Provence is a region in southeastern France between Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. It is known for its magnificent landscapes that range from the Southern Alps and pine forests to Camargue plains, rich vineyards, ancient olive groves, and fragrant lavender fields. Côte d'Azur is world known for the elegant and glamorous cities such as Nice and trendy resort towns such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes. The hills above the coast are dotted with small charming ancient villages that offer a glimpse into the area’s long and turbulent history, together with spectacular views. Immortalized by painters, writers and poets, Provence is probably one of the most romantic parts of the world.
1.The Calanques, France’s Natural Wonder
About half way between Marseille and Cassis is the Calanques, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots on the French coast of the Mediterranean Sea. High above the sea is a series of colorful limestone cliffs that tower above incredibly charming little coves that hide small white beaches . The rocks create unique ecosystem with plants sprouting between the rocks, with no soil and constantly battered by the winds and salty air. The whole incredibly beautiful area is protected within the Parc National des Calanques. The park is a popular destination for hiking and rock-climbing and little beaches are perfect for swimming and kayaking. The view of the brightly colored rocks from the sea is spectacular.
2.The Old Fishing District of St Tropez, La Ponche
St. Tropez is known as the playground of rich and famous, glamorous and trendy. But, just northeast of the Vieux Port is La Ponche, the old St. Tropez fishing village that was thriving in the 18th century when French, Spanish, Italian and Greek fishermen competed in fishing for seasonal catch of anchovies, calamari, sea bass, tuna and lobsters. The village grew around small, 40-meter long beach, with cottages around it. The La Ponche starts at the Vieux Port harbor, with fishing boats and luxury yachts alongside each other. Above the village is the town citadel. Part of La Ponche, with its narrow cobblestoned streets lined by small shops, is now pedestrians so visitors can explore little alleys, cafes and boutiques at their heart content. At the center of La Ponche is the 18th-century Eglise de Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.
St. Tropez, France
3.MUCEM and the Fort Saint-Jean in Marseille
The MuCEM or the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations is a super modern new museum in the heart of Marseille, next to the medieval Fort Saint Jean and occupying the site of the Military Order of the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John, co-opted by King Louis XIV in 1660. The area is also home to the Musée Regards de Provence, the Villa Méditerranée, the Tour Panorama and the FRAC PACA. The view of the sea, the Old Port and Notre Dame de la Garde is spectacular. There is a walkway above the water that connects the MuCEM to the 12th century Fort Saint Jean, a promenade and a garden of drought-resistant Mediterranean plants called the Jardin des Migrations. The whole area is a popular venue for outdoor concerts, film screenings and other summer events.
4.The Roman Ruins of Cimiez, Nice
About two kilometers from the downtown Nice is the Colline de Cimiez, a small hill where Romans built the city in 14BC. The well preserved ruins of arenas and thermal baths as well as the archeological museum are surrounded by a beautiful public garden Le Jardin des Arènes de Cimiez. Fairly small arenas were built in the second century AD and served as a place of entertainment for the residents of the nearby city of Cemenelum. Even today the arenas are used for local events. Thermal baths are some of the most beautiful Roman ruins in France and used to have cold and hot pools. The archaeological museum features archeological finds from the ancient Roman city of Cemenelum, once the capital of the Roman province of Alpes-Maritimes.
5.The Montagne Sainte-Victoire
Montagne Sainte-Victoire is a mountain that overlooks the city of Aix-en-Provence and an unique geological feature. It is part of the limestone chain formed during the Jurassic Period but is in constant movement to this day, rising by seven millimeters a year. The mountain, with its imposing summit Pic des Mouches at 1,011m above sea level, is the iconic image of the region. The mountain is characterized by contrasting geological formation such as promontories, small basins, rounded hills, foothills and valleys. Its beauty was immortalized by the paintings of Paul Cézanne. The mountain is very popular with hikers and there is a network of trails that all offer spectacular views. One of the most popular is Blue Trail, rocky and exposed, that will take you up to the Sainte-Victoire Priory and refuge.
6.The Pope’s Palace, Avignon
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The Palais des Papes or Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France overlooks the iconic bridge on the river Rhone and is one of the most important medieval Gothic structures in Europe. Covering 15,000 square feet, it is the largest Gothic palace in the world. Built as a fortress and palace, it became the papal residence and the heart of Western Christianity in the 14th century when the papacy moved from Rome to Avignon. The palace held six papal conclaves, leading to the elections of six popes. Each pope left his mark and the palace came to symbolize the powerful influence of the Catholic Church. It has the largest library in Europe, and was a gathering place for thinkers, composers, philosophers and musicians. Today a tourist attraction, the palace has a rich and turbulent history of rebellion, pilgrimage, enlightenment and massacre.
Place du Palais, 84000 Avignon, France
7.The Lavender Fields
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Fields and hills covered in fragrant purple lavender is an iconic picture of Provence. The best time to experience the magic of lavender fields is from mid-June to mid-August, when they are in full bloom. While you can see lavender planted all over Provence, there are areas where they put especially magnificent show. Plateau de Valensole between the valley of Durane and the Gorges of Verdon is one of the must visit spots. Luberon, the area around Mont Bentoux and Senanque Abbey near the Gordes in Luberon are also spectacularly beautiful when tiny purple flowers open up and make the visit to Provence a magnificent experience for all senses.
8.The Streets and Fountains of Aix en Provence
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The ancient town of Aix en Provence is called the City of a Thousand Fountains. There are fountains of all shapes and sizes, built by many famous sculptors in different centuries. Enjoy them as you stroll up and down this charming town’s narrow cobblestoned streets lined by cafes, artisanal shops and restaurants. Start your exploration from the Cours Mirabeau. At the bottom of this magnificent boulevard, on the great Rotonde square, you will see the city's most imposing fountain, dating back to 1860. The Fountain of the Nine Cannons created by Laurent Vallon was used by herds of cows to drink while migrating. The famous moss-covered Fountain of Hot Water runs hot waters from the local Bagniers spring. The Fountain of the Four Dolphins created Jean-Claude Rambot in 1667 in the Mazarin quarter is one of the oldest. The fountains are very much part of the city’s identity, but also a great places to cool off during the hot summer days.
Aix en Provence, France
9.The Hillside Village of Bonnieux
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Perched on the hill above Luberon Valley, tiny village of Bonnieux is probably one of the most beautiful in France. Ivy-covered houses cover the hillside, separated by narrow cobblestoned streets and alleys heading up the hill, where ancient 12th century church, the ‘old church’ and the 19th century ‘new church’ guard their domain. Visit the charming bakery museum and stock up with the delicious pastries in the attached boulangerie, and with the lavender and honey next door. The village was established by Romans and there are still some remnants of their structures, the most spectacular being the 3 BC Roman bridge, Pont St Julien. All around the village are fields of olives, grapes and lavender, adding to the incredibly beautiful mosaic that is very much Provence.
10.The Picturesque Fishing Port of Cassis
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Cassis is a picturesque little seaport established by Romans in 1st century BC, snuggled between the steep cliffs the Calanques and Cap Canaille. With its pastel colored houses, narrow streets, a perfect little beach and quai lined with cafes and restaurants, Cassis is today a popular tourist destination. Stroll up the hill and check lovely little shops selling local fine linens and other artisanal creations. Sit at the café at the quai and watch the fine yachts and much smaller fishing boats in the port, or people strolling by. The surrounding hills are covered in rows of ancient vines producing the famous wines of the region.
11.Pont du Gard Outside Avignon
Pont du Gard, near Nimes is a magnificent 3 tier Roman aqueduct across Gardon River near Vers-Pont-du-Gard. This incredible 49-metre high piece of engineering was made form massive blocks of limestone and was originally built to supply the city of Nimes with drinking water. Today it is a tourist attraction that provides wonderful views. There is a trail that leads from the bridge to the ruins of many collapsed arches of the ancient aqueduct. There are trails along both sides of the river and nice spots for a picnic, a swim or a trip in a canoe. You can sit on the banks on the river for a picnic or enjoy a swim - the river is also great for canoeists. A visitor center on the on the left bank provides information about the bridge, a historic exhibition and activities for kids. The bridge is a popular location for festivals, concerts and firework displays.
Located near the village of Gordes in the Vaucluse region, the Sénanque Abbey was established in 1148 for Cistercian monks from the Ardèche region of France. The abbey church, dormitory, cloister, chapter house and the small calefactory are all magnificent examples of Romanesque architecture. A refectory was added in the 17th century, but the abbey is surprisingly untouched to this day. The abbey is also a witness to a way of life - the monks still live and worship here, plant and cultivate lavender, and welcome people on retreat. The abbey is also open to guided tours, but the visitors should understand that the monks are permitted to speak only in the chapter room. The abbey has a small gift shop.
84220 Gordes, France
13.The Medieval Town of Les Baux-de-Provence
Les Baux-de-Provence is a small village and ruins of a medieval castle located 15 km from Arles and 25 km from Avignon. Perched on top of a rocky spur, Les Baux de Provence offers breathtaking views of the Camargue, the Crau plain and the city of Arles.
First human settlement on the site of Les Baux was a Celtic oppidum established 6000 BC. During the Middle-Ages Les Baux was the seat of the powerful lords of Baux who had control of 79 towns and fortresses in Provence, Italy and Dauphiné. The only way to explore Les Baux is on foot. Narrow steep streets are lined with ancient homes, St Vincent church, Renaissance town-houses (hôtels particuliers), the town-hall and chapels. There are about 400 people that live permanently in Les Baux, but the whole village feels like live museum, with art galleries, smaller museums, souvenir and craft shops.
Les Baux-de-Provence, France
14. The Rusty Red Town of Roussilon
Located in the heart of one of the world’s largest ochre deposits, Roussillon is famous for the magnificent red cliffs in the heart of the Luberon Valley, surrounded by the lush green pinetrees and the vivid blue Provençal sky. With so much beauty, it is no wonder that so many artists made Roussilon their home. The village of Roussillon is incredibly charming, with a maze of narrow cobblestoned streets and small squares, lined by houses in all shades of ochre, from bright yellow to dark red, with brightly colored doors and shutters. Climb one of the narrow steep streets to the Castrum for the magnificent view. The village is part of the Parc Naturel Régional du Lubéron.
15.Chateau d'If, Marseille
Dominating the entrance to Marseille's Vieux Port, at the southern tip of France, is Château d’If, a massive island-fortress immortalized in Alexandre Dumas’ classic The Count of Monte Cristo. Many political prisoners were incarcerated in the fort, including Mirabeau, the hero of French revolution. The fort was built in the mid-1500s as coastal defense. Its three-story walls have rough texture and gunnery towers but no attack ever took place. It was converted to a prison in the 1800s. Visitors can come to the island from the Marseille Vieux Port, but there is no much to see on the island, except wonderful views of the port.
16.The Medieval Town of Gordes
Gordes is a remote village hidden in the rugged landscapes of the Luberon Regional Nature Park. Cobbled streets lined by old stone houses wind their way along the slopes of Monts de Vaucluse, ending at the majestic 16th-century château on the top, with the spectacular view of the Calavon Valley below. The village grew around the castle from the 11th century onwards. There are spots not to be missed: The Cellars of the Saint Firmin Palace, Chapel of the White Penitents, Saint James Almonry, Sénanque Abbey, ancient bories and of course the fort. The village has been home and inspiration to a number of celebrated French painters such as Marc Chagall, Victor Vasarely and Pol Mara.
17.Palais Longchamp, Marseille
Looking very much like a palace, Palais Longchamp in Marseille is actually a huge, elaborate monument to water and its importance since Marseille was founded in 600 BC by the Greeks. The Palais Longchamp is located a short walk from the Vieux Port, Longchamp Park and botanical garden. It connects the Musée des beaux-arts and Natural History Museum, two most important Marseille museums. The monument was inaugurated in 1869, 30 years after the construction began, in commemoration of bringing water from the Durance River to Marseille. It was designed by the architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu and is centered on the elaborate fountain called the château d'eau or water castle.
Boulevard Jardin Zoologique, 13004 Marseille, France
18.The Gorges du Verdon and Lac Sainte-Croix
Lake St. Croix was created as a result of building the Sainte Croix hydroelectric dam. The lake is fed by the Verdon River through spectacular Verdon Gorges. Deep blue, crystal clear lake is surrounded by hills of the Haut Var and Valensole. Lake Sainte Croix is great for swimming, sailing, paddling and boating on electric boat, the only kind of boat allowed to operate on the lake. From the lake, visitors can enter Verdon Gorge, surrounded by almost vertical cliffs and is full of white-water rapids. There are challenging hiking paths around the canyon. The Blanc-Martel trail will take you to the Point Sublime lookout. Both the Lake St. Croix and the Verdon gorge are part of Verdon Natural Regional Park. Within the park you can visit the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie with 12th-century Notre Dame de Beauvoir Chapel, the Musée de la Faïence featuring beautiful ceramics and the Musée des Tourneurs sur Bois with local woodwork.
Chemin de sainte croix, 04500 Montagnac, France
19.The Old Fishing District of Cannes, Le Suquet
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Built by the Romans, Le Suquet is one of the oldest Cannes neighbourhoods and the original site of the modern Cannes. The Romans held the entire area for five centuries, including the islands of Sainte-Marguerite and Saint-Honorat off the coast of Cannes. Monks had taken over the area by the 12th century and built a castle on top of the hill. The castle is today the Musée de la Castre and houses an art collection donated in 1877 by Baron Lycklama. Le Suquet is ancient and very charming, with steep cobbled alleys lined with jazz bars, small stores, bistros serving Provençal dishes, brightly colored cottages winding uphill from Vieux Port, Marché Forville’s food stalls and Gothic Notre-Dame d'Espérance church that offers spectacular views over the Bay of Cannes.
Le Suquet, Cannes, France
20.Le Cote Bleu
The Côte Bleue is part of southwestern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Provence, between Marseilles and the Étang de Berre. About 22km long, the coast consists of a chain of limestone coves, framed with tall, elegant Aleppo pines, with a network of walking trails and charming fishing villages that turn into holiday towns in the summer. The coves hide small secluded pebbled beaches that can be reached on foot or by car. The waters around the sandy Cape Couronne are part of the Parc Marin de la Côte Bleue which protects cape’s rich marine life. The Blues Coast railway runs from Marseille all along the coast, over a series of ancient viaducts. The train is a scenic and comfortable alternative for travelling through the Cote Bleu.
21.Marvel at the Architecture at the MUCEM in Marseille
The MuCEM is a museum of 21st-century European and Mediterranean civilizations, portraying all aspects of the cultures of the Mediterranean, taking a fresh, interdisciplinary approach to society in Mediterranean countries through the ages up to this day. The museum is built at the entrance to the harbor, next to the 17th-century Fort Saint-Jean. There is a 430-foot long high footbridge that links the two sites. The museum, a 160,000 square-foot cube surrounded by a latticework made of reinforced concrete, was designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti in collaboration with Roland Carta. The exhibits are located on two levels. An underground auditorium seats 400. The ground floor houses permanent collection and bookshop. There is a restaurant on the rooftop terrace with breathtaking views of the bay, the Corniche and the Prado.
22.Witness la Belle Epoque at the Museee Villa Massena in Nice
The Masséna Musee, the jewel of the Promenade des Anglais, occupies a charming villa built in 1898 as a winter retreat of French aristocrat Victor Masséna. Massena’s son donated the villa to the City of Nice upon his father’s death. The villa was converted to a museum in 2008 to showcase collections that portray the art and history of the French Riviera from the time Nice was annexed to France until the end of the Belle Epoque. Ornate villa is as interesting to explore as the exhibits it hosts, with intricate hallways that are as beautiful as the Belle Epoque artifacts. One of exhibits is Napoleon’s death mask.
65 Rue de France, 06000 Nice, France, Phone: +33-4-93-91-19-10
23.Indulge in Cezanne at the Musee Granet in Aix-en-Provence
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The Musée Granet is located in the quartier Mazarin, Aix-en-Provence, France, next to the Church of Saint-Jean-de-Malte. Opened in 1838, it is devoted to sculpture, painting and archeology. The building previously belonged to the priory of Saint-Jean-de-Malte. The museum’s collections include French, Northern European and Italian Paintings of the 14th to 18th Centuries, French 19th Century painting, Granet, Ingres, Provencale Paintings, From Cezanne to Giacometti and Cezanne at the Musee Granet. Born in Aix-en-Provence, Cezanne has a special place at the Granet. The museum has ten Cézanne’s paintings exhibited in their own room: a painting he did before the monumental The Bathers, a Portrait of Madame Cézanne, the Portrait of Zola, an early still life and a painting in tribute to Delacroix.
Place Saint-Jean de Malte, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France, Phone: +33-4-42-52-88-32
24.Visit Matisse’s Personal Home at the Musee Matisse in Nice
The Musée Matisse in Nice is located in the Villa des Arénes, a 17th-century building located on the Cimiez hill. Open in 1963 at this location, Musee Matisse is an art museum dedicated to French artist Henri Matisse. Matisse lived in Nice from 1917 until his death, in 1954. Museum’s collection consists of 57 sculptures, 31 paintings, 454 drawings and prints, and a number of cut-outs made by Henri Matisse between the late-19th and the mid-20th century. The museum also has a small selection of the artist’s personal objects, mostly donated to the museum by Matisse or his heirs.
164 avenue des Arenes de Cimiez, 06000 Nice, France
25.Discover the Grandeur of the Hotel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence Art Gallery
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The Hôtel de Caumont is a hôtel particulier in the Quartier Mazarin in Aix-en-Provence. It was completed in 1742 as a home for François Rolland de Réauville de Tertulle, the Marquess of Cabannes. The entrance has a beautiful indoor fountain and two sets of stairs: one for the family, and another one for the servants. Hotel de Caumont changed many hands until it was sold to the city of Aix in 1964. For a while it was used by the postal service until it became a music school Conservatoire Darius Milhaud in 2013. Only a year later the music school moved to a new building and Hotel de Caumont opened as a private museum of art and art gallery with a permanent exhibition on Cesanne. It is also used for diverse temporary exhibits and cultural events. The lovely garden is also used as exhibiting space for large-scale sculptures. There is also a small theatre.
3 Rue Joseph Cabassol, 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France, Phone: +33-4-42-20-70-01
25 Best Things to Do in Provence, France
- The Calanques, France’s Natural Wonder, Photo: Blogtrip/stock.adobe.com
- The Old Fishing District of St Tropez, La Ponche, Photo: Thierry/stock.adobe.com
- MUCEM and the Fort Saint-Jean in Marseille, Photo: panosud360/stock.adobe.com
- The Roman Ruins of Cimiez, Nice, Photo: Philophoto/stock.adobe.com
- The Montagne Sainte-Victoire, Photo: bbsferrari/stock.adobe.com
- The Pope’s Palace, Avignon, Photo: Grigory Bruev/stock.adobe.com
- The Lavender Fields, Photo: Francois Roux/stock.adobe.com
- The Streets and Fountains of Aix en Provence, Photo: Elena Belyaeva/stock.adobe.com
- The Hillside Village of Bonnieux, Photo: Alex Tihonov/stock.adobe.com
- The Picturesque Fishing Port of Cassis, Photo: Andreas Karelias/stock.adobe.com
- Pont du Gard Outside Avignon, Photo: Fyle/stock.adobe.com
- Senanque Abbey, Photo: ChantalS/stock.adobe.com
- The Medieval Town of Les Baux-de-Provence, Photo: dudlajzov/stock.adobe.com
- The Rusty Red Town of Roussilon, Photo: Jenifoto/stock.adobe.com
- Chateau d'If, Marseille, Photo: G.Thielmann/stock.adobe.com
- The Medieval Town of Gordes, Photo: Gerald/stock.adobe.com
- Palais Longchamp, Marseille, Photo: kovalenkovpetr/stock.adobe.com
- The Gorges du Verdon and Lac Sainte-Croix, Photo: lenisecalleja/stock.adobe.com
- The Old Fishing District of Cannes, Le Suquet, Photo: Andrey Shevchenko/stock.adobe.com
- Le Cote Bleu, Photo: DjiggiBodgi.com/stock.adobe.com
- Marvel at the Architecture at the MUCEM in Marseille, Photo: tloventures/stock.adobe.com
- Witness la Belle Epoque at the Museee Villa Massena in Nice, Photo: saiko3p/stock.adobe.com
- Indulge in Cezanne at the Musee Granet in Aix-en-Provence, Photo: Andrea Todeschini/stock.adobe.com
- Visit Matisse’s Personal Home at the Musee Matisse in Nice, Photo: elophotos/stock.adobe.com
- Discover the Grandeur of the Hotel de Caumont in Aix-en-Provence Art Gallery, Photo: Laurent (Pictarena)/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Alexandre/stock.adobe.com