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Provence Travel Guide

  • Photo: Andreas G. Karelias / Shutterstock

Plan Your Provence Vacation

As you approach Provence there's a magical moment when you finally leave the north behind: cypresses and red-tile roofs appear; you hear the screech of cicadas and breathe the scent of wild thyme and lavender. Along the highway, oleanders bloom against a backdrop of austere, sun-filled landscapes, the very same that inspired the Post-Impressionists.

Ever since Peter Mayle abandoned the London

fog and described with sensual relish a life of unbuttoned collars and espadrilles in his best-selling A Year in Provence, the world has beaten a path here. Now Parisians are heard in the local marketplaces passing the word on the best free-range rabbit and the lowest price on a five-bedroom mas (a traditional Provençal farmhouse). This bon-chic-bon-genre city crowd languishes stylishly at Provence's country inns and restaurants. Ask them, and they'll agree: when Princess Caroline of Monaco moved to St-Rémy, Provence became the new Côte d'Azur.

But chichi Provence hasn't eclipsed idyllic Provence, except that now every farmer and crafts vendor has an iPhone. Still, it's possible to melt into a Monday-morning market crowd, where blue-aproned paysannes scoop fistfuls of mesclun into willow baskets, matron-connoisseurs paw through bins containing the first Cavaillon asparagus, and a knot of pépés in workers' blues takes a pétanque break.

Relax, join them—and plan to stick around awhile. There are plenty of sights to see: great Roman ruins; the pristine Romanesque abbeys of Senanque and de Montmajour; weathered mas; the monolithic Papal Palace in old Avignon; the narrow streets in Arles immortalized on canvas by Van Gogh. Check out all these treasures but remember that highlights of any trip here are those hours spent dawdling at a sidewalk café, wandering aimlessly down narrow cobbled alleyways, and, after a three-hour lunch, taking a quick snooze in the cool shade of a 500-year-old olive tree. Allow yourself time to feel the rhythm of modern Provençal life, to listen to the pulsing cigales, smell the parfum of a tiny country path, and feel the night air on your skin.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. See Vincent van Gogh's Arles Ever since the fiery Dutchman immortalized Arles in all its chromatic drama, this town has had a starring role in museums around the world.
  2. Experience unplugged Provence The marshy landscapes of the Camargue will swamp you with their strange beauty, white horses, pink flamingoes, and black bulls.
  3. Get hip-deep in lavender Tour the Lavender Route from the Abbaye de Sénanque (near Gordes) to a wide, blue-purple swath that ranges across the Drôme and the Vaucluse.
  4. Go fishing for Marseille's best bouillabaisse The version at Chez Fonfon will make your taste buds stand up and sing "La Marseillaise."
  5. Tour Cézanne Country Views of Mont Ste-Victoire, rising near the artist's hometown of Aix-en-Provence, may inspire you to pick up a brush.

When To Go

When to Go

Spring and fall are the best months to experience the dazzling light, rugged rocky countryside, and fruited vineyards of Provence. Though the...

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