Provence and French Riviera Top Attractions
Hometown of Cézanne and Zola, ritzy and charming Aix is epitomized by its Cours Mirabeau, a tree-lined boulevard with lovely cafés in which a lengthy roster of famous literati once lounged.
Arles actually manages to live up to the beauty of Van Gogh's swirling renditions, but the town's biggest attractions are the Roman theater and amphitheater, built around 46 BC. Time seems to have stood still since 1888 in pockets of the Vieille Ville (Old Town).
Once considered the "second Rome," the medieval walled city of Avignon is surprisingly youthful and vibrant. This art-filled spot allows you to spend the day at the famous 14th-century Papal Palace, then attend a 21st-century avant-garde theatrical "happening" in the evening at the summer Festival d'Avignon.
Probing the tall white cliffs just west of picture-perfect Cassis are the rocky, pine-studded finger coves called the Calanques—be sure to enjoy a plunge into the turquoise waters of these film-set lagoons.
Provence's amazing nature park is set with plains of marsh grass stretching to the sea, interrupted only by explosions of flying flamingos bursting into waves of color or modest stampedes of stocky bulls. Tour the region like a local: on horseback, led by one of the area's gardiens, or "cowboys."
The Lavender Route
Like Holland's May tulips, the lavender of Haute-Provence is in its glory only once a year, from the end of June to the first two weeks of July, when for miles the landscape breaks out in saturated shades of purple in the region east of the Rhône and north of the Luberon.
Visit the Vieux Port of Marseille, heavily renovated in 2013, and relish in the way the light and the cries of the fishmongers bounce off the anchored sailboats; then bring your wide-angle lens to capture the views of the entire city from the crow's-nest church of Napoléon III's Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde.
Pont du Gard
No other ancient Roman sight in Provence rivals this 2,000-year-old bridge, the highest the Romans ever built. Magnificent views can be had from the opposite bank and at night, when it is spectacularly illuminated.
This famous walled hill town is home to La Colombe d'Or, the beloved inn of many artists. Have dinner here under a real Picasso or have coffee and dessert next to the Calder in the garden. It's easy to see why some call this the most beautiful hotel on the French Riviera, perhaps in all of France. Other splendors here include the Fondation Maeght, with a pine-forested park dotted with Giacometti and Miró sculptures.
The "Hamptons" of Provence remains a haven for chic urbanites. Dappled with the shade of ancient plane trees, this mellow retreat is surrounded by fields of sunflowers immortalized by Van Gogh.
Make a summer pilgrimage to St-Tropez, the town Brigitte Bardot made famous, if only to sit along the port eating ice cream and watching the wildly wealthy or tacky file by. And, darling, don't forget your Tod's espadrilles.
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