Provence Holiday Planning Guide
You'll feel the sun getting bigger and brighter the closer you get to Provence, perched at the edge of the Mediterranean. When you glimpse your first red-tiled roof, you'll know you've entered the south, filled with vineyards, cypresses, and the crisp, inviting scent of lavender and rosemary. Since before the Roman era, Provence has been a vibrant region, partially due to its intensely bright sunlight, which bathes sunflowers, olive groves, vineyards, and purple lavender fields in its warm rays. Breezy, star-filled nights set the mood for a romantic Provence vacation, enlivened by a moonlit stroll, a dramatic theater performance, or dynamic nightlife at the trendiest nightclubs.
Flanked by the Rhône River, the Alps, and the Mediterranean Sea, this region captivated master artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, and Cézanne. If included on your itinerary, it will do the same for you, with its tranquil gardens, mysterious caves, rustic vistas, Roman ruins, and enchanting old harbors. You can enjoy the finer things in life here, such as browsing through area boutiques, visiting the workshop of a local artisan to find authentic regional arts and crafts, and learning historical tidbits from a resident's perspective by antiquing in the country's best stores. Like the native Provençal inhabitants, you too can enjoy world-class people watching. If you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of a major celeb or two followed by the relentless paparazzi, all while sitting at an outdoor cafe overlooking one of the magnificent Mediterranean marinas—one of the most quintessential things to do in Provence.
Some consider the French Riviera part of Provence, because it shares the region's unique cultural and linguistic identity, while others view the area north of Cannes as a separate region.
Places to Visit in ProvenceNice
: An ethnically diverse coastal port, this city draws visitors with its well-preserved old town, a maze of streets and alleys lined with picturesque houses, boutiques, and open-air markets.Marseille
: Known to many as the "Gateway to Provence," this big port city sits on the breezy Mediterranean coastline and offers outstanding nightlife and dining, as well as easy access to good diving, boating, and climbing opportunities.Avignon
: Packed with some of the most popular places to visit in Provence, this "City of Popes" remains best known for its annual theater festival, great shopping, and a vast network of bicycle lanes, ideal for sightseeing at your own pace.Cannes
: Home to a huge marina filled with the superyachts of the rich and famous, Cannes boasts many luxury shops, casinos, and upscale restaurants, all of which give the city a feeling of exclusivity and elegance.Aix-en-Provence
: A great spot for a relaxing holiday in Provence, this "City of a Thousand Fountains" enjoys nearly 300 days of sunshine each year, and a pedestrian-friendly town center filled with 17th-century hotels and plazas.Saint-Tropez
: An unassuming fishing village for most of its history, Saint-Tropez is a now a major celebrity magnet, featuring a lively waterfront area crowded with trendy shops and cafes.Antibes
: A popular destination for summer vacations in Provence, this wealthy resort town offers holidaymakers a good selection of beaches stretched along more than 25 km (16 mi) of sandy coastline.Arles
: Steeped in Provençal culture, World Heritage–listed Arles inspired Vincent van Gogh and today draws visitors with its quaint shops and cafes.Briancon
: The highest city in the European Union, this relatively small urban center offers easy access to nearby ski resorts, which are hugely popular winter vacation destinations in Provence.Eze
: Famous for its sweeping views of the French Riviera, charming Eze attracts tourists and honeymooners with its many shops, galleries, and hotels.Gordes
: Basking in a near-perfect Mediterranean climate, this hilly area includes some of Provence's most appealing small towns and atmospheric villages, surrounded by sun-drenched vineyards and limestone ridges, ideal for adventurous hikers, photographers, and picnickers.Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
: Local legend claims the boat carrying the Virgin Mary's sister and John the Baptist's mother from the Holy Land washed up on the shores of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, long one of the most important pilgrimage sites in all of France.
Things to Do in Provence
Popular Provence Tourist AttractionsPromenade des Anglais
: Indisputably one of the most popular places to visit in Provence, this famous waterfront street in Nice is a great location for walking, biking, skateboarding, and inline skating.Vieille Ville
: Ideal for leisurely exploration on foot or by bicycle, this historical Nice neighborhood boasts a medieval feel and a number of landmark buildings and small souvenir shops.Colline du Chateau overlook
: Visitors climb more than 100 steps to the top of Castle Hill to enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding area; on clear days you can even see the distant Alps.Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde
: The start of many Provence sightseeing tours, this Catholic church remains one of the most prominent landmarks in Marseille, famed for its Roman architectural influences and silver statues of religious figures.Palais des Papes
: Europe's largest Gothic palace, this World Heritage–listed structure offers guided tours of private papal apartments, renowned for their priceless frescoes.Old Port
: A natural harbor for many centuries, Marseille's historical port now serves as a destination for modern cruise ships, featuring a semi-pedestrianized zone that offers visitors a place to stroll, eat, shop, or simply relax.Marineland
: Over a million annual visitors make this one of the most popular tourist attractions in Provence, featuring performances by trained orcas, otters, and seals.Place Massena
: Located in the heart of Nice's old town, this public square features seven statues representing the seven continents, created by renowned Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.Musée Marc Chagall
: Housing some of the finest works created by artist Marc Chagall, this museum boasts a collection of over 400 paintings and drawings inspired by both secular and religious topics.La Croisette
: A paradise for fashion enthusiasts, this street runs along Cannes' waterfront and features numerous upscale shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Planning a Provence Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Provence with Kids
Boasting a varied selection of both urban and rural destinations appealing to visitors traveling with children, Provence is a well-balanced option for family vacations in France. Start in Avignon
, where the youngest members of your Provence tour can enjoy a history lesson in a World Heritage–listed city. A visit to Gordes
opens up a world of outdoor adventures in a landscape colored by the region's famous ochre clay. In L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
, you can explore one of the biggest flea markets in France, selling everything from clothes and soaps to kid-pleasing candy crafted in every imaginable shape and color. For a day of pleasant loitering in a picturesque Provençal village steeped in history and artistic heritage, head to Saint-Remy-de-Provence
, the birthplace of Nostradamus and the former home of Vincent van Gogh.
Things to Do in Provence with Kids
While many visitors to France consider Paris the country's major kid-friendly destination, Provence offers a varied selection of attractions guaranteed to keep your entire family pleasantly diverted for the duration of your trip. Provence tourism thrives in large part thanks to places like Les Gorges du Verdon
, a picturesque river canyon providing plenty of opportunities for rock climbing, kayaking, and hiking. To spend some enjoyable hours indoors, explore Carrieres de Lumieres
, an innovative site hosting multimedia shows designed to immerse visitors into the world of modern art. To learn about the rich history of this French region, include Pont d'Avignon
on your itinerary, or visit two-tiered Amphitheatre (les Arenes)
. If you're traveling with nature-loving teenagers, don't miss Aoubre L'aventure Nature
, ideal for spotting exotic birds and butterflies.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Provence
Though it offers plenty of things to do for visitors planning active holidays, Provence is also an excellent choice for a mellow family vacation. The region offers numerous scenic walks, outstanding countryside inns, and a diverse cuisine suitable for every taste and budget. Try to create a Provence itinerary that includes activities and attractions appealing to both you and your children. While the little ones may not find vineyards immensely interesting, they'll probably find an exploration of the region's calanques (steep-walled inlets) a thrilling and unforgettable experience. If you're traveling with teens, think about pairing outdoor activities with some cooking lessons, tours of museums, and visits to art galleries. Remember that Provence provides easy access to some of the finest beaches on the French Riviera, so be sure to enrich your vacation with a visit to a few picturesque seaside destinations.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Provence
Cuisine of Provence
Food is a central part of life everywhere in France, and Provence is certainly no exception to that rule. The region's cuisine reflects the pleasant Mediterranean climate and diverse landscapes that include plenty of slopes ideal for grazing sheep and goats. Locals cook with olives and olive oil, garlic, sardines, lamb and goat meat, chickpeas, tomatoes, grapes, peaches, strawberries, and the succulent and intensely fragrant melons of Cavaillon
. On your great Provençal adventure, remember that the region's gastronomic highlights include aioli sauce, daube stew, and fougasse bread. Indulge your taste buds and enrich your Provence trip by making a stop in Marseille
, known especially for its bouillabaisse, a classic three-fish dish. No visit to Nice
should end without a taste of the city's famous socca, a round pie-like dish made with chickpea flour and olive oil. If you happen to pass through Toulon
, remember to try la cade, a socca-like dish baked in the oven and eaten while steaming hot.
Shopping in Provence
Many casual visitors to Provence limit their shopping experience by exploring only the region's urban chain stores and shopping centers. While those places certainly provide everything you may need on your Provence vacation, you can immeasurably improve your experience by exploring some of the region's street markets. Lively and steeped in local culture, these busy outdoor bazaars sell everything from outstanding wine and olive oil to quintessential Provençal products like lavender, rosemary, and thyme. You'll find the region's largest market in Arles
, though both Saint-Remy-de-Provence
boast their own outstanding versions. To meet local butchers, fishmongers, and creamers, visit Avignon Les Halles
, a historical marketplace preserving the region's old-world charm and culinary traditions.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Provence
History of Provence
Part of France for centuries, Provence nevertheless retains much of its distinct cultural and linguistic identity. Settled successively by the Ligurians, Celts, and Greeks, this land experienced its golden age after Julius Caesar's conquests, which occurred in the 1st century BCE. Romans called this area Provincia Romana, making it their first official province beyond the mighty Alps. If you're interested in Provence's history, consider dropping by Librairie du MuCEM
, where you can learn more about the region's role in the development of the Mediterranean.
Once the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5th century CE, Provence suffered several invasions. The Visigoths, Burgundians, and the Ostrogoths staged successive conquests. The Arabs, who held parts of France as well as the Iberian Peninsula, suffered a defeat in Provence in the 8th century.
The Middle Ages brought an expansion of the Catholic Church. In the 14th century, a series of French popes managed to (temporarily) move the church's headquarters from Rome to Avignon. This not only launched the new papal city onto the world scene, but also helped stimulate the cultural and economic development of the entire region. The best place to discover more about this period is Palais des Papes
, a World Heritage Site.
Though Provence officially became part of France in 1481, Avignon remained under strong papal influence for the next three centuries. Provençal, the region's local dialect, became France's literary language during this period. It was also the main language of the famous troubadours, who made their name writing and performing romantic poems. If you wish to infuse your Provence tour with some medieval atmosphere, visit places like Fort du Mont Alban
, once a key part of a 16th-century network of defensive seaside structures.
Through the ages, Provence remained proud of its distinct culture and linguistic heritage, which helped spark a movement for the revival of Provençal literature in the 19th century. Provençal remains in everyday use in the region, with many areas featuring street signs in both Provençal and French. Discover more about the region's culture and literature at Musee Frederic Mistral
, dedicated to the life and works of a major figure in the Provençal revival movement.
Like much of the rest of Europe, Provence suffered a great deal of destruction during World War II. The postwar period saw the building of new highways and railway lines, which helped make the region one of Europe's favorite holiday destinations in the second half of the 20th century. Enjoy your own ideal holiday in Provence by visiting some of the region's modern attractions, like Musee Escoffier de l'Art Culinaire
and Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Landscape of Provence
Provence includes The Camargue
, which covers more than 900 square kilometers (350 square miles) and is the largest river delta in Western Europe. This vast plain contains large lagoons, separated from the sea by sandbars and surrounded by reedy marshes. The area shelters more than 400 different varieties of birds and includes one of Europe's few habitats of the greater flamingo. Visitors interested in adding a few boat tours to their Provence itinerary can also visit the region's famous calanques. The biggest of these dramatic coastal inlets is Calanque de Morgiou
, known for containing an underwater grotto filled with 27,000-year-old cave drawings. Provence's typical landscape is the garrigue, a kind of low scrubland often found in the Mediterranean Basin. This type of landscape supports lavender, sage, rosemary, and wild thyme, aromatic plants that many visitors consider symbols of Provence. If you wish to see the mountainous side of the region, head to Montagne Sainte Victoire
, popular with campers, trekkers, and hikers.
Holidays & Festivals in Provence
Like the rest of France, Provence observes major public holidays that include New Year's Day, Easter, May or Labor Day (May 1), Bastille Day (July 14), and Christmas. Plan your Provence trip with those holidays in mind, and expect all public offices, banks, schools, and many stores to be closed on those days. If you're creating an itinerary based on the region's local festivals, the best time to visit is in the summer. Local events provide you with a firsthand experience of Provençal culture and heritage. In July, Aix-en-Provence
hosts an internationally renowned music festival, while in August Avignon
welcomes thousands to its annual haying fair, a great way to learn about regional farming techniques and local games. In September you can head to Arles
for its rice festival, a fun celebration designed to show off local culture and traditions. If you prefer global movie stars to farming traditions, visit Cannes
in May, when the city hosts one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.
Provence Travel Tips
Climate of Provence
Most of Provence enjoys a Mediterranean climate, which brings hot summers with abundant sunshine and mild winters with very little snow. The majority of visitors arrive in July and August, two of the hottest months. The best time for your holiday in Provence may be between April and June, when you can enjoy great weather and fewer crowds. Plan your itinerary with local weather variations in mind. An especially important feature of Provençal weather is the mistral, a cold wind that often reaches 100 kilometers per hour (60 miles per hour) in the winter months. Don't be surprised to encounter many different microclimates as you tour the region, and be sure to bring some adaptable clothing.
Transportation in Provence
Studded with big cities, medium-sized towns, and quaint villages, Provence is one of Europe's easiest areas to explore. A vast network of major highways and country roads provides access to even the remotest areas of the region. To take full advantage of this system of roads, consider renting a car or motorcycle. In addition to allowing you to reach smaller towns inaccessible by public transportation, a private vehicle enables you to enjoy your Provence vacation at your own pace. If you prefer to spend more time sightseeing and less time worrying about traffic, avoid remote rural areas and travel on regional buses and trains. Visitors staying in bigger towns often find that sightseeing on foot is the most relaxing way to see Provence. Many cities participate in bike-sharing programs, ideal for day trips and short tours of the countryside.
Language of Provence
French is the official language in Provence, though a sizable number of people still speak Provençal (Occitan) in southern France. The majority of these people also speak fluent French, yet their distinct Occitan dialect remains in everyday use and continues to represent an important element of their cultural identity. If you'd like to enrich your Provence trip with a greater understanding of the languages and dialects spoken in this part of France, consider participating in an immersion course, offered by many local schools, universities, and tourist offices.