Explore holidays in Provence

There’s no better way to while away leisurely holiday hours than by visiting the boutiques, chic cafés and flower markets of elegant Aix-en-Provence or wandering the cobbled streets of the beautiful hilltop village of Gordes. And in Provence the past is ever-present in Tarascon’s Medieval, Romanesque and Gothic influences and the Roman amphitheatre in Arles.

Introduce fragrant fields of lavender, rolling hills and the red salt lagoons of the nearby Camargue National Park and before you lies a holiday destination to rival any other, complemented by our selection of handpicked luxury villas to help you make the most of your luxury holiday in Provence.

Read our guide to Provence

Our guide to Provence

Introduction to Provence

An influential past

Of all the corners of this alluring country, few have quite the draw of Provence. The self-styled jewel of France’s crown has been a must-see since the 14th century, when popes fled Rome for Avignon. But they weren’t the area’s first Italian visitors; the impressive amphitheatres and shady stone squares of Arles, Nîmes and Orange standing testament to a past of Roman occupation.

Today, tourists come with a more innocent agenda: the rural dream of French country living. They find it too – alive and well in every sense – without ever having to stray too far from the conveniences of modern luxury. It’s possible, within the realms of reality, to entertain daydreams of living in Provence. A distracting possibility that makes you love the area all the more.

A bouillabaisse of landscapes

Squeezed between the majestic Rhône River and France’s Italian neighbours, the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur bulges into (rather than edges) the Mediterranean Sea – too rich in culture, history and gastronomic pizzazz to sit comfortably within its own 31,000 km2.

As the chic Riviera gives way to rolling hills, the old province of Provence offers vistas of a granite-flecked landscape dotted with lavender fields. Arguably the wildest of these views feature the Camargue – a place where red salt lagoons camouflage the unexpected presence of pink flamingos and where herds of white horses wander, captivating in their mystique.

Immortalised in oils

Artists have flocked to Provence for centuries, in awe of its magical light. Cézanne, Picasso and Van Gogh – all found inspiration here; their works lending an air of familiarity to places you’ve perhaps never visited before.

It’s an artistic je ne sais quoi that’s never faded, as a morning spent drifting between boutiques in elegant Aix-en-Provence will prove – or a wander round the fountain-graced squares of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, an historic town of sufficient Provençal charm to have once wooed Van Gogh himself.

A predictably perfect scene

For many, the very mention of Provence conjures images of a sea of lavender – perfect rows of mauve striping the landscape to converge in a place far beyond the horizon. The Luberon is the setting, and this ‘parc naturel’ lives up to expectations, or perhaps exceeds them, with soaring mountains and perfect hilltop villages.

Among them, the cobbled streets of Gordes offer an unforgettable stroll and the chance to soak up a thriving arts scene that’s interrupted only for views over the region’s most stunning landscape.

Where past and present meet

France’s second city can also lay claim to being its oldest. Ever since Greek traders settled in this sunny corner of the Mediterranean in 600 BC, Marseille has been humming with the comings and goings of a significant port, although today’s tourist is likely to have been drawn by the beautifully regenerated city centre, rich in museums, seafood restaurants and boutiques.

Avignon, too, offers an oasis of city vibes in a land famed for its dreamy, faraway countryside. Here, Roman grandeur meets medieval character in a delightfully vibrant town, so rightly one of the region’s best loved.

At a glance

Currency
Euro (€)
Flight Time
1 hr 50
Time difference
+1 hour
Language
French
Visa required
Not for UK citizens

Map and other regions

Food & drink

A taste of Provence

In this part of the world, aperitifs are (almost without exception) taken with tapenade – a salute to the quality of the area’s olives – spread unctuously over bread in anticipation of the traditional starters of the region, which, at their delicious best, feature local truffles.

Lamb is often considered the star attraction, and the kind that was born and raised in Sisteron is particularly notable for its taste and quality. Rabbit graces many a table here too – slow cooked in white wine with garlic, mustard and fresh herbs. And look out for Daube Provençale – a local stew of slowly braised beef with red wine, onions, herbs and garlic, usually served on pasta.

Of course, the sea is never far away – either as the crow flies or the menu reads – and you can’t leave Provence without trying the fresh fish bouillabaisse.

In Provence, dessert typically allows the area’s abundance of fresh fruit to show what it can do. Tastes of every imaginable topping flow from kitchen to table with ease: apricot, lemon and, of course, apple – available everywhere in the region under its famous tarte aux pommes guise.

For a traditionally Aix-en-Provence experience, ask for the bill early, and make an evening stroll even more enjoyable with a bag of calissons – a delightful local sweet made with candied fruit and ground almonds.

French tipples

For all the regalia of French wine, it’s pastis that clinches ‘national drink’. This star anise flavoured aperitif was invented in southern France and is considered the proper way to ease into things. But thoughts soon return to wine and, in Provence, the rosé the area is so rightly famed for.

Being the first port of call for France’s ancient Roman guests, the vineyards here can claim to be the country’s oldest. And they continue to produce Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre grapes of stunning quality – blended to create a refreshingly dry style.

Bandol and Cassis are names to particularly look out for, although – in the north of the region, where the baton is handed to red wine – the mighty Châteauneuf-du-Pape remains unchallenged in both quality and fame.

Beaches

Cassis (and the Calanques)

An oasis of serenity beyond the bustle of Marseille. The calanques, or small bays, of Port Pin and En Vau offer lovely little beaches – all clear water and utter seclusion.

Getting there…

Exit the A50 at junction 8 for Cassis. The calanques are a 45-minute walk from the Col de la Gardiole car park.

Footnotes...

With good facilities, Sormiou is one of the most beautiful of the calanques and is fully supervised in the summer. A boat tour from Marseille is the best way to arrive.

Bandol

A glorious crescent of fine sand is flanked by rugged inlets. Beaches to the west of the La Ville Tranquille earned the town its nickname with quieter, more secluded sunbathing.

Getting there...

Take the A50 in the direction of Toulon and exit at junction 12, following signs for Bandol on the D559.

Footnotes...

Several family-oriented beaches can be reached on foot from the central marina. Manned by lifeguards in summer, these offer a large selection of bars and restaurants along the seafront.

Les Lecques

The popular beach of Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, pretty Les Lecques, is 2km of soft sand surrounded by wooded hills and stunning scenery. Nautical activities abound, from sea kayaking to water tubing.

Getting there…

Take the A50 (heading east from Marseille or west from Toulon) and exit for La Bourrasque (exit 10). Follow the signs to Les Lecques on the D559.

Footnotes…

There’s no shortage of restaurants and cafés in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer and the best come with memorable views across the bay.

Théoule-Sur-Mer

Avoid the busyness of Cannes’ main beaches and take the short drive around the bay to this pretty little village. Golden sand and views out to the Îles de Lérins await.

Getting there…

Head west from Cannes and follow the bay round. The beach is 2km south of the Cannes Golf Club.

Footnotes…

A few bars and cafés at Théoule-sur-Mer offer welcome respite from the sun.

Cap d’Antibes

Glamorous Cap d’Antibes and its 48 beaches have been hosting the world’s rich and famous for a century. Head for La Garoupe for the softest sand and views to Nice.

Getting there…

Follow signs for the Cap from Antibes town – 10km east of Cannes. Arrive early and you’ll find free parking on many of the roads.

Footnotes…

A blend of exclusive private and public beaches, La Garoupe made headlines recently by imposing the first ‘no selfie’ zone in France.

Villefranche-Sur-Mer

This typical fishing village sits a few kilometres outside of Nice and its beaches are relatively quiet. The fine sand of Plage des Marinières sits at the north end of the bay.

Getting there…

From Nice, follow the M6098 coast road heading east. Park at the far end of Villefranche for easy access to the beach.

Footnotes…

Unlike many of the resorts on the Côte d’Azur, Villefranche has no private beaches, so the entire beachfront here is free and open to the public.

Port Grimaud

Snuggled up against Saint-Tropez, this seaside town is built on reclaimed marshland. Criss-crossed with canals, it’s popular with boat owners, while its stretch of golden sand attracts sun-worshippers.

Getting there…

Head south from Sainte-Maxime on the coast road or east from Saint-Tropez on the D98A.

Footnotes…

Shallow with gently sloping sand, the water is perfect for families. Further out, windsurfers and kayaks provide more energetic fun.

Mala

This magnificent stretch of white sand is as beautiful as the people who flock here to sip cocktails. The lush Cap Mala encloses one end, while steeply rising cliffs wrap round the other.

Getting there…

Parking can be a problem here; your best option is to catch the train to Cap d’Ail station above the beach.

Footnotes…

While the 100 steps down to the beach may help preserve its natural beauty, they also make it unsuitable for families with small children.

Sainte-Maxime

Clean, white sand edges a beautiful bay of crystal-clear water, just round the headland from Sainte-Maxime town. A few rocky outcrops provide interesting snorkelling opportunities.

Getting there...

Head east from Port Grimaud or west from Saint-Raphaël on the D559. The beach is to the west of Sainte-Maxime.

Footnotes...

The water here is shallow making this a great beach for little ones. There is also ample parking along the coast road, a short walk from the beach.

Things to do

Take a ride on the wildside

Riding through the splendour of the Camargue on horseback is a liberating way to experience this protected wetland. Europe’s largest river delta is also home to flaming pink flamingos and the famous Camarguais horses.

Paddle the Gorges du Verdon

Famed for its 700m walls and brilliant turquoise waters, the ‘Grand Canyon of Europe’ offers the chance for a truly memorable couple of hours in a kayak. A detour to the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie above (one of France’s prettiest) completes an unforgettable day.

Get waist-deep in lavender

See this archetypal Provençal scene for yourself around Mont Ventoux in the Luberon and again close to the simply beautiful 12th-century Abbaye de Sénanque, 4km from Gordes. Found in soap, cosmetics and even food, the region’s ‘blue gold’ even has a museum dedicated to it in Coustellet.

Step back in time

For a village with a population of just 22, tiny Les Baux-de-Provence pulls a big crowd – not least for its reputation as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Spectacular views from a ruined castle are well worth the 15km drive north-east of Arles.

Walk the ochre path

Officially one of the best-looking villages in France, Roussillon offers a good selection of cafés. It’s the terracotta landscape all around that provides the real attraction though – and a short, easy hiking trail beginning near the centre of the village.

Discover a page-turner

In a typically Provençal town awaits a perfectly French café scene – all check-clothed tables spilling out onto quaint cobbled streets. Stunning Lourmarin is the home of Peter Mayle, author of A Year in Provence and even the briefest of visits shows why a year could never be enough.

See life through the eyes of Cézanne

In the artist’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence, follow a well-trodden path taking in the landmarks and landscapes that inspired the post-impressionist’s greatest works. Tickets and guidebooks are available at the Aix-en-Provence Tourist Office.

Cycle the Tour de France

The world’s most famous cycle race is no stranger to the rolling hills of Provence and you can follow in the tyre tracks of top athletes on the road up Mont Ventoux. Bikes can be hired from almost every town in the region, with alternative routes to suit all abilities.

Follow the popes to Châteauneuf-du-Pape

This medieval village, with its 13th-century château, was the summer bolthole for the Avignon popes. Now its name is known for its presence on the labels of some of the world’s finest wine. A Museum of Wine and vineyard tour offer a glimpse into the area’s culture.

Helpful phrases

Hello Bonjour
Goodbye Au revoir
Please S’il vous plaît
Thank you Merci
Yes Oui
No Non
I am well, thank you Ça va bien, merci
Nice to meet you Enchanté
I don’t understand Je ne comprends pas
Do you speak English? Parlez vous anglais?
I don’t speak French very well Je ne parle pas très bien français
My name is… Je m’appelle…
The bill please L’addition, s’il vous plaît
How much? C’est combien?

Events

What’s on in May

17-28 May

Festival de Cannes may draw in crowds of film professionals, but the outdoor Cinéma de la Plage screens a different film each night, including premieres.

25-28 May

Formula 1 makes its way to the French Riviera for the Monaco Grand Prix – watch the drivers pass luxurious yachts as they whizz their way through the track.

31 May-4 Jun

Les Voiles d’Antibes celebrates classic yachts. There are themed events, exhibitions and concerts in Antibes too.

What’s on in June

Every June, usually towards the end, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence takes place – an open-air international music festival dating back to 1947.

5 Jun

Whit Monday. The end of the Christian season of Lent and a public holiday throughout the country.

10-12 Jun

Attend cooking classes and demonstrations with chefs from around the world at Les Etoiles de Mougins – the International Festivals of Gastronomy and Lifestyle.

Mid Jun

The Jumping International de Cannes is a great equestrian event with show jumping at its heart.

19 Jun-5 Aug

Chorégies d’Orange is a celebration of all things opera. With various performances, check the dates and book online at choregies.fr.

What’s on in July

Every Jul

Each July, Rencontres Internationales de la Photo, showcases new work on various heritage sites, spanning the summer months.

The Avignon Festival brings together the contemporary performing arts throughout the month of July – with around 300 performances.

19-28 Jul

Jazz artists from around the world flock to Marseille Jazz des Cinq Continents. With a variety of ticket packages, make sure you pre-book online at marseillejazz.com.

21 Jul-17 Aug

Festival International de Piano de la Roque d’Anthéron is a classical music festival that focuses mainly on the piano, covering all styles of music – including electronic music.

What’s on in August

15 Aug

Assumption Day. The Roman Catholic celebration of Mary, mother of Christ, being taken to Heaven sees banks and many businesses closed.

Mid Aug

Festival de Jazz de Ramatuelle focuses on swing jazz, but there’s a free fringe festival that promotes local musicians.

What’s on in September

12-17 Sep

Just under 600 yachts are showcased at the Yachting Festival de Cannes, spread between the Vieux Port and the Port Pierre Canto.

End Sep

Set in the iconic Port Hercules, the Monaco Yacht Show is an event where you can admire, visit and purchase one-off superyachts. 

End Sep

Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez hosts racers and sailing enthusiasts as they compete in the bay of Saint-Tropez – you can expect to see modern sailing boats alongside traditional yachts.

Towns and villages

Avignon

The impressive medieval fortifications and enormous tower of what was once the Papal Palace are a focal point of Avignon – until you discover the city’s famous bridge. Jutting into, rather than over, the Rhône River, the Pont d’Avignon, known as ’the broken bridge’, provides a perfect view back to the town’s medieval skyline, and a reminder as to why the characterful city deserves its status as a UNESCO-protected site.

Aix-En-Provence

Boasting the kind of beauty usually reserved for smaller towns and villages, the pretty avenues and winding lanes of Aix seem never-ending to the casual stroller. Here, 16th-century townhouses surround immaculate squares – all quite befitting of the smart Roman street plan upon which the town is built. It doesn’t take long to see why this is often referred to as ‘The City of a Thousand Fountains’ or why Aix was so irresistible to the likes of Cézanne and Hemingway.

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Nestled among the foothills of the Alpilles, Saint-Rémy is surrounded by historic gems including the ancient Roman site of Glanum and the monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole (where Van Gogh was hospitalised for the final year of his life). Regarded as ‘the heart of Provence’, a warren of restaurants, cafés and quirky little shops lends Saint-Rémy a wonderful vibrancy, but the real draw has to be the Cathédrale d’Images – where famous paintings are projected onto a quarry’s granite walls.

Gordes

Teetering on a cliff above the valley of Calavon, stunning yet tiny Gordes has been drawing wide-eyed visitors since Roman times. Enjoying a slower pace than the region’s larger towns, this is a place to amble, wander and drift – all the while soaking up the atmosphere of what is commonly referred to as the most beautiful place in Provence. Head for picture-perfect Sénanque Abbey and the village of dry-stone huts known as Les Bories.

Arles

Standing gatekeeper to the Camargue, Arles boasts one of Provence’s very best Saturday markets. Many of the town’s colourful houses may seem familiar, as they appeared in the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh. The artist was based here for a while during his partnership with Gauguin, but the town enjoyed renown long before being immortalised in oils – as testified by the Roman amphitheatre, forum and theatre.

Vaison-la-Romaine

Sitting obediently at the foot of Mont Verdoux, this unassuming but oh-so-pretty medieval town has a very grand story to tell. As the name lets slip, Vaison-la-Romaine was once under Roman occupation, and vast ancient ruins – forming the largest archeological site in France – can be explored here. A beautiful Provençal Romanesque cathedral adds an extra layer of history, all of which might call for a cooling glass of rosé at one of the bars in the traditional square, Place Montfort.

Marseilles

France’s second city has long been the country’s gateway to the Mediterranean, soaking up all the cultural influences its exciting position has to offer. A vibrant old port, impressively regenerated Panier district and the stately, historic Canebière – the city’s central thoroughfare – melt together to offer a fascinating morning’s exploration. Arrive early to see fishermen unloading buckets of wriggling fish onto harbourside market stalls. Visit later for a city alive with cosmopolitan panache.

Nîmes

A hop across the regional border into neighbouring Occitanie presents the truly endearing city of Nîmes and its famous Roman amphitheatre that simply begs to be explored. The Maison Carré is the second big draw in this perfectly preserved city, and the only still-complete Roman temple left anywhere in the world. Art and culture are the backbone of Nîmes and just an afternoon’s wanderings will plant her firmly on your list of places to revisit as soon as you can.

Tarascon

Between Avignon and Arles lies an ancient fortified town, renowned throughout Provence – and the world – for its unmistakable fabrics. The Charles Demery factory is the thriving industrial heartbeat of Tarascon and its floral textiles can found in countless shops hiding beneath pretty arcaded walkways. Rustic Place du Marché provides the central thoroughfare – and a fitting approach to the steps of a Tarascon institution, L’Hôtel du Ville. For a post-lunch stroll, take the Roman bridge to Beaucaire – the town with which Tarascon holds hands across the Rhône.