Provence

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Provence villa holiday guide

If you are looking for sun-soaked olive groves, carpets of lavender, sunflower fields, Roman ruins, and gently trellised vines, Provence villa holidays deliver. The region’s blue skies, mountainous landscapes, and photogenic seascapes inspired Van Gogh and Cézanne, and continue to seduce visitors in towns like Aix-en-Provence and Arles. Add the vibrant street markets, gourmet foods—like truffles and chestnuts—and some of the world’s best wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and you have yourself one seriously epicurean destination.

Explore Provence

Neoclassical Aix-en-Provence delights with its baroque architecture and elegant fountain-lined boulevards. In bustling Marseille, originally founded by the Phoenicians in 600 BC, eat saffron-tinted bouillabaisse (fish soup) as fishing boats bob nearby in the Old Port. The morsels in this briny speciality are fished around the Calanques, rocky creeks with silver beaches that lie between Marseille and Cassis. Avignon, the French capital of theatre, is rich in Medieval buildings like the colossal Palais des Papes, from where the papacy reigned over Catholic Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Nîmes flaunts remarkably preserved Roman structures that recall the days of Julius Caesar.

Aix-en-Provence

Provence's countryside

Don your hiking boots and walk the Vaucluse’s stony paths, past vineyards and up jagged mountains around Avignon. Medieval villages with ruined castles dot the Luberon’s rocky knolls, their topsy-turvy rooftops slicing into the horizon like a Cézanne painting. From here, head north-eastwards along winding roads to Haute-Provence, famed for lavender fields and the Gorges du Verdon canyon. On a good day, you can see the snow-capped Alps. Explore Provence’s southern expanses in the Camargue, where rice is cultivated in low-slung paddies and flamingos fish in lagoons.

Lavender field at sunrise

Entertainment and nightlife in Provence

Chic residents congregate on Aix-en-Provence’s terraces for a glass of Côtes de Provence as the sun goes down. Thirty kilometres to the south,Marseille’s portside bars reel in rugged fisherman for a post-work Pastis, and an increasingly trendy crowd frequents Belle de Mai for electronic music concerts in converted warehouses. For highbrow entertainment, head to Avignon and its Italian-style opera house, and (each July) the country’s biggest theatre festival. Arles has a more laid-back nightlife scene, with café-lined streets that lead to the Roman amphitheatre where open-air music concerts are staged throughout the year.

Avignon Opera House

Shopping in Provence

Shopping in Provence is synonymous with its colourful food markets. For knobbly black truffles, try CarpentrasCavaillon’s street market has the best fleshy melons; and for cooking tips, visit Avignon’s covered market, where the city’s top chefs give demonstrations on Saturdays. Antique shoppers flock to L’Isle-sur-le-Sorgue, where entire streets house brocantes (antiques fairs) hawking everything from 1970s furniture to baroque clocks. Marseille is awash in shops, from designer boutiques to artisanal bakeries selling navettes—boat-shaped biscuits doused in orange-flower.

Provencal goods store

Eating and drinking in Provence

From almond calissons  (almond sweets) in Aix-en-Provence to black truffles in Carpentras, Provence’s cuisine is both gourmet and varied. Top chefs swear by olive oil from Les Baux de Provence, prizing its golden hue and fruity flavour. Wine is served with every meal here, whether you are in a family-run bistro or a Michelin starred restaurant. Avignon’s best tables like their reds from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, famed for its full-bodied Rhône syrah. If seafood is your forte, head to the coast for silver platters of lobsters, oysters, and prawns, best washed down with a crisp Bandol blanc.

Calissons on a plate. Traditional French Provence sweets with cup of tea

Explore Provence's history

History buffs are spoiled in Provence, which—like the neighbouring Côte d’Azur—was conquered by Romans who left behind a wealth of monuments. Explore the eerie remains of an entire Roman town at Vaison-la-Romaine, north of Avignon. The ‘little Rome of the Gauls’, Arlessports some of Europe’s most treasured ancient vestiges, including a bust of Julius Caesar himself, on show in city’s Museum of Antiquity. In Nîmes, see one of Europe’s best-preserved amphitheatres, before taking in the panorama from atop the two thousand year old Tour Magne.

View of the hilltop village of Vaison la Romaine and ancient bridge

Active pursuits in Provence

Saddle up in the Camargue for horse riding through marshes and along deserted beaches with the gardians, the region’s cowboys. Hikers should head north to the Luberon National Park where forests, vineyards, and tiny Medieval villages are a delight to explore on foot. For water-sports, head to the Gorges de Verdon, in Haute-Provence, where you can canoe through canyons and rapids. Or hit the coast at Marseilleor Cassis and gawp at the Mediterranean’s wealth of sea creatures, from dolphins to boop boops (a type of sea bream).  

Horseback riding in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Camargue

The coast of Provence

In winter, mist hangs over the Camargue’s salty lagoons, and in summer it is a haven for birds like flamingos… and mosquitoes. Apply repellent and explore secluded Piémançon’s flat, golden sands; then head eastwards for Marseille, where boats transport sun-worshippers to the Calanques’ turquoise waters. Find your own tree-shaded beach on Île de Porquerolles, a pine-clad island off the coast of Hyères. If you are looking for tranquility, rent a bike and leave other visitors behind: it was on Porquerolles that Robert Louis Stevenson supposedly found inspiration for his pirate novel, Treasure Island

St Croix Lake, Les Gorges du Verdon