There are so many charming and delightful towns in Provence, it’s difficult to plan an itinerary where you’re limited to a few, however, if you’re planning a visit to Provence be sure to include at least a couple of the following towns.
Outside of Aix-en-Provence and Avignon, both famous and both well worth a visit, there are many smaller, equally charming and fascinating towns to explore, some harking back to Roman times, others flourishing during the Middle Ages up to the present.
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is an absolutely delightful town with shops and restaurants scattered among its narrow, tiled streets and a bustling market every Wednesday. Though it exudes the charm of an updated Medieval village, it dates back to the Roman period when the city of Glanum was built around 27 BC during the reign of Emperor Augustus. You can visit the ruins of this ancient city just outside of the village. Across from the Roman ruins is the Monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole where Vincent Van Gogh was treated from May 1889 to May 1890, a year after he had cut off his ear. It was in Saint-Rémy that he painted his famous work, Starry Night. Saint-Rémy is also the birthplace of Nostradamus.
Not far from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is Les Baux-de-Provence, a fascinating stone village built into rocks above a huge bauxite quarry. This area has been inhabited since the Bronze age though the fortress wasn’t built until the early Middle Ages and there are very few inhabitants residing there now (about 355 according to the 2017 census, with only 22 residents in the old village). It’s fascinating to explore the rocky ruins of the fortress and the charming stone shops and pathways of the village, however, make sure to reserve time (and a ticket) to visit Carrières de Lumières, a light and sound exhibition of artists such as Gustav Klimt and Vincent Van Gogh that takes place in the depths of the quarry on the road to Maillane below the village. This is an unforgettable experience that adults and children alike will love.
Named “one of France’s most beautiful villages,” Roussillon is located on top of a large ochre deposit overlooking the beautiful Provençal countryside. From 1942-1945, Samuel Beckett hid from the Nazis in Roussillon and mentions the town in his play, Waiting For Godot. The mining of ochre was central to the economy since the 18th century and is reflected in the bright orange and red ochre hues of the buildings – so different from the more muted colors of most Provençal villages. Be sure to check out the “Sentier des Ocres” or “Ochre Trail,” which winds through the spectacular orange-red quarries. You can choose between a thirty minute or sixty minute trail.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a picturesque village located on the River Sorgue not far from Avignon. Often referred to as the “Venice of Provence,” the river wends its way through the town branching out into numerous canals that are flanked by shops and restaurants. Like many Provençal towns, there is an abundance of flowering plants adding to the beauty and charm of the village. Also known as “the European Antiques Capital,” it is home to many antiques dealers and hosts the “International Antiques Fair” twice a year at Easter and in August. There is also a flea market every Sunday so, whatever time of the year you visit, you’re sure to find copious opportunities to browse and purchase antiques.
These are just a few of the many, many delightful villages you can explore in Provence. Whatever you choose you are sure not to be disappointed.
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