Say the words and drink them in: Marseille, Nice, Cannes… The top three choices for the idyllic Mediterranean landscapes, unique cuisine and classic architecture that the South of France is so truly beloved for, and all three tucked away within Provence; Your next destination.
Sharing the same waters as Italy and Spain yet still wholly awash with the French flavour, Provence offers a cultural blend that can be found nowhere else on the planet.
The area sits to the west of the border of Italy just beside Monaco (which it surrounds), extending from the left bank of the Rhône River on the East. The conquering Romans made the area their first claim that sat beyond the Alps, before it returned to the Kings of France in 1481. Despite becoming a part of France once again, traces of it’s Romanic history still remain five hundred years later, giving Provence an unmistakably different cultural identity from the rest of the country.
Have no fear that your choice of destination won’t be quintessentially ‘French’ however: The South of France is home to a wealth of vineyards, rich French art and poetry and classically romantic architecture. Walking or driving through the area, you’ll get the sense that the people of Provence felt compelled to reinforce their French identity by spending the last half-millennium outdoing the rest of the country!
Tour the "Big Three" Provence Towns
As your flight approaches Nice airport, you’ll witness the town’s beauty as it curves for miles around The Bay of Angels, usually patterned with the white sails of luxury yachts and racing dinghies. The town of Nice on the Côte d'Azur features some of the best coastal attractions, shopping locations and nightlife in the region, so take a few days to shop, eat and enjoy. One must also take a day to visit the ‘old town’ of Nice, where the townspeople escape the tourism of the coast, visit street marketplaces and relax on the cobblestones with an afternoon wine lunch.
Next is a short drive along the Riviera (be sure to make a stop at an oceanfront café) to the smaller yet easily more charming town of Cannes, where “everywhere” is within a short walk, including galleries, museums and the long sandy beach that will make a decidedly nicer place to rest your feet than Nice’s pebbly shore. Before you leave Cannes, take some time to play a few beachside games of Pétanque, Provence’s offshoot of the traditional English Bowls.
Lastly, take a day to explore the rolling dramatic landscape of the coast on your way to Marseille, the largest of the three key Provence destinations. As a much bigger town than Provence’s other offerings, you’ll find Marseille to be home to a Parisian flavour of city life, with spectacular architecture such as the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde and ancient stone fortresses situated along the rocky shore. For those who want to avoid the day-to-day city life and crowds yet still enjoy the sights, we recommend an electric bike tour, as the thought of biking without electric assistance might be too much to fathom after a round trip of Provence!
What Does Provence Offer to Eat and Drink?
Can you name anywhere else in the world you’ll find Mediterranean seafood with a French influence? Provence’s landscape may be beautiful, but it’s a poor choice for large-scale agriculture, and with the ocean so close by, you’ll find an eclectic variety of dishes including ingredients such as garlic, olive oil, octopus and rockfish, with grapes, peaches and apricots encompassing dessert. Particularly of interest is the rouget, a strikingly bright red fish found abundantly off the Provence coast and grilled over a rack of juicily-saturated grapevine wood.
Try the classic dish of Bouillabaisse in Marseille, the town of it’s origin, or have a bowl of Daube provençale stew made with braised beef, garlic, vegetables and herbs. Perhaps you’d like to try a cut of La pissaladière, a dish that may appear to be a normal pizza, but with a nest of onions, sardines and pissalat paste instead of tomato and pepperoni, or maybe you’d enjoy a mouth-wateringly filling bowl of Ratatouille in the dish’s hometown of Nice.
For the more daring connoisseurs, we also recommend the traditional Liqueur of Pastis, consisting of 45% alcohol with a twisted aniseed flavour. Absinthe producers introduced this sweet concoction when the drink was banned in 1915 and today it is usually diluted with water for slightly less indulgent partaking.
Of course, we cannot talk about France without talking about wine… On your travels, you simply cannot avoid spending a night or two in one of Provence’s famous vineyard chateaus, enjoying an evening aperitif with a bottle produced from the very hectares of vines that surround you.
These are just a handful of the dishes, joys and adventures on offer. Who knows what else you’ll discover?