Last Updated on March 29, 2021
Last Updated on March 29, 2021 In one way or another, most people have heard about the unique region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in France. From delicious wines, beautiful landscapes, tasty cuisine to paradisiac beaches and iconic coastal cities, there is an infinite amount of reasons to visit this region of France.
Last year, while on our road trip through Europe in a camper van, we didn’t miss the opportunity to explore Provence region in more depth, and as a result, we felt obliged to write this post to hopefully inspire you to visit it and make justice to its uniqueness.
In this post, we will give you 8 strong reasons to include Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur on your holiday plans as of today!
Buckle up, let’s get straight to it!
Table of Contents
1. Rich History of the Region
If you are into history, then Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is a good option for your holidays as its history is a unique and exciting sequence of events throughout the years.
Provence is known as one of the most ancient sites of human habitation, and throughout centuries was occupied by Celts, Greeks, Romans, and Germans whose influences in culture and architecture remain until today.
Religion also played a significant role in the development of this region, especially in the 14th century when Pope Clement V moved Papal Curia to Avignon, an old town we recommend visiting and where you can find the Palais des Papes which is the largest gothic palace in Europe.
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It’s also important to highlight the impact of the II WW in the region when maritime ports, railroads, and ancient buildings were destroyed, requesting a huge effort to be rebuilt.
For those into history, this region is an authentic diamond because in every little town it has a lot of points of interest with very rich cultural and historic heritage.
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2. Mild Mediterranean Climate
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region has a Mediterranean climate, typically hot and dry in the summer, mild winters, very little snow, and abundant sunshine.
There are some micro-climates and local variations ranging from the Alpine climate inland to the continental climate in the north. And one more remarkable phenomenon of Provence is the famous mistral – a cold and dry wind that often reaches over one hundred km an hour. But don’t be afraid, it mostly blows in winter or spring, however it caught us by a surprise in August.
This type of weather (with a small exception of our friend mistral), makes Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur a perfect destination for holidays all year round.
3. Beautiful Nature
Nature is something very important for us when we are choosing our destinations. We both love to be in contact with nature and spend time appreciating the wonders of this world.
Provence region has endless options for nature lovers and we were fortunate to visit a few of the best spots. However, we feel that there was much more to explore, and probably one day we will be back to continue our Provence adventure.
From all of those wonders, we decided to highlight here just a few of our favorite ones:
- Route of the Ridges – or Route des Cretes, a scenic coastal road between Marseille and Cassis with some of the most exceptional scenery in the South of France.
- The Calanques – a 20km long impressive series of inlets in the cliffs of the coastline from Marseille to Cassis. Getting to the Calanques requires quite a hike, but at the end you are more than rewarded by a swim in crystal-clear waters on a wild beach! Caution: the water is as beautiful as it is cold!
- The Camargue – western Europe’s largest river delta with 930.000 m2 (technically an island, as it is wholly surrounded by water). Here you can find over 400 species of birds, amongst them the greater flamingo which finds in the Camargue one of the few places with the required characteristics for its habitat.
- Lake of Sainte-Croix – a lake that appeared after building the Sainte-Croix dam. The water has an impressive bright turquoise color and comes from the Verdon river at the Verdon Gorge canyon which is also another wonder of nature.
- Verdon Gorge – a 25 km long river canyon that is up to 700m deep, the right spot for climbing, hiking, kayaking, and all sorts of water sports. The color of the water is just unbelievable!
Unfortunately, we had to postpone our visit to the Calanques and Route of the Ridges because of mistral, the strong local wind. We found this site where you can check the current access conditions to these two must-see attractions.
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4. Provence Lavender Fields
Oh, lavender fields.. Of course, we couldn’t miss this point! Probably, it’s the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking of Provence. And the truth is, they are simply beautiful!
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur was not the first place where we had a chance to admire lavender fields. We have already spotted some in Hvar, Croatia, and even in Poland you can find some lavender beauties too! But the ones in Provence, were without doubts worth visiting.
What is the best time to see lavender in Provence?
Lavender blooming season in Provence lasts roughly from mid June to mid July. Around 15th of July the harvesting season starts and by the end of July most part of lavender fields will be harvested, however there is still a small chance to spot lavender in bloom until 10th of August in the Sault area or around Banon.
Every year the blooming season changes a bit depending on the weather, but in our opinion the best time to see lavender in bloom in Provence is the first week of July. There are more chances to enjoy the fields at their most and it’s still a bit quieter time just before school vacations in Europe.
Unfortunately, when we arrived to Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in mid August, lavender season was already over and the flowers were cut, but we still felt privileged to be able to admire this completely unique landscape of Provence.
Where are the best lavender fields in Provence?
- The Valensole Plateau – about an hour north of Aix-en-Provence, this is probably the most popular location for lavender fields admirerers. Here you can find dozens of lavender farms with splendid views and high-quality products made of lavender.
- The Sault Plateau – set high in the mountains about 60 km east of Avignon, Sault holds the most popular lavender festival which is organized on 15 August each year (when lavender harvesting is finished).
- The Luberon Valley – it is a less touristic area, because the lavender fields are less concentrated, but they are still pretty easy to find. It is the perfect place to discover “real” Provence.
- Notre Dame de Senanque – it is a 12th-century abbey, wrapped in rows and rows of vibrant lavender. This is a classic postcard view, that’s why the fields get quite busy in high season. Come here early!
We stopped our van on the side of an isolated road in Valensole and enjoyed both the view and the sunset on the top of Benny while listening to relaxing music and sipping wine! This was one of the high points of all our trip!
The sunsets in Provence are simply breathtaking. Take a moment to admire the different tones of pink, purple, blue, and orange of the sky, it will stay in your memory for sure.
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5. Charming Medieval Towns
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur has a lot to offer, but what we liked a lot about this region was the authentic atmosphere you can feel in its small medieval towns, where the time seems to be going slower.
There are some of them that have already turned quite popular and get crowded during peak season, but there are still plenty of them where you can enjoy tranquility and the feel of real Provence.
Here are some of the towns in Provence worth your attention:
- Avignon – having once been the center of the Christian religion, it is full of stunning chapels and churches and is crowned by the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), an architectural masterpiece. The landscape is completed by the serene waters of the river Rhône and the famous medieval bridge, which has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Gordes – this remote village located on a hilltop in the middle of the Luberon Regional Nature Park offers pretty unique views. It has been home to several celebrated French painters, as for example Marc Chagall. Pass by and you will easily understand how it could be such a source of inspiration.
- Roussillon – a charming town set at the top of a cliff on the world’s largest ochre vein which has a perfect setting of mountain vegetation and charming medieval houses, mostly in pink color.
- Saignon – this small village at the top of the hill overflows with cute façades and adorable hidden street corners. It is not crowded with tourists and maintains its authenticity. Take a walk through narrow cobbled streets, check the view from the castle or sip a glass of wine next to the fountain. Simply relax, in Saignon there is time for everything!
6. Perfect Conditions for a Road Trip
Driving in the countryside of Provence proved to be one of the most beautiful experiences we had on our trip. One of the biggest advantages of van life is that you can explore the places you visit at a deeper level.
The roads are great and the landscape is breathtaking, so when you are free to take your time and drift around exploring the region, you come across unbelievable landscapes.
The typical landscape of Provence is called garrigue and is a type of low, soft-leaved scrubland found on limestone soils in the Mediterranean region influenced by its climate.
It was fairly easy to drive around Provence and park our Benny because even though most rural areas might be a bit isolated, in general, the region has wonderful infrastructures for a perfect road trip.
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7. Iconic Cities of French Riviera
There are plenty of beautiful cities in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and for sure you heard about some of them. We managed to visit a few of the most iconic places, like Marseille (our first official sleep in France), Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez and had a taste of elegance and luxury French Riviera is known for.
We wanted to visit the most famous places in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, so after spending some days in the lavender fields area, we returned to the coast and drove all the way from Marseille to Italy. With this route of beautiful coastline roads, we managed to visit most of them.
8. Stunning Beaches
Who has never seen those beautiful pictures of beaches with crystal clear water with a magnificent rocky mountain background?
Well, if you decide to visit Provence, you will most likely spend a significant time on those beaches because there are plenty of them!
We visited a few and they were unbelievable, especially for Pedro because he struggles to swim in cold water and in Provence he couldn’t complain about water temperature at all!
Here are our 2 favorite beaches of the French Riviera, both perfect for snorkeling and fish-spotting:
- Paloma beach – located on on St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and nestled in the heart of lush greenery, this beach is a real gem! Facing east, it offers breathtaking views of the cliffs of Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Eze.
- Plage Mala beach – located on Cap d’Ail in the middle of La Réserve de la Mala, this hidden beach nestled into a cove is perfect for cliff-jumping. You can also walk to Monaco from the left-hand side of the beach.
9. Delicious Cuisine
We could write a whole book about Provençal cuisine because there are so countless delicious dishes worth trying. In this post we’ll share the most popular dishes we came across and loved:
- Bouillabaisse – is the classic seafood dish of Marseille. The traditional version is made with three types of fish: scorpionfish, sea robin, and European conger, plus an assortment of other fish and shellfish, used to boost the flavor. The seasoning is very important and includes salt, pepper, onion, tomato, saffron, fennel, sage, thyme, bay laurel, sometimes orange peel, and a cup of white wine or cognac. In Marseille the fish and the broth are served separately – the broth is served over thick slices of bread with rouille.
- Escabeche – is fish (usually, sardines) poached or fried after marinating overnight in vinegar or citrus juice.
- Daube provençale: – is a stew made with cubed beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic, and herbes de Provence. Variations also might include olives, prunes, and flavoring with duck fat, vinegar, brandy, lavender, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries, or orange peel. The best flavor is accomplished by cooking in several stages and cooling it for a day between stages to allow the flavors to meld together.
- Aioli – a thick sauce based on olive oil flavored with crushed garlic frequently used in bourride (a fish soup), or served with potatoes and cod. Some say there are as many recipes as there are families in Provence.
- Fougasse – is the traditional bread of Provence, round and flat with holes. New versions are baked with olives or nuts inside. Ratatouille is a traditional dish of stewed vegetables, which originated in Nice.
- Herbes de Provence – are a mixture of dried herbs from Provence which are commonly used in Provençal cooking and all over the world.
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10. Outstanding Wines & Pastis
It’s impossible to talk about France and not mention wine especially when we talk about Provence.
The wine from this region has a long story dating from 600 BC when Greek Phonecians introduce it to the locals. A few centuries after, at the time of the Roman invasion, the region was forbidden to produce grapes to allow Italian wines to be commercialized without relevant competition.
When Roman legions retrieve from Provence the region was back on the grape production despite the bad publicity coming from Romans. Bothered with the competition, they stated that Provence wines were of poor quality and unfair prices to the point that in the 1st century AC a Roman poet mentioned Marseille wines as “terrible poison”.
We believe this was just because of commercial reasons because we tried them and they are lush!
Truth is, in most recent years there were a lot of low-quality grapes produced in Provence and this was affecting the reputation of the wines but in 71 a famous wine critic wrote about Provence wines and since then the production of poorer varieties of grapes was more controlled and reduced significantly.
The specific climate of the region and the technological developments in the grape production process improved significantly the quality of the wines and currently, Provence is also recognized internationally for its wine production.
It’s a traditional liquor of Provence with anise flavor and normally containing 40-45% of alcohol. The liquor is transparent but it’s drunk diluted in water turning into a milky color. It’s especially popular in Marseille and the surrounding areas and we did have a go on this traditional Provence treat.
And that’s it! Inspired already?
If you are planning a trip to Europe, make sure you consider Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region as a possibility, because it has everything you need for perfect holidays.
Regardless of the type of traveler you are and what are your interests, Provence has a lot to offer to all sorts of people and we totally recommend a visit. We hope this post motivates you to go there and experience it all yourself, and hopefully, this information will help you to plan your own trip.
We are confident to recommend this destination and sure you won’t regret it because every single point of the above is totally worth it!
If you have any doubts about this destination or would like to share with us what did you like the most about Provence, just drop us a comment!
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