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Provence-Alps-Côte d’ Azur – PACA for friends – is a French region located in southeastern France bordering Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. Just three hours by TGV from Paris, the sky here is azure and the sun shines.
In Provence Alpes-Côte-d’Azur, the sea is at your feet and the Alpine peaks merely a few hours away by car. The region’s fantastic Mediterranean climate on the coast makes this region also a popular destination for winter breakaways in France.
For natural splendor, rich heritage, and vibrant colors, you will be spoilt for choice in Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur: this is a land of deep gorges and hilltop villages, colorful Mediterranean villages sunny beaches, good gastronomy, wine, and traditions. And this is also the land of Van Gogh, Chagall, and Cezanne, painters who fell in love with the region and made it their source of inspiration.
Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur has 6 départments: Alpes Maritimes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Bouches du Rhône, Hautes-Alpes, Var, and Vaucluse.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France.
The Lavender Fields in Provence
One of the top things to do in Provence is to explore the lavender fields. Lavender is the soul of Provence, and Luberon’s lavender fields are famous worldwide. The lavender fields in Provence bloom from around the last week of June to the beginning of August when it is harvested and you can lavender fields by car, by bike or on foot.
Most of the Provence Lavender tours include a short stop to see the 11th-century Cistercian Abbaye de Sénanque, near Gordes, edged by cypress trees behind a lavender field. The monks still living in the abbey make a living from the fields, and also keep honey bees.
Apart from visiting the lavender fields, it is also possible to visit lavender farms and distilleries and buy lavender products all around Provence like oil, essences, perfumes, soap, etc.
Tip: If you want to see sunflowers and lavender together, sunflowers are in full color in July-August.
Old Port of Marseille
Marseille’s colorful port is one of the best places to see Marseille in action. Marseille was founded by the Phoenicians 2.600 years ago and from the 6th century BC, this is one of Mediterranean Europe’s trading hubs.
What you see today is mostly from the 1.700s and it is a great place to meet with friends or for an evening stroll. If you are looking for some fish for your next bouillabaisse, head to Quai des Belges where there’s a fish market for the day’s catch.
Marseille makes one of the best weekend getaways in southern France. After the Port, head to 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.
Gorges du Verdon
Gorges du Verdon, in the Verdon Regional Park, 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.
There are many ways to visit Gorges du Verdon. Kayaking is the most popular one but you can approach the gorge also 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.
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 passionate 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 with your hiking boots. If hiking is not your thing but still you don’t want to miss the beauty of the Calanques, jump on a sailboat or on a catamaran and explore this wonderful area from the water.
Hilltop Villages of Provence
The hilltop villages of Provence is a world of hills, small winding roads, beautiful hikes, old stones, stunning panoramas, silence, and definitely one of the most spectacular south of France destinations.
Why perched villages? Simply to protect themselves, because the region – a land of passage between the Italian and Iberian peninsulas – has always been convoked and threatened.
If Saint Paul or Vence are already popular, there are still many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. Little villages where life is slow and peaceful and the days of rain are rare.
Listed UNESCO world site for its Roman and Romanesque heritage, Arles will surprise you with its impressive Roman monuments, of which the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, Arles once again became one of the most attractive cities in the Mediterranean. Within the city walls, Saint-Trophime Church, with its cloister, is a good witness of Arles’ glorious past and one of Provence’s major Romanesque monuments.
For a year, Arles was also Van Gogh’s home. The painter shared the “Yellow house” with Gauguin for nine weeks and the city inspired him for some 300 works. Arles is also the getaway to the Camargue.
Martigues, the Venice of Provence
Martigues is a town famous for its flowers, gardens and colorful houses. It is situated on the side of Berre Pond and linked to the sea by the Caronte channel. Due to the charm of its canals, islands, and bridges, Martigues is also known as the Venise provençale.
The best way to visit Martigues is simply to stroll along the canal and the quays and through the pretty cobbled streets and squares. Don’t miss the Miroir des Oiseaux, a peaceful stretch of water surrounded by houses with colorful facades, and colorful boats moored along the canal. The charming fishing port de Carro is also well worth a visit, with its daily fish market and a very particular atmosphere.
Avignon, the Popes’ City
Avignon was once the heart of Christendom. It was Pope Clement V who moved the Papacy here in 1309 at the invitation of the King of France. Standing high above the town this 14th-century magnificent palace was the residence for six popes. UNESCO listed, Avignon’s Popes Palace is also the world’s largest and most important gothic building.
When you visit the palace, you’ll get access to more than 20 rooms, including Clement IV’s papal apartments where the exquisite gothic frescoes by Matteo Giovanetti survive to this day.
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 Côte d’Azur explorations.
Clustered around Nice there are some compelling destinations like Antibes, the hilltop villages, Cannes, Menton or Saint Tropez, just to name a few. These are great day trips from Nice to do on your own or on a guided tour.
Aix-en-Provence has everything you can imagine from a city in the south of France. Aix is also one of is one of the world’s great art cities. Paul Cezanne was born and lived here, and you can follow the steps of other icons who lived here, such as Émile Zola, or Albert Camus.
In Aix, 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 organized by the Tourist Office and visits to his home.
Gastronomy in Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur
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.
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 (candy made from almonds and melon), chocolate mendiants and quince paste.
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