Provence map & highlights

Immortalised in film, literature and most notably the artworks of Cézanne and Van Gogh, Provence is fairy-tale France, yet happily remains almost completely un-Disneyfied.
Made up of several departments, including Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var and sections of Vaucluse and the Alpes-Maritimes, Provence is about as idyllic a land as one can imagine. Charming medieval villages occupy hilltops that overlook vineyards, olive groves and vast mauve fields of aromatic lavender. Quiet country lanes are perfect for walking and cycling, while the gently rolling landscape, studded with well-preserved examples of ancient Roman architecture, leads you down to the Côte d’Azur – the French Riviera, with its timeless glamour and stunning (though crowded) beaches. Base yourself instead in a peaceful little village set just back from the Summer madness on the coast, in a historic spa town, or enjoy the manifold pleasures of a leisurely point-to-point cycling holiday through this endlessly beguiling region.
Aix en Provence

1. Aix en Provence

Birthplace of Paul Cézanne, the painter so associated with Provence, Aix is one of the most attractive cities in the region. Simply wandering aimlessly through the squares and side streets in a pleasure in itself, but browsing the stalls in the open-air market is a great way to pick up some fresh fruit while supporting local farmers. There are plenty of less busy, less pricey cafes too than those along the famous Cours Mirabeau.

2. Arles

Home to Van Gogh during a prolific period when he turned out some 300-odd paintings and drawings, Arles is a popular stop on Provence cycling holidays, and known especially for its UNESCO-listed Roman monuments. The most notable is the amphitheatre, which was built circa. 90AD and is amazingly still in use today, though sadly often for bullfighting – give that a swerve.

3. Avignon

Famed for its vast papal palace, Renaissance mansions, the ‘Pont d’Avignon’ and impressive medieval ramparts, Avignon is a regular stop on cycling tours in Provence which often pass through the wine village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, situated just to the north. Les Halles, the covered market, is a good place to find fresh and seasonal Provençal cuisine from over 40 vendors.

4. Cassis

A lovely spot in which to end a cycling trip, Cassis is a fishing port and seaside resort on the Med, just east of Marseilles. You might spend a little time on the beach but should also explore the pastel shades of the old quarters, and take a boat trip along the calanques, which are ‘Provençal fjords’ lined with limestone cliffs. And on a summer evening, make sure you take in the bustling petanque scene.
French Riviera

5. French Riviera

The legendary Côte d'Azur, perhaps the most famous stretch of coastline in Europe, frequented by royalty, aristocrats, Hollywood celebrity, artists, writers and anyone with a thirst for beauty and glamour since the mid-19th century. Cannes we think overrated, and while Nice is a lovely city to visit on a day trip, we recommend staying a little way back in a much more peaceful village such as Saint Jeannet.
Gorges du Verdon

6. Gorges du Verdon

The deepest gorge in France and Europe’s answer to the Grand Canyon, the Gorges du Verdon is a stunning sight. A very popular destination for rock climbers as well as birdwatchers (eagles and vultures are among the species found here), the turquoise river cuts a 25km-long canyon through the limestone massif. Provence walking holidays offer exceptional views over the gorge.
Greoux les Bains

7. Greoux les Bains

This quintessential Provençal town is the ideal place to stay for centre-based walking holidays that take you out to Forcalquier, the spectacular Gorges du Verdon, Aix-en-Provence or the Valensole Plateau. A populxsar thermal spa resort since Roman times, it sits by the river and close to the Sainte Croix Lake.

8. Nice

Largest city on the French Riviera, Nice was a Greek settlement founded around 350BC. Highlights here include taking a leisurely stroll along the seaside Promenade des Anglais, its several art museums and the handsome Cours Selaya square, Nice makes for a lovely day trip but you may find it more relaxing to stay a little way inland.

9. Orange

Provence cycling holidays will frequently spend a night in Orange before continuing on to nearby Avignon. This small town is, like so many in the region, distinguished by its Roman monuments including a triumphal arch but most especially its theatre, which is reckoned to be among the best-preserved in the world. The Chorégies d’Orange, held in the theatre every summer, is the oldest festival in France.
Saint Jeannet

10. Saint Jeannet

If you want a delectable taste of the ‘real’ Provence, away from the crowds of the coast, then this small, tranquil village perched up in the hills above Nice, will more than suffice. Enjoying the Riviera climate, Saint Jeannet is a superb base for walking in the surrounding hills or Mercantour National Park just to the north, yoga sessions, or sampling a rich swathe of cuisine from local producers.
Saint Remy

11. Saint Remy

Just to the south of Avignon, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a typically Provençal commune (for that, read idyllic) that was the birthplace of Nostradamus. It was also here that Vincent Van Gogh, having lopped off his left ear, confined himself to an asylum for a period. Through the bars on his window he painted many scenes of the surrounding countryside including his magnum opus, The Starry Night.

12. Valensole

The ‘valley of the sun’ is naturally bathed liberally in sunshine, around 300 days a year. This plateau is among the most important producers of lavender in the region – in July it’s sweeping fields of purple as far as the eye can see, and the annual lavender festival is one of the biggest summer events in Florence, but the area is also lovely to walk or cycle in during spring and autumn.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Provence or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Andrew Lawson] [Aix en Provence: Ladislaus Hoffner] [Arles: Lucas Miguel] [Avignon: Jean-Marc Rosier] [Cassis: Marion Schneider & Christoph Aistleitner] [French Riviera: Valentin B. Kremer] [Gorges du Verdon: Marc Veraart] [Greoux les Bains: Véronique PAGNIER] [Nice: Paul Rysz] [Orange: JPS68] [Saint Jeannet: Baptiste Rossi] [Saint Remy: falco] [Valensole: Grafixart-Photo]