Top towns and villages in Provence
Provence lies in the South West of France, bordered by the French Alps in the north, Italy in the east, the Mediterranean coast in the south and the Rhone river in the west and. It spans sea, mountains and rolling countryside. It covers the French Riviera, the Luberon Valley and the Camargue. It is vast and varied, but thoroughly charming throughout.
Two particularly emblematic areas around Avignon depict the postcard image of Provence; to the east, the Luberon Valley has swathes of countryside, a national park, and some of the officially titled Most Beautiful Villages of France; to the south, Les Alpilles, where the landscape starts to climb and rolling valleys are replaced by small mountains and the promise of picturesque hilltop villages and breathtaking landscapes.
Provence is packed with beautiful places to visit, with quaint villages and bustling towns at every turn. There are far too many to list exhaustively, so here a just a handful to get you started.
Isle sur la Sorgue - a living postcard that embodies the typical Provencal cliché in the best possible way, known for its waterwheels, quaint stone bridges and authentic local markets. This is the part of the region depicted in Peter Mayle’s book A Year in Provence. Don your straw hat and settle down to people watch in the village square over a pastis.
Manosque – Provence in a nutshell. A beautiful mediaeval village complete with ramparts and dotted with fountains and lavender fields in the heart of the Luberon Valley. It’s also home to the L’Occitane skin products. Take a tour for behind-the-scenes insight into how their perfumes and creams are made.
Digne les Bains – this is where the mountains mellow into the lowlands, encompassing the best of both worlds. It is known as the capital of lavender, has thermal waters and spas and is home to a great natural geology park.
The A-listers : the larger towns of Aix en Provence, Arles and Avignon all epitomize the Roman past and architectural delights of Provence. Bridges, aqueducts, abbeys and arenas are not only authentically photogenic but also steeped in culture and heritage. Explore the towns and enjoy delving into their past.
Entrevaux – this small but stunning mediaeval village can be reached from the coast on the quirky little Train des Pignes from Nice, which is an experience in itself, or by road. It’s an ancient citadel with a drawbridge entrance. An invigorating walk up is rewarding with fabulous views and a visit that the whole family will enjoy. The higher altitude also offers welcome respite from the beating midsummer heat and crowds down on the coast.
Nice – Queen Victoria started quite a trend back in the 1800s when she would pop over with her entourage to escape the grim British winter. It became so popular among the English that the town’s magnificent Promenade des Anglais was named after them. With its sparkling bay, palm trees and quaint and character-packed old town, it’s a delight to visit. The authentic old town is populated by down-to-earth locals and keeps it real compared to the wealthier and sophisticated hotspots. Worth a stay in itself or a day to explore on your way to or from the airport.
Marseille – for its bustling seafaring activities and the ingrained feisty personality of the locals. Taste the bouillabaisse, visit the MuCEM museum of civilisation – as much for the modern architecture as the tales from the past, take the boat across to the Chateau d’If, or and climb up to the Notre Dame basilica for a bird’s eye view of this vibrant town.