One of my favorite places in the world is Provence, France. The location has inspired many an artist; Cezanne and Van Gogh are two of the most noted whose paintings heavily feature the region. Having visited Provence numerous times, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite places and my philosophy when it comes to travel!
When it comes to my ideal vacation-I want to experience the culture. I want to spend my time immersed in markets chatting with vendors, driving on winding roads to overlook gorgeous scenery, and indulging in delicious food.
My first tip for Provence is to pick a village. If you like a faster paced sort of place I’d recommend visiting Nice, Marseille, Avignon, or Aix-en-Provence. If meandering isn’t your style these larger cities have more amenities but still retain the provencal charm that the region is known for. In my next post I’ll share about the smaller villages that are more my style. On our first adventure to Provence, we focused our visits in Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, which was a mistake. Not because these cities aren’t lovely, they absolutely are! But when I travel, I prefer smaller villages and more quaint and charming locales. Our trip was multiple days and we spent only 2 of those days visiting Avignon and Aix. The rest of our time we picked names off a map and starting driving through the cliffside villages that make up the surrounding landscape. I am very grateful that my husband was willing to drive us around scouting out different villages.
I know not everyone enjoys the smaller villages so I wanted to make sure I shared about the big cities first. I’d recommend either Avignon or Aix for budget friendly hotels-as they are larger cities there’s a better variety of price! Not to mention many grocery stores with very affordable food, so you can easily keep your costs down by eating at home vs. venturing out.
Avignon has a smaller town feel to it–not to mention amazing architecture (Palais des Papes can’t be missed) with plenty of shopping for picking up those special extras. Naturally there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to keep you occupied. If you love exploring cathedrals and learning about history then I’d highly recommend Avignon.
Both the Pont d’Avignon and Palais des Papes are near impossible to miss. The Pont is a bridge that was first built between 1177 and 1185. It has since been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times and now only 4 arches and a one gatehouse remain. Jutting out over the Rhone, the Pont provides you the opportunity to stand on a true piece of history. The Palais des Papes is the largest Gothic Castle in all of Europe! We opted to just observe the outside and view from afar, but for someone who enjoys learning about the local history-this would be an excellent stop. The Palais and the Pont (along with the cathedral) have been designated as World Heritage Sites.
If you are searching for a store that features only products made in France with an eco-friendly focus, then this is your stop. Snacks, homewares, accessories, and stationery are all found in this colorful and charming shop. Worth spending a minute or two exploring; you never know what treasures you’ll stumble upon!
I don’t have an address for you here, as we truly just happened upon it! It turned out to be one of those happy accidents that make a trip so sweet. With no cars to worry about you can mill about, exploring different shops and cafes all around. We ended up purchase a gorgeous straw hat with a jaunty red ribbon that has become my summer staple. Every time I pop it on my head, I’m instantly transported back to the sun drenched streets of Avignon. The shop proprietor was very friendly and complimented my clumsy French. As we were checking out she made me laugh when she started complimenting Ryan, saying how handsome he was. Bless him-not knowing barely any French, save for canine commands-he stood there smiling as if he had a clue as to what she was saying! It was only when I translated her compliments that his face turned bright red and he fumbled his wallet. Now I can’t help but smile when I look at my hat.
Aix-en-Provence definitely has a big city vibe to it but also has a fabulous farmer’s market that takes over a large portion of the “downtown”. I highly recommend a stroll down the iconic Cours Mirabeau where on certain days you’ll find that infamous market. Quaint shops line the sides, alongside beautiful cafes that are perfect for people watching. There are gorgeous fountains and plenty of shade to be found to help you beat the summer heat when exploring. We loved wandering down side streets and stumbling across beautiful shops that sold wares from the region.
On our last trip to Aix, we actually saw a car hit one of the fountains that line the roundabouts of the road. The car bumped into the edge of the fountain and for a moment–everyone thought it was fine. But as the car pulled away, water started spilling out from the crack. You could tell the driver was debating about running and even started to drive away! But the road is lined with cameras and after 10 feet the car stopped and waited for the police to arrive. It doesn’t help that this was a tiny SmartCar so the overall scene was more comedic than tragic.
Bastide is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir that will immediately bring you back to your time in Provence. They carry a range of heavenly scented products-everything from candles to body lotion. Any item from the store would be a beautiful gift for yourself or a loved one! The product ingredients are all sourced from the region so they truly are authentic Provence.
This is a beautiful spot to bring a packed lunch. We stopped at a close grocery store, picked up an assortment of French treats and then spent a few hours eating and relaxing in the park. If strawberries are in season-you must pick up a bushel. They taste like candy! The park’s huge trees provided the perfect amount of shade and the winding river provided the perfect spot to soak our feet. Aix is a college town so don’t be surprised to spot students lining the landscape taking a study break.
Located on the outskirts of Aix, if you are an art buff or museum lover then this is the stop for you! Featuring the actual studio Paul Cezanne used from 1902-1906, the small room showcases many still life motifs you’d easily recognize from Cezanne’s work. For the art aficionado this is a must see!
In my next post I’ll share more about the surrounding villages that I personally think are what makes the region so special! I hope this little guide gives you some inspiration for your own trip to Provence.