Although France’s 547,030 sq. km (211,209 sq. miles) make it slightly smaller than the American state of Texas, no other country has such a diversity of sights and scenery in such a compact area. Even the relatively small regions of Provence and the French Riviera—less than 300km (187 miles) from east to west—range from the Rhône’s fertile Camargue wetlands, across the Lubéron’s rippling vineyards, and on to the south’s shimmering Mediterranean coast. Perhaps even more noteworthy are the historical and contemporary cultural differences that define each territorial area.
Destinations in Provence and the French Riviera are within easy reach of each other. French National Railroads (SNCF) offers fast and comprehensive service to Avignon, Aix, Marseille, Cannes, Nice, and pretty much every town in between. Speedy Trains à Grande Vitesse (TGV) connect most of the region’s bigger cities, while slower Transport Express Régional (TER) chug along quieter tracks, often stopping at every heartbreakingly picturesque town en route.
You can motor along thousands of miles of Southern French roads, including a good number of well-maintained superhighways. But do your best to drive the secondary roads too: Nearly all of the region’s scenic splendors are along these routes.
Despite Provence and the French Riviera’s petite size, it still holds true that if you truly want to get to know this part of France, you’ll probably have a more rewarding trip if you concentrate on exploring two or three areas at a leisurely pace rather than racing around trying to see everything! To help you decide where to spend your time, we’ve summarized the highlights of each region for you.
Provence -- One of France’s most popular destinations stretches from the southern Rhone River to the Italian border. Long frequented by starving artists, la bourgeoisie, and the downright rich and famous, its premier cities are Aix-en-Provence, associated with Cézanne; Arles, famous for bullfighting and Van Gogh; Avignon, the 14th-century capital of Christendom; and Marseille, a port city established by the Phoenicians that today is the melting pot of France. Quieter and more romantic are villages such as St-Rémy-de-Provence, Les Baux, and Gordes. To the east, the Haute Provence region is home to Europe’s “Grand Canyon,” the Gorges du Verdon. To the west, the Camargue is the marshy delta formed by two arms of the Rhône River. Rich in bird life, it’s famous for its grassy flats and such fortified medieval sites as Aigues-Mortes.
The French Riviera (Côte d’Azur) -- The resorts of the fabled Côte d’Azur (Azure Coast) still evoke glamour: Cannes, St-Tropez, Cap d’Antibes, and Juan-les-Pins. July and August are the most buzzing months, while spring and fall are still sunny but way more laid-back. Nice is the biggest city and most convenient base for exploring the area. The Principality of Monaco only occupies about 2 sq. km (3/4 sq. mile) but has enough sights, restaurants, and opulence to go around. Along the coast are some sandy beaches, but many are pebbly. Topless bathing is common, especially in St-Tropez, and some of the restaurants are citadels of conspicuous consumption. Dozens of artists and their patrons have dappled the landscape with world-class galleries and art museums.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.