5 Provençal Towns

Southern France seems to have a monopoly on small picturesque towns where time has stopped, tiny cobblestone streets weave between building blocks, and where houses are tied together by arching overpasses and rhythmic arcades. Scads of these pretty burgs dot the landscape in Provence, but if time is limited, here are five hamlets you don’t want to miss.

Les Baux-de-Provence, The Alpilles
19 kilometers (12 miles) northeast of Arles

This tiny château-village ranks as one of the most visited tourist sites in France. Its car-free main street (almost its only street) is thus jammed with shops and galleries and overwhelmed with the smell of lavender-scented souvenirs. But don’t deprive yourself for fear of crowds. Stay late in the day after the tour buses leave and you’ll experience the town’s spectacular character—a tour-de-force blend of medieval color and astonishing natural beauty.

Vaison-la-Romaine, The Vaucluse
10 kilometers (6 miles) northeast of Séguret

In a river valley green with orchards of almonds and apricots, this ancient town thrives as a modern market center. Yet it retains an irresistible Provençal charm, with medieval backstreets, lively squares lined with cafés and, as the name implies, remains of its Roman past.

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, The Vaucluse
23 kilometers (14 miles) east of Avignon

Crisscrossed with lazy canals and alive with moss-covered waterwheels that once drove silk, wool, and paper mills, this charming valley town retains its gentle appeal—except on Sunday. That’s when this easygoing old town becomes a magnet for marketeers, its streets crammed with antiques and brocante, its cafés swelling with crowds of chic bargain browsers making a day of it. On non-market days the village returns to its normal mellow pace.

Moustiers-Ste-Marie, Alpes de Haute Provence
10 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of La Palud-sur-Verdon

It’s a bit of a surprise to find this picture-perfect village tucked into a spectacular cleft in vertical cliffs, its bluffs laced with bridges, draped with medieval stone houses, and crowned with church steeples. To most, the name Moustiers means faïence, the fine glazed earthenware that has been produced here since the 17th century. After picking out a pottery piece, peek into the village’s early Gothic church, where you can admire stained-glass windows and late-medieval art.

Le Barroux, The Vaucluse
16 Kilometers (10 miles) of Vaison-la-Romaine

Of all the marvelous hilltop villages stretching across the south of France, this tiny ziggurat of a town has a special charm. It has just one small church, one post office, and one tiny old épicerie (small grocery) selling canned goods, yellowed postcards, and today’s Le Provençal.

Provence is pretty popular in the Europe forum. From aspiring first-time visitors to veteran explorers the forums are brimming with advice for planning a trip to Provence:

  • 3 days in Provence without a car: which place to use as a base?
  • Off the Beaten Path Provence
  • Please help with 8-day Provence Itinerary