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Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Travel Guide
Gourdon monastery, Alpes maritimes (© Simon Gurney | Dreamstime.com)
Gourdon monastery, Alpes maritimes.

Introduction

The fabled lavender fields of Provence and the ritzy resorts of the French Riviera captivate the imagination like no other region in France. Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir and countless other artists have been drawn to its unique light and the sheer beauty of its countryside.

But Provence is far more than expanses of purple lavender and yellow sunflower. In the east, the Gorges du Verdon are Europe's largest canyon, some immensive limestone cliffs, reaching up to 700 m in height, and interspersed by turquoise lakes. Further up in the Alps are the breathtakingly beautiful Mercantour and Écrins national parks, home to some of the richest fauna and flora in Europe. In the southwest, the Rhône delta forms a vast ecosystem of marshes and lagoons, the Camargue, home to Europe's largest colony of flamingoes, as well as wild white horses and herds of black bulls used for bullfighting in nearby Arles and Nîmes.

The modern region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (or PACA for short) was created from the old provinces of Provence, Dauphiné, Comtat Venaissin, and the County of Nice (which was only annexed to France in 1860). It is the third most populous and third richest French region after Île-de-France and Rhône-Alpes.

The region is traditionally Occitan-speaking, the main dialects being Provençal in the south and Vivaro-Alpine in the north. Nowadays there are only about 350,000 native speakers of Provençal, and Vivaro-Alpine is endangered, but the colourful Provençal accent of French-speaking locals remains strong and unmistakable.

Famous people from the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur include (chronologically): the prophet Nostradamus, the Nobel Prize writer Frédéric Mistral, the painter Paul Cézanne, the novelist Marcel Pagnol, the actor Fernandel, and the singer Mireille Mathieu.

Cuisine

The region has a very diverse gastronomy, and specialities vary a lot between traditional provinces. Dishes like ratatouille, bouillabaisse, soupe au pistou (presto soup) and pissaladière (a sort of pizza) are found in most of the PACA. Among famous sauces, we find tapenade, aïoli, and rouille.

  • In the Alps, you will find gratin dauphinois, tourtons (ravioli), and pieds paquets (mutton offals stewed in white wine and tomato sauce).
  • Around Avignon, daube avignonnaise (lamb stew with white wine), daube comtadine (same with olives), crespeou (pie of omelette, vegetables and herbs), bohémienne (ratatouille of aubergines and tomatoes in olive oil), papeton d'aubergine (a sort of caviar d'aubergines), and alose à l'étouffée (Avignon-style shad). The area is also renowned for its melon of Cavaillon, one of Europe's most famous canteloupes, originally imported by the Popes of Avignon from Italy in the 14th century.
  • In Provence itself, anchoïade ('southern French fondue' with anchovy, capers and olive oil), moules à la provençale, daube provençale (beef and vegetable stew braised in wine), gibassier (a galette made with fruited olive oil), and gardianne de taureau (Camargue bull meat cooked in red wine).
  • Specialities of Nice include salade niçoise, daube niçoise (same with mushrooms), pan bagnat (Nice-style sandwich), and socca (crêpe of chickpea flour originally from Genoa).

Attractions

Département du Vaucluse

Avignon
Avignon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© PAO joke - Fotolia.com)
must-see Enclosed by 4.5 km long stone ramparts, Avignon is the famed 'City of the Popes', seat of popes and antipopes from 1309 to 1423. The historic centre and the Gothic Palais des Papes are World...Read more
Gordes
Gordes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© Gabriel-Ciscardi - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Gordes
Lacoste
Lacoste, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
outstanding Lacoste
Orange
Orange, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© Jean-Louis ZIMMERMANN - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.)
outstanding Named after the Celtic god Arausio, Orange was the site of the worst Roman defeat in Gaul in 105 BCE. The city was founded by the Romans in 35 BCE, and from this period survive the Theatre...Read more
Rustrel
Rustrel, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© Isabella Pfenninger - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Rustrel
Vaison-la-Romaine
Vaison-la-Romaine, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© PHB.cz - Fotolia.com)
very good Vaison-la-Romaine

Other attractions

very good Châteauneuf-du-Pape
outstanding Luberon Massif
    very good Cucuron
    outstanding Gordes
    outstanding Lacoste
    very good Lourmarin
    very good Oppède
    very good Pertuis
    outstanding Roussillon
    outstanding Rustrel
    very good Saignon
    good Vitrolles-en-Luberon
very good Mount Ventoux

Département des Bouches-du-Rhône

Calanques National Park
Calanques National Park (© Pat on stock - Fotolia.com)
must-see Calanques National Park
Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© forgiss - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Aix-en-Provence
Arles
Arles, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (photo by Wolfgang Staudt - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)
outstanding Gateway to the Camargue, major city of the Roman Empire, and famous work place of Vincent van Gogh, Arles is a delightful Provençal town with a chic, laid-back atmosphere and something to offer to almost everyone...Read more
Les Baux-de-Provence
Baux-de-Provence, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (photo by Rolf Süssbrich -  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence)
outstanding Overlooking the spectacular Alpilles plateau, the ruined stone village of Les Baux, perched on a craggy hill, is nearly indistinguishable from the cream-coloured rocks of the landscape. It is one of France's most visited villages...Read more
Marseille
Marseille, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© Claude Coquilleau - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Founded by Greeks in 600 BCE, Marseille has a strong, independent local culture reflecting its long-acquired cosmopolitanism. During the colonial period, Marseille linked France to the...Read more

Other attractions

very good Cassis
very good Martigues
very good Montmajour Abbey
good Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
very good Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
very good Salon-de-Provence
very good Tarascon

Département du Hautes-Alpes

Les Ecrins National Park
Ecrins National Park, Hautes-Alpes (photo by MartinD - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence)
outstanding Covering 918 km² (354 sq mi), Écrins National Park extends over most of the Dauphiné Alps in Massif des Écrins. It is comprised between Grenoble, Briançon and Gap. Peaking at the Barre des Ecrins ( 4,102 m / 13,458 ft) the park boasts...Read more

Other attractions

very good Briançon
good Boscodon Abbey
outstanding Clarée Valley
very good Embrun
very good Gap
very good Fort Queyras
good L'Argentière-la-Bessée
very good Mont-Dauphin ※

Département des Alpes-de-Haute-Provence

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
outstanding Situated at the western entrance to the Gorges du Verdon, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie hangs 100 m over a limestone cliff. A spring flows out of the cliff, creating a waterfall directly out of the centre of town...Read more
Verdon Gorge
Verdon Gorges, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (© Richard Wöhrl | iStockphoto.com)
must-see Verdon Gorges

Other attractions

very good Aiguines
very good Barcelonnette
very good Castellane
good Digne-les-Bains
very good Manosque
very good Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye
very good Serre-Ponçon Lake
good Sisteron

Département des Alpes-Maritimes

Nice
Nice, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© TMAX - Fotolia.com)
must-see Nice is the fifth largest French city and the economic capital of the Côte d'Azur. It is the second-most visited place in France after Paris and has two convention centres dedicated to...Read more
Antibes-Juan-les-Pins
Antibes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© Arthur R. - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Antibes & Juan-les-Pins
Menton
Menton, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© macumazahn - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Menton
Mercantour National Park
Mercantour National Park, Hautes-Alpes (©  Florian Villesèche - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Mercantour National Park
Villefranche-sur-Mer
Villefranche-sur-Mer, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© Valery Bareta - iStockphoto.com)
outstanding Villefranche-sur-Mer
Cannes
Cannes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© Vasileva - Fotolia.com)
very good Cannes

Other attractions

very good Beaulieu-sur-Mer
very good Grasse
very good Roquebrune-Cap-Martin
very good Saorge

Principality of Monaco

Monaco
Monaco (© NLo - Fotolia.com)
must-see Monaco is the world's second smallest sovereign state and the seat of one of Europe's oldest surviving monarchies. Famous for its casino and its Formula One Grand Prix, Monaco has...Read more

Département du Var

Saint-Tropez
Saint-Tropez, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (© David Espin - Fotolia.com)
very good Saint-Tropez

Other attractions

very good Bandol
outstanding Domaine du Rayol
very good Draguignan
very good Entrecasteaux
very good Fréjus & Saint-Raphaël
very good Le Thoronet Abbey
outstanding Port-Cros National Park
very good Sainte-Maxime
very good Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume
very good Toulon

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Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

  • : Moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
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  • : Moderately interesting
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  • : World-class natural attraction
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