Provence Map and Travel Guide
Provence, like Tuscany, is one of France's best bets for seeing rural life lived to the fullest.
Map of Provence, France © 2012 by James Martin, licensed to About.com
The Departments of Provence
Provence is divided into the six Departments you see on the map: Bouches du Rhone, Var, Alpes Maritimes, Vaucluse, Alpes de Haute Provence, and Hautes Alpes. The departments to the west--Vaucluse and Bouches du Rhone--are bordered on the west by the Rhône river. These two departments are generally what tourists think of when they think of Provence.
To further muddy the waters, Peter Mayle's books refer to Provence, but usually are written about just a part of it, the Luberon, which is mostly in the Vaucluse. The Luberon has as its backbone a mountain range that forms a sort of climate wall, a boundary between the warm and dry Mediterranean climate of the south and the cooler alpine influence on the north.
Still, many people consider the Luberon to be the heart of the "real" Provence, and I would agree.
Expanding a bit, the Provence I find most appealing is found in the triangle between Avignon, Arles, and Salon de Provence. Here you can drive your car to practically any small town and find a charming and inexpensive hotel. Here are the places I find compelling:
- Arles - First inhabited by the Greeks, but made the most of by the Romans, who left a theater and amphitheater for tourists to gawk at. Arles used to be a thriving port city before it all silted up to become the marshy Camargue. Van Gogh chopped off his ear here--and produced some of his best work as well. The people didn't like him much at the time, but they do now, of course.
- Avignon - a spectacular city with the must-visit Palais des Papes (Palace of Popes) as well as other sites and a compelling old town. Parking outside the gates, on the other side of the Rhone, isn't as difficult as you might think. Take a virtual tour of Avignon in Provence, or find out How to Spend a Day in Avignon.
- Camargue - See a different side of France, a France of cowboys and bulls and fantastic bird life in the salt marshes.
- St. Remy de Provence - Founded by the Romans as Glanum, there is lots to see here, Roman or no. Outside the town is the Ancien Monastère de St- Paul-de-Mausole, the 12th century monastery that was converted to the psychiatric hospital where Van Gogh was admitted and where he produced some of his most famous paintings--like Starry Night. Nostrademus was born in St. Remy as well. If you're driving through Provence and are looking for a place to stay with lots to do within walking distance of your hotel, we have an itinerary for you: 24 hours in Saint-Remy.
Les Baux-de-Provence - Bauxite was discovered here in 1821, and Les Baux seems to rise up out of the old quarries. It was once a thriving little village with a castle, now in ruins.
A favorite of tourists to Les Baux is the Sound and Light extravaganza called Carrières de Lumières that runs from spring until January. The show inside a bauxite quarry has been expanded and the technology improved in 2013 with the endorsement of Marseille-Provence 2013 European of culture. Called Monet, Renoir ... Chagall . Voyages en Méditerranée, 100 video projectors cover 7,000 square meters of space with the story of art and artists projected upon walls as high as 14 meters; the floor becomes "an immense carpet of images". You'll learn of the artists that came from Paris in the second half of the 19th century to paint the light and colors of the Mediterranean south, creating artistic movements as they toyed with technique: Impressionism, Pointillism and Fauvism up to Chagall.
- Orange If you like well-preserved Roman Ruins, you'll love the theater and arch found in this Provence town, just 21 kilometers north of Avignon.
- Marseille has gotten a bad rap, especially the port area. But it's all be feverishly rebuilt and polished for its 2013 European Capital of Culture stint and it's looking very, very pretty.
Notes: It is an easy 5 mile walk between St. Remy and les Baux. The Pont du Gard is between Orange and Nimes just off the A9, and is easily visited if you have a car. (Pont du Gard pictures)
Provence Weather and Climate
Provence has typically dry summers and cool, wet winters. May and June is a good time to travel to Provence, as well as September. Summers aren't blistering hot as a rule, but Provence gets quite crowded in July and August.
You'll get a good idea of typical Provence climate by looking at the historic temperature and rainfall charts at Marseille Travel Weather. France's second largest city is hot in June and July, but cools rapidly to a comfortable high temperature in September. Spring has less rain than fall.
Getting to Provence - Airports
The main Airport in Provence is Marseille Provence Airport located north of Marseille. Nice - Côte d'Azur (NCE) Airport is also an option.
Provence Resources: Pictures
Provence Pictures: The Colors of Provence - Provence is all about light and color, which has attracted many artists over the years.
Provence Picture Gallery - Typical Provence scenes--the things that immediately say "Provence" to me, from powder blue shutters with just a bit of peeling paint to tree lined streets alive with the hum of cicadas.
Les Baux - 2 pictures of the Bauxite town.
Places to Stay in Provence
We stayed at Hotel Les Magnanarelles in Maussane les Alpilles, south of St. Remy. A reasonable value, although the rooms seem less charming than some hotels in the area--get a room by the pool to stay away from street noise. A double room was about 60 Euros. The area is one of the best for French olive oil, and is central to the places discussed on this page. (More on Maussane). Other hotels in Maussane-les-Alpilles (Book Direct).
The charming little towns of Provence make it a perfect place to explore by car, thus it's one of our recommended Rural Self Catering suggestions. HomeAway lists 1300 vacation rentals in the area (book direct). A week in Provence isn't nearly enough to see everything.
You might prefer to stay in a more conventional form of lodging during your vacation in Provence: user-rated hotels in Provence (Book Direct)
A week in Provence
To see what you can see in a week in southern France with a car, see our illustrated day by day travelogue of a 2009 visit to the Luberon: A Week in Provence. Pictures from that week in Provence are found in: The Photojournalist's Notebook: Pictures of Provence, which includes lots of pictures of the Luberon.
If you'd prefer to leave the driving (and the planning details) to someone else, perhaps you'd like to take a coach tour to see the main sites of Provence, like those offered by Viator: Provence Tours, Sightseeing and Things to Do. Smaller and focused group tours are offered by such companies as Provence Escapes and The Luberon Experience.
Provence Travel Information
Provence from France Travel