Provence is without doubt a popular destination in the summer and for very good reason. The abundant sunshine encourages everything to burst into life. There is a palpable buzz in the air as people make the most of the stunning weather and warm temperatures. The vines are in full leaf, the sunflowers and lavender in bloom, all of which makes the countryside spectacularly pretty. But it’s not just the countryside that comes to life at this time of year… the towns and villages also become hives of activity and with lots to see and do it can be a fantastic time to get out and explore. But where to begin? I’ve listed five favourite towns and villages below which I think are ‘must visits’ when you’re enjoying a summer holiday in Provence.
This beautiful medieval village is perched high up on a hill and has wonderful views from the church square. Entry to the village is by way of two fortified gates (a reminder that this was a feudal village designed to be defended against attackers).
Once you’re through it’s time to wander the small streets that are lined with quaint Provencal houses and interspersed with a variety of shops including craft shops, stylish boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Shady squares intersect the streets on occasion, whilst the middle of the village is dominated by the sizeable 15th century Chateau which is now home to the Mairie (Town Hall). From here you are able to enjoy the amazing panoramic views of the surrounding countryside including the Sainte Baume massif as well as the vines and vineyards that are below the village.
Whilst you’re in the area you may also want to take a trip to the Circuit Paul Ricard (find out more about the Circuit in this article here). Home to this year’s French Grand Prix it’s a great destination venue with plenty to see and do.
- Amazing Views
- Picturesque streets perfect for wandering
This picturesque seaside resort is located in a sweeping bay which keeps it sheltered meaning it’s a great location to head to the beach even if there is a bit of breeze in the air. The port is a central focal point and is home to some 1,500 boats of all shapes and sizes including fishing boats and yachts.
There are some great cafes and restaurants to explore but a main attraction has to be Bandol’s beaches. Plage de Renecros is probably the most stunning – only a few minutes from the centre, you’ll find smooth sand, shallow waters and a couple of restaurants around the edge making it the perfect location for a long day on the beach. The safe waters make it absolutely ideal for children too.
If you fancy taking a boat trip, then head to one of Bandol’s oldest attractions – the Île de Bendor. This is a small island just minutes off the coast which was bought by Paul Ricard of Ricard pastis fame in 1950 and is now home to a hotel, five restaurants, artists village and two museums. The island is car free making it particularly good to wander around.
- Amazing Beaches
- Abundance of water-based activities available to you including boat trips and scuba diving
Frequently described as one of the prettiest towns in Provence, if not France, Aix-en-Provence is somewhere you simply have to visit when in Provence. It is comprised of a beautiful mixture of 15th-17th century townhouses, leafy squares and churches.
It’s a popular destination, especially during the summer so you’d be advised to park up in one of several large car parks on the outskirts before walking into the pedestrianised old town. You’re spoilt for choice on both the shopping and eating front with numerous café’s, restaurants and boutiques. It’s the perfect place to stroll with plenty to see including a magnificent cathedral. The most famous street is Aix-en-Provence is Cours Mirabeauit. Lively and fun to walk down, it’s decorated by fountains and lined with cafes.
Art lovers will want to stop by the small studio of the famous artist Paul Cézanne which still contains his furniture, still life model and work tools.
- A stroll down Cours Mirabeauit
- Even if you’re not particularly interested in art, a visit to Paul Cézanne’s studio is still worthwhile. Situated on the Lauves hill, planted with olive and fig trees, the Verdon canal running alongside it, the land offers a unique panorama of the Sainte Victoire mountain.
Arles offers synonymous with the artist, Vin Gogh who took inspiration from the quality of light in Provence. Arriving in 1888 he produced more than 300 pieces of work over a 15-month period. Today, Arles offers visitors shady squares, colourful houses and an opportunity to explore the Roman ruins which are found across town which includes an incredible UNESCO listed Roman Amphitheatre which plays hosts to a variety of shows over the summer period.
Arles was something of a mecca for artists including Picasso who, like Vin Gogh, was attached to the town. Head to the art collection at Musée Réattu which includes numerous drawings donated by Picasso. If you’re visiting on a Saturday then you’ll want to attend the Saturday market… one of Provence’s best with all manner of foods, clothes and much more for sale.
Arles is also recognised as the gateway to the breath-taking Camargue Natural Park where you can see Flamingo’s and of course the famous Horses of the Camargue.
- The Amphitheatre – it’s amazing.
- The Saturday market. It really is huge!
Avignon is frequently described as the heart of Provence. It overflows with churches and stunning chapels which act as a reminder as to its papal history. Serving for seven decades as the seat of papal power, its sheer number of churches including the World Heritage listed Palais des Papes which is the largest gothic palace ever built, gives testament to the might of the Roman Catholic church in the 14th Century.
These amazing buildings blend with the calm waters of the River Rhone across which stretches the famous Saint-Bénézet Bridge.
Avignon isn’t only about stunning architecture though… it’s home to numerous theatre and music festivals for which Avignon is famed. Heading out of the town you are also perfectly placed to visit the famous Côtes du Rhône vineyards which produce the sublime Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds. Make sure you leave room in the car for a few bottles!
- A stroll along the Saint-Bénézet Bridge
- The incredible Palais des Papes
Su Stephens is Owner of Olives & Vines. Olives & Vines is a luxury holiday company based in the South of France offering stays at their beautifully designed holiday house and boutique hotel in Le Castellet.