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The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in the South of France


Regional Departments
Alpes de Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, Vaucluse.

Main Towns
Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Cavaillon, Digne, Gap, Grasse, Orange, Marseille, Toulon, Nice, Canne.

Provence owes its special charm to the warm Mediterranean climate, intense colour and varied landscape, the food, quintessential villages and glamourous reputation. The region lies in the far South of France, stretching along the coast from the Italian border at Menton to just the other side of Marseille, then inland through the Côtes du Rhône vineyards to the Haute-Alpes. The Cote d'Azur has a succession of fashionable towns, marinas and beaches on the coast that hold a constant series of events throughout the year from the Film Festival in Cannes, regattas in Saint Tropez to the Carnival in Nice.



Within easy driving distance of Cannes is Grasse, the centre of the perfume industry in France, famous for its perfect climate and the fields of flowers around it, roses, jasmine, lavender that are harvested and distilled to make the scents and essences.

Avignon and its bridge made famous by the nursery rhyme, was the residence of the Popes until they returned to Rome and the huge Popes Palace is unmissable. The vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are across the river from Avignon.

Not far from Marseille is the ancient university town of Aix-en-Provence, birthplace of the painter Paul Cezanne. The old capital of Provence, it is a relaxed southern city, splashed by scores of fountains and regarded as the cultural and intellectual heart of Provence. The International Music Festival is held in July and August and the Saison d'Aix runs from June until September with exhibitions, theatre, open air concerts and international performers.

Founded by the Greeks and Romans, Arles has many associations with Vincent Van Gogh, who lived and worked prolifically there for a short while. The art collection of the painter Réattu is housed in the museum that bears his name and includes several Picasso's, donated by the artist in 1972. The town is the gateway to the Camargue, a vast wildlife reserve for a huge variety of birds including thousands of pink flamingos and well known for its herds of wild horses and black bulls. Though large parts of the reserve are now given over to growing rice, you may be lucky enough to see them. Beaches and good seafood restaurants.

The beautiful Luberon National Park stretches from the plains of the Vaucluse to the Alpes, its way of life protected from development and the fields of lavender, orchards and villages like Gordes, Bonnieux, Lacoste and Ménerbe, forming a natural mosaic in the landscape. Good walking and cycling country.
From there, the landscape changes as you reach the foothills of Alpes-de-Haute Provence. Villages huddle in the contours of alpine valleys, or perch precariously on a hilltop, the steep streets leading to a central square with plane trees, a fountain and lunch. This is truffle and olive oil country, the altitude and sun giving the olives a particularly fruity taste. The icy emerald waters of the Verdon river spring from high in the Alpes and run through the gorges of the Grand Canyon into a series of lakes, where you can sail, water-ski, fish, or go white water rafting.

Provence extends by tradition, history, culture and folk law beyond administrative boundaries, so the department of the Gard in Languedoc (known locally as the Provence Gard) and also of the Drome in the Rhone Alpes (known locally as the Drome Provencal), are considered by many to be part of Provence.

Food

Provencal food is perhaps best described as a series of exquisitely prepared dishes using seasonal local produce; a simple plate of olives with a sprinkling of thyme, an onion and anchovy tart, a bowl of green figs, farm cured mountain ham with sweet butter, a dish of artichokes, lamb cooked slowly on a spit, Arles sausage and Banons, ewe's milk cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves.
The natural red ochre caves near the village of Roussillon are used for the cultivation of mushrooms, the town of Le Thor supplies the region with grapes and Carpentras is the centre of a lively market for black truffles. The proximity of Provence to Italy has had an influence and there are excellent pizzas, drizzled with chili oil to bring out the taste. In the mountain areas there is fresh water fish grilled or baked with herbs and in the south, bouillabaisse, a fish soup that belongs to Marseille. Wines range from robust reds, fruity whites and rosés.

Activities

The coast has every imaginable water sport facility, yacht clubs, tennis clubs and several superb golf clubs.
Almost everywhere in the countryside away from the coast is excellent for walking, riding and cycling. In the Hautes-Provence there are well marked hiking routes for short walks lasting between one and four hours, or walks lasting for several days accompanied by a guide. If you are a rock climbing enthusiast there are more than seventy canyons to choose from on the Ubaye or Verdon rivers and qualified and experienced instructors on hand to ensure safety. There are also beginners schools for children from about the age of three.

This is outstanding gliding country and there are several bases that provide beginner and intermediate courses with qualified instructors. More experienced pilots fly towards the Alpes as far as Mont Blanc or Mont Viso. The thermals also provide excellent conditions for hang-gliding, paragliding and ballooning.
At Saint-Michel Observatory, you can take part in observation sessions and use professional equipment.
Good fishing in the lakes, perch, carp, char, gudgeon and in the mountain streams, wild Fario trout.
In winter, the combination of sun and exceptional snow cover make excellent skiing and there are many ski stations to choose from. Pra-Loup and Foux d'Allos are linked together to form one of the largest ski areas in the southern Alpes. Chabanon, Grand-Puy, Soleilhas-Vauplane and others are more family orientated.
There are wonderful markets throughout the region on different days, the ones in Forcalquier and Vaison-la-Romaine in particular are worth a visit. Lavender honey and olive oil is still produced in the traditional way and you can visit the mills to see how they are made, taste and buy direct. Moustier chinaware first appeared in the seventeenth century, it has a distinctive delicate blue and white design and is well worth looking for. And there are festivals, concerts, exhibitions, dance and theatre throughout Provence for most of the year.

Climate

Long hot summers with temperatures reaching 35C plus and short, mild winters. From May onwards there is practically no rain.

Travel

By Air
The main international airports are Marseille and Nice. Other main regional airports are Avignon, Toulon and Nimes. Car hire available at all airports.

By Road
Paris is roughly 8 hours drive. Roads along the Cote d'Azur do become very busy in the summer months.

By Train
High speed TGV trains take about 3 hours from Paris to Marseille and also serve Toulon, Cannes and Nice. Paris/Avignon takes 2.45 hours. Car hire is easily available.


 
 
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