I have been lucky enough to visit Provence several times, sometimes exploring our Provence cooking vacations, sometimes on trips to familiarize myself with the region and its food and wine. Although I consider myself far from an expert, here are my personal top four things to see in Provence.
1. The Palais des Papes
Avignon is justifiably world renowned. Who has not heard of its famous bridge? The whole city is charming, picturesque, and filled with history, and nothing more so than its famed Papal Palace. Avignon was home to the papacy from 1309 to 1378, and was then the home of the “illegitimate” popes during the so-called Great Schism until 1417. That means that for over one hundred years the city was enmeshed in the life of the church, and its grandest monument, the Papal palace, was its crowning achievement. If you want to visit this charming city, check out our French cooking vacation in Avignon, Discover Provence. Or, learn more about visiting the Palais des Papes.
2. The Vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape
Provence is home to many great French wines, and one of the best places to immerse yourself is the Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards. This countryside in the western part of Provence is rife with vines, peppered with quaint French villages, and always bursting with good food and friendly people. It’s very accessible by car even to those who do not consider themselves particularly adventurous, which makes the area a perfect setting for our Provence Wine Tour.
3. The Côte d’Azur
On the other side of Provence from Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape, and on the complete opposite spectrum in terms of sites to see, lies the French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur. It extends geographically from the border with Italy more or less to the famed town of Saint Tropez, and, as one would expect from the name, it boasts mile after mile of pristine beaches and the blue waters of the Mediterranean. When the weather is fair, there is no hipper, more relaxed, more beautiful place to be. Walk along open air markets on the waterfront, “ooh” and “ahh” over celebrity sitings, and enjoy dish after dish of fresh, delectable seafood.
4. The Var Interior
This may be a bit of a cop-out. The Var is a large area, one of the six departments (or zones) of Provence, located in the center-south. So it’s sort of like saying one thing to see in the US is “the Midwest!” With the exception of its popular seaside towns and the Verdon Gorge, it is perhaps less known, one might even say less showy, than the other departments; that might be precisely why the Var interior is one of my favorite places. Its natural beauty is quite simply breathtaking. Miles upon miles of forests, mountains, and vineyards. Authentic, friendly, non-pretentious, both the people and the food, which is exquisite.
There is so much I have left out: the lavender fields; Orange, Nimes, and Arles, with their amazing Roman ruins; the antiques market in Isle sur la sorgue; the Camargue (French cowboys!); the perched villages of the interior; and of course the vibrant cities of Nice and Aix. But For a true taste of the diversity and beauty of Provence, these first four are a place to start.
See our website for more on our trips to Provence and our French cooking vacations.
By Peg Kern
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Originally published February 17, 2014.