×

25 Top-Rated Attractions & Scenic Drives in Provence

Written by Lisa Alexander
Nov 17, 2020

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.

The art de vivre ("art of living") is a way of life in Provence, similar to the dolce vita in neighboring Italy. A sunny climate, slow-paced lifestyle, and rustic earthiness encourage relaxation. In Aix-en-Provence and Avignon, tourists and locals alike bask on the terraces of outdoor cafés, shop at open-air markets, and admire amazing art at top-notch museums.

Outside the cities are off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Haut-Vaucluse and the Luberon, which are some of the best places to visit in France for a peaceful getaway. These less touristy corners of Provence are dotted with ancient Roman outposts, walled medieval towns, and fortified castles; the bucolic landscape also features orchards, olive groves, and woodlands.

Throughout the region, visitors can enjoy delicious Mediterranean cuisine based on olive oil, vegetables, and aromatic herbs. Fresh local ingredients are transformed into specialties such as pistou, a basil and garlic sauce; bouillabaisse, a flavorful fish stew; fougasse, soft braided bread; and pissaladière, a pizza-like tart of caramelized onions, anchovies, and black olives.

For more ideas on the best places to visit in this famous region, read our list of the top attractions in Provence.

1. Aix-en-Provence: Quintessential Provence

Fountain in Aix-en-Provence

Aix-en-Provence has the elegance of Paris combined with the warmth of Southern France. This traditional Provençal town is distinguished by its shady tree-lined streets, historic squares, and ornate fountains. A legacy of the ancient Roman heritage, one thousand flowing monuments are found throughout the city.

The hub of Aix-en-Provence is the Cours Mirabeau, a broad boulevard with outdoor cafés that are bustling on sunny days and balmy evenings. At 53 Cours Mirabeau, the brasserie Les Deux Garçons features a sidewalk terrace where patrons can admire the lively street scene. Many notable guests (Cézanne, Picasso, Camus, Edith Piaf) have frequented this legendary establishment. Les Deux Garçons also has luxury accommodations.

Other places that are top on tourists' sightseeing lists are the Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur, with its flamboyant mix of architectural styles, and the Musée Granet, an exceptional fine arts museum with masterpieces by Ingres, Rembrandt, Rubens, Cézanne, Monet, and Picasso, among others.

Lovers of Post-Impressionist art should tour the Atelier de Cézanne (studio), on the Colline des Lauves, where Cézanne painted his "still life" pieces. Near the studio is a spot on the Chemin de la Marguerite overlooking Mont Sainte-Victoire, the landscape Cézanne cherished and that inspired him to create many paintings.

Many travelers visit Aix-en-Provence to experience the traditional outdoor Provençal markets. A popular flower market takes place at the Place de la Mairie, while farmers markets are held at the Place des Prêcheurs, the Place Verdun, and the Place Richelme. Aix-en-Provence is renowned for artisanal culinary products, especially Calissons d'Aix, sweet almond candies.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Provence

2. Avignon: Medieval City of the Popes

Avignon: Medieval City of the Popes

When describing Avignon, it's impossible to begin anywhere else than the Palais de Papes. This extraordinary UNESCO-listed palace was built in the early 14th century when the Catholic church moved the papal court from Rome to Avignon.

Daunting crenelated fortifications and massive defense towers distinguish the imposing structure, which is Europe's largest Gothic palace. Extravagant interior spaces hint at the lavish lifestyles of the nine Popes who lived here between 1309 and 1403.

Beyond the Palais de Papes, the town of Avignon has plenty for tourists to explore. For those who appreciate the fine arts, the Musée du Petit Palais is an obligatory stop. This museum displays works by the great masters from Italy: Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, and Vittore Carpaccio, among others. The most acclaimed piece is Botticelli's La Vierge et l'Enfant (Madonna 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 is the Saint Bénézet Bridge (Pont d'Avignon), a graceful half-intact structure that partially spans the river.

Farther afield, four kilometers across the river, is Villeneuve-lez-Avignon, renowned for the Val de Benediction Carthusian Monastery built by Pope Innocent VI. In the countryside of rolling hills (20 kilometers from Avignon) is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a medieval village where the Popes of Avignon built their summer palaces.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Avignon

3. Ancient Ruins and Provençal Traditions in Arles

Ancient Ruins and Provençal Traditions in Arles

Steeped in history and drenched in sunshine, Arles has a fascinating heritage that dates back to antiquity. The town was an ancient Greek settlement and then became an important Roman colony in 46 BC. Visitors are impressed by the UNESCO-listed monuments, including the Roman Amphitheater and the 12th-century Eglise Saint-Trophime.

A wonderful place to discover the culture of Provence, Arles exudes traditional Provençal ambience. Visitors enjoy relaxing in the tree-shaded public squares, wandering the narrow pedestrian streets in the old town, and spending sunny afternoons at terraced outdoor cafés.

Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from February 1888 until May 1889. Art lovers can follow the Van Gogh self-guided walking tour to find the scenes in Arles that this inimitable artist captured on canvas, such as the café at the Place du Forum and the garden at the Arles hospital.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Arles

4. Saint-Tropez's Seaside Glamour

Yachts in Saint-Tropez's harbor

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. Locals play pétanque and socialize at the town's main square, the Place des Lices. For a taste of everyday life in Saint-Tropez, Tuesday or Saturday morning is a great time to visit the Place des Lices, when a traditional Provençal market is held here.

A beach lover's paradise, Saint-Tropez is one of the sunniest places on the French Riviera and has an extensive, palm-fringed sandy shoreline. Some beaches are private, but many are open to the public. Hikers will appreciate the Sentier du Littoral, a seaside path with unspoiled scenery.

Although the resort vibe predominates in Saint-Tropez, cultural attractions abound. The Musée de l'Annonciade, has a superb collection of Impressionist art displayed in a 16th-century chapel. The old Citadel built in the early 1600s houses the Musée d'Histoire Maritime illustrating Saint-Tropez's maritime past.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saint-Tropez

5. Les Baux-de-Provence: A Historic Town in a Dramatic Setting

Les Baux-de-Provence: A Historic Town in a Dramatic Setting

Perched on a rocky plateau overlooking a peaceful valley, Les Baux-de-Provence takes its name from the Provençal word "Li Baus," which means "The Rocks." The ruins of the Château des Baux and its citadel seem to form part of the steep limestone crag.

Visitors must park in the lower part of the town and walk up to the historic village, which gives the impression of stepping back in time to the Middle Ages. Tourists can try to imagine the medieval troubadour culture of chivalry and love poetry that flourished here in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France (Most Beautiful Villages of France), Les Baux-de-Provence is distinguished by its delightful old stone buildings, shaded squares, and terraces full of fragrant flowers. Wandering the old cobblestone streets, tourists will find charming cafés, small boutiques, and inviting art galleries.

A great place to begin a tour is at the Château des Baux. The castle is in ruins, but the clifftop vantage point affords fabulous panoramic views of the landscape. Other noteworthy attractions include the Eglise Saint-Vincent, a 12th-century Romanesque church with modern stained-glass windows created by Max Ingrand, and the Musée Yves Brayer (in the 16th-century Hôtel des Porcelets) featuring the artist's finest paintings.

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. 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 Baumanière Hôtel & Spa is a five-star resort hotel nestled at the foot of Les Baux-de-Provence village in the Vallon de la Fontaine. This Relais & Châteaux property is renowned for its restaurant with three Michelin stars, L'Oustau de Baumanière, and also has a more casual restaurant, La Cabro d'Or, which serves regional cuisine based on fresh local ingredients.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Les Baux-de-Provence

6. Marseilles: Cosmopolitan Seaport

Marseilles harbor

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. One of the essential things to do in Marseilles stop at a waterfront restaurant in the Vieux Port (Old Port) to sample the Marseille specialty of bouillabaisse (seafood stew).

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

7. Saint-Paul de Vence: A Picture-Perfect Hilltop Village

Saint-Paul de Vence

This dreamy medieval village is perched high on a hilltop and surrounded by well-preserved ramparts. A top destination in Provence, Saint-Paul de Vence is often crowded with tourists taking a detour from the nearby Côte d'Azur attractions.

The distance from favorite French Riviera beach resorts, Nice and Antibes, is less than 20 kilometers, but the village feels much farther away in spirit. Upon entering the ancient town gates, visitors are transported to a magical place of labyrinthine cobblestone streets, tiny alleyways, staircases, and small 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 from the earliest period of construction and a Baroque chapel containing precious relics.

Also not to be missed is the Folon Chapel, which occupies the 17th-century Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs. The entire interior is adorned with contemporary mosaics, sculptures, paintings, and stained-glass windows by artist Jean-Michel Folon, which have a serene quality.

Since the 1920s, many artists have been drawn to Saint-Paul de Vence. The village's artistic heritage is on display at the Fondation Maeght, about one kilometer outside the medieval village. The permanent collection includes mosaics by Chagall; stained-glass windows by Georges Braque; paintings by Bonnard, Chagall, Kandinsky, and Léger; sculptures by Giacometti; and ceramics by Miró.

Besides history, culture, and art, Saint-Paul de Vence boasts several fine dining options. On a quiet street near the village ramparts, the restaurant at the five-star Hôtel Le Saint Paul serves refined Mediterranean cuisine on a sunny flower-draped garden terrace. La Colombe d'Or hotel has welcomed many famous artists; the hotel's restaurant serves classic French cuisine in an elegant dining room or on the garden patio.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Saint-Paul de Vence

8. Ancient Roman Ruins in Orange

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 is testimony to the ancient heritage. This UNESCO-listed ancient theater 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 Les 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.

Located at the Théâtre Antique site, the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire has an excellent collection of artifacts, antiquities, and artworks from prehistory to the 18th century. Be sure to see the Mosa"que des Centaures, an impressive mosaic that was discovered in the Théâtre Antique.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Orange

Orange Center Map - Tourist Attractions
Orange Map - Attractions

9. Gordes: A Beautiful Village in a Natural Park

The perched village of Gordes

This characteristic village perché (perched village) is beautifully situated in the UNESCO-listed Luberon Natural Regional Park, a wild and rugged mountainous area. Because of its dramatic hilltop setting and splendid architecture, Gordes has been named one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, and many artists (including Victor Vasarély and Marc Chagall) have 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 gigantic towers and an enormous entrance doorway. Visitors can tour the château's interior to admire the monumental fireplace (classified as a historic monument) in the Salle d'Honneur (Hall of Honor).

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 valley blanketed by fields of lavender. This 12th-century Romanesque building is considered one of the most interesting abbeys in France. The harmonious architecture reflects the Cistercian concepts of seclusion, simplicity, and spirituality.

Tourists may visit the Abbaye de Sénanque by taking a self-guided tour (silence is required) or by joining a group tour led by a French-speaking guide (reservations recommended). Visitors should keep in mind that the Abbaye de Sénanque is a working monastery and be respectful of the spiritual ambience.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Gordes

10. Archaeological Sites in Vaison-la-Romaine

Archaeological ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine

At the foot of Mont Ventoux between the French 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" and boasts some of the most extensive Gallo-Roman ruins in the country.

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. At this site, remnants of noblemen's houses and a porticoed sanctuary were uncovered. The well-preserved Théâtre Antique (Ancient Theater) is used as an outdoor venue during summertime.

Another highlight of the Quartier de Puymin is the Musée Théo Desplans. This exceptional antiquities museum displays original statues (copies appear at the locations where they were found), frescoes, mosaics, decorative objects, jewelry, ceramics, and other items discovered at archaeological sites in Vaison-la-Romain.

In the Quartier de la Villasse, tourists can see ancient paved streets with gutters and the remains of private houses of the 1st and 2nd century AD. Some of the original mosaic floors and columns of porticoed garden courtyards are still visible.

In this slow-paced town, time seems to stand still. Narrow cobblestone streets and an abundance of fountains and leafy 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.

Vaison-la-Romaine hosts a traditional Provençal market on Tuesday mornings, when the town's streets and squares bustle with more than 400 stalls selling fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Shoppers can also find culinary specialties of the region like tapenade, fougasse bread, olives, and truffles, as well as linens and handcrafted ceramics.

Summer is an especially enjoyable time to visit Vaison-la-Romaine, when the markets are at their busiest and lively cultural events such as the Vaison Dance Festival and Ancient Theater Week (held at the ancient theater in July) bring the town to life.

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.

Vaison-la-Romaine Map - Tourist Attractions
Vaison-la-Romaine Map - Attractions

11. Vence: A Picturesque Artists' Village

Vence

Like its neighbor Saint-Paul de Vence (five kilometers away), this enchanting hilltop town is irresistible to tourists. 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).

Well-preserved medieval walls enclose the Cité Historique, a captivating pedestrian-only world of narrow cobblestone lanes, historic sights, delightful boutiques, art galleries, outdoor cafés, and peaceful fountain-adorned squares. Especially charming spots include the Place du Peyra, which has many restaurants and shops, and the Place Godeau, a shaded square often painted by artists.

In the heart of the Cité Historique stands the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de la Nativité, a listed Historic Monument dating back to the 11th century. A highlight of the cathedral is the Baptistery featuring a mosaic by Marc Chagall, which depicts Moses' rescue from the Nile River.

Another attraction in the Cité Historique is the Musée de Vence housed in the 17th-century Château de Villeneuve. The museum displays an excellent collection of modern and contemporary art, including paintings by Matisse, Chagall, Dubuffet, and Dufy.

A must-see sight on the outskirts of Vence is the Chapelle du Rosaire, renowned for its interior decorated by Henri Matisse. The artist spent four years working on this project and designed every detail: stained-glass window, choir stalls, ceramics, liturgical objects, and wall murals. The simple and somber sanctuary is illuminated only through a stained-glass window, creating an ethereal ambience.

For those who would like to spend more time in Provence's artistic heartland, the Château Saint-Martin & Spa is a wonderful choice. Nestled in a secluded estate (just two kilometers outside of historic Vence), this five-star hotel is perched on a hilltop overlooking expanses of olive groves, with views of the French Riviera coastline in the distance.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vence

12. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence: Van Gogh's Artistic Inspiration

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence | martin / photo modified

Saint-Rémy de Provence is a pretty village in the northern foothills of the Alpilles Mountains. The tranquility of Saint-Rémy de Provence provided solace and inspiration to Vincent van Gogh, who spent a year in the village at an asylum.

The Monastère Saint-Paul de Mausole is the hospital (located in an old Romanesque monastery) where Van Gogh stayed from 1889 to 1890 under the care of kind nurses. Tourists can visit the artist's room and see copies of the paintings he created here. To learn more about the life and works of Van Gogh, an obligatory stop is the Musée Estrine (8 Rue Lucien Estrine) which has a Center of Interpretation devoted to the artist.

The Vincent van Gogh Trail indicates sites throughout the town that were painted by Van Gogh, although some imagination is required as the scenery has changed since the artist's time. The Office of Tourism in Saint-Rémy de Provence offers guided tours (by reservation) of the sites that Van Gogh painted.

At heart a traditional Provençal town, Saint-Rémy de Provence is well known for its open-air markets. On Wednesday mornings, the Grand Marché Provençal (large market) spills out onto the main squares of the old town. Tourists will enjoy blending in with the locals, wandering the cobblestone streets, and getting lost while admiring the stately old buildings.

Tourists will also find many other worthwhile things to do, such as attending a mass or organ concert at the Collégiale Saint-Martin, rebuilt in the 19th century in Neoclassical style, or exploring the archaeological ruins at the Glanum Excavation Site, which has a Triumphal Arch from the 1st century BC dedicated to Julius Caesar.

Gastronomic delights abound in Saint-Rémy de Provence, and tourists will enjoy sampling the regional specialties. La Roma (33 Boulevard Marceau) is 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 tantalizing chocolate candies in delicate flavors. Le Petit Duc is a tempting shop that sells typical Provençal confections such as nougat (candy made with almonds and honey), crystallized violets, and calissons (sweet almond candies).

In the nearby village of Paradou, Le Bistro du Paradou is a favorite spot among locals. The restaurant offers a prix-fixe menu that focuses on classic French dishes. Also in Paradou is the Michelin-starred Cicada - La Table du Hameau restaurant.

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, a typical Provençal stone farmhouse. 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

Salon-de-Provence

On the Plaine de la Crau northwest of Marseilles, Salon-de-Provence is a town steeped in history. 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 townscape. This 12th-15th century château has some of the best-preserved fortifications in Provence and a lovely Romanesque church, the Chapel of Saint-Cathérine.

The Maison de Nostradamus is a historic landmark where Nostradamus spent the last 20 years of his life and is now a museum that displays original editions of Nostradamus' prophecies and a reproduction of his study.

Salon-de-Provence is well known for its artisanal olive oil and fragrant soap products that are sold throughout Provence and other cities in France. To learn more about the history of soap production in Salon-de-Provence, tourists can visit the Marius Fabre Soap Factory and Savon de Marseille Museum (148 Avenue Paul-Bourret).

For those who want to commune with nature in the nearby Luberon Natural Regional Park, the Garrigae Abbaye de Sainte Croix is a romantic place to spend a few nights. This sumptuous four-star hotel occupies the Abbaye de Sainte Croix, a renovated 12th-century Romanesque abbey. Featuring superb vistas of the countryside, the hotel property encompasses 20 hectares of wild scrubland, lavender fields, and olive groves.

14. Grasse: Perfumes, Gardens, and Art

The old town of Grasse

Perched on a hilltop in an idyllic landscape, this quintessential Provençal village delights all the senses. The old town of Grasse is only accessible to pedestrians because the streets are too narrow for cars. Typical of medieval villages, Grasse is brimming with atmospheric streets and babbling fountains found in hidden squares.

The green rolling hills and plains around Grasse flourish with orange blossoms, roses, mimosa, jasmine, lavender, and violets, which provide the essential oils to make delicate fragrances. At the Musée International de la Parfumerie (2 Boulevard du Jeu de Ballon), visitors learn about the history of perfumes, soaps, and cosmetics and then can stop to smell the roses (or have a picnic) in the museum's gardens.

Visitors can also tour the famous perfume factories, including Fragonard, Molinard, and Galimard. Other must-see attractions are the Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard (23 Boulevard Fragonard) that displays a collection of Fragonard's Rococo art works and Princess Pauline's Garden a verdant oasis that boasts panoramic views.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Grasse

Grasse Center Map - Tourist Attractions
Grasse Map - Attractions

15. Sunbathing and Sightseeing in Fréjus

Fréjus

Fréjus is an attractive port town 40 kilometers from Cannes, about a 35-minute drive away. This sunny resort destination features a picturesque marina and sandy beaches on the sheltered Gulf of Fréjus that are packed with tourists during summertime.

Beside vacation ambience, Fréjus has plenty of culture. The Romanesque Cathédrale de Fréjus was built in the 11th to 12th centuries. While the cathedral's exterior is now hidden by more modern surrounding buildings, its spire soars high above the cityscape as a beacon of faith.

Next to the cathedral's cloisters, the Archaeology Museum displays an extensive collection of Greek and Roman artifacts. The museum also presents a model of the Roman city that once flourished here.

A testament to the city's ancient heritage is the 1st-2nd century Arènes de Fréjus (296 Rue Henri Vadon). This enormous amphitheater once accommodated 12,000 spectators for gladiator fights.

The Arènes de Fréjus amphitheater provides modern-day audiences with fantastic entertainment during a summertime festival. Les Nuits Auréliennes includes a line-up of French-language theater performances. The ancient amphitheater is a magical venue for events held under the star-studded night skies of July.

Accommondation: Where to Stay in Frejus

Fréjus Map - Tourist Attractions
Frejus Map - Attractions

16. Cassis: A Quaint Fishing Village

Cassis fishing village

This quaint fishing village (and popular summertime holiday destination) has the vibrant ambience of a Mediterranean seaport combined with the traditional charm of Provence. Cassis is 22 kilometers from Marseilles, yet feels much farther 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 in the early 20th century. Resident artists captured scenes of colorful pastel-painted houses lining the harbor and small fishing boats docked in the marina.

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. Nearby beaches, a few kilometers outside of the town, attract many sun worshippers during the high season.

The medieval Château de Cassis has been converted into guest rooms for overnight accommodations. The property features an outdoor swimming pool and breathtaking panoramic views. From its hilltop vantage point, the château overlooks the village and harbor of Cassis, as well as the Mediterranean coastline.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Cassis

17. Biot: An Ancient Perched Village with Artisan Boutiques

Buildings in the perched village of Biot

Built on the slopes of a steep hill, Biot is a medieval village perché (perched village) with many charming stepped pathways that lead to incredible viewpoints. Hidden wonders await those who take the time to discover the village's narrow cobblestone streets, quiet alleyways, pleasant little squares, and gurgling fountains.

The village is also known for its arts and crafts boutiques that sell locally made jewelry, ceramics, glassware, and textiles. Many shops carry special artisanal products of the region, such as handmade soaps or tablecloths crafted from Provençal fabrics.

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

Truffles in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux | Kimon Berlin / photo modified

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 elegant hôtels particuliers (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.

The Tricastin area surrounding this medieval village has an abundance of French truffles, which the locals call "black diamonds." Truffle purveyors take their prized culinary goods (Tuber Melanosporum) to the Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux Truffle Market on Tuesdays and Sundays (from November through March). The Tuesday market is open to the public; the Sunday market is reserved for restaurateurs and private individuals.

A Truffle Festival takes place in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux the second Sunday in February. The festival includes tastings of local specialties prepared with truffles, like omelettes and truffled brie.

For those staying overnight, the Village Augusta offers luxurious accommodations in a wooded parkland surrounded by lavender fields. The four-star hotel is a converted ancienne maison (historic Provençal villa) with impeccably decorated deluxe rooms and an upscale restaurant that serves the finest cuisine of the terroir.

19. Tarascon: Provençal Festivals and Fabrics

Tarascon

Rich in cultural heritage, this distinctive Provençal town is known for its traditions and festivals. Tarascon exemplifies the art de vivre (lifestyle) of Provence, with its relaxing ambience and weekly gourmet market featuring regional products.

Visitors will enjoy exploring the old cobblestone lanes and arcaded streets, while admiring little chapels, cloisters, and historic mansions. The town's Château de Tarascon is considered one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in France. The château is open to the public for visits year-round.

Tarascon's rich cultural heritage comes to life during the Fêtes de la Tarasque in June. This UNESCO-listed festival dates back to the 15th century. Following the centuries-old traditions, townspeople dress up in medieval costumes and a dragon-like mascot, La Tarasque, is paraded on a procession through the town.

Tarascon is also known for its industry of Provençal printed textiles. The Musée Souleiado (39 Rue Charles-Deméry), housed in a 17th-century mansion, has an extensive collection of Provençal fabrics, as well as exhibits explaining the history of traditional Provençal textiles. Souleiado sells its brightly printed Provençal cotton fabrics and designer-quality clothing at boutiques in Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, and Paris.

20. Mougins: Picasso's Favorite Hilltop Village

Pictuesque Mougins village

Mougins has the old-world ambience typical of a Provençal hilltop village, with its winding pedestrian lanes and small squares. Tourists delight in exploring Mougins' charming streets, little boutiques, galleries, and artists' ateliers. The village's parish church, the Eglise Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur (dating to the 11th century) is found near a pleasant courtyard.

The village is worthy of a detour just to admire the exceptional views of Provence's landscape. From its perched vantage point, there are panoramic views of the rolling hills, as well as the coastline all the way to the Golfe de la Napoule in Cannes.

Drawn to the town's beauty, Picasso lived in Mougins from 1961 to 1973. He converted the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Vie into his art studio. This humble Provençal-style church is approached by a cypress tree-lined path reminiscent of landscapes in Tuscany.

The Chapelle Notre-Dame de Vie is open for visits every day in July and August, on weekends in May, June, and September, and on Sundays from October through April. The chapel's Treasury houses a small museum.

For such a tiny village, Mougins has a surprising number of gourmet restaurants. The local Mediterranean cuisine is based on olive oil; vegetables; and aromatic herbs such as rosemary, thyme, fennel, and tarragon.

The village has several renowned culinary establishments: La Place de Mougins, a chic restaurant with a menu that highlights fresh local ingredients; Le Moulin de Mougins, which has an outdoor patio dining area; and the Michelin-starred Le Candille, which offers seasonal Provençal cuisine in its stylish dining room or on a shaded terrace with views of the rolling hills around Mougins.

21. Lorgue: A Small Town with Grand Gastronomy

Lorgue

Off-the-beaten tourist path, Lorgue is a typical Provençal town with a historic church, gently flowing fountains, and a main square that hosts a weekly market. The town is nestled in a fertile countryside of lush woodlands and a patchwork of small farms. It's an ideal place to spend a quiet holiday, enjoying nature and gourmet cuisine.

There are many historic attractions nearby, including the village of Flayosc, 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 gastronomic restaurant. The Château de Berne also has a casual bistro, tennis courts, swimming pool, an upscale spa, and hiking trails.

Nearby, in a beautiful garden setting, is the Michelin-starred restaurant Restaurant Bruno (2350 Route des Arcs, Le Plan Campagne Mariette, Lorgue). Chef Clément Bruno is known as the "Empereur de la Truffe" (Emperor of Truffles). The 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

The perched village of Seillans

Listed as one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France, Seillans is a classic village perché (perched village). The medieval village has a traditional Provençal ambience with cobblestone streets and 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 village has two noteworthy churches: the 11th-century Romanesque church, Eglise Saint-Léger, and the Cistercian Provençal style Chapelle Notre-Dame de l'Ormeau, four kilometers outside the village.

The painter Max Ernst admired the beauty of Seillans and spent the last years of his life here. Some of his works are on display at the town's Tourism Office (Place du Thouron).

Seillans is just seven kilometers away from Fayence, another pretty little medieval hilltop village. Fayence is appreciated for its pleasant rural setting and panoramic views of the Provençal countryside.

23. Bargème: A Peaceful Countryside Retreat

Church in Bargème

Bargème is a sleepy country village, and visitors who find this out-of-the way village (one of France's Plus Beaux Villages) will be delighted by its charm and beauty, as well as astounding panoramic views. Clinging to a promontory over 1,000 meters above the rural landscape, Bargème has the distinction of being the highest elevated town in the Var department.

This typical medieval hilltop town was originally surrounded entirely by fortifications. Visitors enter the old rampart gates to discover an enchanting cluster of narrow pedestrian lanes and old stone buildings. Winding cobblestone streets and vaulted passageways lead to hidden treasures: historic churches, a few art galleries, outdoor cafés, and restaurants with terrace seating.

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'Espa"me) near the château's esplanade. Vestiges of the old ramparts lie around the southern and eastern edges of the village.

Bargème once had a magnificent castle, the Château Sabran de Pontevès, which was built in the 13th century and destroyed during the War of Religions. The ruins are an evocative site located on an elevated plateau overlooking the idyllic landscape of rolling hills, forests, and valleys.

About a one-hour drive away, the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon (Verdon Natural Regional Park) draws many visitors for its relaxation benefits and hiking opportunities. This regional park boasts some of the best hikes in France along with a spectacular nature site, the Gorges du Verdon, a dramatic canyon with cliffs that plunge 700 meters to the Verdon River.

24. Château de Rochegude

Château de Rochegude | Jean-Pascal MOUCHE / photo modified

Vine-covered rolling hills of the Côtes-du-Rhône surround the tiny medieval village of Rochegude, a place of sublime natural scenery. The main tourist draw is the Château de Rochegude, a 12th-century fortress that was once the summer residence of the Marquis de Rochegude. Updated during the Renaissance and recently renovated, the château has been converted into a four-star hotel, part of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux association.

The area around Rochegude is renowned for its cuisine, including dishes made with the local delicacy of truffles. The nearby Haut-Vaucluse region also has many historic attractions, including two ancient towns with amazing Roman ruins: Orange (14 kilometers away) and Vaison-la-Romaine (27 kilometers away).

25. Aureille in Les Alpilles Mountains

Aureille in Les Alpilles Mountains | Clark Weber / photo modified

Aureille is a small and remote country town with a captivating Provençal ambience. Visitors are charmed by the distinctive old stone buildings, narrow pedestrian streets, and pristine natural surroundings.

This quiet village becomes quite lively during summertime, when several festivals take place. The historic parish church also celebrates its Saint's Day in mid-August.

For travelers exploring Provence by car, Aureille is a good stopping point on the way to Les Baux de Provence or Saint-Rémy de Provence (both about 20 kilometers away). The village is in the heart of Les Alpilles Mountains, an appealing pastoral region that boasts unspoiled nature, an array of hiking trails, and ancient traditions.

Scenic Drives through the Provence Countryside

1. Gorges du Verdon: Beautiful Views and Gourmet Cuisine

Gorges du Verdon

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 (15 kilometers from Rougon), the Belvédère de L'Escalès offers another incredible viewpoint.

After returning from Rougon to Trigance, take the D90 road as far as the D71 road. 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 a marvelous panorama of the landscape.

The Corniche Sublime continues from the Balcons de la Mescla along its winding course with breathtaking views high above the Gorges du Verdon and through the Tunnels de Fayet.

Continuing 10 more kilometers from the Balcons de la Mescla in the direction of Aiguines, visitors will find the Hôtel du Grand Canyon du Verdon perched on a hillside 300 meters above the Gorges du Verdon. The hotel's sunny terrace and dining room overlook the canyon. After a day of outdoor activity, guests will appreciate the restaurant's hearty meals that include specialties of the terroir.

For visitors interested in water sports, it's worth a detour to the Lac de Sainte-Croix near the village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie, one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. This pristine lake has a small beach and is ideal for swimming, fishing, boating, sailing, and windsurfing. The area around the lake also has camping sites.

2. Gorges du Loup: Gorgeous Scenery & Hilltop Villages

Gorges du Loup

The Gorges du Loup was formed by the Loup River, which cut deep into the rock creating an immense ravine. This spectacular 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 D2085 and D2210 roads until reaching the tiny perched village of Le Bar-sur-Loup.

From Bar-sur-Loup, a circuitous route of about 11 kilometers leads to the ancient village of Gourdon, (one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France) sitting on a steep rocky peak overlooking the rural landscape. The Château de Gourdon has exquisite gardens designed by André Le Nôtre. Also worth visiting are Gourdon's two Romanesque churches: the Chapelle Saint-Pons and the Eglise Saint-Vincent.

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 from Vence) is the lovely village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup. This hilltop town presides above the Loup Valley and the rolling hills of the Côte d'Azur backcountry. Originally fortified, the well-preserved medieval village is surrounded by olive groves, pine woods, and fields of violets (used to make the local specialty of crystallized violets).

Visitors enter Tourrettes-sur-Loup through an old gateway, which leads to the central square and a jumble of cobblestone lanes with shaded courtyards and outdoor cafés. Since the 1940s, the beauty of Tourrettes-sur-Loup has drawn many artists, writers, and musicians. Today, the village has dozens of art studios and galleries, as well as artisan boutiques that sell locally made ceramics, paintings, sculpture, textiles, and jewelry.

Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

More on France