France is the land of love, Paris is the metropolis of romance, and Burgundy is a wine paradise, but if we had to recommend a place that one must see in France, it would still be the Provence region.
It is no coincidence that almost all of France and the rest of the world go on vacation to this wonderful region and enjoy the azure coast on the famous Riviera or admire the thousand-year-old monuments that still remember the boom of the mighty Roman Empire. As the historically first Roman transalpine state, Provence also earned its sonorous name derived from the term province.
And when you think about all that there is to see in Provence, it is no wonder that the Romans expanded here. In Provence, you will find the most azure coast in the entire Mediterranean Sea, eternally snow-covered Alpine peaks, ancient monuments, cascading vineyards where the sweetest grapes grow, bustling cities, and the most picturesque villages.
But if you want to experience something irrevocably linked in your head with a visit to this region, you must not miss a morning walk through the ubiquitous lavender fields. When the just-rising sun sparkles the freshly fallen dewdrops on the purple vines of this noble shrub, and the famous mistral winds mix the fresh sea air with the intoxicating scent of lavender, your senses will be overwhelmed and you will know that life is good.
History of Provence France
A Neanderthal already understood that living in Provence is simply wonderful. After all, this is also proven by prehistoric excavations around Nice, which point to local settlement as early as 400,000 years ago. Furthermore, many tribes alternated in this territory, the most important of which were the Ligurians and the Celts.
But the local fabulously beautiful landscape did not escape the attention of the ancient Greeks, who colonized the entire area. Provence owes a lot to them because it was a nation of philosophers who brought vines, cherries, figs, and olives here. Above all, the Greeks founded cities that today bear names such as Nice, Marseille, or Monaco. To fend off the raids of the native tribes, the local Greek settlers soon allied themselves with the Romans, bringing the area freely under the influence of another powerful ancient nation. The most important monuments such as the Pont du Gard aqueduct or the amphitheater in Arles come from this period.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Goths and the Franks fought over the territory, and in the end, it became part of the Frankish Empire. The numerous raids by Normans from distant Scandinavia and Saracens from the Middle East prove that Provence is a flytrap for tourists from almost all corners of the world. It was before them that the original inhabitants often took refuge in mountain villages, whose ancient character today is responsible for their world fame.
Since 972, when the last Saracen fortress fell, the entire area has experienced a period of unprecedented medieval prosperity. Architecture and the art trade are thriving. It was in Provence that the chivalrous tradition of the French troubadours originated. Further development was contributed by the Crusades, which increased the necessity of maritime trade and made Marseille one of the most important ports of its time. After all, it was here, in the port of Marseilles, that the children’s crusade naively sent by the Pope to fight against infidels ended infamously, when the children were sold into slavery by profit-seekers. That the Marseillais did not exactly improve their karma with this act is proven by the numerous plagues that decimated the local population in the following years.
Difficult times in the history of the region
That politics was a much simpler craft in the Middle Ages is proven by the period when the popes moved to Avignon in Provence. In other words, they had to relocate to Avignon on the orders of the French king. He kept them captive here so that the Church could not oppose his plans to abolish and confiscate the property of the powerful Templar order. Unlike the Templars, who often ended up in flames, Provence profited greatly from this relocation of the sumptuous papal court. This can be seen in the wonderfully preserved old city of Avignon, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
After this tumultuous period, Provence experienced rather peaceful times, only interrupted by the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants during the Reformation period, which killed many church monuments. The year 1720 is written in black letters in the history of Marseille and the entire region. Poor sanitation and the hustle and bustle of the port were breeding grounds for all kinds of disease, but the plague that struck Provence was virtually unparalleled. Despite measures hard to imagine at the time, such as the construction of a giant wall to separate the healthy from the sick, more than half of the population fell victim to this terrible disease in Marseille alone.
The region was not able to recover from this disaster for a long time, and after a series of crop failures and famines at the end of the 18th century, Provence was the most radical stronghold of the Great French Revolution. In Marseille, which is several times smaller, it is said that during the Jacobin dictatorship, more heads rolled from the guillotine than in the whole of Paris. It was also the revolutionary detachments from Marseille who, during the march of the Paris revolt, sang the well-known marching song with such vigor that it got the name Marseillaise after them and later became the anthem of the whole of France.
After all, it was right here in Provence, where an unknown artillery officer with a strange Corsican name distinguished himself in the capture of Toulon from the British. Napoleon Bonaparte was thus promoted to the rank of brigadier general for his extraordinary military skills, thus starting the meteoric rise of a stellar career that ended with the imperial coronation.
Today’s opulence, luxury, and glory of Provence France
In the second half of the 19th century, something that can be described as a Provençal Renaissance takes place in the entire area. The adored local poet Fréderic Mistrál, after whom the typical local coastal wind is also named, played a significant role in the revival of the Provençal language.
Marseille has become a modern port and the railway has shortened commuting distances to previously unthinkable times. This caused the cream of the crop from all over France and the surrounding world to descend on the entire coast. From this period, the classicist and art nouveau seaside promenades, dominated by luxury hotels and spas, are famous. This is how even the most famous artists discovered Provence and projected it indelibly into their work. Among them were Cézanne, van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, Matisse, and others.
In 1887, the name Côte d’Azur was used for the first time, and it is still used today. It can be said about the period of prosperity of the 1920s that the cream of Europe danced through it precisely on the Riviera. In 1929, the first casino was opened here in the Palais de la Méditerranée, and Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway are said to have been frequent guests here. An even greater influx of tourists was ensured by the introduction of a mandatory two-week holiday. Who would have thought that it was precisely the trade unions that were responsible for the development of Saint-Tropez, Nice, or Monaco. The establishment of the International Film Festival in Cannes in 1947 only furthered the atmosphere of opulence, luxury, and fame that the Cote d’Azur is still proud of today.
What historical monuments to see in Provence?
As you can see, history walked through Provence and this was also reflected in the monuments that you can find here. What you simply must see is the city of Arles with its arena, ancient theater, Roman baths, and cemetery with preserved sarcophagi. Add to that the Archbishop’s Palace, the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Major, the monastery of Saint-Trophime, and practically the whole day is gone.
It is simply unthinkable not to visit the city of Avignon with the old and new papal palace, the old town, and the famous bridge that ends in the middle of the Rhone River. The typical white walls of Avignon’s buildings shine like a diamond on the river bank, and thanks to this you will understand why the famous song about the local bridge is so cheerful.
The Celtic town of Gordes, near which is also the Cistercian monastery of Sénanque, is also interesting, which is directly covered with purple lavender fields.
Tarascon is the best-preserved medieval castle in all of France, and Antibes is the most ancient city washed by the waves of the local azure sea. When the turbulent waves crash against the cliffs above which the local fortress rises, one is not surprised that a ship from the Etruscan period was even found in the local waters among several shipwrecks.
The direct symbol of Provence is the Pont du Gard, a three-story antique aqueduct that once brought water to the city of Nimes, which still stands majestically above the valley today as if it were still working.
“The whole beautiful region of Provence lives only by light.” – poet Alfons Daudet
Only the Alpine medieval fortress of Château-Ville-Vieille, where alleged witches were imprisoned and tortured en masse, can bring you out of your relaxed mood.
Just from this short list, it must be clear that visiting Provence is not a task for a few days, and we have not yet mentioned that 18 Provençal villages are on the list of the most beautiful French villages.
Provence – a favorite place of millionaires and celebrities
On the Côte d’Azur, the atmosphere of big cities and seaside resorts is rarely mixed, and after a walk on the busy boulevard, you can jump on a surfboard pulled by a motorboat, or rent a yacht or sailboat.
After staying on the Riviera, one soon gets the feeling that wealth is a kind of unspoken fact. Just a walk along the piers of the Bay of Angels in Nice will make technology lovers feel almost ecstatic. Roman Abramovich’s famous 170-meter-long yacht, whose value is estimated at 7 billion crowns, is also moored here for most of the year. Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Aston Martin sports cars, which you see parked on almost every corner, look more like a poor man’s scooter compared to this ship.
Another resort that cannot be forgotten is, of course, Cannes, where the biggest Hollywood stars walk the red carpet every year, so if you come here at the right time, in addition to a good movie, you may come across George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio or Angelina Jolie.
After all, it was also the film that made the busy Saint-Tropez what it is today. Brigitte Bardot’s film And God Made Woman sparked a tourism and sexual revolution, in which the iconic French diva squirmed so immorally for her time that free-thinking travelers literally flooded the coast of Saint-Tropez. After all, nudists and the golden youth are the main opponents of the local gendarmerie in the film series made famous by Luis de Funés.
Sovereignly the highest ranked in the imaginary ranking of luxury cities is, of course, Monaco. Although this city does not officially belong to Provence, as it is an independent principality, it is literally a stone’s throw away. If you are going to Provence for your honeymoon, then a trip to Monaco by car will be such a small gift for your man, because he will not have the opportunity to drive around the Formula One circuit anywhere else in the world.
A bit different than walking along the luxurious promenades is a visit to the capital of the whole region, Marseille. This port at the mouth of the Rhone River is a bustling industrial center and the second-largest city in e France, which reflects its composition. After a massive wave of immigration from the former French colonies, the city is an amazing cultural mix. In addition to traditional monuments such as the Arc de Triomphe or the cathedral, one should definitely visit the fish markets and the giant wharf, made famous by Gene Hackman in the cult film The French Connection.
In addition to the American detective with a small hat, who does not go far for a hit, Marseille is also home to the literary character of the Count of Monte Cristo. There is indeed a prison on the nearby Friuli Islands where this hero was supposed to reside.
These islands are one of the many natural attractions of Provence. The largest is clearly the seven-meter-deep and six-meter-wide Canyon of the Verdon River.
The scent of Provence France
But we don’t just have to see the French region of Provence, we can mainly smell its aromas. You can find every imaginable scent from the local area at the ancient Parfumerie Fragonard in Grasse, and believe me, after one walk through the lavender field, you will want to take away at least a small memory of Provence in a cute glass flask.
And what about such Provençal spices? It has become famous all over the world and despite the fact that its composition is not entirely clear every Provençal would swear that his mixture is the only real one. The basic version of this mix consists of motherwort, marjoram, lovage, and fennel.
Even the bouquet garni, a pillar of French cuisine, also comes from here, and they like to supplement the basic thyme with bay leaf here with sage, rosemary, oregano, and coriander.
In short, spices are a serious topic here, as you can see at the ubiquitous spice markets, and quality spices are worth their weight in gold. This is literally true if you look at the price of the famous local saffron.
In short, the Provencals are connoisseurs, which you can tell from the local olive oil, wine, and, above all, the food. The most famous French chef, who was nicknamed the chef of kings and the king of chefs, of course also comes from here. Auguste Escoffier founded French cuisine as we know it today, and in his day was such a celebrity that Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsey might envy him. He headed the kitchen at the famous Moulin Rouge or the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and his cookbook Ma Cuisine is literally the bible of chefs to this day.EuropeFrance