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.
In de heuvels bij Aix-en-Provence ligt Atelier Cézanne, ook bekend als de Cézanne Studio. Het is een museum dat het leven en de werken van de gelijknamige kunstenaar in beeld brengt. De studio op de bovenverdieping van een landhuis in de Provence, was eigendom van Cézanne vanaf 1902. Hij werkte er tot zijn overlijden in 1906. Het is een rustgevende plek met bloeiende tuin en prachtige vergezichten over het omliggende platteland.
Al vanaf de heropening in 1954 moest de studio in dezelfde staat lijken als waarin deze door Cézanne was achtergelaten. Daarom zijn veel persoonlijke attributen en inspiratiebronnen te zien. Zijn verf en schildersezel staan nog steeds op de plek, waar meesterwerken als Les Grandes Baigneuses (De grote baadsters) en La Femme à la Cafétière (De vrouw met koffiekan) zijn gemaakt. Ook zie je vazen, sjaals en fruit, die samen een perfect samengesteld stilleven vormen.
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.
Les Baux-de-Provence is a charming town in the Provence region, and whose name refers to its location: in Provençal, a baou is a rocky spur. Baux-de-Provence has a fantastic position amidst the Alpilles mountains, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in France.
The stunning location is set atop a rocky formation complete with a ruined vast fortress. Baux-de-Provence has a rich history: in the middle ages, Cardinal Richelieu ordered the demolition of the castle because the village housed protestant rebels. The village is also the site where the aluminium ore Bauxite which was first discovered in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier, and as such the ore bears its name.
It's a history that stretches back to pre-Roman times, with various evidence of Bronze Age settlements. But with the Romans came more permanent colonization; soldiers were often given tracts of land in the area as payment for battles. The original Roman gates are still there, as is the Colosseum-style arena. Check the city's entertainment schedule before visiting, and catch a concert inside – something you can't do in Rome!
Throughout the city are various ruins that have been preserved as best as possible, but the jewel of Nimes is without a doubt the temple Maison Carrée. Built just before the turn of the millennium, its near-perfect condition makes it one of the finest examples of Roman architecture found anywhere in the world. Thomas Jefferson was so taken with it, in fact, that he has the statehouse in Virginia built in its likeness!
Today Nimes is a fairly large and bustling city, with great restaurants and gorgeous parks and other public green spaces.
Less than a half-hour from Avignon, it's a popular stop on Provence wine tasting tours, and rightly so. But there is so much more to this town than the (delicious!) fruit of its labors.
As its name suggests - “pape” is French for “pope” - the part of papal history that takes place in France includes Chateauneuf-du-Pape. As you may know, Avignon was home to the papacy, but when it came to wine, the town wasn't so blessed. Popes had to look elsewhere for their favorite libation, and looked to the area today known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape – named as such because of the new castle (chateauneuf) built by Pope John XXII.
It is from this castle that you get amazing views of the vineyards and neighboring villages. Also of note is the town's beautifully preserved medieval architecture, most of which today is home to various wine stores and tasting rooms.
Tussen Camargue en Luberon, in het westen van de Provence, is de Alpilles het jongste van de 49 natuurparken in Frankrijk. Het is een gebied met moerasland, bos, wijngaarden en olijfvelden met op de achtergrond de kalkstenen rotsen van het Luberongebergte. Alpilles staat ook bekend vanwege de rijke flora en fauna, met bijna 1.000 plantensoorten, diverse soorten beschermde vleermuizen en meer dan 90 vogelsoorten, waaronder havikarenden en zeldzame gieren.
In het hart van het natuurpark ligt het schattige dorp Saint-Rémy de Provence, dat door expressionistisch kunstenaar Vincent van Gogh aan het einde van de 19de eeuw onsterfelijk is gemaakt. Hij verbleef in 1889 in het klooster St. Paul-de-Mausole om te herstellen van depressies en schilderde veel bekende taferelen rond de plaats. In 2016 zal een nieuw bezoekerscentrum worden geopend in het dorp, dat dienst zal doen voor het hele park (tot die tijd kunt u terecht op 10-12, avenue Notre Dame du Château, Saint-Etienne-du-Grès).
The Provencal village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 20 km south of Avignon, is most famous for its impressively preserved Roman ruins, but behind its ancient façade lies a lively town full of character. The magnificent Triumphant Arch of Glanum is the town’s most dramatic attraction - the oldest Roman arch of the narbonensis region - and the ruins of its 14th century defensive walls still encircle the ancient Gallo-Roman center, with the original portes still used as gateways to the center. The Nostradamus fountain, in honor of its namesake who was born in the town, is another popular sight, as is the elegant 16th century Mairie (Town Hall). The town also possesses a more unusual claim to fame – the town’s Monastery de Mausole housed Van Gogh during his period of psychiatric treatment prior to his untimely death and was where he painted his late masterpieces Starry Night and Self-Portrait.
Marseille Vieux Port, or Old Port, is the hub of the city. It was the natural harbor of this port town since antiquity; the Greeks landed here in 600 BC and set up a small town for trading. The town grew and in the middle ages became a center for growing cannabis, or hemp, for nautical rope. Hence the name of Marseille's main street Canebiere, which leads down to the old port. By the mid-1800s, the port of Marseille could dock over 1,000 ships at one time and around 18,000 ships passed through each year. However once steam took over from sail, the harbor proved too shallow and the focus moved to new docks built at La Joliette. Then in WWII, the Nazis obliterated the port and the historic town in the Battle of Marseille. After 1948, a reconstruction project was undertaken and these days the port is again a bustling center of Marseille, although these days only for leisure boating.
These days the New Port, to the north, has taken over the commercial harbor functions.
In the Petite Camargue region in southern France, the best way to see the medieval town of Aigues-Mortes is from its medieval ramparts. On a wander atop the city walls, you can see right across the ancient town, once filled with knights and crusaders during the 12th-century reign of Louis IX. Saint Louis ordered the ramparts so that his French kingdom could have a Mediterranean marina that would give them passage to the Middle East. Make sure to check out the famous Constance Tower while you’re in town. Built under the orders of Louis in 1242, it’s the most impressive of the 20 imposing towers dotted around the city walls.
Down at street level, a stroll along Aigues-Mortes' lively medieval streets is a popular pastime. While you’re here, try the local Fougasse pastry, which can be savory or sweetened with sugar and orange blossom. If you walk 15 minutes away from town, you'll run into the local salt works, a major part of the town's history, and their pink salt lakes.