Provence Should Be At The Top Of Your Summer Bucket List
It doesn’t get more idyllic than this.
For many travelers, Provence — the enchanting region that’s bordered by the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains — conjures images of sipping chilled rosé in a chic beach town along the French Riveria. But that’s just one side of this sun-drenched destination. The Luberon shows off a more pastoral picture of the South of France with lavender fields and historic hilltop villages. Provençal markets, vineyards, olive groves, and pine forests are abundant throughout. Besides small towns, visitors have the chance to visit lively cities like Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence. With so much to see and do, it can seem overwhelming to plan the *perfect* holiday — which is sort of antithetical since Provence itself has such a relaxed quality. In an attempt to make the lead-up to your trip almost as lovely as the vacation itself, we’ve put together an insider’s guide with standout spots to hit this summer (or in the future).
Gordes emits a storybook charm with labyrinth-like cobbled lanes, white stone buildings, and pinch-me panoramas. It’s also a tourist darling that’s virtually always busy in the summer months. The equally resplendent Luberon village of Roussillon sits at the foot of the Monts de Vaucluse and supplies cinematic views of the ochre-hued cliffs and countryside. Lourmarin reads more like a small town, which means a (slightly) bigger clutch of art galleries, cafes, and shops all under the auspices of a history-steeped Provençale gem. Don’t sleep on Oppède le Vieux, Ménerbes (where Peter Mayle wrote "A Year in Provence"), Goult, or Bonnieux either.
The most glamorous and recognizable name in the Côte d'Azur, Saint-Tropez is synonymous with sizzling beach clubs, yachts, and the stylish jet set (which often includes famous faces). Set back from Cannes, Grasse — aka the perfume capital of the world — grows and harvests the rare May roses and jasmine that scent luxury fragrances such as Chanel No. 5., Dior, and Hermès. A bit further inland, the medieval town of Mougins inspires all who visit — back in the day, that even included Edith Piaf and Christian Dior — with its larger-than-life sculptures set against lush greenery, snail-shaped center, and epicurean offerings. Hidden away on the eastern side of a densely forested peninsula and defined by its hiking trails, snap-worthy beaches with gin-clear water, and vegetation-shrouded villas, the ultra-exclusive commune of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat continues to bring a steady stream of holiday-goers each summer.
Gritty, vibrant, and full of history, Marseilles dates to 600 B.C. when it was first settled by the ancient Greeks. As a maritime hub, fishing remains the primary industry. Seafood restaurants line the waterfront and local fisherman hawk daily catch at the Marché aux Poissons. Soap making is another tradition that goes back centuries. An infusion of creative energy has given this all-too-often-overlooked destination in southern France more tourist pull of late with chefs and artists opening up exciting new outposts.
Aix-en-Provence is best known as a university city. But besides the student population, it also welcomes many creatives, ex-pats, and tourists keen to sink into the slower pace of life in southern France, admire beautiful art and architecture, eat Provençale cuisine, and explore the scenic countryside. The glittering resort city of Cannes attracts tourists with its international film festival and the glamour of Boulevard de la Croisette. Nearby, Antibes gives off slightly less see-and-be-seen energy but still exudes plenty of sun-soaked wow factor with beaches, nightlife, luxury boats moored at the marina, and a photogenic old town. A distinctive art pedigree, the famous Promenade des Anglais, and a charming historic side make Nice a coastal city that's not to be missed.
Located about half a mile offshore from Cannes and accessible by regular ferry, Île Sainte-Marguerite, the largest of the Lérins Islands, has a beautiful rocky coastline, turquoise waters, eucalyptus forests, and an underwater sculpture museum. Picture-perfect Porquerolles, off the coast of Hyères, feels like a best-kept secret with blissful beaches, placid waters for swimming, rolling vineyards, countryside cycling paths, and a handful of historic forts.
Landmarks & Sights
Admiration-worthy landmarks sit all across Provence, from the tiniest village to the largest city. Some sights, however, should be expressly sought out because to miss them would mean leaving a very big proverbial stone unturned. Just outside of Gordes sits the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque. Founded in 1148 by Cistercians monks, it’s arguably the most photogenic and famous site in the region. One glimpse of the monastery surrounded by vivid lavender and you’ll understand why. Palais des Papes is Avignon's most famous attraction for good reason. The former fortress, palace, and papal residence stand as one of the most significant medieval Gothic buildings in all of Europe. As if you needed more convincing to add Marseilles to the itinerary, Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde — the symbol of the city — dazzles with its magnificent mosaics, tilework, and ornamental ceilings.
Provençal markets are the lifeblood of the region. It's where locals go to stock up on fresh-picked produce, hearth-made bread, and prepared foods like quiche, tinned fish, olives, flowers, oils, and more. Many of the small villages in the Luberon have a dedicated market day. One of the best markets in the area, Marché de Lourmarin pumps energy — and deliciousness — into the town each Friday. On the coast, the lively Marché Saint-Tropez is held on Tuesday and Saturday mornings, while Marché Provençal in Antibes operates every day except for Monday.
In the summer, the Valensole Plateau lavender fields erupt into a fragrant bloom that lures shutter-happy tourists from around the world. Luberon Regional Natural Park covers 165,000 hectares of untrammeled wilderness and trails of various skill levels (so you don’t necessarily need hiking boots, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea if your suitcase permits). Another reason to pack comfortable shoes is to set yourself up for success when striking out on the circular path to the top of Falaise de la Madeleine. The scenic journey, which gazes upon lavender fields, limestone escarpments, and verdant vegetation, takes about three hours to complete. Less than an hour away from Marseille, Parc National des Calanques boasts spectacular hiking trails and hidden pebble coves with vivid blue water. A place exemplified by the wild horses that roam free, Camargue Regional Natural Park protects 85,000 hectares of salt marshes, reed beds, salicornia moors, and plains, plus pink flamingos.
Michel-starred Restaurant David at Le Clos de la Glycine serves a tasting menu that spotlights only the freshest, regional products alongside local wine and views of the rust-hued ochres. Also in the Luberon, Le Saint Hubert is an atmospheric all-day eatery in Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt that’s all about seasonal ingredients, natural wine, and pinch-me vistas. A self-proclaimed “village bistro” with a down-to-earth attitude and heaps of charm, Café du Progrès writes the daily specials on a chalkboard. Everything tastes great and there’s a sort of ease about dining on the wooden deck.
Founded in 1969 by legendary French chef Roger Vergé, L'Amandier de Mougins continues its long-standing tradition of Provençal perfection rooted in simplicity through plates of expertly cooked fish and vegetables paired with local wine and sweeping countryside views. Hidden on a side street in Antibes, Chez Lulu invites patrons to dine at communal tables in a space with a convivial atmosphere and food to match. On the shores of Playa Pampelonne, breezy Byblos Beach Ramatuelle draws a fashionable crowd of linen-clad patrons who come to sip rosé and eat grilled fish under wood-and-cotton awnings while soaking in the picture-perfect ambiance and ocean-swept scenery.
Wineries & Vineyards
Nothing says summer in Provence like rosé. Luckily, there are plenty of places to sip everyone’s favorite warm-weather vin. Starting with Chateau d'Esclans, the world-famous purveyor of Whispering Angel, and an all-around dream of a property that’s located to the northeast of Saint-Tropez. Domaine de Fontenille in the heart of the Luberon offers a plethora of oenology experiences — from vineyard walks that end with a winemaker-curated picnic basket underneath an olive tree to winery tours and tastings.
Located 20 minutes from Aix-en-Provence, Château La Coste supplies palette-pleasing sips as well as art walks to see modernist sculptures dotted across the 200-hectare estate. Please also take the opportunity to visit the lesser-known Domaine Milan. If the colorful labels on the bottles are any indication, this family-run winery certainly has a playful side. Though, making wine is no laughing matter — and the caliber of natural pours reflects that. Everything about the vibe in the tasting room and beyond just feels so joyful and lighthearted.
One of my favorite hotels ever, Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa in the heart of the Luberon is a Provençale fantasy come to life with an entrance guarded by fragrant lavender and pine trees, superb restaurants, sophisticated patio suites, and multiple pools for cooling off in the summer heat. It also has a fabulous 21,527-square-foot spa with facials powered by Tata Harper and Biologique Recherche as well as an on-site winery. A sun-kissed Côte d'Azur playground for celebs, royals, and travelers for whom price doesn’t factor into the equation, Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, a five-star legend and part of the prestigious Oetker Collection that’s perched on the tip of Cap d’Antibes, oozes history and a timeless appeal that’s crowned by the exquisiteness of its surrounding. A stay here means popping Champagne, emerging from the Mediterian Sea to traipse a few feet to a private cabana, and frolicking in the rock-carved infinity pool.