Deciding what to see in Provence when you only have a few days, or even a few weeks, can be extremely difficult.
With Provence so rich in history, culture and sites that date back to the roman times, you can't really go wrong but it’s still so hard to choose! There is something for everybody in this beautiful part of the world, from well-known sites to the lesser known natural wonders not to be missed.
As Provence is quite a large area with cities, towns and villages scattered among the landscape, it would be impossible to see and experience everything during one stay. My recommendation would be to pick several sites that grab your attention but to always leave space for spontaneity in case you see something you like along your travels or if you want to spend more time in one place.
Below are the top 5 attractions, in my opinion, to see in Provence. Hopefully it will help make your decision on what you want to see or what area to focus on a little easier!
It is a well-known site in Provence to see lavender fields abloom during the summer months. The lavender typically blooms from mid-June to the mid-August, although it will depend on the weather from year to year.
The issue with Provence’s’ reputation for lavender is that the world flocks to see it, which may make your magical exploration a little crowded. To avoid this, I suggest going in search of the perfect photo in late June to early July, this is because during this time the French are not yet on holiday and tourists tend to stay away until high season.
For where to see the lavender I would suggest two areas in particular:
1. Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
This spectacular abbey where monks grow lavender is definitely worth the visit. The best time to visit is before 9am or after 7pm, this is so that you can beat the crowds to take the visit at your own pace and also so you can take advantage of the beautiful light.
2. Plateau de Valensole
From mid-June to mid-August the Plateau de Valensole is a sea of purple and blue hues. Probably the most well-known area to see lavender in all its beauty, it is however a bit further away for those staying in the Alpilles area of Provence. But do not fear, lavender is all around the region of Provence!
If you want to know about routes that you can take to discover lavender in the region make sure to visit www.routes-lavande.com
If you are interested in history then you will be richly rewarded in Provence, there are a number of sites to explore in various states of preservation.
There are several places to visit in particular:
In the center of the city lies the magnificent, Théâtre Antique which is the best-preserved remains of a Roman theatre built in the 1st century AD. The other Roman ruins in Orange is that of the Arc de Triomphe, built around 10-25 AD, today it oversees a busy traffic circle.
Roman society has left its mark on this city, it used to be a thriving port before the Mediterranean receded. The most notable of the roman ruins is that of the arena, built in the 1st century AD for many forms of spectacles. Even today it still draws large crowds, most notably for its bullfights. (They do not kill the bull; the objective is to retrieve a rosette attached to its forehead)
The Théâtre Antique in Arles is also in ruins, a few tiers of seats and marble columns scattered through a grassy enclosure only hint at the former grandeur that once held 7000 spectators and the orchestra pit.
This city is one of the best examples of Roman settlements in the region, it was extremely important due to its situation on the Via Domitia.
This importance meant many monuments were built such as a forum with temples, an amphitheater, a watchtower, and a fountain sanctuary. However, the best-known monument is the Maison Carée, a roman temple built during the 1st century AD. The Arena in Nîmes is considered the worlds best preserved amphitheatre and is still used today
St Remy de Provence
St Remy is home to several monuments:
The ancient city of Glanum did not survive the collapse of the roman empire, it was abandoned and its buildings became a source of building materials for the upcoming town of Saint Remy.
Over a century of archaeological excavation on the site at Glanum has revealed an outstanding collection of architectural relics. From temples to forums, residential quarters and public baths.
2. The Antiques
The “Antiques” is the common name for the two monuments, The Triumphal Arch and the Jules Mausoleum, that stand near to the ancient city of Glanum. For a long time, before the excavation of Glanum, these monuments were the only visible remnants of roman antiquity in St Remy de Provence.
Pont du Gard
The Pont du Gard is an aqueduct built around 30-60 AD, this aqueduct crosses a gorge over the river Gardon. The romans built these aqueducts in order to carry water using only gravity and the very slightest downward slope. It is one of the best-preserved aqueducts in the world and has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.
Natural wonders of Provence
The sprawling landscape, extending over 330 square miles, lies the marshy wilderness of the Camargue. Formerly the Mediterranean covered this area but it has since receded, now this area’s important ecology is protected by the Camargue national park.
The Camargue is perhaps best known for its flamingos, horses and bulls. They are all a common sight through the summer months and are a delight to behold. This wild area is an amazing adventure during your stay in Provence, spend a day exploring the different activities, villages and beaches.
The Massif des Calanques is a 20km stretch of cliffs, from Marseille to Cassis, that meet the Mediterranean sea below. Between the rocky peninsulas are small, quiet and idyllic coves and beaches, some of which are impossible to reach without a kayak.
The protected waters are accessed by boat or kayak, the perfect way to explore the area in general and to find hidden beaches and areas to swim. The area is also perfect for those that like to hike, mountain bike or rock climb.
You will be drawn to the bright blue waters much like the locals who adore the Calanques and come here to soak up the sun.
Gorges du Verdon
The gorges du verdon is 700m deep and 20 kms in length, considered Europe’s biggest and most beautiful river canyon.
It is famed for its striking teal colored water and superb scenery, so there is no wonder that visitors flock to this area each summer. It is a very relaxing place to visit for a day out, where you can hire a kayak or pedalo to cruise in calmer waters.
The point at which the river flows into the artificial Lac de Sainte-Croix is the perfect spot for photos and a picnic!
You will be amazed by the natural ochres present in the small village of Roussillon, the bright orange, red and pink ochre have had a huge impact on the decoration of the village.
The colour present in this charming village is a result of iron oxide deposits dating back millions of years. You can discover the beauty of this area by strolling through the Sentier des Ocres (Ochre Pathway) where the ochres provide a startling contrast to the green vegetation that grows around it.
There are two walking routes through the park, neither are very long, one of 30minutes and the other of an hour long. These walks are well worth the visit, if you do go with children I would suggest to take a spare set of clothes as the ochre will stain clothes and messy children are a frequent occurrence exiting from the park!
Entrance to the Ochre Trail costs €2.50 and children under 10 go free. Dogs are allowed to visit on a leash
This mountain stands at 1,912m high and is the highest in the region, it has gained fame through its inclusion in the world renowned Tour de France cycling race. Due to this fame, it is a popular spot for cyclist to test themselves and try to beat the mountain.
The journey to the top is very pleasant in a car and the views from the top are spectacular, although make sure you bring a jumper as it can be very windy at the summit no matter what the season!
No matter whether you prefer exploring Provence by planning everything down to the last T, or throwing away the map and going with the flow… Or even a bit of both, you will always discover stunning villages on any journey in Provence.
Each village is very different from the next:
Gordes, Menerbes and les Baux de Provence are some of the most well-known villages in Provence.
Gordes can get quite touristy during the summer season with amazing attractions such as the Bories, Abbaye de Senanque and spectacular views.
Les Baux de Provence is perfect for the history lover, with its castle and grounds open to explore this village is great for a day out, especially with the whole village being pedestrianized.
Menerbes is considered as one of the most beautiful villages in France, as you walk around this vibrant village you will see historical elements all around, the houses and views are also stunning.
If you want to escape to the beach for a little while choose Les Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a village in the Camargue area of Provence. It is home to a plethora of ice cream shops, Provençal gift shops and sandy beaches to relax on.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is famous for its antique markets, it stretches along the river Sorgue, the market consists of food, antique and tourist stalls.
Food and drink
Foodies could argue for hours over where to eat in Provence. Wherever you travel, you’ll never have a lack of good cheese, wine, bread and rich dishes. At the markets you will have a selection of fresh fruits, jams, cheese and meat perfect for preparing local dishes.
There are plenty of vineyards in Provence most of whom are open for tastings and may ship abroad if you don’t think you can live without that perfect wine you can’t find at home! As it happens, we’ve created this handy Vineyard Map, so you can make planning your perfect wine-tasting trip even easier!
Provence is known for its fresh dishes made of local produce. Head to Marseille to taste the famous bouillabaisse (a fish soup), or to Aix to sample the classical almond sweet, les Calissons d’aix.
Travelling around the area and picking up fresh produce to have spontaneous picnics is one of our favourite things to do in Provence, and allows you to enjoy the best gastronomic secrets whilst enjoying the equally stunning landscapes.
So there you have it, our top 5 attractions in Provence. Don't forget to share if you found this article useful, and let us know what you think. Follow our pages to keep up with all the latest updates and posts straight from Provence!
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