A visit to Provence – one of the most visited areas in France – is the second post in the Barefoot Blogger travel series by Nancy McGee of Absolutely Southern France.
Nancy has lived in southern France for over 30 years, so she knows her way around. When asked, “What do you recommend when tourists want to visit Provence?” Nancy gave me her picks below. Now that I’ve visited Nancy in Sete and taken some enjoyable trips together, I’ve learned to take her advice. In fact, I’m convinced it’s essential to ask an expert to help with your plans. If you have limited time, some sage advice will help you make the most of every day you’re traveling. You’ll see the places you’ve heard about and off-the-beaten-path sights you’ve only dreamed about. It’s the best way to sample French life like you’re a local. Need I say more?
Welcome to Provence!
From bustling, edgy Marseille to the red cliffs of Cassis, fragrant lavender fields of the Luberon, Aix-en-Provence’s colorful markets, wine, and art … there’s something in Provence to please everyone. No wonder it’s everyone’s favorite.
Visit Provence: Marseille
Founded in 600 BC, Marseille, France’s second-largest city, is steeped in history and culture. An excellent way to start the day in Marseilles is to visit the Basilica of Notre Dame. Perched above the harbor, it offers breathtaking views of the Old Port and the Mediterranean. Those who brave the climb on foot no doubt work up an appetite. And that’s why bouillabaisse – Marseille’s famed dish – was invented. It is almost ‘obligatoire’ with a traditional glass of pastis. There’s more to see, so explore the Old Port and don’t miss the iconic MuCEM museum – one reason why Marseille has held the title ‘European Capital of Culture.’
Visit Provence: The Red Cliffs of Cassis
“Anyone who has seen Paris but hasn’t seen Cassis hasn’t seen anything,” said the Nobel poet Fredric Mistral. When visitors see the stunningly pretty Roman harbor, it’s love at first sight. Two natural monuments protect the town: Cap Canaille, which glows red when the Mistral blows, and the white limestone Calanques (sheltered inlets) that can be admired on a short boat outing. It’s a joy to roam the streets, browse the museum, or enjoy fresh seafood with a glass of the local rosé wine.
Visit Provence: Bandol
A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine… and there’s plenty of each in Bandol, where vineyards bask in 3,000 hours of sunshine a year! The resort itself – just a stone’s throw from Marseille and Cassis – is among the oldest and most popular on the coast. Its sandy beaches lured the literary set long before the days of Brigitte Bardot and Saint Tropez. A cliff stroll, a vineyard tour, and dining on fresh seafood – to which the fruity and racy rosé wines are a great accompaniment – are on everyone’s list.
Visit Provence: Chateauneuf du Pape
Red Wine…The distinguished red wines of Chateauneuf du Pape need no introduction. Masterclasses, food and wine pairing workshops, and wine tours of the historic chateaux and vineyards are “must do and can be arranged. The vineyards in Chateauneuf du Pape are so cherished that a 1950s decree banned flying saucers from sailing over them! The tiny town itself is sheer magic. Walk up the hill to the ruins of the 14th-century château – ‘the Pope’s castle’ – and the reward is a view as far as Avignon and its Pope’s Palace. Hungry after that climb? Many fine restaurants in town serve traditional French cuisine to complement the wines.
Visit Provence: Avignon
Sur le Pont d’Avignon…Standing on the legendary bridge in Avignon provides a good view of Le Palais des Papes,’ (Popes’ Palace), the ancient ramparts, and much more of this historic and cultural French city. There’s something for everyone here: museums and galleries, fine dining to please the most exacting palate and plenty of shopping. During the Avignon Festival in July, live music and theatre fill every street, but the ‘hot ticket’ is a performance in the Popes’ Palace. As for the bridge, the angels inspired a poor shepherd, Benezet, to build it, and convinced of divine intervention, the town’s authorities canonized the shepherd. That’s the legend, at least, and a popular song was born.
Visit Provence: Arles
From Ancient Rome to Van Gogh, Gaugin & Picasso … Located on the banks of the Rhone River and known as the ‘gateway to the Camargue,’ Arles is one of the most beautiful cities anywhere in France. The ancient arena, amphitheater, and Roman baths top any visitor’s list, and a walk in the footsteps of Van Gogh, Gaugin & Picasso. Talking of Van Gogh, visiting nearby sunflower fields will brighten anyone’s day.
Visit Provence: The Luberon
Lavender Fields Forever ...The best time to visit the Luberon is July, when the Valensole plateau is awash with lavender, and the towns are alive with festivals celebrating everyone’s favorite flower! It’s a sight – and scent – to behold! There’s something here for foodies, too – from a range of small bistros serving the “dish of the day” to the local delicacy “of lavender honey.
Visit Provence: St Rémy de Provence
Here’s Van Gogh Again! While we’re in the area, let’s not miss St. Rémy. Pretty and picturesque, this pocket-size town offers much to do amid its narrow medieval alleyways, shady squares, and incredible architecture – including museums, excellent restaurants, an annual donkey fair, and the remains of nearby 2nd century B.C. Glanum. As for Van Gogh, his stay in St. Rémy inspired many masterpieces.
Visit Provence: Les Baux de Provence
“Ils Sont Beaux.” On a rocky plateau, magical Les Baux de Provence offers stunning views of Arles and the Camargue. It is a listed heritage site with the accolade of ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France,’ amongst others. What it lacks in size, it makes up for with art and cultural activities, one of which is the annual Carrières de Lumières – the most fantastic light show we’ve ever seen.
Visit Provence: Aix-en-Provence
The City of Art and Lights. Beauty, culture, and a rich historical heritage exemplify Aix-en-Provence, the hometown of Paul Cézanne, among other luminaries. Having taken leave of lavender fields and vineyards, here is the opportunity for some serious shopping and sightseeing, not to mention food tours and culinary workshops. Follow in the footsteps of Cézanne, browse the museums or the famous farmers’ and flower markets, or buy that designer outfit in one of the upscale boutiques. There’s never enough time in Aix, and you’ll never want to leave!
How’s that for a tour of Provence? What are you aican’tfor? I can’t wait to see it all myself!
For information about Med cruise shore excursions,