An enchanting visit to Provence, France

In En-Route, Europe, France, Our Journeys, Trip-Types by Janis2 Comments

Honey-coloured villages, quaint towns and historical cities

Gary and I just love visiting France, any excuse that we can think of, and we are there.  It’s not just the incredible food and wine, although that’s a pretty good reason to visit France. But the far-reaching countryside and the delightful little quiet villages are so captivating. 

An olive tree close to an old stone windmill on the hillside outside the small town of Fontvieille.

An old windmill in Fontvieille

However, if push came to shove and I really had to narrow down a region in France to tour, I think it would definitely be a visit to Provence. 

The scent of lavender, rolling vineyards, charming hilltop villages and ancient Roman architecture, need I go on. 

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Provence in the south of France is appealing to so many people, you can head there for a mini-break, jump in your car for an incredible road trip. Or if the lure of cycling is your pleasure, then you can follow in the Tour de France tyre tracks and ascend Mont Ventoux.  

A view from the top of Mont Ventoux over the landscape to the north.  A plaque points out the mountains in the range in front.

Atop Mont Ventoux

The reminiscing of Provence is making me want to return to this beautiful part of France, the honey-coloured villages and towns are calling me.

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Good to know

The French roads are so easy to drive upon, particularly on the autoroutes. They are often quiet and free-flowing. The main thing you need to bear in mind is that the autoroutes are usually toll roads.

Keep your credit card handy as it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to pay.




Location, location, location

Whether you like a bustling city, a laidback town or the tranquil lanes of a village, Provence really does have them all.

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The Olive groves of Provence

We’ve visited a few destinations over the years, some by the sea, others on a hilltop and so often they are bathed in sunshine. My ideal is touring the Provencal countryside, weaving our way through the olive groves and vineyards and visiting the incredible Roman architecture, scattered throughout the region.

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Yes, I must admit now, I do have a favourite place to stay, and that’s Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. To me it has it all, charming lanes adorned with sunflowers and lavender and duck egg blue shutters flung open to the sunshine. 

A fountain at the roadside of St Remy-de-Provence in front of a row of restaurants busy with a lunchtime crowd.

Alfresco lunches in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

How could you not love strolling through streets full of cafés, galleries, boutiques and restaurants? Even when it’s bustling, you can still find peaceful spots to sit and while away your day. 

Another reason I love Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is for its history. Vincent van Gogh lived here during a troubled period of his life.

He painted a few of his masterpieces, one of which was “The Starry Night”.  

A brass statue of Vince van Gogh clutching a bunch of sunflowers on the approach to the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole, just outside St Remy-de-Provence.

A statue to Vincent with his sunflowers

Also, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is the ancient Roman settlement of Glanum.

The ruins of the Roman temple within the complex of Glanum, just outside the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.

The steps to the temple

Perfect base

Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is the ideal location to base yourself to explore the surrounding Provence villages. There are so many restaurants when you return back of an evening.




Some larger Provence options 

Personally, if you are visiting Provence then the UNESCO city of Avignon is a must to visit, it is so beautiful. Take a stroll north of the Rhône, and you can catch the incredible view of the medieval remains of Pont d’Avignon, the Palais des Papes and Avignon Cathedral.

A view across the Rhône river to the remains of the Pont d’Avignon and the Palais des Papes in the background.

Pont d’Avignon

The architecture throughout Avignon is incredible, and so are some of their restaurants. Gary can undoubtedly vouch for the lavender crème brûlée.  

If you’d love to tour the Provence villages and don’t have your own set of wheels, take a look at the full-day tour from Get Your Guide. You’ll be picked up in Avignon, and the Provence countryside hills await.

Nîmes

The ancient city of Nîmes is also located in Provence and has some incredible history dating back to the Roman Empire.

The brass statue of a bullfighter in front of the complete, two-storey, Roman arena in Nîmes.

The Arènes de Nîmes

The Arena of Nîmes, in the heart of the city, is an imposing Roman amphitheatre was built in AD 70.

The arena is still used today, and if you’re lucky, you may be able to catch one of their open-air concerts.

Did you know?

That the good old ‘Demin’ blue jeans derives its name from the textile city of Nîmes.




Arles

Arles is another excellent choice for you and is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Arles is just Provence through and through. Lovely rustic squares, fantastic restaurants and boutiques and history around every corner.

An obelisk & fountain in the Place de la Republique of the historic Roman city of Arles.

Place de la Republique

This is another city that can brag at having Vincent van Gogh as one of its residents. A visit to Arles wouldn’t be complete without heading to the two-tier Roman Amphitheatre. It stands high in the town and was constructed in 90AD, it’s unbelievable. 

Marseille

Now, I’m going to be upfront with you, as we only really visited the hilltop Basilica in Marseille. Which I must say was pretty incredible, the views across the city are amazing.

A mariners cross at the viewpoint of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde overlooking the city of Marseille.

The view over Marseille from the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde

We drove around the port and through part of the city and boy was it busy. It is France’s second-largest city, so it isn’t surprising. Also, Marseille has a large international airport, so it’s ideal for flying into, hire a car and discover the region of Provence. But, hey, that’s your choice.

Something to make your travels easier?

Why not?

Start creating your own French adventure and discover some the enchanting towns and villages in Provence for yourself, by flying easyJet or British Airways. These are just a couple of options that you can take to the beautiful country.




Picturesque Provence

Les Baux-de-Provence is one of Provence’s iconic hilltop villages. It is as equally stunning from a distance, as it is wandering through the tiny narrow streets. 

A view in the distance of the hillside town of Les Baux-de-Provence with the remains of its historic ruins atop the craggy rockface

A view of Les Baux-de-Provence

Little alleyways leading off winding flights of steps. Window boxes overflowing with colour and tiny shop doorways welcoming in visitors. I would advise visiting early, this pretty village can get very busy. 

In the foothills below all around the surrounding countryside are olive groves, it is so picturesque.

Cucuron

Cucuron is another one of my favourite villages and if you’ve seen the film “A Good Year”, you’ll probably recognise it. 

Cucuron village itself is reasonably small, and only has a population of around 1,900 people. However, when you walk into the main square, you are greeted with the Bassin de l'étang. 

The large raised pond, lined with trees, in the centre of Cucuron filled with large golden koi.  Restaurants line one side, and a market on the other.

The Bassin de l'étang in Cucuron

I can only describe it as a huge rectangular pond, it dates from the beginning of the 14th century, and it is incredible. People are perched on the edge chatting with friends just passing the time of day. We had a lovely lunch sitting at a pondside table, celebrating Gary’s birthday. 

Have you seen?

Our post on 12 of France’s incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites, you may want to add some of these to your road trip.




Gordes 

Gordes is another beautiful location high on a hillside. The buildings all around the edge have such an incredible view across the Provencal countryside. 

A view of the hillside town of Gordes captured in the glow of the evening sun.

The town of Gordes

The village is so picturesque, stroll through the narrow winding alleys and treat yourself to a bag of Herbes de Provence, as a little memory to take home.

A fountain in a square with dinners enjoying lunch under the shade of trees.

La Renaissance restaurant in Gordes

Like Les Baux-de-Provence, Gordes can also get rather busy so again try and arrive early in the morning or late afternoon. Once again, you may recognise it from the movie “A Good Year”.

Venasque 

Venasque is perched high on a rocky outcrop, and I’m trying not to sound too repetitive but, this is another lovely village. It was chosen as one of France’s Most Beautiful Villages (Les Plus Beaux Villages). 

A view of the Provence landscape to the right with a road on the left leading up to the small stone church of Venasque.

The church of Venasque

When we visited late one afternoon, the streets were almost deserted. It was wonderful just strolling along the lanes, peeking around different corners and enjoying the peaceful village life.  




Cassis

Ahh, Cassis, this is a little different from the other villages I’ve mentioned, as it is on the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. Cassis is only around 16 miles (26km) east of Marseille and most certainly worth a visit.

Standing on the rocky shore looking at a small pleasure boat returning the harbour of Cassis. A little stone lighthouse stands on the side of the harbour wall.

Arriving at Cassis harbour

It’s a lovely harbour town to stroll around and such a pleasure to promenade around the bay. Cassis is nestled at the bottom of the cliffs, so its harbour and inlets are protected from the elements.  

Bonnieux

A large part of the enjoyment of touring Provence is the incredible scenery. As you drive across the open countryside, it just puts a smile on your face. Passing from village to village and seeing the ochre-coloured cliffs in the distance.

A view over the rooftops of Bonnieux to the landscape of Provence.

The view over the landscape from Bonnieux

Bonnieux is another iconic hilltop village in Provence dating back to the Romans. Bonnieux sits on the Luberon hills and has some magnificent views across the open landscape below. 

The small Roman bridge over a dry riverbed against a clear blue sky.

Pont Julien

However, just close by here is the Pont Julien (Julian Bridge). This you have to go and visit, the Roman stone arch bridge dates from 3 BC and was still in use for light traffic until Spring 2005. 

In our opinion

We love embarking on road trips, so our preferred mode of transport is always jumping in a car. We find it’s the best way to discover a country. So why not check out, SIXT car hire they cover all budgets and allow you to pick up and drop off at different destinations.




Unmissable sights around Provence

Well if you’ve made it to Provence, you really must visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pont du Gard. It’s only around 14 miles (25km) from Nîmes, and this bridge is breath-taking. It’s such an incredible feat of Roman Engineering.

The historic Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard.  Three levels of arches carrying water over the river Gardon.

The Pont du Gard

Pont du Gard was built to allow the aqueduct of Nîmes to cross the Gard river. Although, it’s not just a simple bridge, it is built across three levels and stands 50 metres high. You can even take a stroll across it.

The Pont du Gard can get busy at times, so grab your ticket in advance, and you’ll even skip the line.

The Camargue

The Camargue on the Mediterranean coast is a beautiful natural region in southern France and just a short hop from Arles. 

A large group  of flamingoes wading in a lagoon in the Camargue.

Flamingos wading in the Camargue

The fleur de sel that you see for sale around Provence villages is obtained from the salt pans here. As you drive around the wetlands, you’ll see the ancient breed of Camargue horses, flamingos, rice paddies and also herds of fighting bulls.

Two large bulls, sporting upturned horns, wandering around the scrubland of the Camargue.

The bulls of the Camargue

It’s a perfect area to visit and a lovely contrast to other parts of the region. 

If you’re staying in Arles and would love to discover the Camargue, join the 4x4 Safari that Get Your Guide offer. You’ll spend a very memorable four hours with your own personal guide. 




The choice is yours

You have various options when visiting Provence if you’re travelling from the UK. Firstly, you can jump in your car and hop on Le Shuttle and head south, this is our preferred option. 

 Also, you have the choice of letting Eurostar take the strain. You can catch a train from London St Pancras International direct to Avignon. How good is that?

 Alternatively, if you are flying in, head direct to Marseille Provence Airport, this is also a great option for travellers visiting from further afield. Then rent a car from, SIXT car hire they cover all budgets. 

Something for the Traveller

Inspired to visit Provence?

Like us, why not base yourself at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, it has everything?

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About the Author

Janis

Janis, the co-founder of Our World for You, was born in London and raised in Kent and the Isle of Wight. Along with Gary her partner, they have been travelling part time since 1995. In 2016, they decided that enough was enough with the 9 to 5, so armed with the knowledge and experience that they had gained on their adventures, that they wanted to inspire others to travel the world near and far.

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Comments

  1. I’ve spent a bit of time in Provance but it looks like there’s much more to explore. I love a good road trip and this looks like a good one. Did using the toll roads become a bit expensive?

    1. Author

      It’s a beautiful region to take a road trip. In regards to the tolls, I think if you were to head from Calais to the Provence region it would be around €80 to €100, depending on which route you took. Although they are so easy to drive on and often fairly quiet.

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