Oh Provence, let us count the ways we j’adore thee… This idyllic rural retreat is where you come to escape the daily grind and live out your French fantasy. Stretching from the Mediterranean coast out to the foot of the Alps, it’s a destination that stirs the senses, with its lyrical landscapes and treasure trove of history.
Summer here bathes the region in a golden light, giving it endless charming appeal. Peruse morning markets for fresh fodder, then cycle back to your holiday bolthole among the lavender fields that create a fragrant sea of purple during warm months. In need of cultural things to do in Provence? Roman ruins are in abundance throughout the area, from Arles’ amphitheatre to Pont du Gard near Avignon.
Here are the top things to do in Provence while on holiday here:
- Palais des Papes
- Les Arènes
- Verdon Gorge
- Vieille Ville Nice
- Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
- Lérins Islands
- Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
- Castle Hill of Nice
- Massif des Calanques
1. Palais des Papes
Cast your eyes on this mighty UNESCO-listed palace in Avignon that once served as the seat of the catholic church. Palais des Papes is a sprawling gothic wonder, built during the 14th century after Pope Clement V swapped Italy for France. Amble through its series of rooms to gauge an insight into its magnificence and scale, with highlights including the Pope’s private chambers and incredible frescoes by Matteo Giovannetti.
2. Les Arènes
Les Arènes looks like it’s been flown straight in from Rome – and sure enough, that’s because it was built during the Roman Empire sometime around 100 BC. If you want to see it for yourself, head to Nîmes. It’s jaw-dropping arches and columns are so well preserved, moulded around the oval-shaped amphitheatre set over two storeys. While it was once used for gladiatorial contests, it’s now a music venue and can be visited during a guided audio tour.
3. Verdon Gorge
Europe’s answer to the Grand Canyon, Verdon Gorge is a natural knockout and should be high up on your list of things to do in Provence. This river canyon stretches for more than 15 miles, with white-water rapids, dramatic limestone cliffs and dazzling turquoise waters creating a striking scene. Rent a paddle boat or kayak to explore the natural park and don’t forget to look up – vultures are known to nest here and can be spotted circling above.
4. Vieille Ville Nice
Charming Nice is a never-ending favourite and has so many things to do, but its Vieille Ville (Old Town to me and you) is a must. Meandering around the tight-knit tangle of cobbled streets is simply a dream. Buildings in a rainbow of colours decorate the streets, with quintessentially French shutters and gas lamps – some are homes, others bakeries, bars and boutiques. Follow your nose and duck into dinky eateries for oysters, pastries or even a scoop of ice cream.
5. Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
If there was ever a place that’ll make you fall head over heels for Provence, it’s Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. Make a beeline for this Cistercian abbey, which was established in the 12th century within a gorgeous valley. Monks still work here but you can take a guided tour and admire the medieval cloisters, chapter room and dormitories. But the biggest draw are the fragrant fields of lavender surrounding the abbey that bloom vividly during summer. Inhale the powerful scent as you wander through the profusion of plants.
6. Lérins Islands
Take a boat ride over to this teeny archipelago, made up of four islands, just off the coast near Cannes. Traffic-free and tranquil, Île Ste-Marguerite is the one to visit. Pine and eucalyptus trees carpet the island, making it the perfect place to simply stroll and take in the nature. Among the beautiful scenery you’ll spy a handful of historic landmarks, most famous being Fort Royal, the 17th-century stronghold that once was inhabited by the Man in the Iron Mask. Today, the on-site Musée de la Mer illustrates to visitors the fort’s history through a series of intriguing exhibits.
7. Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild
The well-heeled flocked to très chic Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is its star attraction. Built during the early 20th century with belle-époque pizzazz, the villa is a design lover’s playground. Behind the pastel-pink façade you’ll find sumptuous rooms lavishly decorated with marble columns, frescoed ceilings and plenty of paintings. And outside, the grounds are equally flamboyant, having borrowed inspiration from a mish-mash of styles. Spot Florentine, Japanese and Spanish touches as you mosey through the nine different gardens.
8. Castle Hill of Nice
Provence isn’t short on views and the Castle Hill of Nice is one of the top places to drink in the beauty of the Côte d'Azur. This green-tinged outcrop nestled next to the city’s Old Town delivers breathtaking vistas across Nice and out to the glittering Med. Wander up the hillside and gobble them up at sunset for a truly memorable experience.
9. Massif des Calanques
Discover the wild side of Provence in the Massif des Calanques. This 12-mile stretch of dramatic terrain is riddled with limestone cliffs and bays that make a serene departure from the hustle and bustle of the area’s cities. Spend a day hiking along chalky pathways that wind through Mediterranean vegetation, rocky valleys and out to the azure sea. Don’t forget to pack a picnic – there are plenty of places to take a breather, eat a jambon-packed baguette and soak up the views.
Ah, the pièce de résistance of Provence – Gordes. This hilltop village is the definition of postcard perfection, with honey-hued houses and churches clinging to the Vaucluse Mountains in bewitching fashion. Get lost among the warren of winding narrow streets and make a pit stop at one of the local restaurants, where you can dine al fresco and soak up village life. If you’re there for the weekly market, pick up freshly-cut lavender, jars of jam and locally-made soap.
Posted: 17th Jun 2019.