Today’s wine, a French Rose’, does not disclose much on its label to denote where it was produced. Since it is from the same wine producer as the earlier Bordeaux wines, I am thinking it is a Bordeaux rose’; however, since typically rose’ is associated with Provence, where rose’ wines account for approximately two-thirds of wine production, today’s focus is on the Provence region.
Next to Paris, Provence is likely the most iconic and familiar French destination for most, likely creating mental images of summer, quaint villages, and fields of lavender and sunflowers. However, Provence is much more than quaint pretty villages. I hope you will bear with me and discover the many varied areas and attractions offered by this beautiful region.
Photos courtesy of Aix en Provence Tourism Board, Atout France, AmaWaterways and AutoEurope
The region of light and vibrant color, covers a large area in France’s southeast corner, bordered by Italy’s Southern Alps to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south and the Rhone River to the west. The landscapes are diverse and range from rolling vineyards, lavender fields, olive groves, pine forests, jagged mountains, amber hued villages to chic cities, marshes, coast and beaches.
Incorporated into France more than 500 years ago (in 1481), archealogy discoveries in Provence show evidence of inhabitants as early as Neolithic times, followed by other prominent civilizations including the Celtic, Greek colonists and the Romans. Given its very long history, it’s little wonder the people of Provence and their traditions, particularly in the interior and less populated areas, have maintained a distinct cultural identity.
Today’s visitors seek the wide variety of villages, towns and cities, like Arles, showcased by Van Gogh in his popular paintings, or Grasse, considered the perfume industry capital. Many great French writers and artists were either Provence natives, long term residents or were inspired by Provence, including Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Matisse, and Dumas, making the region all the more attractive for those who know and love their works.
Maybe the best known area is in the south, the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), where the elegant city of Nice and glamorous resort towns such as Saint-Tropez and Cannes (host of the international film festival) line the coast with picture perfect, yacht filled ports. Known for its beautiful coast, the southern part of Provence offers lots of sunshine, great wines, culinary specialties, fruit, flower and food markets and popular cities of Avignon, Aix-en-Provence (home of Cézanne), Nice and France’s second largest city and largest port, Marseille.
The northern area offers a totally different experience. When you think of Provence, skiing probably doesn’t come to mind, but there are beautiful and charming village ski resorts in the southern Alps that offer some of the best skiing in France. Likewise, when thinking of rose’ wine, you probably think of a refreshing chilled summer wine, but it is also common to see rose’ being consumed in the Alps during ski season. This is due to the fact that rose’ wines pair well with the typical foods consumed after a day of winter sports.
For yet another surprisingly different side of Provence, visit the Camargue, a marshy wetland area where the Rhone River delta meets the sea. The vast ecosystem is a refuge for pink flamingos and other birds, white Camargue horses and black bulls. Here in France’s wild west, where you can meet cowboys, tour ranches, and experience the long tradition of bullfighting. Different from the Spanish bullfights, the French attempt to successfully grab ribbons and strings from the animal’s horns. Bike, hike or explore this area on horseback or from a horse-drawn carriage.
Waterways are prominent in Provence, with the Rhone River, Petit Rhone, Canal du Midi and Canal Rhone a Sete. Because of this, barge and river cruising is popular, as are escorted, independent or self-charted cruises and combination cruise/drive tours for small groups and independent travelers.
Provence is a year round destination offering a genuine “joie de vivre” in each of its varied locations. Depending on the area of Provence you plan to focus will influence the best time to visit. Best times to visit Aix-en-Provence are from March to May and September through November, as the summer months are popular with Parisians and international travelers, making hotel and restaurant availability limited and expensive.
Nice and the popular surrounding coast is best expeienced in the shoulder season (mid-March to April and September to October) again to avoid the massive crowds experienced during peak summer months. If planning to ski in the Alps of Provence, December through March are best.
As you can tell, Provence is a large region with much to explore, so allowing at least four or five days to a week (or more!) would allow to explore and experience much of the region.
WHEN TO GO: Spring or Fall, Depending on how many areas you plan to visit, 5 full days to a week
POPULAR TRAVEL STYLES: Small Private Groups, River Cruises, Yacht Cruises, Canal Cruising, Independent Travel, Luxury Travel
IDEAL FOR: Culinary/Wine, Romantic Travel, Relaxing/Well Being, Destination Weddings, Nature Vacation, Family Travel, Hiking/Biking/Skiing
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