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Things to do in Provence

Things to do in  Provence

Welcome to Provence

Provence, in southern France, is technically part of a larger region in the country, maintains much of its historic regional identity. Known for its charming towns and lavender fields, scenes captured by artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Cezanne, Matisse, and Renoir, the region – which includes the French Riviera – extends from the Mediterranean Sea up into the Luberon and the Alps, with coastal Marseille as is its largest city. Visitors relax on the beach at seaside resorts like Nice and Cannes (two hours from Marseille), and explore the coastal nature reserve of the Camargue (a little over an hour). Further inland, fountain-filled Aix-en-Provence was once the capital of Provence, while Arles boasts a well-preserved ancient Roman amphitheater. Travelers flock to Avignon's main draw, the papal palace complex, the base of the papacy for most of the 14th century (all about an hour away. Meanwhile, the small towns that dot the countryside demonstrate the region’s wealth of culture and history. Half- and full-day tours brings visitors to one or more that fit their specific interests, from markets to mountain towns. Picturesque Les Baux de Provence offers a glimpse of a medieval village, and can be combined with the nearby Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region tastings. The air around the hilltop town of Grasse smells of lavender, so it makes sense three perfumeries are headquartered there. Pause to cool off in the river running through the Gorges du Verdon, a chance to swim under the Pont du Gard–an ancient Roman aqueduct.

Top 10 attractions in Provence

#1

Calanques National Park (Parc National des Calanques)

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Calanques National Park (Parc national des Calanques) sits in the south of France between Marseille and Cassis. The area boasts dramatic rocky inlets, azure waters and pebble beaches, making it a popular destination for tourists looking to hike, swim and sail. The park is relatively large and composed of nearly 20 acres (8,500 hectares) by land and more than 100 acres (42,000 hectares) by sea. Visitors can spend their time keeping an eye out for some of the 140 land animal species and 60 marine species that live here. These creatures are protected in the park, which is the only one in Europe to contain land, marine and semi-urban areas. The calanques themselves are also main attractions and include Calanque de Sormiou, Calanque de Morgiou, Calanque d'En-Vau, Calanque de Port-Pin and Calanque de Sugiton.More
#2

Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica (La Bonne Mère)

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Everywhere you go in Marseille, you'll see the golden statue of the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, the Romano-Byzantine basilica rising up from the city's highest hill, La Garde (530ft/162m). Built between 1853 and 1864, the domed basilica is ornamented with colored marble, murals, and intricate mosaics, which were superbly restored in 2006 after suffering damage from the atmosphere, candle smoke and war. Bullet marks and vivid shrapnel scars on the cathedral's northern façade mark the fierce fighting that took place during Marseille's Battle of Liberation in August 1944. Its bell tower is crowned by a 30 ft (9.7m) tall gilded statue of the Virgin Mary on a 40 ft (12m) high pedestal. Locals see her as the guardian of their city and call her 'la bonne mere' or the good mother. Each year on August 15th, there is a popular Assumption Day pilgrimage to the church. From the dome you get a 360-degree panorama of the city's sea of terracotta rooves below.More
#3

Palais du Pharo

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Wouldn't it be nice to be a prince, to be able to go to seaside town, decide you liked it and wouldn't mind having a little holiday home there, then have the city give you the prime location on the waterfront to build your palace? Welcome to the mid-19th century world of Prince-President Louis-Napoleon. In September 1852, he visited Marseille, said he liked it, was given the Pharo headland overlooking Vieux Port and Ile d'If, built the magnificent Palais du Pharo, then never even stayed there. Luckily his wife seems to have had a more generous nature and the Empress Eugenie gave it back to the city. In 1904, the city of Marseille turned the building into a medical school. This necessitated some architectural changes and the balance of the building's appearance was altered losing some of its beauty. Since then, the building has been again modified to become a modern conference centre, with many of the auditoriums skillfully concealed underground below the forecourt.More
#4

Quarries of Lights (Carrières de Lumières)

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Located in the dreamy, medieval and semi-ruined Provençal village of Les Baux-de-Provence in the Alpilles Natural Regional Park, the Carrières de Lumières is a multi-media attraction featuring the works of world-famous artists such as Klimt, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Making use of a former quarry with huge, bare galleries held up by massive columns, art-based images are projected onto the surrounding rock accompanied by stirring music in an amazing son et lumière show that lasts for 40 minutes. The current show (due to end in January 2016) features the spectacular works of Italian Renaissance artists Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael in a totally immersive experience backed by the use of numerous video projectors and 3D audio. In between shows, the quarry walls are illuminated with ever-changing colors to reveal glittering minerals in the walls.More
#5

Camargue

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Visitors to Provence understandably concentrate on Avignon, Arles, and the charming towns, villages and vineyards in the region. And if you stick to that, you'll have a great time! But just as understandable is that while beautiful, these towns can all seem to blend together after a while. If that's the case, then you should head to the Camargue. Located in the southwest corner of Provence, the Camargue is a stretch of wetlands that also include salt fields and rice paddies as well as vineyards. The main town and jumping-off point for exploring the Camargue is Aigues-Mortes, a medieval walled town that is a great lunchtime spot – and you'll want to fuel up, as the Camargue is largely untouched. Although it is protected land, there are pockets of population that tend to the lands and work hard to protect its pristine geographical features. These include the famous wild horses of the Camargue, white horses largely allowed to roam free, although French cowboys.More
#6

Marseille Cruise Port (Terminal Croisières Marseille)

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Marseilles has grown from being a tiny trading port established by the Greeks in 600 BC to being France’s second largest city. Topped by the hilltop Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde cathedral, it rises from the lovely harbor front of the Vieux Port or Old Harbor out into a sprawling, modern metropolis. Given its role as France’s major port and its proximity to Africa and the Mediterranean, it is not surprising that Marseilles is an extremely culturally diverse city with great transport links to most of the country. Marseilles is the gateway to Provence, an area famed for its cooking and its artists. As well as being an important port and industrial city, Marseilles is also an important center for culture with the Opera de Marseille and the Ballet Nationale de Marseille housed in the historic Opera House. It has also attracted many famous artists over the years, including Renoir and Cezanne, and spawned much of France’s hip hop music.More
#7

Fountain of Vaucluse (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse)

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Set in the Luberon region of Provence, Fountain of Vaucluse (Fontaine-de-Vaucluse) is a small village famous for its hidden spring. The “fountain” feeds the Sorgue River and is a bit of a mystery, as the source of this underground spring is unknown. The Sorgue River is so crystal clear it appears emerald and is the area’s main attraction.More
#9

Cours Mirabeau

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The heart and soul of the Vieil Aix (Old Town) the historic Cours Mirabeau is the main thoroughfare of Aix en Provence, passing between the ring roads that mark the boundaries of the old medieval center and the new town. A broad tree-lined avenue crammed with shops, restaurants and cafés, Cours Mirabeau runs from the iconic statue of King Rene (Fontaine du Roi René) in Place Forbin, to the stately Place du General de Gaulle. Simply strolling the wide avenue – a spacious 42 meters wide - is enough to unveil many of its charms. Elegant 17th-century mansions, walled gardens and ornamental fountains line the sidewalks and a pit stop at one of the many alfresco cafés is the perfect way to take in the scenery. Once home to the city’s elite, Cours Mirabeau boasts one-time residents like a young Cezanne and architectural highlights include the monumental entrance of Hotel de Villiers and the regal Hôtel d'Arbod Jouques.More
#10

Palace of the Popes (Palais des Papes)

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The Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) is one of the largest Gothic buildings in all of Europe and was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995. Avignon became the residence of the Popes in 1309 during the period of the Avignon Papacy. It was then expanded and grew to occupy an area of 11,000 m² (2.6 acres). The papacy spent a large amount of money on the building during construction. The interiors are no less grand than the exteriors; the rooms were luxuriously decorated with expensive frescos, tapestries, paintings, sculptures and wooden ceilings. The palais deteriorated for the next couple of hundred years despite restoration efforts and was then sacked during the Revolutionary period. The Palais was eventually taken over by the Napoleonic government for military use during which time it further deteriorated. It finally became a national museum in 1906, and most of the Palais is now open to the public.More

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