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The region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, in Southern France, has everything to make visitors happy: the French Riviera sunny beaches and chic resorts, the endless lavender fields and stone villages of Provence, picturesque marinas, secluded creeks with turquoise waters, great hikes, and excellent gastronomy.
This is also the land of Van Gogh, Chagall, and Paul Cézanne, painters who fell in love with the region’s natural splendor, rich heritage, and vibrant colors and made it their source of inspiration.
In Provence Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, the sea is at your feet, and the Alpine peaks merely a few hours away by car. Thanks to its fantastic Mediterranean climate, the region is also a popular destination for winter getaways in France.
The region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – PACA between friends – has six departments: Alpes Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Bouches du Rhône, Hautes-Alpes, Var, and Vaucluse. The capital of the region is Marseille.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France.
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Travel
BY PLANE: The region has two of the busiest international airports in France: Marseille Provence Airport (MRS) and Nice Côte d’Azur Airport (NCE). If you don’t plan to visit Paris, consider booking a flight directly to Provence.
BY FERRY: Provence is an important port region. The port of Marseille is the first port in France and the second in the Mediterranean sea. The port of Marseille has daily connections with Corsica Island and regular or seasonal connections with several cities in North Africa, Italy, and Spain.
BY TRAIN: Traveling in France by train is straightforward. High-speed trains connect Paris with Marseille Saint Charles train station in less than three hours, and they also serve Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. In May 2021, the night train Paris – Nice resumed its service with departures every night from both directions.
You can explore many other places in the region by regional trains (TER Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur).
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur by Car
The region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is a great place for memorable French road trips. With a car, some good tunes, and the best company, you are set for one of the best adventures in your life. Driving in France is very easy, and with the car, you can go off the beaten path to get the most out of Provence.
Recommended road trips in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur:
- French Riviera Road Trip
- Lavender Fields and Gorges du Verdon Road Trip
- Best Lavender Route in Provence
- Paris to Nice Road Trip
If you don’t have your own car, we recommend booking in advance through platforms like RentalCar. This site takes all major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc., and compares prices for you. Check out our best tips for renting a car in France.
What to Do in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
Let’s have a look at what to do in Provence, France. The list of best things to do in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur includes sightseeing, coastal towns, hilltop villages, history, and gastronomy.
1. Marseille and its Old Port
Marseille’s colorful port is one of the best places to see the city in action. Marseille was founded by the Phoenicians 2,600 years ago, and since the 6th century BC, the city is one of Europe’s main trading hubs.
The port that you see today is mostly from the 1,700s, and it is a great place to meet friends or for an evening stroll. In Quai des Belges you will find a traditional fish market, the perfect place to buy the last catch for a delicious bouillabaisse.
If you are looking for great weekend getaways in Southern France, Marseille is a good option. After the port, you can visit the traditional neighborhood of Le Panier for some local life. Then, make your way up to Notre-Dame de la Garde, at the highest point in the city, and admire the fabulous views over the Old Port and the Mediterranean Sea.
If you need some travel inspiration, check out our Marseille 2-day itinerary with the best things to see and do for a weekend in Marseille.
2. The Lavender Fields of Provence
The lavender season in Provence depends on the area, but in general, it lasts from the last week of June to the beginning of August when it is harvested.
There are many guided tours to see the lavender fields of Provence, with departures from Nice, Avignon, and Aix-en-Provence. This half-day guided tour to Luberon Valley and Sault from Avignon always gets the best ratings, and it includes a stop at the 11th-century Cistercian Sénanque Abbey and a couple of hilltop villages.
3. Gorges du Verdon
Nestled in the Verdon Regional Park, Gorges du Verdon, is one of Europe’s most fabulous natural settings. This limestone canyon with turquoise waters runs for 25 kilometers through the park, and at points, it reaches depths of more than 700 meters.
Gorges du Verdon is one of the top things to do in France. One of the favorite ways to visit Gorges du Verdon is on a kayak, but you can also approach the gorge on foot via a range of hikes. There’s also rock climbing and whitewater rafting available, or you can just decide to swim in these sparkling waters.
If you don’t want to leave the comfort of your car, avoid the summer months when a long line of vehicles moves at a snail’s pace. If you are there at that time, try to do the drive very early in the morning.
4. The Calanques of Marseille – Cassis
The Calanques of Marseille – Cassis is a natural area located between the communes of Marseille, Cassis, and La Ciotat. This is the 10th National Park in France, and it offers spectacular landscapes, rich flora and fauna, and endless outdoor activities.
Nature passionates will definitely love Les Calanques de Marseille – Cassis. The National Park is at the same time terrestrial, marine, and periurban and includes coastal ranges of creeks, a vast marine area of the Mediterranean Sea, several islands, and one of the richest submarine canyons in the world.
The best way to explore the Calanques is on foot, following one of the various trails inside the park. If hiking is not your thing, but you don’t want to miss the beauty of the Calanques, jump on a sailboat or a catamaran, and explore this wonderful area from the water.
5. Hilltop Villages of Provence
Stroll around the hilltop villages of Provence, built from local stone, full of character, and with stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Some of these villages are classed amongst the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France.’
Provence – a land of passage between the Italian and Iberian peninsulas – has always been convoked and threatened. Building villages on the top of the hills was a good way to control the route along the valley or countryside and protect their inhabitants.
If Roussillon, Saint Paul, or Vence are already popular, there are still many lesser-known villages waiting to be discovered. Little villages where life is slow and peaceful and the days of rain are rare.
TIP: This top-rated tour from Avignon visits the most beautiful hilltop villages in the Luberon
Listed UNESCO World Site, Arles will surprise you with its impressive Roman heritage. The earliest monuments – the arena, the Roman theatre, and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C!
The town also has interesting Romanesque architecture from the 11th and 12th centuries. Don’t miss Saint-Trophime church and cloister, a witness of Arles’ glorious medieval past and one of the major Romanesque monuments in Provence.
Arles was also Van Gogh’s home for a year and the source of inspiration for some 300 of his works. The painter shared the ‘Yellow house’ in Arles with Gauguin for nine weeks.
7. Martigues, the Venice of Provence
One of Provence’s most picturesque coastal towns, Martigues became a favorite place for artists in the 19th century. They were seduced by its clear light and canals, and Martigues was quickly nicknamed the Venice of Provence.
You can decide for yourself if this description is correct, but you will certainly fall for the small canals, picturesque houses, and bridges around Brescon Island, in the heart of the city.
In Martigues, you can also enjoy striking landscapes on the coast, delicious Mediterranean cuisine, and a superb museum with works by famous artists living in Martigues. And when the sun shines, you’ll never be far from a pristine sandy beach or an old fishing port.
8. Avignon and the Palace of the Popes
In 1309 Avignon became the heart of Christendom when Pope Clement V moved the Papacy here at the invitation of the King of France. Today, Avignon is a beautiful city to explore, with an interesting medieval heritage and a great theater festival. It is also a good base to explore the Luberon region and some of the best lavender fields in Provence.
Standing high above the town, the 14th-century magnificent Palace of the Popes was the residence for six popes. Listed as UNESCO World Heritage, the Palace of the Popes is also the world’s largest and most important civil building in Gothic style.
When you visit the palace, you’ll get access to more than twenty rooms, including Clement IV’s papal apartments, where the exquisite gothic frescoes by Matteo Giovanetti survive to this day.
9. The French Riviera (Côte d’Azur)
The French Riviera – Côte d’Azur in French – is one of the most beautiful parts of France, always bathed in sunshine. Nice is French Riviera’s capital and a convenient place to start your French Riviera explorations.
Clustered around Nice, there are some compelling destinations like Monaco, Antibes, Éze Village, Cannes, Menton, or Saint Tropez. These are great day trips from Nice to do on your own or with a guided tour.
Aix-en-Provence has everything you can imagine from a city in the south of France. Aix is also one of the world’s great art cities thanks to artists and writers like Paul Cézanne, Émile Zola, or Albert Camus, who lived and left their footprint in Aix.
In Aix-en-Provence, you can ramble along Cours Mirabeau under the plane trees and take a seat at one of the many cafes that are steeped in 19th and 20th-century cultural history for some people watching. Stroll around Aix’s old quarter or visit some of its main sights: the roman remains, including a great spa, the Cathedral St-Sauveur full of medieval art, or the interesting Paul Cezanne walk by the Tourist Office.
Gastronomy in Provence
Provençal cuisine offers a striking contrast between the hearty mountain dishes (dauphinois, ravioles, gratins) and the light and perfumed dishes of the Mediterranean cuisine, many of them based on fish.
The Provence wine region is spoilt by nature, with the climate and soil conditions ideally suited to produce a huge variety of wines. Try a glass of one of the local wines (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-de-Provence, Rasteau, Bandol).
On the sweet side, try the honey, calissons (candies made from almonds and melon), chocolate mendiants, and quince paste.
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