If you’re looking for a sensational experience, Provence in southern France will not disappoint. With its seemingly never-ending lavender fields, its sun-drenched landscapes, a rich diversity of wildlife and mouth-watering delicacies from the region’s olive groves and vineyards, it is a real feast for the senses. It is also rich in heritage, with Roman remains, castles, churches and synagogues to be explored. Whether your priority is breath-taking landscapes, history and culture, or good food and wine, here are seven stunning places in the Alpilles and Camargue regions of Provence which offer something for everyone.
Birdwatching in the Camargue
The Camargue is a vast wetland in the Rhone River delta and the large numbers of different bird species that live there make it a Mecca for bird-watchers. Listen and watch out for various species of egrets, herons, spoonbills, kingfishers and the bird for which the area is most famous, flamingos. In December and March, the flamingos put on quite a show as they perform their elaborate mating dance and display their beautiful new plumage. Some may also enjoy watching the local cowboys as they roam the delta on horse-back!
The annual Gypsy pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Every May, Gypsy communities travel to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer from all over Europe and beyond to worship their patron saint, Sarah the Black. Legend has it that in the 16th century, St. Sarah arrived from Palestine with Saints Marie-Jacobé and Marie-Salomé, the two patron saints of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The statue of St. Sarah normally lives in the crypt of the local church of St. Michael but on 24th May each year, the whole community heads down to the sea with the statue, symbolising the anticipated arrival of Saints Marie Jacobé and Salomé. One young Gypsy woman is selected to represent St. Sarah and when the procession reaches the shore, men on horses gallop into the sea with her, along with the accompanying crowds. The festival is a vibrant celebration of Gypsy faith and culture. Throughout the week, the streets, squares and beaches are filled with Gypsy campsites and the town pulses with an incredible party atmosphere day and night.
The ancient streets of Arles
To the north of the Camargue lies the city of Arles. Explore the ancient Roman ruins (including the amphitheatre) and follow in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh, who depicted Arles in many of his paintings. Stroll through the quaint streets and enjoy people-watching from one of the village squares. Arles hosts one of the biggest farmers’ markets in Provence, which is popular with the locals. Hunt down a stall that sells a local speciality such as gardiane de taureau (beef stew).
The setting of van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Saint Rémy-de-Provence
St Rémy-de-Provence is a picturesque, bustling town in the north of the Alpilles, surrounded by fragrant lavender and poppy fields. It is the birthplace of Nostradamus (you can even visit his house) and where van Gogh painted his masterpiece The Starry Night. Breathe in the aroma of the famous Herbes de Provence and visit the popular farmers’ market if you’re there on a Wednesday.
A medieval fortress in the ‘valley of Hell’, Les Baux-de-Provence
Not far from Saint Rémy in the hottest part of Provence – and this may be why it is also known as the Val d’Enfer (‘valley of Hell’) – this medieval fortress is one of the real wonders of Provence. The village enjoys a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains, with stunning views. Stay for sunset and watch in awe as the landscape becomes drenched in yellow, orange, pink and purple.
Wine-tasting (and an underground cathedral) at Château Romanin
Many wine connoisseurs will agree that Provence sets the benchmark for rosé wine and one of the region’s best vineyards is just a short drive from the village of Baux. This magnificent and unique vineyard is known for producing some of the finest wine in Provence. Nestled in the heart of the Alpilles, the ancient Château Romanin and its modern cellar are protected by an underground cathedral which was carved out from the rock. After a scenic hike through the vineyards, head underground for wine and olive oil tasting in the cellar.
French cooking in Eygalières
Eygalières is one of those little French towns that one might stumble upon on the way to somewhere else, but it is well worth a visit. Away from the crowds, it’s the perfect place to find some peace and quiet with its lovely paved streets, old stone houses and the Alpilles mountains providing a stunning backdrop. Visit the farmers’ market, do a cooking class with a local chef and finish off the day with a glass of wine and a delicious cold meat and cheese platter on the terrace of one of the local bistros.
Our Tours of Provence – Just For You!
All of our personalized tours are tailor-made just for you, giving you the flexibility to pick and choose the places and activities that you would like us to include in your tour. We hope that you feel inspired to experience the wonders of Provence for yourselves. Here are some examples of the tours of Provence that we offer; please contact us if you have any questions or if you would like us to arrange a tour for you.