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Bucket list destination:

Provence

  • Provence, France

Last updated: 06 July, 2024
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros

Provence is France’s Mediterranean dreamland, where it’s almost impossible to avoid magnificent landscapes of sunflowers, lavender, vines, cypresses and olive groves – scenes that are dreamily familiar thanks to once-local artists such as Van Gogh or Cezanne.

Beyond its beauty and artistic heritage, the region also excels in outstanding Roman and medieval monuments; cool cities full of hip boutiques, superb restaurants and cafés; and a world-class summer festival scene. It’s a place to go wine tasting, to cycle or hike through some of France’s loveliest countryside, or to gallop on horseback through flocks of pink flamingos.

Orientation

Many of Provence’s stellar sights are concentrated near the River Rhone.

In the north, there’s the ancient Roman theatre in the town of Orange, and the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

In the far south, you’ll find the Camargue, a wildlife-rich natural park delta. The lavender fields seen in photos are concentrated around the Luberon and Verdon plateaus, close to  Marseille in the southeast.

In the centre, forming a triangle, are Provence’s three beating hearts – the three ‘art’ cities: Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Arles.

Avignon

This medieval town is bursting with palaces and townhouses, many now converted into museums, hotels and restaurants.

It’s famously the former home of the Roman popes, who built the vast Palais des Papes palace that dominates the town. Avignon is also world-famous for its annual festival, a feast of culture, art and creativity.

Aix-en-Provence

Known as the ‘Florence of France’, Aix was the capital of Provence for centuries – a heritage reflected in the richness of its art, churches and golden-stone towns built between the Renaissance and 18th century.

It’s famous among musical circles for its prestigious classical music festival and the European Music Academy. Romantics and art lovers come here in search of Cézanne, who immortalised the surrounding landscapes.

Arles

Arles, the city where both Van Gogh and Gaugin fell in love with colour, is also ‘the Little Rome of Gaul’, and has stunning ancient and early medieval monuments to prove it. A shabby-chic city of character, with a dash of Spanish flare, there’s a vibrant café life, great restaurants, and lively festivals.

The location is also ideal for jaunts into Provence’s wild south: most of the Rhone’s delta, the Camargue Natural Park, is within municipal limits. The extraordinary cluster of craggy mountains, Les Alpilles, are close too, along with St-Remy, the other town associated with Van Gogh.

Tours, tickets & transfers

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

  • Avignon

Discover the best of Provence in a small group tour from Avignon with an experienced guide. During this full day tour, you will visit the highlights of the region as: Fontaine de Vaucluse, Gordes, Abbey of Senanque, Roussillon, les Baux de Provence, Saint Remy de Provence and Pont du Gard - places full of history, tradition, culture, romans architecture and typical perches villages surrounded by the beautiful nature.

Price €120

Min age 0

Rating 4.81 / 5 [308 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Avignon

Forget the hassles of hiring a car and finding your own way! Take a small group tour of Provence and its exquisite highlights: Fontaine de Vaucluse, Pont du Gard, Les Baux de Provence, Gordes (photo stop only) and Roussillon. Your minivan holds a maximum of eight passengers, and a small group tour is the perfect way to get to out-of-the-way places in one day. Tour will be provided from 8.30 am to 7.00 pm.

Price €132

Min age 4

Rating 4.43 / 5 [244 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Avignon

Delve deep into rural France and discover the rolling vineyards on this 10-hour tour of Provence from Avignon. You will travel out with your guide through the fertile vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and sample local wines during two tasting sessions. Afternoon dedicated to the Luberon natural regional park. Discover villages such as Roussillon, Ménerbes, Lacoste and Gordes. No more stop in Ménerbes from April 1st 2023.

Price €148

Min age 4

Rating 4.54 / 5 [182 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Website >
  • Avignon

The best of Provence in one day starting by the famous Fontaine de Vaucluse ! See luminous provençal landscapes. Learn the secrets of the history and culture of the region. Walk in the charming narrow streets of the hilltops villages of the Luberon, in Gordes and Roussillon. Admire the impressive view of Les Alpilles in Les Baux de Provence and Saint Remy de Provence and finish this unforgettable day by the majestic Pont du Gard !

Price €120

Min age 5

Rating 4.48 / 5 [98 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Aix-en-Provence

Visit two stunning Provencal towns and a winery on this full-day tour from Aix-en-Provence! Start your day at leisure in Les Baux de Provence, admiring the soft-hued countryside that surrounds the cliff-top village, and then head north to Avignon, passing the UNESCO-listed Pont du Gard aqueduct on the way. Learn about Avignon’s papal history, seeing highlights like Popes’ Palace and Pont St-Bénezet, and then finish with a wine-tasting session in one of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape winery.

Price €132

Min age 4

Rating 4.61 / 5 [96 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Website >

Travel advice

When to go

Provence is at its seductive best in June and the first half of July, when the lavender and sunflowers bloom and festivals are in full swing. It’s hot, but even hotter in August, when French families take their holidays and everything is packed.

April, May, September and October are delightful, uncrowded and mild. Many sights are closed down by mid-November until Easter; in winter it’s also far more likely to rain and stay overcast until the fierce mistral wind blows, often for several days in a row, gusting up to 100km per hour, but sweeping the sky crystal clear.

Getting there and away

Marseille has Provence’s main airport, which has a shuttle to Marseilles’ train station; from here there are frequent links to Aix (35-45 minutes). Aix also has a TGV terminal, with trains from Paris arriving in only 3.5 hours.

Avignon and Arles can be reached directly via trains from Vitrolles Marseille Airport station, avoiding Marseille. Avignon’s own airport is served by low-cost carriers and linked to the city by bus. In summer, Eurostar trains go directly from London to Avignon (six hours); other times you’ll need to change.

Getting around

The cities are well served by trains, and as they aren’t very car-friendly (parking is an expensive hassle), so it can work best to start in one or more of them, and then hire a car to visit the countryside, where public transport is sketchy.

Aix’s historic centre is compact, beautiful and walkable. The old walled city of Avignon is compact and easy to get around on foot. There are bike schemes by the hour.

Tour operators offer the easiest way to tour Provence’s landscapes at a slower pace – by foot, horseback or bicycle, arranging luggage transfers and hotels along the way.

Where to stay

First-time visitors will find it easiest to stay in one (or more) of Provence’s three art cities: Aix-en-Provence, Avignon & Arles). All are easy to walk around and filled with charming restaurants, bars and shops, and all make perfect bases for day trips or to each other. Avignon and Aix-en-Provence are handy bases for exploring the beautiful landscapes and villages of the Lubéron.

Alternatively, opt to escape the hubbub and relax in a country hotel amid gorgeous landscapes – some of the most beautiful are around Les Baux-de-Provence, St-Rémy, the Lúberon, or amid the vineyards under the Dentelles de Montmirail.

Where to eat or drink

Many of the best restaurants are located in smart hotels or in fairly exclusive areas: Les Baux and the Alpilles, Saint-Remy, Aix, Avignon, and the villages of the Lubéron.

Wine lovers head to the Rhône’s banks for Gigondas, Châteauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras and Beaumes-de-Venise, but you’ll find superb dry rosés everywhere.

Traditional local dishes include tapenade (olive and caper spread), bouillabaisse, beef stews (daube à la Provençale or taureau à la gardiane, served on Camargue rice). In winter, try the truffles.

Where to shop

Although the outskirts of Provence’s towns and cities are ringed with supermarkets, malls, and chain shops, the centres still have independent boutiques of all kinds, especially in chic destinations such as Aix and Saint-Remy.

Outdoor markets, while specialising in fresh food, are also good places to look for goodies to take home. Keep an eye peeled for craft fairs and weekend vide greniers (communal ‘attic emptiers’); for serious antiques, visit L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Olive oil, herbs, lavender products and wines are classic buys. Nineteenth-century Provence was famous for its colourful block print fabrics (indiennes), revived by Provence-based Souleiado in its many boutiques.