This Provence trip was unexpected and one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was a post-quarantine, early pandemic adventure and the perfect way to say goodbye to a place that I love. However, I hope to go back! And I will update this post when I do. Here are the best things to do in Provence, France, in my opinion!
Things to Do in Provence France
A quick guide to the things to do in Provence, France by region: Les Alpilles, Le Luberon, and Le Verdon. Lavender fields, mountain towns, hilltop villages, and the most gorgeous waters you’ve ever seen.
Things to Do in Provence, France: Les Alpilles
Semur en Auxois, Burgundy
It rises from the hills as you approach and disappears as you drive away, giving the most magical feeling. We picnicked by the river before walking around the quaint little town, winding our way down narrow cobbled streets past cafés and old bookstores.
This town is known as a sort of Venice of Provence because of the canal that runs through it. It’s famous for its brocantes and flea markets, while also boasting a robust farmers market, too. This was our base for our stay in Les Alpilles, as it was the most central.
It was an unexpected stop on our way to Les Baux de Provence, but so worth it. It’s said that Van Gogh stayed here at one point in his career and painted the mountains just across the road. It was excellent wine—and I don’t drink wine.
Les Baux de Provence
A majestic hilltop village with beautiful views of the valley below. We stopped in at the museum of an engraver, Louis Jou, which was interesting. There’s also a chateau up for exploring. A big attraction here is the Carrières des Lumières, a spectacular light and projection show in the old mines near the village. I went one several years ago for a Van Gogh exhibition, I believe. There’s nothing quite like it as you sit in the cool stone caverns, your senses overwhelmed by a flood of music and visual art.
Pont du Gard, Nîmes
This is for the art history lovers. The Pont du Gard is the oldest, most well-preserved Roman aqueduct. It crosses the Gardon river and you’ll find tourists and locals lining up for tickets to take a dip. From our location in Les Baux, it was about an hour’s drive—but well worth it.
- Budget for tolls. Coming from the US, I will never complain about the $5, $7, or whatever fee is now charged to cross the Bay Bridge. I think we spent around 100 euros in tolls, when in California, I can zip from SF to LA without paying for anything except gas. (However, I do concede that the roads here are very well-maintained.)
- Splitwise. Look it up and download.
- Find an Airbnb where you can cook! It’s fun to go to the local market and cook with your findings.
Things to Do in Provence, France: Le Luberon
Gordes Lookout Point
Any iconic hilltop village photograph you’ve seen is probably this one. And trust me, the photographs will never do the actual view justice. It’s basically a pullout on the side of a steep, mountainous road that is, at times, one way. Drive slowly and with patience!
Unfortunately, due to tourists picking lavender, the fields are closed to the public. But the gift shop is not. Ha! There are also guided tours of the abbey available.
This was the true gem of the entire trip, and one of the best things to do in Provence, France in my opinion. It’s difficult to locate on a map, but somehow, thanks to Sarah’s determination and persistence, we eventually found it tucked away on a hillside. Worth the stop. Hike all the way up to the ruins for a beautiful view of the valley. Even if you don’t visit this town specifically, the small villages are always worth a stop.
En route to Ménerbres (where Peter Mayle spent his year in Provence) from Oppède-le-Vieux is a sprawling lavender field which totally tickled me. There were no tourists, since this is not on the Valensole plateau, so we had it pretty much all to ourselves at sunset.
- The best time to see the lavender is June through the first week of July. Any later and they’ll have probably harvested it all. We saw piles of harvested lavender drying in the fields at Valensole during our trip, which was July 4-9.
- The lookout over Gordes can be plugged into Google Maps as “13 Route de Cavaillon, 84220 Gordes.”
- Make time to stop in Oppède-le-Vieux and the lavender fields by the bridge when you drive towards Ménebres. There are pretty much no other tourists.
Things to Do in Provence: Verdon
Gorge de Verdon
The Verdon Gorge holds the title of the most beautiful in Europe, and in one glance it’s easy to see why. Crystal waters that sparkle in the sun, the rise of the cliffs on either side of the river…it feels like a dream. Start at the Pont de Galetas, a popular spot to pull over for photographs and to see the boaters and daredevils backflipping from the rocks. Picnic and swim in the Lac de Sainte-Croix. Parking is fairly abundant.
If you’ve ever seen a photograph of French lavender fields, this is probably where the photographer was standing. Sunflowers and lavender abound on the plateau, but PLEASE DO NOT PICK! Remember that the fields are someone’s livelihood. Fresh lavender is for sale in abundance in town markets for you to buy and take to the fields for your photo-op. (See below.)
We stayed in the town of Riez, making it our base while in the Verdon region. There is a vibrant local market that is quite large, given the size of the town. You can find everything from Fresh lavender to cured meat and handmade soap. We stayed in a charming Airbnb in the city center and cooked meals gathered from the markets we visited.
- Riez is a good base in the Verdon. It is 20 minutes from the Valensole Plateau (lavender and sunflowers) and 20 minutes from the Lac de Sainte-Croix and Pont de Galetas with a view of the gorge.
- Don’t miss market day in Riez. Unlike Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which was sprawling and frenetic, this one was much more manageable with a local feel. We even bought lavender from growers who have fields on the Valensole plateau, and soap made by a small family business.
- The Lac de Sainte-Croix is good for swimming and boating, and the bridge gives a great view for photos. If you’re more into hiking, road signs easily point you in the proper direction to continue on.
- Parking is easy at the Valensole plateau because it is popular. Stop a little bit before the official parking and don’t be afraid to pull off to the side of the road for the first fluffy hill you see. Remember to be respectful and not walk on/pick the lavender. All the cut lavender you see in these photos we purchased at the market in Riez.
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