Three A-list towns in Provence: Avignon, Arles, and Aix
Provence’s interior has so many lovely hill towns, and stunning nature, that visitors are forgiven for not wanting to jeopardize a tranquil holiday with the hustle and bustle of larger towns.
Yet the following three towns make the A-list of any planned visit to Provence – there’s simply no excuse not to visit Avignon, Arles, and Aix-en-Provence, when you’re in the region.
This monumental city is a joy to discover, starting from its fortress-like city walls. Avignon’s importance derives from its role as the medieval Rome.
For a period of 70 years, beginning with Pope Clement V’s flight from Italy in 1309, Avignon served as the seat of the papacy.
The Palais des Papes is a must on any visit to Avignon and there are both guided and self-guided tours through the Provençal Vatican.
Tickets also include entrance to the 12th century bridge, which spans just over half of the RhôneRiver (damage was a direct result of sieges and flooding) and provides stunning views of the town.
There is an excellent Festival d’Avignon, founded in 1946 and held each year in July.
Arles is a pleasant town, just at the edge of the interesting Camargue National Park. The city center has enviable Roman ruins, including the best-known, les Arènes. Although this Roman amphitheatre is missing a level, it is still in excellent condition and used for performances during the summer.
In addition to the amphitheatre, be sure to also visit the Roman theatre and the Roman baths.
Arles is also famous for its one-time resident, the Dutch painter Vincent VanGogh. VanGogh moved to Arles from Paris in 1888.
His was influenced tremendously by the bright colours and strong sunlight in southern France and much of his most beloved paintings were done during this productive period in Arles.
It was to Arles that VanGogh enticed the artist Paul Gauguin, with the hope of creating a type of artistic fraternity in Provence.
Unfortunately, tensions ran high between VanGogh and Gauguin, most notably in the fight between them that led to VanGogh famously slicing off part of his ear on December 23, 1888, resulting in his subsequent committal to an asylum in nearby St Rémy de Provence.
It is a shame that VanGogh’s rented “Yellow House” has survived only in his paintings. The building was bombed and destroyed during World War II.
Yet the café immortalized in one of VanGogh’s most recognizable paintings, Café Terrace at Night, is still active today as the Café VanGogh and attracts numerous visitors. Enjoy a coffee in this lovely spot.
This pretty small city is just 25 kilometers north of the seaside city of Marseilles. Its elegant old town is charming and was once home to artist Paul Cézanne and author Emile Zola.
There are no must-see museums or sites in this pleasant city, although you can’t help but be enthralled as you wander its lovely streets and relax on one of its perfect little squares. Be sure to note the numerous, picturesque fountains. There are about 40 of them in the old town and the carvings are often whimsical.
Numerous French and foreign students call Aix home. The university was founded in 1409 and the tradition is still going strong; the university also has a popular programme for foreigners studying French. Aix is also the home to a lively weekly market.
Enjoy your visit to these lovely towns on your next trip to Provence.
For some of my other tips about travel in this gorgeous reason, see my earlier posts on visiting Les Beaux de Provence, hiking in the Gorges du Verdon or exploring the coastal city of Nice, and its markets and seafood restaurants, or neighboring, hilltop Èze.
These are truly some of my favourite places! I also love Albi and Carcassone.. and Corsica! I think if I didn’t live in Italy I would be in the south of France somewhere..
Oh you make me homesick, Kimberly! Although as you may remember I was born and grew up in Normandy before moving to Paris, I love the south of France very much too. I give you A+++for the title and the article!
Thank you, ladies. Yes, an idyllic little corner of a ridiculously gorgeous country. There is something special about Provence…. as I write from my little corner of much more chaotic Manhattan. : )