LivingTravelTravel guide for Provence in the South of France

Travel guide for Provence in the South of France

Provence, in southern France, is a land of azure blue seas and snow-capped mountains, of small hillside villages topped with fortified castles and cities of art and culture, sweet-smelling lavender fields and centuries-old olive groves. Provence, encompassing the mighty Alps and the French Riviera (not forgetting Monte Carlo and its famous Casino), is one of the most seductive and popular areas of France for visitors.

Get there

You can fly to Marseille-Provence Airport from the US with one stopover. Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport has direct flights from the US or arriving by train to Marseille or Nice from other European and French cities, by far the best way to see the countryside.


With so many wonderful places to stay and explore away from major cities and train stations, the region is best traveled by car. But if driving seems daunting, don’t worry – the south of France has one of the best transport networks in Europe, and local trains and buses are a great way to travel. And you can meet the locals.

Major cities and towns

While many people associate the French Riviera with small mountain villages perched high above the sea rather than French cities, there are some very attractive large cities to visit, each with its own particular character.


The largest tourist center in France has it all: a wonderful Mediterranean location in the heart of the French Riviera, 19th century architecture, an old town of squares and narrow winding streets lined with small bars and restaurants, excellent museums and a lively night life. Of all the major French cities, Nice is one of the most popular for visitors.


Hugging the banks of the Rhone River, Avignon is dominated by the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), like a fortress, home to the French Popes who lived here for most of the 14th century. Avignon, another of the most attractive French cities in the region, offers art and culture to the fullest and offers wonderful opportunities for photography.

Aix en Provence

Cosmopolitan restaurants, picturesque streets and elegant buildings, Aix is sophisticated, elegant and artistic, the inspiration for painters like Paul Cézanne, who was born here in 1839.


Described by Alexander Dumas as “the meeting place of the whole world” and centered around the old port, Marseille is an exhilarating place to visit. There is something for every visitor, while adventurers can try great climbing in the spectacular Calanques massif.


Magnificent beaches, a casino and the largest film festival in the world. Cannes is about looking rich and famous (even if you’re not). Of all the southern French cities, Cannes sums up the glamor of the French Riviera.

San Tropez

Glamorous, stylish, and extremely busy in the summer months, St Tropez is another top French Riviera destination. It has boutique hotels that are some of the best in France, restaurants and bars that stay open late into the night, and a visitor list that includes most of the Hollywood A-list, especially around the time of the Festival of Cannes cinema. year in May.

The best things to do

  • Ride the white horses of the Camargue marshes in the Rhone Delta or go see cowboys surrounding famous bulls in this remote corner of southern France.
  • Stroll through the right valley of Merveilles, the most spectacular part of the Mercantour National Park. It’s just one of many glorious walks you can take, either guided or solo, following the well-marked Grandes Randonées (GR) trail system.
  • Return to the Roman roots of Provence at the splendid amphitheater in Arles, where 2,000 years ago gladiators fought and chariots raced towards the roar of the crowds. Today it resonates with the sounds of bullfights and music festivals.
  • Looking around other people’s houses is one of life’s great joys. But it is even better when it is the home of an artist that we only know through paintings. Stroll through Auguste Renoir’s faded house in Cagnes-sur-Mer and you can imagine the great artist sitting at his easel painting the beauties of the day.
  • You cannot come to Provence and not visit an open-air market. It is a morning affair; at noon, vendors start packing up before a good lunch at a nearby bistro. Stalls full of herbs, cheeses, ripe fruits and the freshest vegetables fill the covered market in Antibes daily; The variety of fish in Marseille is wonderful, while the flower stalls on the Cours Saleya in Nice offer a heady mix of colors and scents. Watch out for the summer bric-a-brac markets, where old French bowls for morning coffee, maps, furniture and souvenirs will bring a touch of Provence to your home.
  • Go to L’isle sur la Sorgue for antiques. There are weekly markets, but almost all the stores are antique dealers, offering a variety of goods from the cheapest to the most expensive.

Touring the area by car

If you stay on the Mediterranean coast, as tempting as it may be, you will miss the glorious scenery, the rugged highlands and the green valleys that you discover on the roads that seem to rise to the sky. Not to mention the villages where the only sounds that disturb the peace are chirping crickets and the click of petanque as the locals spend a lazy afternoon in the town square.

One of the best road trips is around the Gorges du Verdon.

If you are touring the area for more than 21 days in a rented car, consider the Renault Eurodrive buyback scheme.

Where to stay

There are all kinds of accommodation on offer in Provence. Some of the best hotels in France, an abundance of cozy chambres d’hôtes (guest houses) in old Provencal farmhouses, beautifully decorated villas for rent by the week, the best boutique hotels and campsites set in ancient olive groves – take your pick.

For luxury, book at L’Hostellerie de Crillon le Brave, a hotel made up of a collection of old houses near Avignon. Fancy something less formal? Try the bed and breakfast at Le Clos des Lavandes, a charming old house surrounded by fragrant lavender fields high in the Luberon hills.

Or camp on gently sloping fields or on sites that lead to a Mediterranean beach.

Sports life

Skiing in Provence isn’t the glamorous, high-octane experience that it is at resorts like Chamonix. Skiing here is low-key, informal, and great for families. Isola 2000, Auron and Valberg are accessible from Nice for a day of skiing.

The big sports in this part of the world are surprisingly not water-based. So charter a megayacht for the day or the week. If this is not your particular bag, try a smaller yacht in historic Antibes, or in Cannes, Mandelieu-La-Napoule, Marseille and St-Raphael. All the other ways to speed over the water from windsurfing to rubber ring rides are readily available.

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