Destination Guide: Provence

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This Destination Guide is contributed by Marie at Miles of Happiness. She comes from the south of France, so the details below are the words of a local. Check it out then have a look at her website – Marie is an illustrator by profession and her site is a work of art. One of the nicest sites we’ve seen !

 

 

France is a big country, with lots of fantastic things to see. I used to live in this wonderland called La Provence, a region situated in southeastern France. It counts 300 sunny days a year, owing to the wind called the “mistral“.

Boasting so many great sights, sounds and tastes, deciding what to do and what to see during a trip there is not an easy task. Turquoise Mediterranean waters, deep purple lavender, bright sunflowers on the road, hidden lakes with vibrant colors, art festivals, ochre quarries… I’ve prepared you a list of my top 10 in Provence & Languedoc.

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Costs
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Lodging

One of the greatest qualities of France is its wildly diverse range of lodging options. As the Provence is a tourist region, you’d better book your room before to avoid the stress.

Camping - Camping is very common in this region, as it’s very sunny, you can pretty much live outside. It’s also a good way to meet the locals: at the end of the day, you’ll see everybody drinking Pastis and playing pétanque. It’s very friendly !

A pitch for two people will cost around €15 per night : Camping France

Gites de France – The French version of the bed and breakfast. Self-catering gîtes allow visitors to rent an apartment, villa or house: gites-de-france

Logis hôtel – Inexpensive hotels. You won’t find them everywhere, it’s often in smaller cities and villages. Check online before your trip: logis hotels

Farm – Various accommodations ranging from no-electricity camping to stays at a farmhouse bed and breakfast: bienvenue-a-la-ferme

Rent a house – People from the Tourist Center should be able to help you find a place, or you can book online on location-vacances-provence or homeaway. If you speak a bit of French, you can also check on leboncoin.

Prices for a two-person apartment range from around €250 to €500 per week, with six-person apartments for around €500 to €1,000 per week. But it really depends of the village where you want to stay, the season and the duration of your visit.

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Food

France is well know as one of the best destinations for lovers of fine cuisine. And Provence is very special. With emphasis on sun-ripened vegetables, seafood, fresh herbs and a liberal helping of olive oil in every dish, traditional Provencal cuisine blends intense flavors and simple ingredients. You will love it.

As the South of France is an ideal picnic ground, don’t hesitate to hit the region’s produce market and to taste Provence’s wonders with a splendid view.

You’ll find delicious cheese and wine of course, but not only. Olive oil, salade niçoise, pissaladière, ratatouille, bouillabaisse, tapenade, nougat, calissons d’Aix, aïoli, tarte tropézienne, goat cheese, pisto soup, caviar d’aubergine… You could stay for a month and still savor different specialties every day.

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Transportation 

The best way to navigate through Provence is with a car. You’ll be able to enjoy the region by yourself, to stop everywhere you want. It’s the key to freedom! There are plenty of options, the cheapest is to book your car in advance and to pick it up at the airport. Try Holidayautos,  hertz or easycar.

If you want to share the costs, you can try carpooling: covoiturage.

The public transport is not so good in the countryside, except from city to city and into the cities, like in Marseille or Montpellier. Train tickets can be reserved in advance from the station, at an SNCF boutique or online on voyages-sncf.

If you need any information, ask in the Office du tourisme, they are very helpful.

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How to get there

There are 3 airports serving Provence: Nice Côte d’Azur, Marseille Provence and Toulon-Hyères.

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Map of the Region

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MY TOP 10 PLACES TO SEE – PROVENCE & LANGUEDOC

There are some places in this part of France that are so beautiful they make for a pinch-me-is-this-real kind of experience that you will not soon forget.

 

Lac du Salagou, Hérault

The Lac du Salagouis a very large lake, situated near Montpellier. It’s well known for the vivid colours of the lake and its surroundings, and very popular for various water sports, walking and cycling.

For a quiet sunbath, walk around a bit until you find your own piece of ‘private beach’ – and enjoy the serenity.

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Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône

You’ll rarely find a place where art and general creativity are so alive. Once, the roman city attracted the likes of Edith Piaf, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre. We can still feel their artistic influence its narrow streets.

Every year in September, a photography festival helds in the city. It’s called Les Rencontres d’Arles. The city and its surroundings are suddently covered with great photographs : in public squares, in churches, in the train station… Art is everywhere.

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Les Calanques de Cassis, Bouches-du-Rhône

The village of Cassis is tucked into a curve of coast. Right next to that, twenty calanques are gouged into the shoreline. What we call in France a calanques are inlets ranging from shallow indentations to jagged, deep-water canyons.

After 45 minuts of a beautiful hike, you get to the first beach. White sand, incredible shades of turquoise blue, vertiginous cliffs… If this is not paradise, it looks like it. Then you can carry on to the last beach, and after two hours hiking, you’ll get to the real paradise. A tiny beach that makes you feel you’re a the end of the world.

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Roussillon, Vaucluse

Situated in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world, Roussillon is famous for its magnificent red cliffs and ochre quarries. It’s one of the most beautiful villages in France.

If indeed, the village is lovely, the most memorable feature of Roussillon is the ochre mines hidden below. The range of colours in the white-orange-pink-red rocks is extraordinary. It creates a fascinating ‘out of his world’ experience, as it’s a small extent, placed in the middle of Provence.

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Les Gorges du Verdon, Var & Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

The Gorges du Verdon are compact, wild and beautiful. It’s the deepest canyon in Europe.

The landscape is magnificent. You can enjoy the view from the long drive following the canyon, but you have to get down by the water to really feel the beauty. The area presents many opportunities to enjoy the view, from hiking paths of all levels to nautical or air sports. The kayak ride I took there was by far the best ever. Rowing a bit, you can access to remote corners, secret spots, and feel really privileged being alone in a piece of heaven.

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Les Dentelles de Montmirail, Vaucluse

The Dentelles can be seen from far off in the region, with their very distictive jagged outline emerging dramatically from the vineyards of the Cotes du Rhone. The range provides some of the most dramatic scenery to be found in France.

The entire region is well known for its hiking, moutain bike riding and rock climbing opportunities. In one day, you can hike in the forest, climb a sheer cliff that dominates the horizon for miles around, have a picnic in the vineyards, then go canyoning the waterfalls. It’s an amazing playground for adventurers here – one of my favorites, actually.

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Meze, Hérault

Situated on the étang de Thau, Meze is, with his neighbor Bouzigues, the oyster capital of the area. Almost a third of its inhabitants depend on the fishing industry for their livelihood. It’s a real fishing village, with its authentic atmosphere and beautiful colors.

It’s the perfect place to relax, to enjoy la belle vie, wandering along the quays, transported by the magic of this place and by the gentle sound of water lapping on the boat hulls. Plus, the surrounding restaurants offer delicious sophisticated seafood!

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Le Mont Ventoux, Vaucluse

Le Mont Ventoux is well known as a step in the Tour De France. It’s a fantastic challenge for all cyclists – which requires you to be in superb physical shape. Besides that, it offers many hiking paths for all levels.

Moreover, the view is gorgeous. There’s a restaurant on top where you can enjoy it with a nice hot chocolate. And if you want to jump… It’s a stunning spot for paragliders !

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L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Vaucluse

Very, very, very romantic. The Sorgue river flows through the middle of town with its tiny flower-dotted bridges. There’s a restaurant placed on a bridge, so you are over the river, and, above you, trees and lanterns. It is simply gorgeous.

People are friendly and relaxed here, nobody is in a hurry, no stress, as if time had stopped…

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Avignon, Vaucluse

Ringed by incredibly preserved 800-years-old stone ramparts, Avignon is full of wonders. There’s the majestic 14th century Palais des Papes, and of course, the famouse Pont d’Avignon. The old part of the city is picturesque, with typical streets like la Rue des Teinturiers with its paddle wheels on the Sorgue canal which flows through the city, and numerous little streets paved with cobblestones.

The best time to visit is in July, to enjoy the Avignon Festival, one of the most important contemporary performing arts events in the world. Its divided in two parts : the festival on, with shows in theatres, and the festival off, where performances take place in the street. The atmosphere is unique, really – it’s a must.

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Marie Pottiez is a travel blogger and illustrator. Connect with her at:

website: www.milesofhappiness.com
illustration portfolio : www.les-petits-carnets.com
facebook: www.facebook.com/milesofhappines
twitter: https://twitter.com/milesofhappines
instagram: http://instagram.com/milesofhappines/
pinterest : https://www.pinterest.com/milesofhappines/

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Have you been to Provence? Do you have any favorite spots? Feel free to comment with recommendations, tips, or your stories on Provence. 

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Planning on going to Provence? If so check out my favorite affiliated companies. I book all my hotel stays with Booking.com (because you don’t have to pay upfront). I’m also a big fan of Lonely Planet’s guides because they have lots of detailed information that I can’t possibly cover on this page.  Book through the links below to get special discounts.

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SEE OUR COMPLETE LIST OF DESTINATION GUIDES 

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Comments

  1. A nice posting from Marie – and thanks for putting it on your site Frank. The trouble with Top Tens is (of course) they are a) different for pretty much everybody, and b) they leave out – of necessity – so much ! So to add a little to Marie’s list here are some other ‘top sites’ – almost all next to, alongside or very close to her listing , which I have used as a ‘base’ :-

    - (Lac du Sagalou ) – Montpellier – one of the most dynamic, avant-garde and ‘fun’ cities around, a university town full of pedestrian streets, a superb old city, fountains, squares, cafés and parks, all right next to the futuristic,architecturally spectacular, new urban centre with fast, modern tramways every where, beautiful perpectives and panaromas. .
    Not far north lies Nimes, a much smaller town, with the best preserved Colliseum (seating 25.000 its still used for all types of shows, concerts – and bull fights…) and finest surviving Temple from the Roman Empire ! And just north of Nimes is the Pont-du-Gard, the largest, almost perfect aquaduc built by the Romans to supply Nimes with water 2.000 years ago. Fantastic !

    (Arles/ Bouche de Rhone) – Arles itself has many vestiges of the Roman Empire too, including a Colliseum, theatre etc all supported by a large, beautiful archeology museum. Just south of the city lies the Carmargue, the huge protected marshy delta of the Rhone River, famous for its rice-paddies (Yes rice is produced in Europe..) black Bulls, white Carmargue horses and thousands of pink flamingos. The huge 100.000 hectare national park is wonderful for hiking, bird watching etc The dune-lined coast of the Carmargue has some of the largest, widest, expansive sandy beaches in Europe – as well as the pretty, historic, international Gypsy “capital” (the Gypsy Kings are from here…) at Saintes-Maries-de-le Mer.
    Bull fighting – albeit a softer, more ‘humaine’ version than in Spain or even Portugal ( between the white horses and black bulls…) is endemic throughout this region, including in Saintes-Maries-de-le Mer !

    (Calanques de Cassis) – there are several calanques west of the village of Cassis, getting higher and more dramatic the further west one goes. Some hefty hiking – and increasingly difficult access to the calanques and beaches from the path. Boat cruises also serve each of the calanques. Diving is a big sport in the crystal-clear almost Polynesian blue waters. Close by the prime vineyards and wine villages of Cassis and Bandol – lovely sites for baguette, wine picnics in beautiful scenery.

    (Roussillon – Vaucluse / Dentelles de Montmirail / L’Isle de la Sorgue) Very nearby to these wonderful attractions are several others – all unique and well worth visiting :-
    - Fontaine de Vaucluse – a few kilometres up the road from the beautiful town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is the largest source, or spring, in the world, the Fontaine de Vaucluse . Situated in a beautiful, wild site at the foot of a 300 metre high plateau, the spring (the actual source of the Sorgue River itself) surges up from depths with a flow in the spring and summer months of 150 to 200 cubic metres per second ! Nearby, on the top of the plateau lies the perfectly preserved Abbaye de Sénaque, a monastery dating back to 1148, surrounded by lavender fields as far as the eye can see (best visited in late June and July) .
    - Not far north of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, just west of Mont Ventoux lies Orange, a pretty Provencal town , the site of the best preserved Roman Theatre in the world, dating from 25 BC. It is the only Roman theatre in the world that still has the back scene wall intact – 103 metres long, 37 metres high ! Today, the theatre still seats its original capacity of almost 10.000, and with its perfect acoustics, is still the site for opera, theatre and shows that are held throughout the summer months. Just north of the town centre is the Arc de Triomphe d’Orange – again one of the best examples surviving from the Romans, the carvings on its northern face being particularly well preserved and intact.

    (Meze – Herault) – Sête – Definitely, any visit to Meze and the Etang de Thau, must include a visit to the town of Sête, located at the mouth of the Etang .Often called the “Venice of Provence” because of its network of canals, the town holds its famous Canal “Jousting” Festival each summer, with all the colour, pagentry and attire (including the giant ‘gondolas’ ) of the Middle-Ages.

    Needless to say, further afield from Marie’s Top Ten Provençal sights, there are scores if not hundreds of other very special and unique attractions – all worth being on a list of their own…One of the problems is to define Provence itself. Many guides consider the western boundary to be along the Rhone River , so everything west of there (which would include some of the above attractions) are not considered to be in Provence ! Others consider that Provence goes as far as to include the entire coast as far south as Perpignan ! Technically the Coast d’Azur is also a part of Provence, and it is included in Provence as often as it is not !!! But it is also very much a separate area and ‘place’ too. Being protected by the mountains from the ‘Mistral”, the infamous wind of Provence (like the Transmontana in Spain or Santa Ana in California) the Cote d’Azur has a much balmier climate (frost being all but unknown) which has all led to a much different history, economy and traditions – while at the same time being v similar to Provence too…. But thats all for another entry another day …
    Thanks so much again for this posting.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks for the feedback Tony. Yes, tons to see in the area. I know Provence was featured in Rick Steve’s Top Destinations of Europe (2009) and he’s got a huge write up on the area. Between Marie’s Top 10 and your additions I think there’s enough up there to keep someone busy a month!

  2. @Tony : I totally agree with you. Actually, I did specify “My top 10″, because indeed, it’s really personal, there is not top 10 for everyone, it’s just a few ideas I’ve picked up to share with our fellow travelers. La Provence is huge and full of wonders. You could come for one month every year and still have many things to discover. It’s a heaven for travelers. I miss this place a lot! Do you live there?

    • Hello Marie – No, your Top Ten is great (all are definitely “must sees”) , but because there are so many other attractions so close to the places you mention in your listing, I could not resist but take the liberty of ‘grafting’ a few little “sidetrips” based on your Top Ten ! The problem in Provence, as you say, is where does one start and where does one end ? There is just so much. And then there is the culture, way of life, the people, who add their own dimension and attraction to the place ! La culture Mediterranneen en douceur ! J’adore la region – une place tres speciale au monde, et benie des Dieux ! Originally South African, in Canada for a few decades, I (we) have been discovering Provence for well over 20 years, and presently live and are based there (Côte d’Azur) for about 4 to 5 months a year. Thanks to Frank, I am now discovering your blog. Meilleurs souhaits pour votre sejour a HK !

  3. Great information. I’ve wanted to explore Provence since forever. I’ve heard of Avignon and Arles but not familiar with much else. Where do you recommend staying as a base to the region?

    • Hi Jack – I am sure Marie will have and know the best suggestions for a ‘home-base’ for the region, but in the interim from my various trips (if you have a car ?) would suggest Avignon as the most central and convenient base – as well as being a great ‘destination’ itself a base ! If you have more time would suggest perhaps breaking it up for a few days (at least…) in each ‘centre’ – Aix-enProvence for the eastern, Avignon central and Montpellier as the western centres.- all are terrific cities from which to visit the region.
      However, and whereever you may choose I am sure it will be a wonderful experience and discovery for you … Enjoy !

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  4. If your destination guides aren’t legendary by now, there is something wrong! Good idea you hit upon
    Natalie recently posted…Getting from Ataturk Airport to Istanbul City Centre or your HotelMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thank you Natalie! I always enjoy when people volunteer to write about a place they’ve been raised & lived. A local’s perspective. I find that more interesting than any guide you’ll find on the shelves.

  5. Thank you Natalie & Jack! Don’t hesitate if you need any advices about this part of France. I definitely recommend it! Jack- indeed, Avignon is a perfect for a ‘home base’. Especially during July, and the festival. :)

Thanks for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!

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