Discover 21 Unmissable Things to Do in Provence, France
Things to do in Provence: almost an endless list. From visiting charming villages nestled in the hills to crystal lakes that you could easily mistake for the sea, there is always something new to discover in this part of France. It can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly to focus on during your trip, so I’ve compiled a list of 21 unmissable things to do in Provence. Bon voyage!
Where to Stay in Provence: Go Glamping at l’Hippocampe
Here comes a little confession: I may live in Berlin, but my family owns a campsite in Provence, called l’Hippocampe. This isn’t any ordinary campsite; it is glamping at its finest, with tons of activities thrown in. Plus, it is a great base to access all the best things to do in Provence.
Over 50 years ago, my family started welcoming guests and have shared their love for the region with innumerable holidaymakers since.
This was the first time I got to visit the Hippocampe in season and witnessed the action for myself.
If pitching a tent is not for you, you can opt to stay in a modern, air-conditioned mobile home. Set on the banks of the Durance River, the campground harbours pools, a sauna, and (indoor & outdoor) fitness facilities.
There is an extensive entertainment program, with daily activities for children and teens and evening shows for adults and older kids.
The Hippocampe is more of a little village than a campsite. But don’t take my word for it: check out the Hippocampe for yourself.
Things to do in Provence: Must-See Villages and Towns
1. Visit an Authentic Provençal Village: Volonne
Provence has many beautiful villages. Some of these have existed since Roman times and many have not yet been invaded by tourists. Volonne is one of those truly Provençal towns, perched on a rocky hill overlooking the Durance River. As such, a visit to Volonne should feature on your list of things to do in Provence.
With winding alleys, tiled rooftops and stone homes connected to one another, you really do feel miles away from the fast paced, modern world.
A few shops, many cats, and about 1,600 people call Volonne home. In the earlier mornings, you can wander the streets and probably won’t run into another soul.
Volonne is not one of those tidy, pristine towns catering to tourists. Rather, it is crumbling and dirty in places. But that’s why it oozes so much charm and character.
2. See the Citadel & Aqueduct in Sisteron
Do not forget your camera when you visit Sisteron. This fortified medieval town, built at the foot of the Rocher de la Baume, is impossible to miss if you’re driving along the Napolean Route.
Sisteron calls for a quick photo break at the very least. If the 12th century citadel doesn’t make enough of an impression, the restored aqueduct over the Durance will be a definite show stopper.
3. Wander Around Château-Arnoux
Another adorable Provençal village is Château-Arnoux, across the river from Volonne. The hilltop town is actually one of the larger ones in the region with 5000+ residents.
In addition to finding a 16th century castle and a 17th century chapel, you’ll have access to many vibrant cafes and restaurants. Château-Arnoux is a great base for hikers, as several scenic trails depart the town centre and lead you into the hills.
4. Form Your Own Opinion of Marseille
Another one of the top things to do in Provence is to visit Marseille. Around the world but especially in France, the large port city of Marseille has a reputation of being fraught with gangs and violence.
However, I must say that I did not feel unsafe in Marseille. Last year, I went to this city for business and had a very positive experience.
Although I was apprehensive getting out of the train at the central station, I found a very clean, well-lit terminal. Walking from the train station to my hotel as a solo female traveler, no one paid much attention to me.
It was around 5 pm and the sun was still shining. I probably would not venture out after dark, but I wouldn’t do so anywhere on my own if I didn’t know the city.
I stayed within walking distance of the port and Cathédrale de la Major, pictured above. This major ‘touristy’ area was also very clean and safe, close to many hip restaurants and cafes.
I’m sure that Marseille does have many problems and like in all big cities, caution is advised. And there are definitely neighbourhoods I wouldn’t want to wander through. But do not let this city’s bad reputation dissuade you from discovering a historic yet modern coastal hub.
5. Soak Up History in Avignon
A day trip to Avignon, the City of Popes, should feature prominently on your list of things to do in Provence. From the 14th century to the French Revolution, Avignon belonged to the church and not to France.
It is one of only a few walled cities in the country to have survived and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Today, close to a quarter of Avignon’s population still lives in the old town surrounded by medieval ramparts.
Things to do in Provence: Sports & Recreation
6. Swim in the Gorges de la Méouge
When it comes to things to do in Provence, there is nothing quite like cooling off in crystal clear water. Especially in the summer.
The Gorges de la Méouge, only a short drive from Sisteron, may be a local secret. If you are staying close to Volonne or Sisteron and don’t want to spend 1.5 hours in the car to get to Verdon, you can simply venture over to the much closer Méouge Gorges.
The gorges consist of many little pools separated by smooth rocks. While I heard that sometimes the water is not as clear, we were lucky. We could see beneath the surface, down to our feet and to the tiny fish swimming around.
The pools were quite shallow, just deep enough for an adult to swim.
7. Try SUP on the Durance
Water sport enthusiasts can take their pick of aquatic activities along the Durance. The river is a haven for stand-up paddlers and kayakers, as well as wildlife watchers.
SUP is definitely one of the top things to do in Provence. I joined a sunset paddle tour organised by Durance Nautique and the Hippocampe for a 5 km wander up and down the Durance.
Although I was hardly able to stand on the board and ended up sitting most of the way, I loved my hour-and-a-half of leisurely paddling on the water.
Towards the end of the tour, we were joined by beavers. I definitely plan to try SUP again, and this time I will do my best to stand!
8. Find a Quiet Spot on the Shores of Lac de Sainte-Croix
The Lac de Sainte-Croix is the 3rd largest lake in France, roughly 10 km long and 3 km wide. While there are many cute villages on the water’s edge, they tend to get crowded. So make sure you visit either off-season or early in the morning.
We got lucky and found a secluded cove as we were driving around the lake. We had just stopped to take some pictures but spotted a dirt path and decided to follow it. This was probably one of the best decisions of our holiday. We were rewarded with a private beach, lapped by crystal clear water.
9. Go Rafting on the Verdon River
For those of you who are more into action sports than R&R, one of the unmissable things to do in Provence is to go rafting.
The Verdon River, flowing between tall cliffs, is a popular spot. While I did not go rafting, I watched the teams make their way down the river and decided to try it next time.
10. Strap On Your Hiking Boots
Provence is criss-crossed with hiking trails, some extending over 100 km and others only a few km long. Almost every village has a trail departing from – or going through – it.
The best times to hike in Provence are spring (April, May) and fall (especially September). Summer is scorching hot, so it’s best to avoid going on a longer trek.
We had a solid week of 35 degrees in mid-August, so going very far was out of the question. However, early one morning, I did venture along the Two Towers Trail in Volonne.
This took me up to the historic clock tower and watch tower, rewarding my efforts with panoramic views over the village, valley and beyond.
Things to do in Provence: Indulge in Food & Wine
11. Drink Rosé
When in France, do as the French, and indulge in a glass of Rosé with your meals. Rosé and Provence have a long joint history, with the first of these wines produced by the Greeks in the region over 2000 years ago.
In fact, Provence is considered the birthplace of Rosé as we know it. Today, more than half of the wine produced in Provence is of this variety – and 9 out of 10 French people say they enjoy drinking it.
I hardly had a lunch or dinner in Provence without a glass of Rosé and regret not bringing a few bottles home with me!
12. Eat Calissons d’Aix
These almond-shaped sweets are often associated with Provence and the town of Aix, although France and Italy disagree over who actually invented them.
Regardless, they are delicious, and have been made in Provence since at least the 15th century. Calissons d’Aix consist of an almond and marzipan filling, sandwiched between a top layer of icing and a very thin wafer.
You can buy them straight from the source in Aix or at any patisserie or grocery store.
13. Attend a Farmers’ Market
Due to the richness of the soil, almost anything can grow in Provence. As such, a strong farming culture thrives in the region still today.
It would be hard to find a village that does not boast its own farmers’ market, but several stand out and are known well beyond Provence.
The rural community of Velleron, just half-an-hour from Avignon, is considered a top 100 outstanding market in France (as nominated by the prestigious French Culinary Arts Council).
Year-round, tourists and locals alike can chat with farmers and purchase farm fresh produce, eggs, cheese, wine and more.
14. Try All The Cheese
You’re in France, after all, so one of the things to do in Provence is to try the local cheese! And as you would expect, Provence produces many types of cheese locally.
Given the proximity to the Alps, goat cheese is a particular specialty. While there are many types to try, you can always ask for a sample at a farmer’s market before you make a bigger investment.
Make sure you do get to sample some Tome de Provence though, which has been made in the area for thousands of years.
15. Tour a Vineyard
I can’t talk about things to do in Provence without mentioning a vineyard visit! You have the chance to sample and purchase wine right from the source. If you don’t know where to start, why not join a group tour and let the experts guide you?
Things to do in Provence: Ultimate Scenic Tours
16. Take a Picture of the Iconic Gorges du Verdon
This one goes without saying. While in Provence, you should visit the beautiful Verdon Gorge, also known as the Grand Canyon of Europe.
If you have a bit of time, you can rent a kayak and explore the turquoise waters of the gorge or opt for one of the hikes around the canyon.
17. Drive along the Route des Crêtes
If you like the canyon scenery of the Verdon Gorge, another one of the things to in Provence is to go for a ride along the Route des Crêtes. This very narrow road runs high above the Verdon River, affording sweeping views over the rugged mountain tops of the eponymous natural regional park.
The journey along the Route des Crêtes is not for the faint of heart! Hairpin turns greet you time and time again, but the scenery makes up for the goosebumps. The 24 km road starts off in Palud-sur Verdon.
18. See the Sunflower Fields
Driving on the backroads of Provence, you’ll be sure to come across the sunflower fields. I first noticed these seas of yellow along the D24 around Mison.
Unfortunately, as we visited towards the middle of August, the flowers were mostly faded. A quick Google search told me your best bet is to visit between June and early August to catch the flowers in full bloom.
19. Bring Home Some Lavender
Of course, one of the best things to do in Provence is to visit a lavender field. Again, June and July are the best months to see the purple fields. We were a bit too late, unfortunately.
As we drove past the fields around Valensole, we could still catch a whiff of lavender, but the purple buds were nowhere in sight. For this year, I’ll have to be content with my little lavender plant at home!
Things to Do in Provence: Getting Around and Seeing More
20. Rent a Car
Okay, renting a car is not necessarily an activity, but one of things to do in Provence that will make your trip much more enjoyable. As you will have gathered by now, Provence is a big region. While public transport does exist, it is very difficult to get to small villages and remote lakes or trails without your own means of getting around.
We drove down from Germany in our car, which has its own set of challenges, but were very happy to have unlimited access to a vehicle! The easiest way to see the most of Provence is, therefore, to rent a car (or bring your own).
21. Rent an E-bike
E-biking seems to be very popular in Provence and France in general. It is possible to rent an e-bike in almost every larger town. Just ask your hotel or AirBnB host for details.
Of course, e-biking makes it much more enjoyable to go longer distances at a relaxed pace. If you’re thinking about renting a “traditional” bike, just remember – there are lots of hills in Provence!
These 21 things to do in Provence are just the tip of the iceberg
But they should give you a good idea of what you can look forward to during your Provence holiday! I was awestruck by Provence’s beauty and would say it is on par with the French Riviera’s.
There are many things to do in Provence, but the ones listed here are my top recommendations. Let me know which activities you’re yearning to try!