The Provençal way of life is one that’s deeply tempting for anyone who’s been feeling the need to get away from it all. This is a place where the Mediterranean weather turns fields of corn and lavender into picture-perfect backdrops, where you can sip your locally bought wine and enjoy the landscapes before heading out and tackling them head-on with a range of great activities for families, groups of friends and adventurous foodies. Better yet, our range of villas in Provence and chateaux and holiday homes in the Côte d’Azur make the perfect base to explore this enchanting region!
There’s a good reason why Provence-Alps is popular among fashionistas and film stars. Firstly, there are the impossibly blue seas that give the Côte d’Azur its name, then there are the glamorous towns that overlook them. Yet the size and diversity of this region make it a destination for all kinds of travellers, not just yacht owners. The mountains in the north promise action-filled holidays while the inland towns and cities like Arles, Marseilles and Avignon overflow with culture and history. Perhaps the best news for anyone considering a holiday to Provence-Alps is that that any experience here is sure to include mouth-watering cuisine and exquisite wine.
The Typical Sights
- The Côte d’Azur – Take a drive down this famously glamorous coastline and visit St Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Monte Carlo.
- Pont du Gard – Stand beneath the giant arches of this immaculately preserved viaduct.
- Notre Dame Basilica – Enjoy the views from this iconic hilltop cathedral, which sits above Marseilles.
- La Croisette – Keep your eyes peeled for stars sunning themselves on Cannes beaches.
- Avignon – Explore historic streets, Roman ruins and a papal palace.
- Daluis and Verdon Gorges – Follow winding roads along the ‘Grand Canyon of Provence’.
- Luberon – Cycle through the lavender fields of inland Provence-Alps.
- Cassis – Explore the beautiful cliffs and winemaking pedigree (crème de cassis isn’t made here though!)
- Les Baux-de-Provence – A beautiful village set on a rocky outcrop and topped with a ruined castle
- Cap-Ferrat – A glamorous and exclusive town rich in history and culture
- Antibes – The museums here include ones dedicated to Picasso, Napoleon and even Absinthe.
When to Visit
The Mediterranean coastline becomes undeniably busy in summer as sun-seekers flock to the sandy shores, however that’s also when it’s at its hottest. Temperatures can easily reach 40 degrees Celsius in the middle of the day, so arm yourself with sunscreen and copious amounts of water. Unless you are a hardened cinéphile, okay with long queues and manic crowds, Cannes in May should probably be avoided as the film festival takes over the town. Head to the beaches in June and September, when the weather is still warm and dry but without the large crowds of high summer.
Inland the climate becomes milder and the attractions become quieter, and the region’s iconic lavender also comes into bloom during summer. In winter, the mountains are covered in snow from November to March and places like Briançon take on a magical atmosphere.
- Airports: Main airports in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur are Nice Airport, Toulon-Hyères airport, Marseille Airport and Avignon Airport.
- By train: The TGV system – an abbreviation that literally stands for ‘really fast trains’ – is the best way to get into the region from elsewhere in France. For travel within Provence-Alps, check the SNCF website for regular journeys between towns. And if you travel from the UK, Eurostar is a fantastic option to avoid the airport hassle. Find all about how to travel to the South of France by Eurostar in this blog.
- By bike: Cycling can be one of the most invigorating way of exploring the dramatic countryside, and See Provence collates all the bike rental companies in the region. Bike sharing has taken off in a big way in towns such as Avignon, Marseilles and Nice.
- By car: Hire a car for unrestricted access to Provence-Alps. This will allow you to travel unabated and take diversions into whichever town takes your fancy. Comparison sites like Easy Car pit rental firms against each other for the best deals.
- On foot: For a slow-paced journey between the sights of Provence-Alps, hit one of the Sentiers de Grande Randonnée. These historic walking routes link many of the towns.
- Hop on a boat to the Iles d’Hyères, which have the same hot sun and sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean, but with far fewer people. Spend the day exploring Porquerolles or Port-Cros – both picturesque escapes from the madness of the mainland – although maybe avoid Ile du Levant, which is a combination of a military base and a nudist colony.
- Provence-Alps’ artistic associations with the likes of Rénoir, Cézanne and Picasso is much publicised. But less often appreciated are its traditional Provençal handicrafts, which can be more thoroughly surveyed and appreciated at the Musée de la Faïence and in Aix-en-Provence’s Tapestry Museum.
- Follow the trails through the Alpha Wolf Park for a possible sighting of these majestic wild animals who live in packs in the hills. Get out the long lens on your camera for the best chance of a great photo.
- Located in the heart of Verdon Regional Natural Park, the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is famed for its ceramics. Visit to see the artwork or just to enjoy the rustic Provençal architecture and the spectacular setting. Drive between the many small and charming villages of the region to discover your own secret escape.
- In the ‘30s, a quarry undergoing excavation for a castle was abandoned due to rising costs. Today, that excavated site is now the audiovisual gallery Carrières de Lumières, where art is projected onto the tunnel walls creating a truly unique art-viewing experience.
- The artificial and the natural blend together in Oppède-le-Vieux, an abandoned village where the stone houses grow out of the rocky faces and plants grow over their walls. You can amble around the area at your leisure, stopping by a dramatic Romanesque church where the vistas extend for miles.
- Escape to the Alps in Haute-Provence, where acres of uninterrupted wilderness beckon hikers and cyclists, while Digne-Les-Bains and Gréoux-Les-Bains promise a relaxing day in their thermal spas.
- Saint-Paul-de-Vence is one of the oldest and most charming medieval towns in the region, but it’s real appeal lies in the modern art galleries you’ll find there. Foundation Maeght is a particular highlight.
- Èze might be a bit less hidden, but it’s still a gem. The views out to sea from the hilltops here are unforgettable whatever the weather.
Great art, food, the sun and the sea – you probably don’t need any more reasons to spend a summer in Provence, but it does have one more string to its bow: the region is packed full of activities for children to get involved with, so they too, can make the most of the area’s diversity. Regardless of where you are staying in Provence-Alps, there’s sure to be something exciting and family-friendly happening nearby. A holiday in the mountains could involve sports activities such as horse riding and whitewater rafting, while a break in the farming regions might include a family cycling tour and visits to child-friendly museums. The coast, meanwhile, offers diving trips, sandy beaches and – perhaps the pièce de résistance for kids – ice cream.
Thanks to its popularity among European tourists, Provence-Alps is well-equipped for families, with a glut of wildlife, culture and adventure experiences to pick from. Choose a big family villa as your headquarters for a week or two of memory-making in a region that children won’t want to leave. Then start planning some of these fun days out:
Best Family Holiday Activities in Provence and the Côte d’Azur
- The famous Côte d’Azur (mostly known by Brits as the French Riviera) offers a great choice of fantastic beaches for a bit of sun and sand. They can get incredibly busy come summer, but St Tropez, Cannes and Monaco are always a good bet for some celebrity spotting.
- The kidscam appreciate the coast in a whole new way with Dune Marseilles, which is the ideal way to introduce them to snorkelling and the spellbinding creatures and plants you’ll find living off the coast of the Calanques National Park.
- The Carmargue National Park is the place to go if you feel like getting back to nature – and experiencing the beautiful wetlands and salt marshes that are home to horses, cattle and flamingos. A protected area and UNESCO world heritage site, there’s even a museum where you can up to speed on the history of the area and what animals to look out for.
- Domaine Méjanes is an estate within the National Park that offers tours and trips around the marshes – and you can take your pick of exploring on horseback or by the train that loops around the property’s 600 hectares.
- And though the French Riviera might seem to hog a lot of the limelight when it comes to Provence, the region’s section of the Alps provides high-altitude activities for more adventurous families. While climbing might be a bit challenging for little ones, there’s still plenty to enjoy!
- Les Bois des Lutins is an adventure park with a difference! Features bridges, zip lines and slides through the treetops, there’s a range of gentler activities if you’re bringing younger children along and adults are encouraged to dive right in to the activities too.
- Watery adventures can also be enjoyed on the rivers that run through the Alps. Base Sport & Nature offer a great range of activities that tackle the white water, as well as canyoning and hiking expeditions that make the most of the rugged landscape.
Visit our blog on best family activities in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur , we have more fun ideas for kids!
Best Family-Friendly Beaches on the Côte d’Azur
- Hi Beach is on the eastern side of Forum beach in Nice and is unique in that there’s a whole area dedicated to kids where they can play and relax – and there are sections for the grown ups too if you fancy taking a break and chilling for a bit, or even trying out some activities or watersports. Bear in mind though, it’s pretty exclusive and is priced accordingly.
- Plage Sablettes is found in Menton, the last town on the French coast before you reach Italy. The sea here is shallow and warm (so it’s great for paddling) and there’s even a trampoline if the kids get bored with building sand castles. The only drawback is the relative lack of amenities compared to more popular beaches in the area.
- With some 48 beaches around Antibes, there’s a stunning choice whether you’re with the family or not! However, a great pick for kids is Plage de la Gravette, which is small but sandy and protected by a breakwater for the safety conscious.
- Plage de Fourmis at Beaulieu-sur-Mer boasts warm, shallow waters and a diving area just offshore that’s bound to get the kids excited. Plage Petite Afrique is found not far away, and while it’s a bit less exciting for kids (and a bit pebbly) there are a few more amenities to make the day less stressful.
- Saint Tropez is famous for glamour and luxury, and you’d better believe there’s some stunning beaches on offer there too. While many in the high season might be a bit crowded and less inclined to be welcoming to kids, Plage des Jumeaux is a good bet if you feel like soaking up some of the beautiful people’s reflected glory. Plan ahead though – it’s a very expensive area.
The South of France is the perfect place for a lively group holiday. Such is the size of Provence-Alps, however, that you never even need to leave the region. If your friends are fans of extreme sports then you can spend days driving supercars or speeding down rapids. If your group prefer a life of luxury then Provence can cater to that too, with cruises round national parks and wine tours for the aspiring connoisseur.
Splash out on a chateau that will accommodate all of your friends and spend a week playing golf, relaxing in the Mediterranean water and hanging out with your nearest and dearest. No doubt bonds of long-lasting friendship will be formed as you explore together. Here are just a few ideas of things you might want to do:
Adrenaline-Fuelled Activities in Provence and the Côte d’Azur
- Of course, Provence is where you’ll find one of the ritziest and glitziest places on Earth – the French Riviera. Heading down with your friends and enjoying the vibe is an experience in and of itself (with Monaco, Saint Tropez and Nice providing ample opportunity to look glam on a veranda) but if you want to feel like a true film star, hire a classic car and take it for a spin along the coast with the wind in your hair.
- Liven Up give you the chance to drive a Lamborghini or a Ferrari around some of the Côte d’Azur’s most stunning cities, though you must have an instructor with you (presumably to stop people making off with the car, which in all fairness is pretty tempting).
- Another way to get that heart pumping is to try a little exercise, and there’s no better way to see Provence (or much of the French countryside, come to that) than by bike. You and your friends could take it easy with a short trek through the region’s beautiful farmland or besides the coast, or knock it up a notch and head towards the Alps for some mountain biking or challenging inclines.
- If you’re looking to hire a set of two wheels, head to e.bike Tours. They’ll show the best places to cycle around the Côte d’Azur, offering half and full day excursions to delightful destinations like Marseilles and the Calanques National Park.
More Laid-Back Activities
- As a playground of the rich and famous, it hardly comes as a great surprise that there’s some world-famous golf courses in and around the French Riviera. Even if heading out onto the links isn’t really your sort of thing, many clubs will have spa, bar and restaurant facilities so everyone can enjoy a fun day out.
- Golf du Luberon (unsurprisingly found in Luberon) is one of the region’s most picturesque courses, and while there’s no spa the landscapes alone will have old hands and beginners alike trying heading out to try for a hole in one, if only to just admire the spectacular views.
- We mentioned the gorgeous Calanques National Park as a good place to bike, but that’s not the only way to get around it. While you could lace up those hiking boots and get walking, the abundance of water through the park means canoeing and boating are a great – and somewhat different – way of navigating this under-appreciated bit of the Provençal landscape.
- Bleu Evasion can organise trips to navigate the coastal parts of the park, so you can hop between caves, go snorkeling and even stop off for a bit of lunch if you like. You could even try wind surfing or wake boarding if you’re feeling adventurous.
- If you’re looking for a day trip to somewhere with a bit of a difference, head to the city of Grasse in the Alpes-Maritimes. Not only does it boast a beautiful cathedral, it’s most famous for being the perfume capital of the world. Follow your nose and you can find day trips and excursions in the area that’ll open your eyes (and nostrils) to the world ofscents.
- Maison Galimard offers tours around its factory as well as a perfume museum, and, rather charmingly, entrance is free. Naturally there’s a little shop where you can pick up a bottle of your choice, but it’s worth splashing out on one of the group workshops where you can have a go at concocting your own perfume.
Read our full list on the best things to do in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
One of the best reasons to spend a summer in Provence-Alps is to savour the tastes of the region. It’s a foodie’s paradise, where good produce is worshiped and the kitchen is holy ground. Among the most revered local ingredients are olive oil, truffles and garlic, while bouillabaisse (fish stew) probably takes the title of the region’s most famous dish. Vegetarians won’t have a problem eating here, with many restaurants catering to non-meat eaters, while most eating establishments will welcome children with open arms.Then, of course, there is the the wine. Flowing freely in every tavern and inn and growing on the hills as far as the eye can see, Provence-Alps is a rich hunting ground for those seeking out fine vintages. From Côtes de Provence roses and crisp Cassis whites to powerful Bandol reds, there are lots of fantastic pours to be discovered.Before we say ‘bon appétit’ and leave you to it, we’ll leave you with just a few of our top dining and drinking recommendations.
The Best Restaurants in Provence and the Côte d’Azur
- Alexandre Mazzia is the eponymous chef at this Marseille restaurant, which has earned a Michelin star for its approach to fine dining. You won’t find much traditional French fare on the menu here, as Mazzia delights in creating unusual pairings of flavours that are as surprising as they are delightful on the palette.
- For something a little more representative of rural France (but just as tasty) try L’Oustalet in Gigondas. You’ll be able to sit right next to the garden where the vegetables for your meal were picked, and naturally the menu shifts to reflect the changing seasons. As the restaurant is co-owned by a winery, you’re sure of getting a fantastic pairing too.
- Another restaurant that pairs fine gastronomy with winemaking is La Table de Sorgues in Sorgues, which concentrates on presenting simple dishes (such as fillet steak and whole turbot) that are cooked exquisitely and have a focus on seasonal ingredients.
- Sumptuous rustic cookery gets a Michelin star makeover at La Table de Pôl in Lorgues. While many of the cooking techniques and recipes are based on knowledge that goes back centuries, the taste and presentation are very much 21st Century.
If you want to gather more suggestions, check out our blog on the best foodie experience in Provence & Côte d’Azur.
Best Regional Dishes to Try in Provence and the Côte d’Azur
- Bouillabaisse is probably king when it comes to archetypal dishes of Provence, and it’s particularly popular on the French Riviera thanks to the area being so close to the sea. This rich fish stew served with garlic mayonnaise is a French classic, with the best versions having to be ordered in advance and serving the broth and the fish meat separately.
- Originating in Nice, Pissaladière illustrates the Mediterranean influence on the local cuisine. It’s a bit like pizza but with onions instead of cheese and is often topped off with anchovies and olives.
- Definitely one for the more adventurous eater, pieds paquets are sheep’s feet and tripe stewed together with white wine and tomatoes. If you can get your head around what you’re actually eating, it’s actually a delicious (and very filling) meal.
- The region is also famous for the aperitif pastis. With its strong aniseed flavour it’s a bit of an acquired taste, but you’ll feel totally cosmopolitan sipping one outside a cafe before you head off for dinner.
- Calissons d’Aix are delicious sweets that make great souvenirs – they’re a marzipan like paste often flavoured with fruit covered in almond icing. Great with a coffee and very, very moreish!
The Best Foodie Experiences in Provence and the Côte d’Azur
- If you’re a true foodie, it’s likely you’ve tried a truffle or two in your time – but have you ever gone out on the hunt for one? While Provence isn’t the most renowned French region for truffles (Périgord is generally granted that honour) you can still go and look for you own little nuggets of black gold with Les Pastras in Cadenet, with some tastings afterwards.
- French olive oil is a much bigger industry than you might imagine, and you get up close and personal with it at Le Vieux Moulin À Huile du Partégal in La Farlède. This, however, is a genuine mill and windmill where you can see how the oil is made and enjoy a tasting afterwards.
- And seeing as you’ve got so much seaside to enjoy, it’d be madness not to enjoy a spot of ice cream if the sun’s out! Make sure you try the very best by heading to Glaces Scaramouche in Céreste. It’s hard enough to choose which flavour you want, so the best thing is to just have a massive sundae and try a few at once.
- There are a good few wine tours available in Provence (the rosé from the region is particularly well-regarded) but if you want something with a bit more of a personal edge to it then try Wines in Provence. They can cater your tour so it’s exactly what you want, and even incorporate some of the regions food into your excursion too.