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Provence has something for just about everyone. This brilliant corner of southeast France is punctuated with villages full of winding lanes, cliffs that plunge to the sea, and 2000-year-old Roman ruins still begging to be explored. From standing where Van Gogh stood to breathing in the bliss of the local markets, there are so many marvelous things to do in Provence, France, whether you have one day or ten.
Things to do in Provence
Lose yourself in Avignon
Avignon is a unique combination of an historical town (with medieval walls, no less) and a modern city teeming with businesses, cafes, and tons of character.
Stop by the Palace of the Popes and imagine what it might have been like 700 years ago when pontiffs walked the halls. Have a leisurely lunch at one of the restaurants on Place de l’Horloge or stroll through the Parc Rocher des Doms, a seven-acre park where locals enjoy the open space and relax under the warmth of the Provencal sun. End your day at one of the wine bars on Rue des Teinturiers, people watching with a glass of local wine in-hand.
Stop in for a sip at Manguin Distillery
Head out from Avignon to the Île de la Barthelasse where you’ll find Manguin Distillery. Manguin has been making its famous Poire Williams Eau de Vie, an amazing pear brandy, for over 50 years. Not quite as delicious (but even more interesting) are the bottles you’ll see attached to the trees outside – the pears are actually growing inside the bottles.
On Saturday mornings you can join a tour of the facilities at Manguin and taste a variety of their products. A visit here is one of the more unique things to do in Provence.
Take a step back in history
Provence and the surrounding area are full of Roman ruins and other historical sites. Whether it’s the remains of the ancient “upper town” of Vaison la Romaine or the archaeological site of Glanum in Saint-Remy-de-Provence, there’s lots to see and learn about in the South of France.
Some of the most important historic sites have even been classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Don’t miss the opportunity to tour the 2000-year-old Ancient Theater of Orange where the original statue of Emperor Augustus still looks out at the crowd. The Pont du Gard aqueduct – perched high above the Gardon River – and the Arles Amphitheater are also must-sees.
Relax in Cassis
Cassis has it all – stunning natural features, adorable seaside restaurants, a twisty mountain drive, and a bit of history thrown in for good measure. In an area full of great towns, this is one of the best.
The most unique feature of Cassis is its calanques, white cliffs of limestone that plunge dramatically into the Mediterranean. You can walk the trails, hike, or take a cruise to see some of the largest ones. After your excursion, relax at one of the cafes with some fresh seafood while you marvel at the colors of all the boats in the marina. After lunch, drive (or take a taxi) on La Route des Cretes, a breathtaking mountain drive that takes you high above the town for one of the most picturesque things to do in Provence.
Absorb the ambiance of the markets
Markets in Provence overflow with seasonal produce, fresh meats, spices, cheeses, and all variety of homewares. They are truly a feast for the senses. Most are temporary, outdoor markets that take place once or twice a week, generally in the main town square. The permanent, indoor markets have fixed hours.
Arles and Aix-en-Provence are definite winners, but there are so many local markets to choose from. Be prepared for all the free samples, and if you think you might want to buy something, ensure you have a bit of cash on hand.
Cook like a local
Food in Provence is homey and flavorful. It’s full of olives, herbs, tomatoes, garlic, and dozens of other delicious ingredients. If your accommodations allow, make a visit to a local market or grocery store and pick up something in season to cook at home.
Walk in the footsteps of Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh spent the last two years of his life producing numerous paintings in the South of France. Two of the areas where he was most prolific – Arles and Saint-Remy-de-Provence – have self-guided walks showing his images in the exact locations where they were painted. From Starry Night to images of brightly-lit cafes, flowers, and bales of hay, visitors can trace where the master stood and (mostly) what he saw.
Wander the lanes of Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence is famous for its markets, fountains, and twisting pedestrian lanes. A visit here is about being and soaking in the good life rather than doing anything specific. Wander. Get lost. Pull up a table at one of the trendy tables on Cours Mirabeau, or opt for one at a local place on a quieter square. Either way, enjoy.
Explore the Ochre Cliffs of Roussillon
Tiny Roussillon has been a protected village since 1943. There is no modern development here – just cafes, winding lanes, and amazing views. Many of those picturesque views come at the colorful ochre cliffs on the south end of town. These yellow, red, and orange hills are the largest ochre deposit in the world. Walking along the burnt orange path is like stepping into another (very colorful) dimension. Choose the short or the long path (30 or 60 minutes) and stroll to your heart’s content. But don’t wear any light-colored clothes because white and red don’t mix well.
Drive the Cotes du Rhone
A day driving France’s Cotes du Rhone wine road will take you through the South of France to charming villages, past vineyards, and over beautiful mountain passes. Along the way, you can taste the wine that the region is famous for – affordable, easy-drinking blends (mostly reds) known as Cotes du Rhone.
Don’t forget to stop and take in the beautiful views as the road runs through the mountains, hanging high above the valleys before dipping back down. It’s even better if you bring a picnic to enjoy at a scenic spot along the way.
Have you been to Provence? What did you enjoy most or would you most look forward to there?