For many choosing which area of Provence to base yourselves while you explore can be a difficult decision.
I suggest staying in one place during your stay so that you don’t have to move around, unpack and repack. So, when choosing which holiday rental to stay at you need to know a bit more about the areas and its benefits and downfalls as a base from which to explore Provence.
This area of Provence is densely populated by picturesque villages, (some of the most beautiful in France) vines and lavender fields. Some of the charming villages of the area include; Gordes, Bonnieux, Menerbes, Roussillon and Lourmarin. The lesser visited villages of Goult, Cucuron, Oppede, and Lacoste, have huge appeal due to less tourists and calmer times for exploration.
If you want to diversify your visit of Provence, the Luberon has so much to offer with countless walking routes through the national park, vineyards to visit for wine tastings and a plethora of other activities to be excited about.
Staying in the Luberon is great if you want to stay in a beautiful village in the countryside. There are no main cities in the Luberon itself, although Aix en Provence and Avignon are not far away.
It is the perfect area of Provence for avid cyclists, there are marked cycle routes through the regions vineyards and lavender fields, visit velo loisir Provence to download the cycle routes. There are various difficulties of route, but you get to experience Provence in a unique way.
The great part about staying in this area is that there are so many perched villages close together, most are not further than 12 km from each other, so there is no lack of cobblestone streets and scenic viewpoints!
Staying in the Luberon is a bit difficult if you want to visit the "major" sites in Provence.
While the Luberon is very beautiful, and certainly worthy of exploration, if your interests are Roman antiquities, I have to tell you that the Luberon is not the place where you are going to find them. The roman ruins of the Pont du Gard, St Remy and Arles are further away, and they are not close together.
Attention to this particular area of Provence has been amplified by the book “A Year in Provence” by author Peter Mayle. With this attention and notoriety, it is no surprise that tourists flock here during the summer months, this is the major downfall of staying in the Luberon as villages can become crowded and a little bit soulless as people become less patient and shops are orientated towards tourists, so you lose that authentic Provençal feel.
The Luberon is perfect for those among you who want to visit the picture-perfect villages and historical sites, the area is often considered by Tourists to be more “luxurious” than the Alpilles, but many say that it has gone too far and lost its authenticity. The area is perfect for exploring other parts of Provence or to simply remain in the area because there is so much to do! This is probably not the best area if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle and heat as many people flock to this area due to its understandable popularity.
The Alpilles and the Luberon are separated by the durance river and are not far apart and yet they have vastly differing landscapes. It is hotter and more arid here than in the Luberon and the Alpilles hills themselves are a gorgeous series of limestone peaks
The town of St Remy de Provence is the central point in the Alpilles area, with its pedestrian center, restaurants, art galleries and shops sell all sorts of goods. The medieval fortress town of Les Baux is perfect for a day out, and great for kids, although I would arrive early to beat the heat and crowds (And to make sure you get a good parking spot, of course!).
There are plenty of luxury villas surrounding the area, hidden within the rocks and spread throughout the beautiful landscape, and like everywhere in Provence the local agriculture is dominated by wine and olive oil production.
You really can’t go wrong with choosing this area to spend your holiday!
The great part about staying in this area is that it is very central to many of the sites Provence has to offer. The roman ruins of Arles, the Pont du Gard and St Remy are all close, as is the Luberon area and the cities of Avignon and Aix en Provence. It does not have as many villages as the Luberon area but nor does it have as many throngs of tourists blocking the streets.
If you are thinking of renting a classic car to make your stay more adventurous then I would certainly recommend this area as a place to drive, it has stunning roads through the mountains, lavender fields and olive groves.
Even though the Alpilles is the most central area to explore it may not be the best to keep your children entertained. As we all know many children can get restless very quickly and are not always entertained by the same things their parents are. Staying somewhere like Aix, Avignon, or Arles means there will be plenty of activities to interest your children.
For those who prefer shopping and the easy availability of cafes and restaurants this may not be the area for you. The Alpilles do have shops, restaurants and cafés but not the same cosmopolitan chains you will find in larger cities.
The Alpilles are perfect for those who want to be quite central to every area of Provence, it also has a more natural and traditional feel than the more tourist trodden paths of the Luberon. The area is great for those who want a little bit of everything, historical sites, shops, markets, the great outdoors and many restaurants to choose from. The only downside to choosing this area in particular is that it is not very metropolitan, it does not have the big name shops or chain restaurants, you will have to get down and dirty with the local life – but we love doing that in Provence!
The Camargue is such a unique area, a triangle between the city of Arles and the coast, 85,000 hectares of marshland supporting an impressive ecosystem. The area is filled with flamingos, bulls and the world famous white horses, which are born with dark coats.
The Camargue offers great remote areas, much of which is flat unlike the other areas of Provence, to hike around, cycle and go horseback riding. Some areas and remote sandy beaches are not accessible by car which is perfect for those that want to escape the crowds.
To experience the wildness of the Camargue properly it’s imperative to walk around and experience it outside of the car. Keen birdwatchers should visit the ornithological park which has marked trails laid out through the marshes.
The Camargue area is truly beautiful with gorgeous sandy beaches, quaint coastal towns and hiking trails to take your breath away. It is perfect for those that prefer beach holidays in the south of France but remain close enough to the rest of Provence to explore other areas. Something that is hard to do if you base yourself further away in areas such as Cannes or St Tropez.
The area is also far away from any big city or town, so the pace of life is a lot slower, the other bonus to this is that there tend to be less tourists in this area.
One of the main attractions that bring people to this area are the remarkable horses that are famous to this area, so it is no surprise that to go horseback riding is a unique way to experience the area. There are many opportunities for horse riding with many ranches and stables accessible by the main roads. They cater largely to tourists, so they have a range of tariffs, from an hour to full day treks through the salt marshes and fields. Try to look and book in advance especially for the more experienced riders among you who are looking for more than just a wander around at walking pace.
There are some issues with making the Camargue your main base to stay in Provence. Firstly, the area is quite a harsh landscape, even though it is beautiful, there are not many populated areas within the area and it is also home to some of the biggest mosquitoes around!
Secondly, the Camargue is close to the sea and therefore far away from some of the other areas of Provence, so for those that don’t want to feel isolated this may not be the best area to make base. It can be especially difficult to visit the Luberon area and Aix en Provence.
The Camargue area is perfect for those who want to get away and experience the wild Provence by the sea, for the slower pace of life and the natural aspects of the area. It is probably not the best area for those of you who want the metropolitan feel of the south of France or for those who have an interest in the Luberon or Aix-en-Provence as these areas are quite a length journey away to get to visit on a short holiday.
Aix en Provence
Aix is a favourite big city for most when it comes to Provence however is even further away from the "main sites". That said, Aix is one of the liveliest places you can visit in Provence, partly because it is a small city but also due to its numerous squares, lined with cafés and fine shops.
It is perfect to explore on foot and is very pedestrian friendly, but I recommend that you take your time to look around thoroughly and make sure to look up as well as all around as the buildings can be quite ornate, and some of the architecture is truly breath-taking.
The old town is set in the heart of the city, the main street being the cours Mirabeau, the spot of its famous markets both in the summer and wintertime with the Christmas market full of local produce. The city and the surrounding areas are favourite spots for artists, including Paul Cézanne, who was born here.
Aix is a great centre to base yourself if you want to explore Provence. The Luberon, with it's beautiful countryside and idyllic hilltop villages is only a short drive north. With the Mont Sainte Victoire on the outskirts of the city this city is the perfect base for those among you who like hiking and biking as well as general exploration of nature with the easy of being close to some of the best shopping and dining at your doorstep.
In fact, Aix has some of the best shopping to be had in the South of France, with designer boutiques, interior stores, antique shops and markets aplenty. This city will have something for everybody from shopping and eating to architecture and history.
The major cons of basing yourself in Aix-en-Provence are:
- It can be a bit difficult to manoeuvre in and out of Aix because of all the commerce around it, which can make day trips to other areas a little tedious.
- It is quite a way to get to other areas such as the Alpilles and especially the Camargue and Avignon can be quite a way.
- The city, in itself, is beautiful however there is not a single ancient site to see within it. But you do have many museums and the general atmosphere and history of the city.
This area is best for those who want the ease of dining and shops being close and available with the possibility for exploration of other areas. It is probably not the best area for those who want to go in at the deep end and experience the real Provence or for those who want to visit several areas of Provence and the great outdoors.
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