perhaps add some gentle exercise to your holiday you can find exactly what you need in Provence!
Beaches in Provence
You'll find a great selection of beaches on the Riviera to the south east of central Provence. From Cannes and Nice to Monaco, Antibes and Saint Tropez you'll find plenty of pebbly and sandy beaches, some stretching for miles along the coast and other smaller hidden coves tucked away in secret spots. In mainland Provence there are a fair number of man made beaches around swimming lakes, and alongside rivers and estuaries which are really popular in the summer months. Take a look at our selection of the best outdoor swimming spots and waterparks in Provence.
Restaurants in Provence
From small rural restaurants in one of Provence's hilltop villages to the hustle and bustle of city restaurants in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, there are plenty of choices for diners. Of course the typical fare in Provence restaurants is French or Provencal cuisine as you'd expect, but there's also a good mixture of Italian and Mediterranean influenced menus with the odd International restaurant too. Fine dining fans will find some great options in Arles, Aix, Avignon and around the Luberon and Alpilles regions, with a good proportion of those holding at least one Michelin star.
Nightlife in Provence
Going out in the evenings in Provence tends to be a more relaxed and cultural affair, with plenty of choices for nights at the theatre, seeing the ballet, listening to classical music, or simply sitting in a street side cafe or bar soaking up the atmosphere. Party goers will find a few nightclubs in Aix and Avignon as well as the occasional jazz club and for lovers of more alternative music head to one of the many summer time festivals that pop up across Provence - find more details on our events calendar.
Provence is served by two main airports - Nice and Marseille. There is also a small airport in Avignon which offers seasonal flights from the UK and Corsica.
Many international visitors fly into Paris and then get the high speed train (TGV) down to Provence. The main train stations are in Avignon, Aix and Marseille, and you can connect to local trains to travel to Arles, Draguigan, Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Menton.
Driving is the best way of arriving and getting around Provence. The area has a good network of motorways (there are toll booths) that take you quickly and efficiently to the main urban areas. Once you arrive in the region, the many country roads are a joy to explore. Remember though that the roads are very much busier in the summer holidays of July & August.
Also see: Maps of Provence