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Spectacular scenery to explore, historic sights to discover and beautiful villages to tarry in, there’s so much to see and do whilst staying at one of our holiday cottages with pools in Provence.
Here’s our guide to the Top 10 Things to Do In Provence.
1. Smell the lavender
Early summer is the time to see the famous Provencal lavender fields at their best, particularly on the high plateaux of Sault and Valensole north of the Luberon where the many varieties of this plant grow well in the thin, rocky soil. After the harvest, from mid July, local distilleries process the essential oils and the lavender festivals commence. Coinciding with the peak tourist season, this busy time offers opportunities for learning more about the age-old cultivation of this herb whose products can be found on sale throughout Provence at all times of the year. At the heart of the region busy Manosque is home to the natural cosmetics firm L’Occitane, whose humble beginnings originate in the lavender fields. Visitors can learn about the company’s global success story at its factory and shop on the outskirts of town.
2. Find art in the Alpilles
Famous for its almond and olive groves, the Alpilles is a miniature, limestone mountain range in south-west Provence, ideal for exploring on foot. Protected by regional park status, the higher slopes are crossed by the long-distance GR6 footpath, with many smaller, local trails branching off. This arid, rocky landscape was immortalised by Van Gogh and many of the scenes he captured can still be admired; details of walks taking in these views are available from local tourist offices. Lying in the foothills, the market town of St Remy was home to the great artist for a short, but prolific, period of his life. This charming town, shaded by ancient plane trees, is famous for its narrow streets and pretty squares where fountains play.
3. Descend the Verdon Gorge
The spectacular ravine carved by the river Verdon (named for its brilliant turquoise colour) is reckoned to be one of the major natural sights of France, if not Europe. The drive around its rim is a popular day out for tourists and cyclists alike, with parking available at some breathtaking viewpoints. However, the gorge reserves its best-kept secrets for the more adventurous willing to penetrate its depths on foot or by boat. Well worth the effort, such trips should be researched in advance as they require a head for heights, stout footwear, torches and – in the case of white-water rafting or canoeing – booking with experienced guides is advisable.
4. Conquer Mont Ventoux
The white-capped peak of Mont Ventoux shines like a beacon for miles around in the rugged landscape of northern Provence. Any holiday here would be incomplete without a trip to this windy summit. Frequently featured in the Tour de France, the mountain famously claimed the life of British cyclist Tom Simpson in 1967; his roadside memorial adorned with tributes can be visited near the top. Cycle routes up the mountain are notoriously tough and walking trails equally so. Most visitors travel up the hairpin bends by car, requiring a reasonable head for heights and sunglasses to avoid being dazzled over the last few kilometres by the mountain’s limestone cap.
5. Visit the Luberon villages
Commanding fine views over the surrounding countryside, the charming hill-top villages of the mountainous Luberon range have become popular tourist destinations since Peter Mayle immortalised one of them – Menerbes – in his novel A Year in Provence. Some more famous and frequented than others, there are more than 20 in total all lending themselves to leisurely exploration by bicycle or on foot. Today, visitors flock to their colourful weekly markets; historically they served as defensive sites, sheltering the local population in times of trouble.
6. Follow in Cezanne’s footsteps
Impressionist artist Paul Cezanne is famous for capturing on canvas the many moods of his favourite mountain, the Mont Sainte Victoire, in his distinctive geometric style. Today, walking trails have been created in his home town of Aix-en-Provence and the surrounding countryside to convey the essence of what he saw. The Route Cezanne, a 40-mile drive around the mountain, visits many sites associated with him and offers stunning views.
7. Dig out Roman remains
Some of the best-preserved Roman buildings in Europe can be found in Provence, ranging from the magnificent Pont du Gard and amphitheatres of Nimes and Arles to the remains of Glanum and Vaison la Romaine. Many are now classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and offer a fascinating insight on everyday life in a Roman province.
8. Pop into the palace
Priceless art and grand apartments are on show at Avignon’s magnificent Palais des Papes. Located in the heart of the Medieval city overlooking its famous bridge, the imposing Palais was once the capital of Christendom and seat of powerful Popes. Each summer a major arts festival draws thousands of tourists to this UNESCO World Heritage site during the month of July. The Palais is open to visitors throughout the year.
9. Catch up with the tortoises
Overlooking the Mediterranean coast to the west of the Cote d’Azur the arid, scrubby landscape of the Massif des Maures is the ideal place for getting away from it all. Between Hyeres and Saint-Raphael, this hilly range is the last refuge of the Hermann’s Tortoise which once roamed these parts. At Gonfaron, le Village des Tortues takes in and treats injured tortoises and runs a breeding programme which releases them back into the wild.
10. Go wild in the Camargue
At the western extremity of Provence, south of Arles, lies the great Rhone delta of the Camargue. This marshy, flat landscape is one of Europe’s largest natural reserves, famous for its flamingos, semi-wild white horses, black bulls and ‘cowboy’ culture. The ramparts of ancient Aigues-Mortes, once a sea-port, give a good vantage point over this watery world where rice is cultivated in fields between the Rhone’s branching channels.
You can view our full selection of holiday cottages with pools in Provence below. Or, if you are looking for something special, take a look at our luxury villas in Provence.
If you’re looking for holiday cottages with pools in Provence, why not take a look at our latest Travel Guide to the region.
For more information about holidaying in the south of France, visit the official Provence, Alpes, Cote d’Azur Tourism website.