Aix-en-Provence on its own draws together an exceptional array of heritage which is worth taking a few days to explore. But it is also an ideal base from which to tour around the region of Provence, with beautiful scenery a short distance away, including the Calanques, the Camargue, the Luberon and the Côte d’Azur.
Marseille and the Calanques
On the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille is the capital of the region. The Jardin des Vestiges, the banks of the Old Port, the Le Panier Quarter, La Vieille Charité (Old Charity) Museum, the Vallon des Auffes fishing port… there are many attractions to see encompassing 26 centuries of history. For those who love the sea, the Mediterranean awaits. From the Frioul Islands with the Château d’If and the Count of Monte Cristo up to Cassis, the Mediterranean reveals its magical rocky inlets (calanques). Then as you go back up towards the Garlaban and Sainte Baume massifs, you enter the heart of Pagnol’s Provence.
Avignon and the Luberon
The trail around the villages and châteaux of the Luberon will lead you to, among other places, the imposing ruins of the Château at La Tour d’Aigues, then on to the castle at Lourmarin before arriving at Apt, capital of candied fruit. Roussillon and its ochre quarries, Gordes, the village of the bories, and the enchanting Sénanque Abbey are all great places to discover before you head off to the Isle sur la Sorgue, the largest antiques centre in south-eastern France. From there Avignon awaits. The installation of the popes in Avignon in the 14th century left its mark on the town’s history. The ramparts, the Popes’ Palace and the Bridge (made famous in the song “Sur le pont d’Avignon”) all date back to Medieval times.
Arles and the Camargue
60 kms from Aix-en-Provence, Arles is a town which captivates you with its Provencal traditions and its rich ancient heritage. The Museum of Ancient Arles, the Roman amphitheatres, the cathedral and the Saint Trophime cloister, the Museon Arlaten and the Van Gogh Foundation are well worth a visit… The Camargue starts at the gates of Arles. Over a landscape of marshland and salt marshes, the wall belfry of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer (famous for their gypsy pilgrimage), and the fortified walls of the city of Aigues Mortes can be seen for miles. Here, Nature has made a patchwork of lakes and salt flats where dark-coated bulls and white horses reign supreme, while pink flamingos fly overhead. Trails and pathways crisscross the Regional Nature Reserve.
The Côte d’Azur
Pushing on towards the East, the Maures and the Esterel mountains on the jagged shoreline, with their blood-red rocks diving into the sea herald the Côte d’Azur. Opposite Hyères, the Iles d’Or: Porquerolles, Port-Cros and the Levant are marine parks and a traffic-free paradise. Further on, the beaches of Saint-Tropez, Saint-Raphaël and Nice with its famous Promenade des Anglais are less than 2 hours away from Aix on the motorway.
Travelling back up the Durance, the Haute Provence countryside invites you to meet Giono’s land – the lavender fields between Valensole and Riez, the earthenware ceramics from the tiny village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie, and the Gorges du Verdon, where the jade-green waters of the Verdon flow through one of the most beautiful canyons in the world. These towering cliffs are a magnet for nature-lovers and top-class sports people.