25 Top Tourist Attractions in the Provence Region & Scenic Drives
Provence is one of nature's most vibrant works of art. Everything is brighter here than elsewhere in France. The sunshine, the red poppies, yellow sunflowers, and deep purple lavender fields. Even the traditional Provençal fabrics feature prints of intense colors. From verdant rolling hills and quaint fishing ports to picturesque villages perched on rocky outcrops, each detail of the landscape seems designed to delight. It's no wonder the region charmed many famous painters, including Cézanne, Matisse, Chagall, Picasso, Vasarély, and Léger.
Having perfected the art de vivre ("art of living"), Provence is a place to enjoy the simple pleasures. The warm climate, slow-paced lifestyle, and rustic earthiness encourage relaxation. Stroll the cobblestone streets and bask on the sunny terraces of outdoor cafés. Savor the Provençal gastronomy, a Mediterranean cuisine based on olive oil, vegetables, and aromatic herbs. Locally grown produce like tomatoes, zucchini, rosemary, and thyme are transformed into delicious specialties like pistou, a vegetable sauce; bouillabaisse, a flavorful fish stew; fougasse, soft braided bread made with olive oil; and pissaladière, a pizza-like tart of caramelized onions, anchovies, and black olives.
1 Aix-en-Provence: Quintessential Provence
A traditional Provençal town, Aix-en-Provence has the elegance of Paris combined with the warmth of Southern France. The town is distinguished by its lovely old fountains: One thousand flowing monuments grace the historic squares of Aix-en-Provence. Be sure to see the famous Fountain des Quatre-Dauphins in the Quartier Mazarin. Beautiful shaded streets like the Cours Mirabeau lined with outdoor cafés invite leisurely strolls and relaxing meals on sunny days or balmy evenings. Must-see sights in Aix-en-Provence include the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur with its flamboyant mix of architectural styles. For an immersion of culture, visit the Musée Granet, an exceptional fine arts museum with masterpieces from the 14th century to the 20th century. Highlights include pieces by Rembrandt, Ingres, Renoir, Monet, and Cézanne. The Musée des Tapisseries is noteworthy for its excellent collection of tapestries from the 17th and 18th centuries. Lovers of Impressionist art should tour the Atelier Cézanne, the artist's painting studio and site where he painted outdoors. Mont Sainte-Victoire was also painted by Cézanne many times and has lovely walking paths.
Aix-en-Provence is famous for its Provençal markets, held outdoors in the public squares. At the spacious square of Place de l'Hôtel de Ville is a colorful flower market, while fruit and vegetable markets are found at Place des Prêcheurs and Place de la Madeleine. Cours Mirabeau has a textile market, and a second-hand, crafts and antique market is held at Place de Verdun in front of the Palais de Justice. Aix-en-Provence's traditional farmer's market is held daily at the shaded square of Place Richelme; this market is considered one of the best fruit, vegetable, and gourmet food markets in Provence. Aix-en-Provence is also renowned for its delicious cuisine and local artisan food products. Le Clos de la Violette (10 Avenue de la Violette) is a highly regarded restaurant that prepares exquisite Provençal cuisine from the finest local ingredients. The legendary Brasserie Les Deux Garçons (53 Cours Mirabeau) has an atmospheric terrace right on the bustling boulevard. This historic dining establishment has a legendary past; Cézanne was once a regular habitué, and Picasso, Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Edith Piaf were also counted among the celebrity patrons. For the perfect souvenir, take home a gift box of Calissons d'Aix, the regional specialty of sweet almond candies.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Provence - TripAdvisor.com
2 Avignon: Medieval City of the Popes
In the early 14th century, Pope Clement V moved the papal court from Rome to Avignon and a magnificent Papal Palace (Palais de Papes) was built in the center of the town. The UNESCO-listed Palais de Papes is a fortress-like palace surrounded by imposing fortifications and defense towers. Inside, the grandiose spaces hint at the lavish lifestyles of the seven Popes who lived here between 1309 to 1377. The Banqueting Hall was once the scene of enormous feasts, and the large opulently decorated Bedchambers suggest a luxurious approach to daily living. The Palais de Papes also gives visitors an insight into the spirituality of the Popes. The Chapel of Saint John is delicately adorned with frescoes attributed to the Italian painter Matteo Giovanetti, while the Grand Chapel features inspiring Baroque paintings.
The Musée du Petit Palais, housed in the former Episcopal palace, has an excellent collection of 13th- to 15th-century paintings, including remarkable works by masters from Italy: Botticelli, Carpaccio, and Bellini. The museum's most acclaimed piece is Botticelli's Virgin and Child painting. Avignon has two important churches: the 12th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame-des-Doms and the Provençal Romanesque Eglise Saint-Didier. Another famous sight in Avignon is the graceful Saint Bénézet Bridge (Pont d'Avignon) that partially spans the river in its romantic ruined state. Further afield, four kilometers across the river, is Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, renowned for the Val de Benediction Carthusian Monastery built by Pope Innocent VI. About 20 kilometers from Avignon is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a medieval village nestled in the rolling hills where the Popes of Avignon built their summer palaces.
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3 Ancient Ruins and Provençal Traditions in Arles
Steeped in history and drenched in sunshine, Arles is a historic town full of ambience. The town has its origins as an ancient Greek settlement and then became an important Roman colony in 46 BC. Visitors are impressed by the wonderfully well-preserved ruins, including the ancient Amphitheater, the Alyscamps (a Gallo-Roman-era necropolis), the Roman Theater, the Forum, and the Baths of Constantine. Art lovers can trace the steps of Vincent Van Gogh through the city of Arles to find the scenes Van Gogh painted and then visit the Fondation Vincent van Gogh to see the actual paintings. Another must-see sight is the UNESCO-listed Cloître Saint-Trophime, a masterpiece of 12th-century Romanesque architecture with fine sculptural details.
With its elegant public squares, tree-lined streets, and terraced outdoor cafés, Arles has a traditional Provençal ambience. Arles is proud of its ancient customs and festivals. During spring and summer, lively festivals bring out townspeople dressed up in historic costumes. The Fête des Gardians, on May 1st, features authentic dancing, a horseback parade, and bullfighting at the Amphitheater, and the Fête du Costume in July is also animated with costume parades and bullfighting. The nearby region of Camargue influenced the bullfighting tradition of Arles. This UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve is an expansive nature site where native bulls roam freely and the marshlands attract 340 bird species including pink flamingoes.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Arles - TripAdvisor.com
4 Saint-Tropez's Seaside Glamour
Saint-Tropez has a reputation for glitz and glamour, so many tourists will be surprised to discover its origins as a humble fishing village. The mesmerizing turquoise waters of the harbor are graced by luxury yachts, and the town's well-groomed streets are lined with designer boutiques. But this small Provençal village has retained much of its authentic character. La Ponche, the Old Town, is a maze of quaint pedestrian alleys and cobblestone streets lined with little shops, cafés, and restaurants. At the town's main square, the Place des Lices, locals socialize at shaded outdoor cafés. Elderly men play pétanque, and on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, a traditional Provençal market is held here. The colorful Place aux Herbes outdoor marketplace and Halle aux Poissons fish market also give visitors a taste of everyday life in Saint-Tropez.
A beach lovers' dream, Saint-Tropez is one of the sunniest places on the French Riviera and has large sandy beaches (some are private, but many are open to the public) fringed with leafy palm trees. Nature lovers will appreciate the Sentier du Littoral, a seaside path with unspoiled scenery. Although the vacation ambience predominates in Saint-Tropez, cultural attractions abound. The Musée de l'Annonciade, is an excellent collection of Impressionist art displayed in a 16th-century chapel. The old Citadel built in the 1600s houses the Musée d'Histoire Maritime illustrating Saint-Tropez's maritime past. Visible from a distance, the 18th-century Eglise de Notre-Dame de l'Assomption has an iconic Italian Baroque bell tower and a lovely sanctuary filled with fine art works.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saint-Tropez - TripAdvisor.com
5 Les Baux-de-Provence: A Historic Town in a Dramatic Setting
Perched on a rocky plateau, Les Baux-de-Provence feels a world apart from modernity. The name Les Baux comes from the Provençal word "Li Baus," which means "The Rocks." The romantic ruins of the Château des Baux and its citadel seem to form part of this steep limestone crag overlooking the valley. Visitors must park in the lower part of the town and walk up to the historic village, which feels like stepping back in time to the Middle Ages. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the medieval troubadour culture of chivalry and love poetry flourished here.
Listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France), Les Baux-de-Provence delights visitors with its old stone buildings, peaceful squares, and shaded terraces full of fragrant, colorful flowers. Wandering the old cobblestone streets, visitors will find charming cafés, small boutiques, and art galleries. Begin a tour at the castle's keep and the Place Saint-Vincent to admire exceptional panoramas of the landscape. Be sure to visit the Eglise Saint-Vincent, a 12th-century Romanesque church with contemporary stained-glass windows by Max Ingrand. Other noteworthy sights are the Musée des Santons with a collection of antique Christmas nativity figures, the Musée Yves-Brayer (in the 16th-century Hôtel des Porcelets) featuring the artists' finest paintings, and the Renaissance mansion Hôtel de Manville that is now used as the village's Town Hall.
Les Baux-de-Provence is in the heart of the Alpilles Mountains, 20 kilometers north of Arles and 11 kilometers south of Saint-Rémy de Provence. The best view of the village is from the Plâteau des Bringasses. To arrive at this viewpoint, take the D27 road north and turn right after one kilometer. From here, the view extends to Mont Ventoux and the Luberon in Haut-Vaucluse, the Rhône Valley, Aix-en-Provence, and Arles. Travelers staying overnight can choose from several luxury hotel options. The 5-star hotel Ousta de Baumanière is at the foot of Les Baux-de-Provence village in the gorgeous Vallon de la Fontaine. This Relais & Châteaux property boasts a famous gastronomic restaurant with two Michelin stars. Also nearby (on the Route d'Arles) is La Cabro d'Or, another Relais & Châteaux hotel. La Cabro d'Or has a gourmet restaurant that serves traditional Provençal cuisine based on fresh seasonal ingredients.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Les Baux-de-Provence - TripAdvisor.com
6 Marseilles: Cosmopolitan Seaport
Marseilles is an authentic Mediterranean port town, complete with a bustling harbor, multiethnic ambience, and urban grit. This big cosmopolitan city is the oldest in France and the second largest after Paris. It's not a picture-postcard scene, but Marseilles does offer a real slice of life. Tourists can wander the historic district of Le Panier to find traditional Arab souks and atmospheric Algerian restaurants or stop at a waterfront restaurant in the Vieux Port (Old Port) to sample delicious bouillabaisse (seafood stew)-a Marseilles specialty. The sea is central to Marseille's existence, and the Mediterranean setting gives the city a special beauty and refreshing atmosphere. Many landmarks in Marseille offer views of the bay's deep blue waters. The city's most iconic church, the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde stands on a hillside overlooking the bay, and the terrace offers sensational coastal panoramas. The Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée illustrates the history of Mediterranean civilization. In the museum's lush Mediterranean gardens, visitors are awed by sweeping views of the coastline from the bridge pier above the sea. A short ferry ride from the Marseilles port, the Château d'If on the Frioul Islands lures tourists to a serene seaside destination where turquoise waters lap on pristine beaches. Another nearby nature escape is in the Calanques, magnificent fjord-like coves filled with pools of saltwater connected to the sea.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Marseille - TripAdvisor.com
7 Saint-Paul de Vence: A Picture-Perfect Hilltop Village
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Provence, Saint-Paul de Vence is a picture-perfect artists' village perched high on a hilltop. The village is often crowded with tourists taking a detour from their Côte d'Azur itinerary. Nice (18 kilometers away) is just a half-hour drive away but feels much further away in spirit. Saint-Paul de Vence is surrounded by well-preserved ramparts, giving the village a distinctive medieval character. Visitors are delighted by the maze of winding cobblestone streets, tiny alleyways, pedestrian staircases, and quiet squares adorned with gurgling fountains. Historically, a central gathering place in Saint-Paul de Vence was the Place de la Grande Fontaine where the weekly market was held during the 17th century. Villagers drew water from the square's well and washed laundry in the washhouse area.
The spiritual center of Saint-Paul de Vence is represented by the Collegiate Church, built between the 14th and 17th centuries. The sanctuary has a Romanesque choir, original pillars in the nave, and a Baroque Chapel containing precious relics from catacombs in Rome. The Folon Chapel is a 17th-century chapel that was used by the Pénitents-Blancs (White Penitents), a Catholic brotherhood that provided charity to the sick and needy. The entire interior is adorned with modern art works by artist Jean-Michel Folon. The artist's dazzling mosaics, sculptures, paintings, and stained-glass windows give the sanctuary a special ambience.
Since the 1920s, many artists have been drawn to Saint-Paul de Vence. Marc Chagall lived in Saint-Paul de Vence for nearly 20 years. Visitors can take a guided tour to walk in the footsteps of Chagall and see the scenes that he painted. To further explore the village's artistic heritage, visit the Fondation Maeght, one kilometer outside the village ramparts on the Chemin des Gardettes. The museum displays mosaics by Chagall; stained-glass windows by Georges Braque; paintings by Bonnard, Chagall, Giacometti, Kandinsky, and Léger; and ceramics by Miró. The Giacometti Courtyard features monumental art installations. The Fondation Maeght also has a bookshop, library, cafeteria, and free parking. Throughout the year, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions and cultural events.
For fine dining in Saint-Paul de Vence, tourists are spoiled with excellent choices. On a quiet street near the village ramparts, the gastronomic restaurant at Le Saint-Paul Hotel serves superb Mediterranean cuisine in an elegant dining room or on the terrace of a bougainvillea-covered garden. The legendary La Colombe d'Or is a quaint hotel with a gourmet restaurant that offers traditional Provençal dishes. On warm days, guests may dine on the outdoor terrace.
8 Ancient Roman Ruins in Orange
Renowned for its Roman ruins, Orange lies in Provence's Haut-Vaucluse region, an area that flourished during classical antiquity. The 1st-century AD Théâtre Antique (Roman theater) is testimony to the ancient heritage. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Théâtre Antique is extremely well preserved with the back wall and decorations still intact. During the Roman era, a crowd of more than 7,000 spectators would pile into the theater to watch comedies, tragedies, dance performances, acrobatics, and juggling acts. Today, the Théâtre Antique is used as the venue for cultural events such as the summertime music festival called the Chorégies d'Orange. Other interesting archaeological sights are the Arc de Triomphe, the triumphal arch dedicated to ancient Rome's Emperor Tiberius, and the Hémicycle, ruins of a Roman temple adjoining the Roman theater. For a deeper understanding of the town's ancient history and cultural heritage, visit the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire. This museum has an excellent collection of artifacts, antiquities, and art works from prehistory to the 18th century. Be sure to see the Mosaïque des Centaures, an impressive mosaic that was discovered in the Théâtre Antique.
9 Gordes: A Beautiful Village in a Natural Park
This picturesque village perché (perched village) lies in the UNESCO-listed Parc Régional du Lubéron (Luberon Natural Regional Park), a wild and rugged mountainous area. Because of its dramatic hilltop setting and lovely architecture, Gordes has been named one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France). Many artists have been seduced by the beauty of Gordes, including Victor Vasarély and Marc Chagall who found inspiration for their paintings here. Gordes abounds with all the charm of a Provençal medieval village. The 16th-century Château de Gordes is a fortified castle complete with imposing towers and an enormous doorway. Visitors can tour the château's interior to admire the monumental Renaissance staircase and impressive Great Hall. The château also houses the Pol Mara Museum, which displays masterpieces by the Flemish painter. After visiting the château, tourists will be tempted to stop at a café or restaurant on the Place du Château or browse the art galleries and souvenir shops nearby.
Gordes is a 40 kilometer drive from Avignon and 17 kilometers from Cavaillon. A worthwhile detour from Gordes is the Abbaye de Sénanque five kilometers away in a picturesque valley surrounded by fields of lavender. This 12th-century Romanesque building is considered one of the most beautiful abbeys in France. The harmonious architecture reflects the Cistercian concepts of seclusion, simplicity, and spirituality. The Abbaye de Sénanque is a working monastery, and tourists may visit only by guided tour (reservations recommended) or to attend a religious service in the Abbey Church or Chapel.
10 Archaeological Sites in Vaison-la-Romaine
At the foot of Mont Ventoux between the Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, Vaison-la-Romaine (30 kilometers from Orange) is an excellent stop on an itinerary through Provence. The picturesque village is known as "one of the most beautiful detours in France." Begin exploring Vaison-la-Romaine in the Quartier de Puymin archaeological site, which reveals evidence of the ancient Roman town that thrived from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD. On a hillside shaded with oak and cypress trees, the Quartier de Puymin is a fascinating site where ruins of ancient Roman houses, the House of the Messii and the Portico of Pompey, were uncovered. Also on this site are the remains of an ancient Temple and Roman theater (now used as an outdoor venue during the summer). Amid the archaeological ruins, tourists will find the Musée Théo Desplans. This archaeological museum displays the original statues that were found on the site (copies appear on the site) along with other antiquities discovered in Vaison-la-Romaine. In the Quartier de la Villasse, tourists can see ancient paved streets with gutters and original mosaic floors from Roman houses.
In this slow-paced town, time seems to stand still. Quaint cobblestone streets and an abundance of fountains and shady plane trees lend a distinctive Old World character. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Vaison-la-Romaine is considered "modern" but the building was constructed around the 11th-13th century. A tradition since 1483, Vaison-la-Romaine's weekly market is held on Tuesdays at the Place Montfort and La Grand Rue. The market sells fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, regional specialties like tapenade, fougasse, olives, and truffles as well as Provençal linens and handcrafted ceramics. A farmer's market for organic produce and food products is held at the Place François Cevert on Tuesday and Saturday mornings. Summer is an ideal time to visit Vaison-la-Romaine. Cultural events such as the Vaison Dance Festival and Ancient Theater Week (held at the ancient theater in July) bring the town to life. The Les Floraisons Musicales music festival takes place in August.
About 31 kilometers away from Vaison-la-Romaine is a stunning nature sight, Mont Ventoux, a UNESCO-listed biosphere reserve. According to local legend, the poet Francesco Petrarch climbed the mountain in 1336. Today, the area has many hiking and biking trails. It's worth making the trek to the Col des Tempêtes viewpoint for sensational panoramas.
11 Vence: A Picturesque Artists' Village
Like its neighbor Saint-Paul de Vence (five kilometers away), Vence is an enchanting medieval hilltop town and thriving artistic community. Visitors enter the historic center of Vence through Porte du Peyra (close to the bus stop and tourist information office), a gateway in the ramparts surrounding the Cité Historique (Old Town). Inside the walls is an enchanting world of narrow cobblestone lanes, historic sights, delightful boutiques, art galleries, and peaceful squares. The Place du Peyra is a pleasant fountain-adorned square and the Place Godeau is a shaded square often painted by artists.
In the heart of the Old Town stands the 11th-12th-century Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Nativité built on the site of an ancient Roman temple. The Romanesque Cathedral has an exquisite interior with precious Carolingian-era sculptural details on the pillars of the nave and remarkable 17th-century carved wood choir stalls. The cathedral's Saint-Véran Chapel contains a Gallo-Roman sarcophagus, which serves as an altar. A highlight of the cathedral is the Baptism Chapel featuring a mosaic by Marc Chagall, which depicts Moses' rescue from the Nile River in Egypt. Another attraction in the Cité Historique is the 17th-century Château de Villeneuve, now a museum that displays an excellent collection of contemporary art-including pieces by Matisse, Chagall, Dubuffet, and Dufy.
A must-see sight in Vence is the Chapelle du Rosaire (Matisse Chapel) in the outskirts of the new town on Avenue Henri Matisse. Once part of a Dominican convent, the chapel was elaborately decorated by Matisse in an impressive project that he completed from 1948 to 1951. The artist's distinctive figures of Mary, Jesus, and Saint Dominic decorate the doorway. Matisse also designed the entire interior: stained-glass window, choir stalls, ceramics, and objects of worship. The artist used bold graphics to represent Biblical stories such as the birth of Christ and the Passion of Christ (Way of the Cross). The simple and somber sanctuary is illuminated only through the colorful stained-glass window, creating an ethereal ambience. Another attraction outside of historic Vence is the Château Saint-Martin. In a large park overlooking Vence, this Relais & Châteaux property is housed in the former residence of the Knights Templar; the hotel offers beautifully decorated rooms, a swimming pool, spa, and gourmet restaurant.
12 Saint-Rémy-de-Provence: Van Gogh's Artistic Inspiration
Saint-Rémy de Provence is a pretty village in the northern foothills of the Alpilles Mountains. The beauty of Saint-Rémy de Provence and its surroundings provided solace and inspiration to Vincent van Gogh, who spent a year in the village at an asylum. Saint-Paul de Mausole is the hospital (an old monastery that is a masterpiece of 11th- to 12th-century Provençal Romanesque architecture) where Van Gogh stayed from 1889 to 1890 under the care of kind nurses. Tourists can visit the artist's room and see reproductions of the paintings he created here. Many of Van Gogh's paintings are on display at the Musée Estrine (8 Rue Lucien Estrine). The Tourist Office also offers guided walking tours of the sites that Van Gogh painted.
Soak up the authentic ambience of this typical Provençal village. On Wednesdays, the town hosts a traditional market at the Place Jules Pellissier. Blend in with the locals, wander the cobblestone streets, and get lost while admiring the elegant old buildings. Be sure to see the Eglise Saint-Martin, rebuilt in the 19th century in Neoclassical style; the bell tower and Chapelle Jean de Renaud are from the original 14th-century church. Saint-Rémy de Provence also has remarkable archaeological ruins at the Glanum Excavation Site including a monumental Triumphal Arch from the 1st century BC dedicated to Julius Caesar.
Take a break from sightseeing in Saint-Rémy de Provence for a treat at La Roma (33 Boulevard Marceau), an Italian restaurant and salon de thé (tea salon) known for its crêpes, ice cream, and macaroons. Chocolate lovers are advised to visit the Chocolaterie Joël Durand (3 Boulevard Victor Hugo), an upscale chocolate shop that offers exquisite chocolate candies in tantalizing flavors. Le Petit Duc is a tempting shop that sells fine food products and regional specialties such as pastilles d'amour (candies), jams, and calissons (sweet almond candies). In the nearby village of Paradou, Le Bistro du Paradou is renowned for its delicious cuisine.
Saint-Rémy de Provence is about 25 kilometers north of Arles and 20 kilometers south of Avignon, which makes the town an excellent base in the heart of Provence. Families seeking a countryside retreat near the village of Saint-Rémy will appreciate the Le Mas de l'Ange. This beautifully renovated 17th-century stone farmhouse features typical Provençal pastel-painted shutters and cozy decor. The entire property is available for rent including eight bedrooms, a swimming pool, and private tennis court.
13 Salon-de-Provence: Historic Landmarks and Artisan Soaps
In a beautiful location on the Plaine de la Crau northwest of Marseilles, Salon de Provence is a historic town steeped in tradition. In ancient times, the Romans created salt marshes on the Hill of Valdemech, and the town also has origins from the time of Charlemagne. During the medieval era, the Archbishops of Arles built the fortress-like Château de l'Empéri ("Emperor's Castle"), which dominates the town of Salon de Provence. This 12th-15th century château has some of the best preserved fortifications in Provence. The building was named "Emperor's Castle" because Salon had fallen to the German emperors in 1032 along with the rest of Provence. When visiting the château, tourists can admire the beautiful Chapel of Saint-Cathérine from the 12th century. The Maison de Nostradamus (at 2 Rue Nostradamus) is a historic landmark where Nostradamus spent the last 20 years of his life. The house is open to the public and displays original editions of Nostradamus' prophecies and a reproduction of his study.
Salon-de-Provence is well known for its olive oil and soap production industries. The town creates fragrant artisanal soaps that are sold throughout Provence and other cities in France. Visitors can take a specialized tour of the historic soap factories and Belle Epoque villas that sell the local products. For tourists seeking total immersion in the countryside of Salon-de-Provence, the Hotel Salon-de-Provence is a lovely place to spend a few nights. The hotel lies four kilometers outside Salon-de-Provence in the 12th-century Abbaye de Sainte Croix surrounded by 20 hectares of wild and beautiful scrubland, lavender fields, and olive groves.
14 Grasse: Perfumes, Gardens, and Art
Perched on a hilltop in the Gorges du Verdon, this quintessential Provençal village delights all the senses. The attractive little town rises above an idyllic landscape of green rolling hills, olive groves, and colorful fields of flowers. The hillsides and plains around Grasse flourish with orange blossoms, roses, mimosa, jasmine, lavender, and violets, which provide the essential oils to make exquisite fragrances. A must-see tourist attraction is the Perfume Museum (Place du Cours), which illustrates the history of perfumes, soaps, and cosmetics. Visitors can also tour the famous perfume factories, including Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard and then stop to smell the roses in Grasse's splendid gardens. The Jardin des Plantes is near the Parfumerie Fragonard and Princess Pauline's Garden features sensational panoramic views.
The historic town of Grasse is only accessible to pedestrians because the streets are too narrow for cars. Typical of medieval hilltop villages, Grasse is a delightful labyrinth of atmospheric streets. Babbling fountains are found in many of the hidden squares, lending an ambience of serenity. Grasse was the birthplace of Rococo painter Jean Honoré Fragonard, and the 17th-century Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard (23 Boulevard Fragonard) displays a wonderful collection of Fragonard's art works.
15 Sunbathing and Sightseeing in Fréjus
Fréjus is a historic port town about 39 kilometers from Cannes. The town has a beautiful marina and gorgeous sandy beaches that are packed with tourists during summertime. The splendid Romanesque Cathedral of Fréjus was built in the 11th-12th centuries, and its exterior is now hidden by more modern surrounding buildings. The cathedral's spire soars high above the town as a beacon of faith, giving the cityscape a sense of inspiration. The cathedral's pre-Romanesque Baptistery dates from the 4th or 5th century, and the cloister's ceiling paintings of the Apocalypse were created in the 14th-15th century. Housed inside the cathedral, the Archaeology Museum displays an interesting collection of Greek and Roman artifacts. Like many towns in Provence, Fréjus boasts an ancient history dating back to the Roman era. Testaments to this heritage are the 1st-2nd century Arènes (Rue Henri Vadon), an enormous amphitheater that accommodated 10,000 spectators, as well as the ruins of the Roman Aqueduct and the Théâtre Romain outside the town on the N7 Road. The ancient theater is now the venue for Les Nuits Auréliennes, a summertime festival of amateur theater.
16 Cassis: A Picturesque Fishing Village
This picturesque old fishing village has the vibrant ambience of a Mediterranean seaport combined with the traditional charm of Provence. Cassis is 22 kilometers from Marseilles, yet feels much further away in the countryside; it's a favorite getaway for residents of Marseilles seeking an escape to an idyllic setting. The village enjoys a protected location on a semicircular bay framed by mountains. Because of its natural beauty, Cassis became an artists' village that attracted many famous painters including Vlaminck, Derain, Dufy, and Matisse. These resident artists painted the colorful houses and small sailboats docked in the bay. Tourists will enjoy leisurely strolls along the waterfront and through the village. Lovely shaded squares and sunny terraces of outdoor cafés beckon visitors to stop and enjoy the moment. Also worth visiting are the village's 14th-century château and the beautiful Fontaine des Quatre Nations.
17 Biot: An Ancient Perched Village with Artisan Boutiques
Built on the slopes of a steep hill (a typical village perché), Biot has many charming stepped pathways that lead up to viewpoints and reward visitors with gorgeous panoramas. Hidden wonders await those who take the time to discover the village's narrow cobblestone streets, quiet alleyways, and pleasant little squares. Many of the squares have gurgling fountains that add a note of serenity. The village is also known for its arts and crafts boutiques that sell locally made jewelry, ceramics, glassware, and textiles.
Biot's history is intertwined with the Crusades of the 12th century. The Eglise Sainte-Marie-Madeleine was built during this period. The sanctuary boasts an altarpiece, the Madonna with Rosary by Louis Bréa in the 16th century. The village's more recent cultural heritage is seen at the Musée National Fernand Léger, which displays a comprehensive collection of the modern artist Fernand Léger's works. Léger briefly lived in Biot; the museum is housed on the site of the artist's villa.
18 Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux: Culture, Cuisine, and Nature
The quaint old streets of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux invite visitors to take a walk back in time. Wander around the medieval lanes and discover the hôtels particuliers (elegant historic mansions). At the heart of the village, the Cathedral Notre-Dame et Saint-Paul soars high above the town. This 12th-century church exemplifies Provençal Romanesque architecture, characterized by its simple layout and majestic spaces. The facade features intricate bas-reliefs and a porch with pillars that reference classical Roman columns, and the grandiose nave has vast dimensions. Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux also has evidence of a Jewish community from the 12th to the 15th century. The Rue Juiverie is testimony to the medieval Jewish quarter. Here, the vestiges of a 15th-century synagogue-a stone arc that was used to hold the holy text - was discovered. To learn about the village's ancient Gallo-Roman heritage, visit the Archaeology Museum at Place Castellane.
Participate in the local culture by visiting the traditional open-air market held at the Place du Marché on the first and third Sunday mornings of the month. Other cultural events include a jazz festival in July and a film festival in October. Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the hiking and cycling trails nearby. The area surrounding this medieval village has an abundance of French truffles, which the locals call "black diamonds." The truffle growers of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux take their prized culinary goods (Tuber Melanosporum) to the Tricastin Truffle Market. This market is open to the public but is mostly frequented by restaurant owners; truffles are priced by a supervisory commission based on variety and quality.
For a taste of the sweet life in Provence, stay overnight at the luxurious Villa Augusta hotel. This 4-star hotel is a historic Provençal villa that belongs to the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association. The deluxe rooms are impeccably decorated and the hotel's gastronomic restaurant offers the finest cuisine of the terroir.
19 Tarascon: Provençal Festivals and Fabrics
Rich in cultural heritage, this historic Provençal town is known for its traditions and festivals. Tarascon exemplifies the art de vivre (lifestyle) of Provence, with its relaxing slow-paced ambience and weekly gourmet market featuring regional products. Visitors enjoy exploring the old cobblestone lanes and arcaded streets, while admiring little chapels, cloisters, and elegant mansions. The impressive Château de Tarascon, built between 1400 and 1435, is considered the best-preserved medieval fortress in France. The château was once the residence of the Dukes of Anjou, the Counts of Provence. This remarkable monument is open to the public and hosts a medieval festival the third weekend of August, complete with jousting contests and equestrian games. Tarascon is also famous for its summer festival, a UNESCO-listed event.
In Tarascon, visitors can discover the world of Provençal printed textiles. The Musée Souleiado (39 Rue Charles-Deméry), housed in a 17th-century mansion, has a wonderful collection of Provençal fabrics. These textiles are called "indiennes" (Indians) because they were originally imported from India to Marseilles in the 16th century. Now these colorful printed fabrics are synonymous with Provence and sold in boutiques and markets throughout the region. Souleiado has boutiques in Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, and other towns in Provence as well as in Paris. The brand offers high-quality Provençal cotton fabrics and designer-quality clothing made with their colorfully printed fabrics.
20 Mougins: Picasso's Favorite Hilltop Village
Enter the enchanting world of a Provençal hilltop village with an exceptional artistic heritage. Tourists delight in exploring Mougins' quaint streets, little boutiques, art galleries, and artists' ateliers. Picasso lived in Mougins from 1961 to 1973 and left a lasting mark on the village. Be sure to visit the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Vie, a Provençal-style church dating from the 13th century to 17th century. This chapel was bought by Picasso and converted into his art workshop. He painted the chapel's Le Mas de Notre Dame de Vie, a spectacular floor-to-ceiling 800-square-meter piece in 35 parts, considered a masterpiece. The Chapelle Saint Barthélémy is another interesting historic monument; the octagonal design with its semicircular apse is rare for a religious building. The village's parish church, dedicated to Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur, dates to the 11th century.
Mougins is also renowned for its gastronomy, a delicious Mediterranean cuisine based on local ingredients of olive oil and aromatic herbs such as rosemary, thyme, fennel, and tarragon. The village has two renowned restaurants: Le Moulin de Mougins which also hosts a Film Festival in May that draws international celebrities and Restaurant Le Candille that offers classic French cuisine in its sumptuous dining room or on a beautiful terrace with views of the Provençal countryside.
21 Lorgue: A Small Town with Grand Gastronomy
Off the beaten tourist path, the small town of Lorgue is in the beautiful Le Var department of Provence, an area of lush woodlands and fertile countryside of vine-covered rolling hills. This area is an ideal place to spend a peaceful holiday, enjoying nature and gourmet cuisine. Lorgue is a typical Provençal town with a historic church, beautiful old fountains, and a main square that hosts a weekly market. The nearby village of Flayosc is known for its 11th-century church and ancient olive-oil mill surrounded by flourishing groves of olive trees.
Tourist highlights in the area include several renowned restaurant/hotels. The Château de Berne (Route de Salernes) is a luxurious five-star Relais & Châteaux hotel with a renowned restaurant, L'Orangerie. The Château de Berne also has a casual brasserie, tennis courts, swimming pool, an upscale spa, and a cooking school for tourists. Nearby, in a beautiful garden setting, is the famous truffle restaurant Chez Bruno (350 Route des Arcs, Le Plan Campagne Mariette), which also has accommodations. This elegant restaurant is run by Chef Clément Bruno, who is known as the "Empereur de la Truffe" (Emperor of Truffles). This Michelin-starred restaurant features classic French dishes made with seasonal truffles of the region and imported from regions such as Piedmont and Umbria in Italy where white truffles are found.
22 Seillans: A Beautiful Perched Village
Listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France), Seillans is a classic village perché (perched village). The medieval village has a traditional Provençal ambience with many historic mansions grouped on the hillsides around the ancient feudal castle. Typical in Provence, the village hosts traditional weekly markets, and locals play pétanque at the main town square (Place de la République). Visitors delight in exploring the village's narrow streets that lead to fountain-adorned squares, arcaded passageways, and viewpoints of the vine-covered hills and olive groves. The painter Max Ernst admired the beauty of Seillans and spent the last years of his life here; his work can be seen at the Tanning-Ernst Collection. The village has two noteworthy churches: the 11th-century Romanesque church, Eglise Saint-Léger and the Cistercian Provençal style Chapelle Notre-Dame de l'Ormeau two kilometers outside the village. Seillans is just a few kilometers away from Fayence, another medieval hilltop village.
23 Bargème: A Peaceful Countryside Retreat
Bargème is a sleepy country village, and visitors who find this out-of-the way village will be delighted by its charm. Clinging to a promontory high above the rural landscape, Bargème is a picturesque medieval town in the Var department, listed as one of France's Plus Beaux Villages (Most Beautiful Villages). Bargème is a jumble of winding cobblestone streets leading to hidden treasures, such as artisan boutiques, art galleries, and ateliers. The village's Château des Pontevès was destroyed in the War of Religions; the ruins are an enchanting site located on an elevated plateau with splendid views.
Several interesting churches are found in the village, including the 12th-century Eglise Saint-Nicolas on the highest point in the village and the 17th-century Chapelle Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs (also known as the Chapelle Notre-Dame d'Espaïme) near the Château's esplanade. Vestiges of the old ramparts lie around the southern and eastern edges of the village.
24 Château de Rochegude
Surrounded by the vine-covered rolling hills of the Côtes-du-Rhône, the tiny medieval village of Rochegude is a peaceful retreat in the heart of Provence. There are many top attractions nearby in the Haut-Vaucluse area, including two interesting Provençal towns with ancient Roman ruins: Orange (14 kilometers away) and Vaison-la-Romaine (26 kilometers away). The main tourist draw is the Château de Rochegude, a magnificent 12th-century fortress, restored by Viollet-le-Duc, which was once the summer residence of the Marquis de Rochegude. The château has been converted into a luxurious 4-star hotel, part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association. The area around Rochegude is renowned for its gourmet cuisine including dishes made with the local delicacy of truffles.
25 Aureille in Les Alpilles Mountains
Aureille is a small village with a captivating Provençal ambience. The village is filled with many narrow shaded lanes and beautiful old stone houses featuring pastel-painted shutters. Admire the beauty in the small details, like the flowers decorating the homes and the fountains tucked away in quiet squares. The town's historic parish church is also worth visiting. Aureille is a good stopping point on the way to other sites in Provence. The village is in the heart of Les Alpilles Mountains, ten kilometers from Les Baux de Provence, 15 kilometers from Saint-Rémy de Provence, and 20 kilometers from Trigance. This idyllic pastoral region boasts unspoiled nature, excellent hiking trails, and ancient traditions. In Aureille, the locals celebrate traditional summertime festivals complete with authentic costumes.
Scenic Drives through the Provence Countryside
Gorges du Verdon: Beautiful Views and Gourmet Cuisine
Nature lovers will enjoy a driving tour through the Gorges du Verdon in the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon (Natural Regional Park of Verdon). The best starting-point for a tour of the Grand Canyon du Verdon is the little town of Castellane on the Route Napoléon. Take the road D952 in a southwesterly direction downstream through the Defile of Porte Saint-Jean and Clue de Chasteuil. At the fork, in about 12 kilometers, bear left on the D955, cross the river at the Pont de Soleils bridge (signposted "Rive Gauche"), and continue south over the uplands. Approximately six kilometers beyond the fork is the picturesque village of Trigance with its imposing château. For a meal or overnight stop, take a 12 kilometer detour from Trigance to the Auberge du Point Sublime in a tranquil setting in the little village of Rougon. The hotel's restaurant has a shaded terrace and features traditional cuisine made with local artisanal ingredients. The Point Sublime in Rougon is the finest viewpoint on the drive through the Grand Canyon du Verdon. In La Palud-sur-Verdon (ten kilometers from Rougon), the Belvédère de L'Escalès offers another sensational viewpoint.
After returning from Rougon to Trigance, take the D90 road as far as the D71, which is followed north-west. About ten kilometers from Trigance is the Balcons de la Mescla, the first high spot of the drive through the Grand Canyon du Verdon. This point offers an exceptional view of the landscape. The Corniche Sublime continues from Balcons de la Mescla along its winding course with breathtaking views high above the Gorges du Verdon and through the Tunnels de Fayet. Continuing ten more kilometers from the Balcons de la Mescla to Falaise des Cavaliers, visitors will find the Hôtel du Grand Canyon on a breathtaking 800-meter-high precipice above the right bank of the Verdon River. The hotel's sunny terrace and dining room feature sweeping panoramic views of the canyon. After a day of outdoor activity, guests will appreciate the restaurant's gourmet cuisine, featuring hearty regional dishes and specialties of the terroir. For visitors interested in watersports, it's worth continuing 20 kilometers from Falaise des Cavaliers to the Lac de Sainte-Croix. This pristine lake has a small beach and is popular for boating, sailing, and windsurfing. The area around the lake also has camping sites.
Gorges du Loup: Gorgeous Scenery & Hilltop Villages
The Gorges du Loup was formed by the Loup River, which cut deep into the rock creating an immense ravine. This dramatic and beautiful area of the Provence countryside is dotted with medieval villages perchés (perched villages). Begin a tour in the hilltop village of Grasse, surrounded by fields of flowers and famous for its perfume. Then drive about ten kilometers on the D2210 road until reaching the tiny hilltop village of Bar-sur-Loup and the D2210. From Bar-sur-Loup, a circuitous route of about 11 kilometers leads to the ancient village of Gourdon. Sitting on a rocky peak overlooking the rural landscape, Gourdon is listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France). The Château de Gourdon was built on the site of a feudal castle dating to the 9th century, which was replaced with a more elegant château built in the typical 17th-century Provençal style. Gourdon has two interesting 12th-century Romanesque churches: the Chapelle Saint-Pons and the Eglise Saint-Vincent. The nearby hamlet of Pont du Loup, in the Vallée du Loup, has been incorporated into the greater community of Gourdon.
From Gourdon, take the D3 road to the D6 road that travels around the rock walls through the gorge up to the Saut du Loup, a scenic area in the hills with views of the Cascade de Courmes (waterfalls). Near a winding stretch of the D3 road, an observation point (signpost "Surplomb des Gorges du Loup") offers a stunning vertical view down into the gorge and up to Pic des Courmettes (mountains).
About 12 kilometers from Saut du Loup (and five kilometers west of Vence) is the beautiful village of Tourette-sur-Loup. This fortified medieval hilltop town sits on a rocky outcrop with its ancient towers soaring high above the landscape. Tourrettes sur Loup overlooks the Loup Valley and the rolling hills of the Côte d'Azur backcountry. The village is surrounded by olive groves, pine woods, and fields of violets. Visitors enter Tourette-sur-Loup through an old gateway, which leads to the central square and many winding cobblestone lanes. The 15th-century château dominates the village and the 14th-century parish church has an interesting altarpiece from the school of Bréa. Since the 1940s, the beauty of Tourette-sur-Loup has drawn many artists, writers, and musicians. Today, the village has more than 30 art studios and many artisan boutiques. Visitors will enjoy exploring the picturesque streets, lingering at outdoor cafés, and dining at the traditional restaurants. Tourette-sur-Loup is well known for its gastronomy, a Provençal cuisine based on fresh ingredients from the local markets.