Ultimate Travel Experience: Provence in France

by Jules on November 29, 2013

The small French region of Provence packs a huge punch culturally; from world famous international painters, sumptuous cuisine, iconic wines and breathtaking scenery, each has left its indelible stamp on Provence’s rich heritage.

The area boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, thanks to its rich history: prehistoric settlements gave way to occupation by the Greeks, Romans and Ligures. And the landscapes vary from the meandering Rhone River, the vast Camargue river delta, soaring mountains of the Alps, dramatic cliffs of the Calanques and iconic brochure-worthy lavender fields.

Marseille: Vibrant and cosmopolitan heart of Provencal

France’s second largest city is lively, diverse and so much fun! Its Mediterranean atmosphere is coupled with a fascinating history that dates back more than 2,600 years. And with plenty of museums, art galleries, monuments and religious buildings, it’s easy to see why Marseille has just hosted the European Capital of Culture.  Set around the ancient port area, these are just a handful of the must see sights;

  • The 19th century Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica and Cathedral
  • University of Aix-Marseille
  • The Old Harbour area, aka Le Vieux Port de Marseille
  • Le Musée d’Archéologie Méditerranéene (archaeology museum) is home to important Egyptian antiquities
  • Musée Cantini whose gallery hosts various contemporary arts exhibits
  • Take a boat trip over to Château d’If, the setting for novel ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’

Arles: Discover the Ancient Roman City

There are three cultural references that sum Arles up perfectly; Van Gogh, la féria and bull fights. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Arles secured its enviable listing (one of 26 in France) thanks to its superlative Roman and Romanesque monuments. Dating back to the 7th century BC, Arles was a major Gallo-Roman city and this is evident within the ancient theatre, traditional thermal baths and stunning necropolis. The city also counted Vincent Van Gogh as a resident from 1888 where he went on to paint more than 200 works here including the iconic Sunflowers. Arles is also known for its first century bullrings (Les Arènes) which first held Roman games, then La Féria where spectators take in bullfights (Corrida). Don’t miss;

  • The Roman World Heritage Sites, including a theatre, thermal baths of Constantin and the breathtaking necropolis of Alyscamps
  • Walk the Vincent Van Gogh trail and discover the café that inspired Cafe Terrace at Night
  • The Van Gogh Museum is based in the former Hôtel Dieu
  • The Réattu Museum has over 70 Picasso drawings on display
  • The Musée de L’Arles et de la Provence Antique has fascinating pre-Roman exhibits

Nice: French Riviera Opulence meets Old World Elegance

The city of contrasts, ancient Nice was established by the Greeks and thanks to its enviable location along the luxurious French Riviera coast, has remained a hot and happening tourist destination for centuries. Wander the narrow winding back streets of Old Nice and admire the art on display in the world renowned museums and galleries. Our ultimate experiences include;

  • Uncover the medieval heritage within the Old Town area, aka Vieille Ville
  • Take a leisurely stroll along the 7km long Promenade des Anglais, spotting the beautiful people and opulent yachts
  • Shop at the legendary Cours Saleya market and catch the specialist flea market each Monday
  • Take in the panoramic view of Nice, the Mediterranean and the Alps from atop Castle Hill
  • Admire Marc Chagall’s works in the self-titled Musee National which displays many of the Russian’s most famous works
  • Wander the Cote d’Azur Observatory, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1887
  • Catch a breath of fresh air amidst the beautiful Phoenix Parc Floral de Nice

Avignon: Suffused with Papal History

The second UNESCO-listed site with the region of Provence is the highly revered city of Avignon, which is dubbed the ‘Vatican of the 14th century’. Together the medieval Gothic Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and medieval Avignon Bridge form one World Heritage Site. In fact, the cobbled streets are lined with richly decorated structures, incredible monuments, inspiring museums and breathtaking churches. The family friendly town is also a great spot within Provence for traditional local food and superb shopping opportunities. Visitors can hire bikes to get to grips with Avignon. Unmissable sights include;

  • Gawp at the majestic spires of the handsome Papal Palace, aka Palais des Papes
  • Cross the world-renowned Pont Saint Bénezet Bridge
  • Catch a lively performance of music, opera, dance or theatre at the Avignon Opera House
  • Browse the Provencal and Italian paintings on display at the Le Musée du Petit Palais which span from the 3th to 16th century
  • Don’t miss the Musée Calvet which is located within a sumptuous 18th century private house and is classed as one of France’s classified museums, of which there are just 32 nationally

Orange: Boasts world-class Roman Theatre

The historic town of Orange, in the heart of the Rhone Valley is best known for two reasons; its popular annual music festival and its simply stunning Roman Theatre. Together with the Triumphal Arch the town has attained UNESCO World Heritage Status. Located in the Vaucluse department, the town itself is small enough to explore on foot. The Roman Theatre dates back to the rule of Emperor Augustus and is considered one of the very best preserved amphitheatres. The setting comes alive each July for the annual Chorégies d’Orange Festivals, which originated in 1860 and is said to be the oldest such festival in France. Don’t miss Orange’s Triumphal arch which is lavishly decorated with reliefs depicting Roman victories.

Aix-en-Provence: Historical capital of Provencal

The city Aix-en-Provence is the historical capital of the region and, as you’d expect, offers a wealth of art, festivals and culture all year round. In fact it’s also dubbed the ‘City of Art’ thanks to its connections with some of the most famous painters in the world. Its sheer beauty has inspired Cézanne, Mistral and Guigou who all resided here at one time. Aix-en-Provence is also known as the ‘City of Fountains’ thanks to the 43 (count them) public fountains that punctuate the city’s quaint streets. Don’t miss;

  • Soak up the atmosphere of the local market, held in the Place Verdun each Saturday, Tuesday and Thursday
  • Enjoy a spa treatment which are fed by the thermal springs, uncovered by the Romans
  • Check local listings for a what’s on guide; opera performances, classical music, contemporary and jazz music are often on the calendar, as well as creative and fine arts
  • Stop by the Musée Granet to admire the French paintings and sculptures on permanent display, including eight Cézanne canvases.

Map credit; Globe-trotter under Creative Commons License; Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0.

Image credits; Arles; Vincent

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