Just hearing the name Provence conjures up visions of blazing colour from fields bursting with lavender to the sparkling blue waters of the Cote d'Azur and from the limestone crags of the Alpilles to the wetlands of the Camargue.

If you are planning a stay in Provence, you'll be spoilt for things to see and do. Within an hour one can drive from Avignon on the Rhone to limestone crags of the Alpilles, then down to the wetlands of the Camargue, a natural wonderland and home of white horses, black bulls and pink flamingoes.The mountains provide both pedestals for Provence's village hill towns and a backdrop that resembles one vast garden, with fragrant fields of lavender among silvery olive groves.


The Main Towns of Provence

Aix-en-Provence - Capital of Provence from the 12th to 18th centuries. Beautiful avenues lined with cafés and lively medieval streets nearby. The town is set on the edge of the Rhone plain with Cezanne's hills rising up to the east and hosts a big classical musical festival during August.

Arles, on the edge of the Camargue has an exceptionally rich and varied ensemble of Roman and early Christian splendours: the Roman arena (still used for bull-fights today), Theatre Antique, and the lovely former cathederal, St Trophime. The town is also famous as the home of Vincent Van Gogh during his most productive period.


Arles arena

Avignon. In the days that the Popes ruled here in the 14th century and built their mighty palace, Avignon was briefly one of the great capitals of Europe. Today it is one the most sophisticated and fashionable towns of France. The shops are smart, and life goes on well past midnight in the cafés and bistros around the Place de l'Horloge - especially in July during the theatre festival, one of Europe's great cultural events.

Carpentras. A prosperous old market town. Today, modern boulevards trace the former ramparts, of which only one of the original gates survives.

Cavaillon. A leading market centre for fruit and vegetables - its melons are famous.

Marseille. France's oldest town founded in 600BC. Hemmed in by bare limestone hills, the city sprawls around its beautiful bay, but its focus is the narrow inlet of the Vieux Port, where the ancient Greeks built their colony. Opposite is the fortress island, Isle d'If - home of Alexander Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo.

Orange. Has the finest and best-preserved of all Roman theatres, a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Palais des Papes, Avignon

Toulon. France's leading naval base after Brest is a big commercial city, the third largest in Provence. It occupies a superb setting around a deep natural habour sheltered by a ring of high bare hills which are crowned by old forts.


Other Places to Visit in Provence

Les Alpilles. South of Avignon the parched and craggy Alpilles hills rise dramatically out of a broad plain. They contain a number of famous little towns and villages that are the very essence of Provence, including St Remy-de-Provence, with Roman Glanum at its gates, and the most renowned of all the hill villages, the 11th century Les Baux-de-Provence.

Beaucaire. Historic medieval town with an imposing 12th century ruined castle overlooking the river Rhone. There is a delightful river marina which is bordered with restaurants and bars.

The Luberon. A beautiful range of limestone hills and a fertile plateau with vineyards and lavender fields. Numerous picturesque hill-top villages such as Gordes, Menerbes, Saigon and Bonnieux. A number of the Luberon's villages are classified as some of the most beautiful villages of France.

Vaison-la-Romaine. The "French Pompeii". Excavations provide a vivid insight into what daily life was like in Roman Gaul. Across the river, terraces of narrow cobbled streets line the hillside below the castle.

Isle-sur-Sorgue. The river Sorgue divides into five branches, making this delightful market town into a place of waterways with numerous watermills. The town has no fewer than 300 antique shops, making it France's second biggest antiques centre after Paris.

The Callanques. A wonderful bit of wild rocky coastline between Marseille and the pretty fishing port of Cassis. The 'callanques' are the narrow inlets flanked on either side by high limestone cliffs.

The Camargue. A wide expanse of lagoon and marshy plain, within the Delta of the Rhône. Herds of black bulls and half-wild white horses roam the salty marshes, where there are few buildings save the lonely thatched cottages of the gypsy-like herdsmen, the gardians. At dusk, a flock of flamingoes may suddenly fly up from the reeds of the lagoon.


Flamingoes at the Camargue


St. Maries-de-la-Mer is like Mediterranean seaside resorts were 70 years ago - quiet and gentle with unspoilt and uncrowded beaches.


Article courtesy South France Villas

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