Our Top French Regions to Visit: Provence
Welcome to Taste France’s Top French Regions to Visit in 2023, a series highlighting the country’s best vacation destinations enjoyed through the lens of food and beverage. Throughout the year, the team at Taste France will take you on a number of gustatory journeys through the country’s most breathtaking destinations, from long-standing favorites to off-the-beaten-path areas and beyond.
No French region is quite as synonymous with summer as Provence. Known for sun-soaked days, crisp bottles of rosé, and breathtaking lavender fields that promise to ignite your senses, it’s no surprise that Provence is beloved by both French locals and tourists alike. Get to know the region, plus how to incorporate its specialities and flavors into your at-home summer routine, here.
A Bit About Provence
Bordered by the Rhône to the west and Italy to the east, Provence is both a historic and important region in southeastern France. The region is most famously home to the departments of Var, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, and parts of the Alpes-Maritimes and Vaucluse, as well as its current capital city of Marseille. The region first got its name from the Romans, who referred to the area as Provincia Romana.
Human life in Provence dates back to prehistoric times, followed more recently by the presence of the ancient Greeks and Romans. By the mid-1300s, Provence rose to fame after the moving of the papacy to Avignon, where seven popes held leadership. During this time, the Black Plague was scouring Europe, which forced many Provençal cities to build walls and towers around their perimeters. During the French Revolution, the aid from many Provençal volunteers inspired France’s national anthem to be named La Marseillaise.
Today, Provence is one of the most visited regions in all of France. Beloved for its crystalline waters, numerous beaches, mountains, and other natural formations, the region offers a myriad of opportunities for exploring the great outdoors—and for food and wine lovers, the options are equally limitless.
From Paris, accessing Provence takes anywhere from 2.5 to just under four hours on the fast train, depending on which route (and arrival station) is chosen. TGV trains to Avignon take just about two and a half hours, whereas high-speed trains to Marseille take anywhere from just over three to nearly four hours. Marseille and Nice are also home to small airports, which receive direct flights from a number of major European cities.
Food & Beverage Specialities
While Provence and rosé go hand in hand, the region is also known for its crisp, refreshing white wines, as well its savory, fuller-bodied red blends. Popular grape varieties found in Provence are Rolle (Vermentino), Grenache Blanc, and Clairette (white) and Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault (red). In terms of culinary specialities, Provence is best known for its signature dish, ratatouille, which was first created as a means for local farmers to use the rest of their summer bounty. Provence is also synonymous with olives (and therefore, tapenade), bouillabaisse (fish stew), and refreshing salade niçoise.
Where to Stay
Provence is home to a myriad of places to stay, from camping sites to modest B&Bs to luxury, waterfront hotels. The city centers of Avignon, Arles, Marseille, and Aix-en-Provence will naturally offer more things to do, though smaller villages such as Gordes, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue offer a more charming, quintessential Provence experience. For those looking for waterfront access, Cassis, La Ciotat, and Antibes promise not to disappoint, and for those looking for the flashiness of the Côte d’Azur, look no further than Saint-Tropez.
Unmissable Provence Activities
Beyond indulging in copious glasses of rosé, there are so many exciting things to do while in Provence. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Visit the turquoise-hued Gorges du Verdon
- Run through the lavender fields in Plateau de Valensole
- Soak up the sun at Garoupe beach in Antibes
- Hire a boat and sail around the Mediterranean
- Shop for local produce at one of the region’s many markets
- Hike the Parc national des Calanques between Marseille and Cassis
- Explore local vineyards at a number of regional wineries
- Pop into Cézanne’s atelier in Aix-en-Provence
- Marvel at the ancient Roman Theater of Orange
- Get lost in the colorful streets in the city center of Aix-en-Provence
Why Now? (Summer)
While hitting Provence in winter offers a delightful experience (hey, there’s nothing like escaping the cold and retreating to warmer temperatures and fireplace-equipped homes), visiting in the summer offers all of the quintessential experiences that the region is known for. While many of the region’s villages and city centers become quite crowded in July, visiting in late June, late August, or even early September can offer a reprieve from tourist-overloaded destinations. Moral of the story: as long as there’s sun, rosé, and a regional culinary delight in hand, you really can’t go wrong here.
How to Bring a Taste of Provence to Your Home
While hopping the next flight to Provence may not be in the cards for you this summer, bringing a taste of the region to your home is as easy as incorporating some of its signature flavors into your next happy hour—in fact, hosting a Provençal-inspired apéro isn’t as hard as you may think!
First thing’s first: lock and load the wine, of course. For go-to Provençal options, rosé boasting the Côtes de Provence or Bandol label are surefire places to start. Wine has been produced from the Côtes de Provence area for over 2,000 years, and is beloved for its variety of diverse soil types, microclimates, and grape varieties. These pale-hued pinks are perfect for popping and sipping amongst friends, especially when seasonal fare is involved—which leads us to our next step. Grab some seasonal French tomatoes, drizzle them with some Baux-de-Provence olive oil, and finish with sea salt for a healthy, flavor-packed snack.
To really take the ambiance to the next level, queue up some French music (simply search “apéro playlist” on Spotify), load your diffuser with a signature lavender blend, and grab a cheap pétanque set to really set the scene. Your at-home escape to Provence starts now!
From the team at Taste France, we wish you a wine-and-sun-soaked summer!