15 May The Best Things to do in Provence
Provence is one of the most beautiful regions in France! It’s located in the South East of France, between the Rhône Valley in the west, the Italian border in the east, and the Mediterranean Coast in the south. In this article I will tell you the Best Things to Do in Provence so that you can discover all the beautiful places around here! You can also consider this as a Provence Travel Guide, with all you need to know before traveling to Provence.
In this blogpost, I have voluntarily separated the area that I will name Provence, as the Northern part of the PACA region, from the French Riviera (bordering the Mediterranean Sea) and from the Alps. If you want to know more about the French Riviera, I have written a series of dedicated articles that you can find here: French Riviera articles.
Now, if you want to know the best things to do in Provence and the best places to see in Provence, have a look at the following article and be ready to be amazed!
Disclosure: *This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link. Thank you!*
There is a lot of reasons why you should visit Provence! Firstly, Provence features some amazing landscapes and nature! For example, one of the main attractions of the region in summer is the lavender fields. But the whole area is beautiful with many other flower fields, rivers, valleys and even a canyon (the Verdon Gorges). Secondly, Provence counts a ton of charming towns and villages. The typical architecture in Provence is really pretty with houses painted with ochre colors. Thirdly the climate in Provence is quite pleasant! Expect a lot of warm sun in summer!
But Provence is also a great region to visit if you are a culture buff. You will find here some amazing architecture, Roman ruins, and museums. Many artists like painters, writers, sculptors and musicians, have been inspired by this region. Cézanne, Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso are just a few examples.
Lastly Provence is a great place for food! The local gastronomy is delicious. You can find plenty of markets selling the best local products (fruits and vegetables, cheese, sweets…). It’s easy to find excellent restaurants and you have to try the yummy local specialties!
Provence is really a region that you will love to explore! So read further to see all the best things you can do in Provence!
See the lavender fields in Provence
If you go to Provence at the beginning of summer, visiting the lavender fields should be on top of your list of the best things to do in Provence! This experience is extraordinary! Not only the sight of vast fields of purple is stunning, but also the smell of the lavender is divine!
The most famous and beautiful lavender fields in Provence are located around Valensole. But there are many others in the region. I have listed them in my Essential guide to the lavender fields in Provence.
In this article I am also sharing the best time to visit to see the lavender fields. And I am giving you all my photographer tips for how to take beautiful photos in the lavender fields. You should find there all the answers to your questions about the lavender fields in Provence and my secret tips!
Visit the village of Valensole
Valensole is a pretty medieval village of Provence ideally located in the middle of a plateau of lavender and almond trees. Its name means Valley of Sun. It’s right close by some of the most famous lavender fields in the area, so I had to put it on the list of the best places to see in Provence!
I have listed a few things to do in Valensole. Firstly, you can have a look at the famous fountain Place Thiers. It dates back from 1681! It’s a great sport to refresh yourself if you are traveling during the summer. Then take the time to walk around the village. You will see some beautiful old houses painted with the typical ochre colors of Provence. Also, Valensole has a few friendly restaurants and cafes. So do not hesitate to sit at a terrace. Most of them are located on the road D6 near Place Thiers. Last but not least, Valensole is a great place to buy some lavender products and some souvenirs. There is a cute little shop with a yellow and purple façade named “le Marché du Plateau” located close to Place Thiers, and you can also go to La Maison de Marius.
If you are looking for a place to stay in Valensole, check out le Château du Grand Jardin. This Bed and Breakfast will allow you to stay in a 18th-century castle!
My secret tip: if you are hot, take the opportunity to try one of the yummiest local specialties: a lavender and honey ice cream. Seriously, you cannot leave Valensole without having eaten this ice cream because it’s too good! You can find some in the bakery on place Thiers or in the ice parlor at the souvenir shop “La Maison de Marius”.
Go back in time in the village of Riez
Riez is a little town located in Verdon Regional Nature Park (Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon) on the Valensole plateau. It was founded in the 1st century and therefore it is the most ancient city in the area! Hence is nickname: “Riez-la-Romaine”, which means “the Roman” in French. That’s’ one of the main reasons why I shared it in the best things to do in Provence.
Here are some of the best activities in Riez. You can find some Roman ruins on the edge of the city center. Four Corinthian columns are standing here, remains of a Roman temple to Apollo (the ‘Temple of Riez’) and an ancient baptistery, remains of a cathedral. They are a must-see here! I recommend you visit Riez on Wednesdays and Saturdays, as there is local market in the city center in the morning. Here you can buy a lot of fresh local products (meat and fish, cheese, vegetables and fruits…), flowers and other things. Also, you should wander in town to appreciate the medieval architecture of Riez. This traditional city is very pleasant!
If you are looking for a place to stay in Riez, you can check out La Bastide de Mazan. This great property offers a nice terrace and a swimming pool area!
My secret tip: the Roman ruins are located close to a parking area with a dedicated space for picnic. You can buy local products from the market and have a little picnic here: it’s really nice!
Hike in the Verdon Gorges
The Verdon Gorges, or Gorges du Verdon in French, is an impressive canyon about 25 km (15.5 mi) long and up to 700 metres (0.4 mi) deep. The Verdon River that formed it has a stunning turquoise-green color. It’s very popular especially for all the adventurers out there: one of the best things to do in Provence with no doubt! Actually, the Verdon Gorges are one of the most beautiful river canyons in Europe!
You have plenty of activities to do in the Verdon Gorges. First of all, you can do many hikes in this area. Follow the pathways named Sentier de Martel, Sentier de l’Imbut, and Sentier du Bastidon. Also, you should have a look at the Belvédère de Rancoumas (the Rancoumas panoramic viewpoint) near the Tusset Bridge. All of them offer some scenic views! Besides that, you can rent kayaks to travel on the Verdon River. And if you are a rock climber, the Gorges will be perfect for you! With something like 1,500 routes ranging from 20 meters (65 feet) to more than 400 meters (1,300 feet), it’s a fantastic place for multi-pitch climbing. Additionally, in the Verdon Gorges you can practice canyoning, paragliding, rafting and fishing.
The two best ways to access the Verdon Gorges are from the north to reach the right bank (via route D952 from Castellane to Moustiers-Sainte-Marie) and from the south to reach the left bank (via routes D71, D90 and D955 from Aiguines to Castellane).
A great place to stay not far from the Verdon Gorges is the Château de Trigance. Here you will be able to stay in a real medieval castle and enjoy the breathtaking panoramic terrace with a view on the mountains!
Enjoy water sports in the Lake of Sainte-Croix
The Lac de Sainte-Croix is an artificial lake built after the creation of the reinforced-concrete arch of the Sainte-Croix Dam. Fed by the Verdon River, it has an amazing turquoise color. On top of that, the environment composed of pines and oaks makes it a perfect place to enjoy some freshness in summer! With a surface of 2200 hectares (10 km long and 2 km wide), it’s actually the third largest lake in France!
The Lake of Sainte-Croix is very popular for outdoor activities and water sports. It’s a great place for like swimming, kayaking, stand up paddle, pedal-boat, windsurfing, but also boating (electric and sailing boats, catamarans). If you want to relax, the lake also offers some quiet areas, and you can rest on the beach. You can find the beaches in the villages of Les Salles-sur-Verdon, Bauduen and Sainte-Croix. The Lake of Sainte-Croix is especially appreciated by families! For all of those reasons, it’s part of the Best Things to do in Provence!
If you want to stay close to the Lake of Sainte-Croix, you can have a look at Le Chabassole. This Bed and Breakfast has an ideal location in the heart of the Regional Park of Verdon, at just 300 m from the shore of the Sainte-Croix Lake. And it features an outdoor pool!
Discover the village of Moustiers Sainte Marie
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie located at the entrance of the Verdon Gorges. Because of its unique location, it holds the official title of one of the “most beautiful villages of France”. In fact, Moustiers is built on platform terraces a hundred meters up the side of a limestone cliff! This area was already settled in the Bronze Age and in the 5th century, some monks founded a monastery here. This village has always been considered as sacred and was an important place of pilgrimage over the centuries.
Strolling in the village will allow you to enjoy the charm of its squares, fountains, and houses. Take a look at the church Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. It has a beautiful Provencal Roman architecture. One of the highlights of Moustiers is the gold-painted star hanging above the village from on a 225m-long chain suspended between two cliffs. There are many legends around the story of this star, told since the 10th century! But Moustiers is also world-famous for its ceramics. Take the time to visit the numerous workshops and galleries all around the village. You can also visit the Museum of Faïence to know more about this art. Lastly, if you want to get the best views of Moustiers and of the Valensole Plateau, you can do the 20-minute hike to the chapel Notre-Dame-de-Beauvoir.
A great place to stay in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is the Hotel Les Restanques De Moustiers. This Provencal style hotel offers a terrace with amazing panoramic views and an outdoor pool.
Walk around the village of Roussillon
If you drive 1h30 to the West from Valensole, you will find the unique village of Roussillon. This place is officially one of the “most beautiful villages of France”. And it’s part of the Natural Regional Park of the Luberon. Therefore, you will get easily why it’s one of the best places to visit in Provence!
Roussillon is located in the very heart of the biggest ochre deposits in the world. As a consequence, all the facades of the houses here have beautiful colors ranging from yellow, to orange and red. You will enjoy getting lost in the streets looking at them! One of the prettiest building in Roussillon is the town hall. But you will see, the whole town is super charming! You can enjoy the market here every Thursday from 8am to 1pm and buy some fresh local products! Another great activity to do around here is to walk the “Sentier des Ocres” (Ochre Path). This walk of 30 to 60 minutes will take you to one of the former ochre quarries that can be visited!
In case you want to stay in Roussillon, have a look at Le Clos des Cigales. This lovely Bed & Breakfast decorated in the Provençal style offers a garden, a terrace and a pool!
My secret tip: I felt in love with a pretty painted door at the entrance of the village in the street named “rue de la Fontaine”. You will recognize it easily, it’s worth to capture it!
Admire the medieval village of Gordes
Gordes is another village high on the list of the “most beautiful villages of France”. As it’s located on top of a hill, it has a privileged position. From here you can get some fantastic views of the Luberon mountain and the Calavon Valley! Gordes used to be a fortress in the Middle Ages and was built in the 11th century. The architecture with white and grey stones of this medieval villages is very interesting. Adding this to its charm, and you will understand why it worth the visit as one of the best places in Provence!
Wandering in the little streets of Gordes will be one of the best things to do here. There are many viewpoints inside the old town to gaze at the Luberon National Park. You can also admire the medieval castle from the 10th century. Besides that, do not miss the church Saint-Firmin. Then you should visit the cellars of the Palais Saint-Firmin. This semi-troglodytic site was classified as a historical monument. It’s a great place to know more about the history of Gordes. Lastly the Chapel of the White Penitents and the Saint Jacques chaplaincy are two other landmarks of Gordes that you can check.
Staying inside Gordes is a bit more expensive than everywhere else. But if you are tempted you can try Le Petit Palais D’Aglae. This beautiful hotel offers an outdoor pool and some amazing views.
My secret tip: There is a great viewpoint to capture the village and the valley. If you look for “Town Viewpoint Gordes” on Google maps you will find it. There is a dedicated parking lot. Do not park randomly on the side of the road or you will get fined, I learned this the hard way 🙁 .
Visit Sénanque Abbey
The Abbey Notre Dame de Sénanque is a Cistercian abbey located not far from the village of Gordes. It was created in 1148 by Cistercian monks coming from a monastery in Ardèche. Built with a beautiful Romanesque architecture, it’s the fourth Cistercian abbey founded in Provence. The Sénanque Abbey has an amazing location in a Provencal valley! It’s surrounded by lavender fields that are blooming at the beginning of July. That makes it one of the best places to visit in Provence, especially in summer!
Actually, a community of Cistercians monks is currently living here, still following the rule of Saint Benedict. But because they like to share, the monks decided to open the abbey to visitors. Therefore, you can visit it every day on specific times, without or without a guide. You will have access to the ancient dormitory, the cloister, the warming room and the chapter house. They were all built during the 12th and 13th centuries. Unfortunately, the church is under renovation, so it’s not accessible at the moment. It will cost you 8 euros for a guided tour and 9,50 euros for an unguided tour with a digital tablet (those prices are for an adult, it’s cheaper for students and children).
You can access the Abbey by car from the road D177. You will find a free car park in front of the it. If you are motivated, you can also walk to the Abbey from the village of Gordes. It’s a 30 min hike.
My secret tip: visit the Sénanque Abbey around the 10th of July to mid-July to see its lavender fields in full bloom.
Be amazed in the village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
The village of Fontaine de Vaucluse is located in a valley at the foot of a cliff of the Monts de Vaucluse. This enchanting place is part of the best places to visit first and foremost thanks to a mythical source of water is surging forth from the 230-meter cliff on site. It is the most powerful spring in France and the fifth in the world! In fact, this spring is celebrated since the antiquity. It was historically named “Vallis Clausa”, meaning closed valley.
If you want to make the best out of your visit in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, you have to see the spring. There is a little hike up to the pit of the spring and it will take you around 20 minutes. Once you are up there you will be mesmerized by this turquoise blue eye! On top of that it’s super fresh and you can swim in it if you want. The perfect way to cool down if you visit during the hot summer! Besides the spring, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse is a lovely town. So, take the time to walk around and admire the traditional houses painted with ochre colors! And the Sorgue river flowing through the village is adding to the scenery. Fontaine de Vaucluse is very picturesque! If you want to take a break, you will find here some cute cafes and restaurants.
You may find Fontaine-de-Vaucluse lovely enough to stay here. In that case check out the Hotel Restaurant du Parc. It has a perfect centered location by the river and elegant rooms.
My secret tip: The spring in Fontaine de Vaucluse is even more spectacular in spring or fall because of the flooding periods.
Visit the amazing city of Aix-en-Provence
The beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence is the former capital of Provence. It was founded in 122 BC by a Roman consul. Aix-en-Provence offers a lot of assets that makes of this city one of the best places to visit in Provence. Firstly, the architecture and the history of the city makes it very interesting. Secondly, the famous painter Paul Cézanne was born here. Aix-en-Provence and its surroundings were one of its main sources of inspiration! Thirdly this city is well-known for its cultural life and its gastronomy.
One of the best things to do in Aix-en-Provence is to stroll in the old town to admire the architecture. The Cour Mirabeau and the little streets of the Mazarin District are great places to explore. Also do not miss the numerous pretty fountains. Aix is actually called the “city of a thousand fountains” because they are so many around here! Then, you have to walk in the steps of Cézanne. Go to the tourist office to get the map that will take you round all of Cézanne’s key stops. Additionally, Aix-en-Provence is a great place for shopping and to eat and drink. So take the time to enjoy and relax! Last but not least, try to escape out of the city and to explore the surroundings. You can hike in the Sainte-Victoire Mountain and walk in the countryside.
Because Aix-en-Provence is the biggest city of Provence, you should totally spend at least one night here. For example, you can stay in the hotel Les Quatre Dauphins. Located in the heart of Aix, this hotel is set in a former private mansion. It’s very elegant and a great value for money.
Enjoy the gastronomy in Provence: what to eat
Provence is famous for its gastronomy and enjoying it should be high on your list of the best things to do in Provence!
Let me switch to my foodie hat to give you some info about what you should eat and drink while you are visiting Provence. The local cuisine is exceptional! Here are some of the best specialties that you should try!
Here are some of the tasty tapas and starters you should try in Provence:
- Olives: there are a lot of different varieties of olives and they are very tasty
- Aïoli: a sort of mayonnaise sauce made with crushed garlic and olive oil. You can serve it with bread or as a dish with salt cod, boiled potatoes and carrots.
- Tapenade: an olive dip mixed with capers, olive oil, spices and lemon juice or garlic served on toasted bread. There are a few different recipes featuring black or green olives or sun-dried tomatoes, sometimes
- Anchoïade: purée of anchovies, mixed with olive oil and capers.
Here are some of the delicious meals you should try in Provence:
- Ratatouille: a vegetable casserole made of tomatoes, eggplants (aubergines), zucchini (courgettes), onions, peppers, cooked in olive oil and flavoured with herbs and garlic (and yes it’s like the computer-animated comedy film by Pixar 😉 ).
- Pissaladière: a sort of caramelized onions and anchovy tart topped with black olives.
- Salade Niçoise: a salad made of tomatoes, lettuce and hard-boiled eggs, olives and anchovies or tuna and dressed with olive oil. You can also find it mixed with extra cooked vegetables such as beans and potatoes, or raw vegetables such as green peppers and corn.
Goat cheese (Fromage de chèvre in French) is very good in Provence. It comes either frais = fresh, with a mild creamy taste, demi-sec = semi-dry, or sec = dry.
Sweets and Desserts
Here are some of the yummy sweets and desserts you should try in Provence:
- Lavender and honey ice cream: THE ice cream flavor you have to try in Provence!
- Nougat: the nougat blanc = white nougat, is a confectionary made with sugar/honey, roasted almonds and egg whites. It’s coming in a lot of different flavors. And the nougat noir or nougatine doesn’t contain eggs. Nougat is very sweet and eating a little piece is a real treat!
- Calissons, a speciality of Aix-en-Provence: slices of almond paste topped with a sugary covering in a shape of almond with a 3,5 cm length (2 inches). Their texture is similar to that of marzipan, but with a fruitier flavour.
- Candied fruits: named fruits confits in French. There are produced by traditional methods in the region.
- Tropézienne: a dessert pastry consisting of a brioche filled unctuous creams and a sprinkled with grains of sugar.
Here are some of the amazing drinks you should try in Provence:
- Provence is famous for its red and rosé wines. Here are some of the wines you should try: the most famous of Provence’s “appellation contrôlée” wines is Châteauneuf du Pape, all the wines from the “Côtes du Rhône” designated area, and the wine from Bandol, produced in one of the oldest wine-growing areas of France.
- Pastis, an aniseed-flavoured liqueur, the best for the apéritif hour in the south of France.
The best time to visit Provence
Knowing when the best time of the year is to visit Provence is of course important to help you prepare your trip. As Provence being gifted with a pleasant climate, you can travel there pretty much all year round. The very best moment to go there is during the lavender season. They are providing the most beautiful purple hues all over the area! Wandering in the lavender fields is one of the best things to do in Provence and it’s purely magical! The lavender fields are blooming from mid-June to mid-July. I have written a complete guide about the lavender fields in Provence that you can check. Nevertheless, you have to keep in mind that this is also the peak of the touristy season. If you travel to Provence in summer (July-August), you will enjoy warm temperatures, a fantastic sun, and flowers fields. But also, there will be more tourists and the prices will be more expensive.
Spring and fall are great options to explore Provence without the crowds. And at that time, you will have better deals for your accommodation. So, target May to mid-June and September/October to enjoy these conditions. But you will miss the beautiful lavender fields! Tough choice I know!
How many days to stay in Provence
Provence is the kind of region that you can explore for days because it offers many activities!
If you go there for the lavender fields, 3 days is a strict minimum. You can do a weekend getaway: it will be intense but so worth it! Nevertheless, I would recommend 5 days to enjoy the area. This will allow you to visit the villages, discover the diversity of the landscapes and the nature, and do some activities. And you can also stay longer if you want to relax and take your time! Staying longer will allow you to visit all the best places in Provence that I have listed here 😉 !
How to get to Provence
You have a few options to arrive in Provence that I will detail now in this guide about What to do in Provence.
Firstly, you can take the train. There is a direct train from Paris to Aix-en-Provence for example. If you go to Provence for the lavender fields, the closest train station is located in Manosque – Gréoux-les-Bains. Because it’s a small train station, you will have to connect via a bigger city of the area like Marseille, Avignon or Aix-en-Provence.
Secondly you can drive to Provence by yourself. It’s easy to rent a car from the place of your arrival in France. Keep in mind that the ride from Paris to Manosque is around 800 km and takes a minimum of 7h. I would recommend only if you don’t have any other options or if you want to visit some places on the way. It will be quite exhausting!
Thirdly you can take a flight to Marseille and then drive from Marseille to Provence.
How to move around in Provence
The best way to go from one place to another in Provence is to rent a car. In fact, most of the best places to visit are either located far from each other or remote. Also, in the list of the best things to do in Provence there are many small towns and villages that are not really accessible via public transport.
You can easily rent a car in any cities in Provence!
A road trip will definitely allow you to enjoy all the beautiful places on the list of What to do in Provence!
After reading this article of the best things to do in Provence, you can realize how gifted this region is! This is the kind of region that you can visit several times because it offers a great mix between architecture and landscapes, outdoor activities and beautiful places to relax, art and gastronomy, and a touch of magic with the lavender fields! I have been there twice and I know I will go there again!
What is the places that surprised you the most and that makes you really want to come to Provence?
If you are planning a trip to Provence, you should also read my Essential Guide about the lavender fields in Provence.
Also Provence is close by the French Riviera so you can explore both regions at the same time! Have a look at the following articles to add some places to your bucket list:
- 10 days in the French Riviera: your road trip itinerary
- The best things to do in Nice, capital of the French Riviera
- The best photo spots in Menton
- Ultimate guide to the calanques in Marseille and Cassis
Feel free to ask me all the questions you may have about Provence in the comment section below, or by email!