The Provence, part of the PACA region, one of the richest in France, is the most visited area in France after Paris city. Located in the South-East, this picturesque area is famous for its mild weather, snow-clad mountains, fields of lavender, olive trees and vineyards. But the noticeable mediaeval architecture in the main cities, fortified castles on top of hills and heritage listed villages also give this area a unique flavour. All this cultural heritage of Provence is another great asset of this must-see charming area; we have listed some the cultural highlights not to miss in our next trip to Provence.
A place for the art-lovers
A lot of French writers (Pagnol, Dauder) and famous painters (Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse), have been inspired by the breathe-taking landscapes and the colourful nature of Provence. The Matisse museum, located in a majestic Italian Villa in the hilly precinct in Nice displays a very rich collection of the fauvist Master, including paintings, sculptures and drawings. If you are in search for inspiration for your paintings, visit Roussillon, a stunning hillside village located on top of the world’s biggest vein of ochre and Gordes and its breathtaking panorama. Both places are a true blessing for artists. In St Remy de Provence, you can stroll along the paths of Van Gogh’s troubled last years, including a visit of the bedroom he had in the old monastery of St Paul Mausole, where Van Gogh was interned for a year in 1889.
If you prefer Modern Art, then the medieval city of Avignon is the place to be. Home of the French pope dynasty in the 15th century, this magnificent city on the banks of the Rhone River hosts the famous Arts Festival every July, where plays of rising French writers as well as classical authors are played on stage of the majestic Palace of the Popes and other stages across the streets of the old city.
Provencal art de vivre
If Nice and the glamorous Riviera lifestyle come in mind first, the PACA region also has a vibrant culture in the hinterland, inherited from the Occitanian historical region. Tired of the standardised holidays in the over-crowded seaside resorts of Cannes and St-Tropez, local and foreigner tourists now seek to discover more of the authentic art-de-vivre which this seducing area has to offer, such as:
- Montpellier, stretched along the Rhone Delta, is the marshy area of Camargue and is the unique playground of the guardians, local cowboys on their white horses who herd the local breed of black bulls among the rice fields.
- A must do is a visit to one of the famous Provencal markets where local producers sell food, wine or art craft. The most renowned is the traditional morning market in St Remy de Provence on Wednesdays where you will be able to taste some local cheese, herbs, fresh fruits and veggies and many products based on olives (oil, tapenade, flavoured olives).
- Along the skinny roads towards Baux de Provence, one the most beautiful villages in France, you will find some local food producers where you can stop. You can also learn how to cook some traditional dishes at the Benvengudo restaurant, a stunning boutique hotel built in an authentic Bastide villa, which offers half-day Provencal cooking class with a 1-Michel star chef.
- Take a scenic drive though the lavender fields and the world-famous Côtes du Rhône wine vineyards located around the village Chateauneuf du Pape. Stop at some wineries for free wine tasting and visit the Château des Papes, built in 1317, which once was the summer home of the Avignon popes.