Looking for the most beautiful villages in Provence? Check out this list of things to see and do in Provence
After spending 14 days in Provence, France, we came to the conclusion that Provence (for the most part) is picture-perfect. It’s devilishly hot in the summer, but somehow the villages
In this post full of things to do in Provence, we’ll guide you to some of the most beautiful villages and best towns in Provence, but we’ll also introduce you to hiking Les Calanques de Cassis, aqua trekking in Gorges du Verdon, swimming in Lac de Sainte Croix (the Sainte-Croix Lake) and much, much more.
All the things we did in Provence, we did with our two boys at the age of 7 (turned 8 on the vacation –
So here goes. Let’s start this list with the most beautiful villages in Provence.
1. The always popular town of Cassis
Cassis is probably one of the most visited cities in Provence and has a well-earned reputation for being one of the most lively, picturesque and beautiful villages in Provence. Colourful fishermen’s houses stand shoulder to should in the town’s narrow streets and the Cassis harbour, Port de Cassis, is buzzing with life.
A stone’s throw away from harbour you find a really nice, pebbled beach. We went for a dip after eating tuna tartare at one of the many restaurants at Port de Cassis.
The water is crystal clear, but if you bring kids, you should be aware that the water gets deep very quickly.
A few facts about Cassis: Cassis was founded some two and a half thousand years ago by the Ligures and is nestled in between two famous nature sights called Massif des Calanques and Cap Canaille.
Parking in Cassis: There are several nice parking lots in Cassis. We parked at Parking de la Viguerie which has room for 299 cars and is very close to the harbour in Cassis. Find more info on parking at this (French) site: Where to park in Cassis.
2. Castellane in the Verdon National Park
Can a French village be too perfect? I thought not, but after visiting Castellane I’m tempted to say yes. The picture-perfect squares, the cobbled streets, the worn (in the shabby chic way) shutters in dusted colours, the thriving, lustrous flowers in the numerous flower pots….how DO they keep all those flowers alive? And then of course – the surroundings. Castellane is the gateway to exploring Gorges du Verdon (also known as Europe’s Grand Canyon) by foot, water or air and is surrounded by outstanding natural beauty.
We tried to book a room for a couple of nights when we found out how beautiful Castellane is, but the hotel-lady on the phone only had contempt for our request. “Nooooo, it is all booked!”. So, a word of advice, book your hotel well in advance if you want to spend some time in Castellane. And trust me – you want to put this Provence village on your list of places to see in Provence!
3. Aix-en-Provence – one of the best towns in Provence
This town seems like it has been spraypainted with French charm, and it is buzzing with life! Our expectations weren’t high – sometimes things can get overhyped – but we just loved Aix-en-Provence. Yes, there are a thousand shops, but really cool shops (filled with unique dresses, blouses and skirts). I’m not a big shopper, but that city really tested my conviction that buying and owning a lot of stuff doesn’t make you happy.
There is, of course, also a great food market in Aix-de-Provence where you can get anything from sunflowers to cheese and fresh fish.
Aix-en-Provence is by no means a small town, and you can easily spend a whole day strolling around, enjoying the town squares and drinking the mandatory glass of chilled rosé. This beautiful town should definitely be in your Provence itinerary.
Even the kids were smitten by Aix-en-Provence. Mostly because it has some pretty cool clothing stores for kids as well as friendly pigeons (they love to feed pigeons. I’ve tried to tell them that pigeons are the airborne rats, but they don’t seem to care).
Where to eat in Aix-en-Provence? We tried a place called Le Bidule, and it was pretty good. Even great if you bring kids. The menus are disguised as comic books, and the restaurant is located at a big square – with pigeons and no cars.
We also had really great sushi at a place called Kiwa Sushi.
4. Les Baux-de-Provence – not all it’s cracked up to be
Les Baux-de-Provence is perched on a 245 m high rocky plateau in the Alpilles and has been voted one of the most beautiful villages in France. The village has a spectacular view over Arles and the Camargue, and there are plenty of narrow streets and beautiful squares to get lost in.
However, it just didn’t live up to our expectations. On paper, it all looks great, but the village just didn’t seem alive. Sure, there are a ton of shops selling everything from lavender soap to nougat, but it all seems like it was set up solely for the purpose of the tourists who flock to the village. It didn’t seem like any “real” people lived there, and so it lacked heart and soul.
5: A must-see: Les Carrières de Lumières (The Quarries of Light)
If you decide to visit Les Baux-de-Provence make sure you have enough time to visit the Quarries of Light. And book your ticket in advance!! This can not be stressed enough. We didn’t do our research properly and after spending 40 minutes (the boys legged it after 15 minutes) in a “sun beating down on us” queue I was forced to leave with a gutwrenching feeling of having missed out on something spectacular.
Lesson learned from this experience: Do your research, and if the official website says “The waiting time at the ticket office can be significant, we recommend to anticipate your arrival by booking online your time” – do it!!
But for those who don’t know, Les Carrières de Lumières is in an abandoned limestone quarry where spectacular sound and light shows are put on. The floors, ceilings and huge limestone walls of the quarry serve as a huge canvas for world-class art by Chagall, Van Gogh, Gauguin and so on. The quarry simply comes alive, and you can immerse yourself in the colourful worlds of famous painters while listening to music. Can you think of a more intense artistic experience – because I can’t! And I WILL be back.
The Quarries of Light are located at the foot of Les Baux-de-Provence and is within walking distance.
6. Hiking Les Calanques de Cassis
The 20 km stretch of coast between Cassis and the town of Marseille is dotted with a series of picturesque
And for those who don’t know it: A
7. Explore Gorges du Verdon
You can’t do a Provence itinerary without mentioning Gorges du Verdon, aka Europe’s Grand Canyon. Gorges du Verdon is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful canyons and stretches for 24 km in a wild and rugged landscape. The name is derived from the striking turquoise colour of the Verdon River which ends in Lac de Sainte Croix.
The most stunning part of the canyon is between Castellane and Moustiers Sainte Marie, where the valley can plunge 700 metres, offering dizzying views downwards and breathtaking views of the valley.
Route de la Corniche Sublime provides plenty of small patches where you can stop and enjoy the view.
A warning: Your camera will be on fire on this trip.
8. Aqua-trekking in Gorges du Verdon
Aqua-trekking was one of the most fun things we did with our kids in Provence. It’s challenging, but also so thrilling to be swept away by water and doing high jumps from a cliff wall.
The water is really cold, but with the right equipment, you can float for hours enjoying the breathtaking surroundings while listening to the birds and water.
9. Jump in! Have fun on, in and at Lac de Sainte Croix
Did our kids love this lake – I think so! The Sainte Croix lake is artificial and fed by the Verdon River, and even though it’s really deep, the water is nice and warm. Not like the sometimes icy Middeterranian.
It’s perfect for swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding and so on. The perfect playground if you’re a water dog.
10. Relax at Sainte Croix Beach
Put on the bikini and pack some beach games. About half an hour from Marseille you find Sainte Croix Beach. A really beautiful beach with crystal clear water, soft sand and awesome waves. We went three times, and the first two times the water was absolutely freezing, but the third time it had magically turned nice and warm?!
The beach is pretty big, and you can find shade under the pine trees. There are also a few lifeguards, and you can rent a paddleboat. It’s also very easy to find free parking close to the beach, and when you get hungry, you can grab a bite at one of the small restaurants across the road from the beach. All in all – a really nice beach.
11. Stare death in the eye at Aqualand Saint-Cyr-Sur-Mer
If you’ve come this far in our Provence itinerary, you might have noticed, that we like water. And we loooove water parks. There are a few water parks in Provence, but we were recommended Aqualand Saint-Cyr-Sur-Mer by locals, so that’s where we went. And we weren’t disappointed. Aqualand Saint-Cyr-Sur-Mer has waterslides for scaredy cats as well as people who know no fear. And I mean no fear.
The water park is located about 1½ hour east of Marseille, and you can easily spend a whole day there. The food is horrible, but it’s allowed to bring some from home. I would definitely recommend that.
12. Dine at the Old Port of Marseille
Marseille doesn’t have the best of reputations, but we found it to be a charming city, and if nothing else, you should set some time
13. Be amazed by Notre-Dame de la Garde
Paris has Notre Dame, but Marseille has Notre-Dame de la Garde, and even though it can’t measure up to its Parisian cousin, it’s still very much worth a visit. Notre Dame de la Garde is located on a 149 m limestone outcropping on the south side of the Old Port of Marseille and offers a spectacular view of Marseille. It’s also Marseille’s best
The construction of the basilica began in 1852 and lasted for 21 years, and the interior is absolutely stunning.
How to get to Notre-Dame de la Garde: To get to Notre-Dame de la Garde you can take a small blue train from the Old Port in Marseille. The exact starting point is 176 Quai du Port in Marseille. The train takes you on a scenic route from the harbour to Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Good to know: The company does not accept credit cards. Bring cash or buy the tickets in advance on the homepage.
14. Visit Cathédrale La Major
Cathédrale La Major is located very close to the Old Port of Marseille, and if you’re already there – why not drop by the church.
It’s not nearly as impressive as Notre-Dame de la Garde, but the view is nice.
15. Eat cheese and drink wine
You can’t really go to France without committing yourself fully to the task of eating more cheese than you ever have before. The supermarkets in Provence are like cheese-wonderlands. I’ve literally never seen so much cheese in my life. And it all tasted so good!
Luckily, cheese tends to make you thirsty – this is where wine comes into the picture. Enjoy!!
Well, that was it. We hope you have found some inspiration and wish you a great trip to picturesque Provence. It really is a beautiful place, and we had a lot of fun there. If we were to make a list of our favourite things to do in Provence it would probably look something like this.
1: Aqualand Saint-Cyr-Sur-Mer
2: The Sainte Croix lake
3: Aix-en-Provence (the doves and the cool clothes they got)
Us, the adults:
1: Aqua-trekking in Gorges du Verdon/exploring Gorges du Verdon
2: Eating cheese drinking wine – buckets of cheese and gallons of wine…mnnnn
We hope you found our suggestions useful. If so – why not pin it.