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34 Best things to see & do in Provence

  • Provence, France

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Dana Facaros
  • Avignon, Provence, France

An actor with a painted face, waistcoat, and a bowler hat, walks on stilts and holds fliers to advertise his performance

Bucket List Experience

Avignon Festival

Founded in 1947 by theatre director Jean Vilar, this festival was France’s answer to the UK’s Edinburgh Festival. It’s since evolved into a mass celebration of drama, music and dance, concentrating on edgy and avant-garde performances and companies from around Europe.

Nowadays, nearly a thousand shows and exhibitions take place over three weeks in July, both in Avignon and across the river in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The Off Festival, a completely independent fringe event, runs alongside, attracting 1,000+ independent companies.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 3 weeks

When: July

Freq: annually

  • Provence, France

Landscape photo of vineyards with mountains behind

Bucket List Experience

Provence Wine Region

Sunny Provence has been making wine ever since grapes were introduced by the Ancient Greeks, circa 600 BC. Provence grows some of the most prestigious Cotes du Rhone wines, including the reds of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, and Beaumes-de-Venise, all located north of Avignon (more details below).

Famous for its quaffable roses, there are also notable AOC areas along the coasts (Bandol, with its Mourvedre wines, Cassis with its whites), while Les Baux-en-Provence is known for organic wines.

Good for age: 18+

  • Orange, Provence, France

View of the amphitheatre from top of the steps looking down to the stage

Bucket List Experience

Roman Theatre of Orange

Roman theatres have survived across the Mediterranean, but few can match the glorious one in Orange, where the massive stage wall (much admired by Louis XIV) has survived intact.

Built early in the 1st century AD, it’s one of the best-preserved Ancient Roman theatres in the world and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It served as a venue for theatre and spectacles until the 4th century AD, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and the Church shut it down, believing the spectacles to be unholy.

Today up to 10,000 spectators can still sit and enjoy its pitch-perfect ancient acoustics, under the watchful eye of a statue of Augustus, when it’s used for live performances including summer’s fabulous Les Choregies d’Orange opera festival. A ticket to the ancient theatre includes admission to the Musée d’Orange (Museum of Orange), which contains archaeological finds and paintings from the area.

Adult price: £9

Good for age: 18+

  • Avignon, Provence, France

Exterior view of front facade

Bucket List Experience

Palace of the Popes

When the popes abandoned tumultuous Rome in 1309, they came to Avignon. Seven reigned here until 1377, in a colourful period of greed and depravity that the poet Petrarch labelled the ‘Babylonian captivity’. They left behind nothing less than the biggest Gothic palace of all time, built for luxury as well as defence.

Although much of its decoration has been lost over time, it has lost none of its power to amaze. It’s a big site not really suited to younger children, though ‘Les Luminessences’ – an outdoor 3D show, held every evening from mid-August to late September – is good for all the family.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 18+

  • Arles, Provence, France

Aerial view down on the amphitheater surrounded by houses

Bucket List Experience

Arles Amphitheatre

Set on a low hill, this is the biggest and one of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres in France, where 20,000 would come to watch gladiators fight to the death.

Built in the late 1st century AD, it was inspired by Rome’s Coliseum, which had been built a decade earlier – and was later converted into a fortress in the Middle Ages (an era from which three towers still survive). Originally the amphitheatre had a third level of arcades, but even now there are lovely views over the rosy tile rooms of Arles from the top level.

A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s now used as an arena again, it’s used for bullfights during Arles’ Easter and September festivals, as well as the bloodless Courses Camarguaises bullfights, and occasional gladiatorial re-enactments.

Be sure to visit the ancient theatre, too, which is included in the ticket – built in the century before the amphitheatre, it’s not as well-preserved, but still used for performances.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 13+

  • Aix-en-Provence, Provence, France

The interior of Cezanne's studio, with art implements and still life objects.

Bucket List Experience

Cezanne’s Studio

Cezanne’s studio on Les Lauves hill was designed by the artist himself in 1902, although he only used it when it was too cold to paint outdoors (he died in 1906, after getting caught in the rain while painting his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire). Over the decades it has been maintained as he left it – a must-see for any Cezanne fan, the one place in Aix where his presence is tangible.

If you continue another kilometre or so north from the studio, along Avenue Paul Cezanne, you’ll come to Les Lauves, the Terrain des Peintures viewpoint – where Cezanne often planted his easel to paint Mont Sainte-Victoire.

Adult price: £6

Good for age: 18+

  • Provence, France

A portrait of Van Gogh set on a pillar, by a stone wall

Bucket List Experience

World-class art in Provence

Mention art in Provence, and two names immediately spring to mind: Cezanne and Van Gogh (see bios below). But the region offers so much more than the duo who created the iconic images of its lovely landscapes.

Although Provence can’t match the explosion of contemporary art along the neighbouring Cote d’Azur, new foundations, galleries and museums have sprung up, notably in Avignon and Arles, with outstanding collections.

Good for age: 18+

  • Luberon, Provence, France

Lavender fields in front of houses and hills

Bucket List Experience

The Luberon [driving & cycling]

The Luberon massif on southeast Provence, with its lush landscapes and quaint villages, is like a film set. It’s quintessential Provence at its most charming and picturesque.

The easiest way to see it is to rent or bring a car and drive between scenic points. Make a circular tour, starting in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with its canals, waterwheels and antiques shops; then visit the mysterious source at the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, before heading to golden stone Gordes, with its curious field of bories (stone igloo huts) and its lavender-growing Cistercian abbey, Sénanque. Finally, head to Roussillon, with its dramatic ochre quarries, and three neighbouring villages – some of Provence’s prettiest – Bonnieux, Lacoste and Ménerbes.

You can also tour by bike: there’s a 236km circuit through the most beautiful parts of the region, along old country roads. It takes about 8 days.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 1+ days

  • Saint-Remy-de-Provence, Provence, France

Inner corridor at the monastery saint paul de mausole, with sun coming through the stone arches

Bucket List Experience

Van Gogh Walk in Saint-Remy

Vincent Van Gogh moved to Provence in 1888, during a time of ill health. He fell in love with the landscape and the rich light, and decided to stay and try to set up an artists’ colony.

Initially, he settled in Arles, where he created over 300 paintings and drawings, some of his best-known works – including the famous Sunflowers paintings (now held in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, National Gallery in London, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Sompo Japan Museum of Art in Tokyo).

The following year however, in 1889, after a bout of poor mental health, Van Gogh committed himself to the St-Paul-de-Mausole asylum just outside Saint-Remy. There he painted more of his masterpieces, including The Starry Night, now displayed in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

As prime spots where Van Gogh lived and painted, the towns of Arles and Saint-Remy both regret not hanging on to any of Van Gogh’s original works while he was alive. To make up for it, each has set up a self-guided Van Gogh Walk, pinpointing the scenic spots where the master planted his easel.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: 1+ hours

  • Arles, Provence, France

man dodging away from a bull in the arena

Bucket List Experience

Courses Camarguaises

Courses Camarguaises are bloodless bullfights, unique to Provence, where razeteurs (young men) dressed in white compete to seize a cockade, tied between the horns of a bull. Their only defense is to vault over the boards whenever the bull charges.

Unlike in bullfighting, the bulls are the stars of the show, not the ‘bullfighters’ i.e. razeteurs, even though some razeteurs achieve some local fame and notoriety. Each bull has his own name and identity – some become local ‘heroes’, with long ‘careers’ and even secure an honoury statue. The Camargue bull breed has long been recognised and valued for their speed, spirit, intelligence and fighting prowess (much more than their work ethic), and are specially bred for the occasion.

There are numerous such ‘Courses’ held through the spring and summer months, many accompanying various Provence festivals, but the ‘big one’, the main event, is the Cocarde d’Or that takes place on the first Monday in July. The tournament is staged in the evocative setting of Les Arènes, Arles’ ancient Roman amphitheatre, and includes a colourful parade of traditional costumes. Not only is the best razeteur crowned, but the bravest bull is chosen as well – a great honour for its manade (ranch).

Because this is a bloodless sport, it’s a great way of getting a taste of the tradition of bullfighting, without the gore. It’s also an opportunity to experience a cultural phenomenon in a magnificent Roman setting.

Adult price: £8

Good for age: 8+

Duration: 1+ hours

When: April-October

Freq: monthly