Provence, apart from the wonderful lavender and poppy fields what else is there to do?
Yes, Provence is famous for its beautiful countryside, endless Lavender fields, spectacular Poppies, and let us not forget Provence Rosé wine! But did you know that the coastline is full of amazing beaches, quaint ports and the rejuvenated City of Marseille is the second largest in France.
Provence is now part of the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region of France, it no longer has its own official identity, however it is still widely known purely as Provence! (As is the Cote d’azur..) Within the region there are departments, the main Provencal ones being Bouches du Rhone, Var, Vaucluse, and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, and within the departments there are the famous towns, cities, villages, hamlets like St Remy de Provence, Isle sur la Sorge, Gordes, Goult, Bormes les Mimosas etc.
It can all be very confusing for a first visit to Provence so where should you go and what should you do?
South France Villas top ten things to do in Provence
1. Of course it has to be a visit to the Lavender fields
The most famous images that you see for the Lavender fields are taken in the Luberon national park (Vaucluse), also made famous by Peter Mayle’s “A year in Provence”. Lavender has so many qualities; deters insects, cleanses, helps you sleep to name just a few. We are sure some form of Lavender, maybe soap, oil or freshly picked will find its way back home with you. July is the ultimate time to visit as the Lavender should be in full bloom.
Cassis, a beautiful coastal town at the end of Le Calanques (Mediterranean fjords), these spectacular cliffs start at the coast of Marseille and stretch for about 20 kilometres. If you like hiking then this is a perfect day trip whilst on holiday in the South of France, there are plenty of tiny inlets with beautiful beaches to stop for a dip in the sea or maybe a picnic lunch. Cassis itself is very charming, an ancient fishing port where the local fishing boats mingle with the luxury yachts, the private 12th century Chateau de Cassis dominates the port
Villa Canaille – Stunning Villa in Cassis
Try if you can to visit on a Saturday, the streets turn into a magical market with a truly French atmosphere. Uzes is a small town and not very touristy so you may need to know a few basic words in French, if not then a smile always helps! Why not buy a delicious spit-roast chicken, or a paella from one of the street sellers, take it back to you villa for a lovely lunch in the sunshine!
The second largest city in France and the largest port in France. A wonderful vibrant city, it really is worth a visit. Marseille has recently been endorsed by Anthony Peregrine who only writes the truth about France. Read his article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/france/cote-d-azur/marseille/articles/marseille-city-breakguide/
Capital of Provence from the 12th to 18th centuries. Beautiful avenues lined with cafés and lively medieval streets nearby. There are numerous fountains in the city which is why it is often referred to as the city of a thousand fountains. If you want to enjoy a glass of local wine, Au P’tit Quart d’Heure in Place Forum des Cardeurs is the place to be – this little wine bar is very popular amongst the tourists and locals so make sure you go there early in the evening if you wish to sit down. Don’t forget to try the speciality of Aix-en-Provence – Calissons, a type of marzipan confectionary made from almond paste and crystallised melon.
Do you remember singing the song “Sur le pont d’Avignon” at school? Then why not visit what remains of the famous bridge, it is now classed as a World Heritage site. A visit to the stunning Palais des Papes is a must, the view from the top is priceless. A visit to Avignon is a real cultural experience.
7. Isle sur la Sorgue
The Antique centre of Provence, there are hundreds of Antique shops and a market most Sundays, can you spot the difference between an original and a replica? The river is the heart of the town with numerous restaurants and cafés along the water’s edge, the perfect place to people watch! Keep an eye out for one of the ancient water wheels which are still in service.
Saumane, Provencal farmhouse to rent with infinity pool near Isle-sur-Sorgue
En route to the Cote d’Azur, Toulon has also retained lots of Provencal character and over the last 20 years there has been huge investment. The traditional squares and fountains have had a facelift, designer boutiques and swanky restaurants have opened. The city still has a large naval connection with the French Navy having a large base here. Rugby is very popular (Jonny Wilkinson used to play for Toulon), why not fly over for a match during the Heineken cup, there are flights to London and Southampton.
9. Salon de Provence
The French version of the Red arrows the Patrouille de France (La PAF), is based in Salon, they can regularly be seen flying overhead and practicing their breath-taking moves. Nostradamus was the most famous resident of this pretty town. The house where he lived in the 16th century has been turned into a Museum, with guided tours available. The ancient tradition of making soap from olive oil has continued in Salon and another great place to visit is the Marius Fabre shop and museum.
10. Saintes Maries
This small coastal town is brought alive in May and October for the Gypsy Pilgrimage, dating back to the middle ages this festival is based on honouring three Saints, Saint Sara, the patron Saint of the Gypsys, Saint Mary Jacobe and Saint Mary Salome. The lively procession leaves the church down to the beach and the famous white Camarge horses are ridden into the sea, the procession then leads back to the church and the whole town celebrates. It is thought that this is where the Gypsy Kings first founded their flamenco group, sitting on the beach, strumming their guitars around a camp fire.