The ancient Greeks left their vines, the Romans their monuments, but it was the 19th-century Impressionists who most shaped the romance of Provence today. Cézanne, Gauguin, Chagall, and countless others were drawn to the unique light and vibrant spectrum brought forth by what van Gogh called “the transparency of the air.” Modern-day visitors will delight in the region’s culture, colors, and world-class museums. And they will certainly dine well, too.
Provence, perhaps more than any other part of France, blends past and present with an impassioned pride. It has its own language and customs, and some of its festivals go back to medieval times. The region is bounded on the north by the Dauphine River, on the west by the Rhône, on the east by the Alps, and on the south by the Mediterranean. Provence’s topography varies starkly, from the Camargue’s salt marshes to the Lubéron’s lavender fields, and on to the vertiginous Alpine cliffs of Haute Provence.
That fabled real estate of Provence known as the French Riviera, also called the Côte d’Azur, ribbons for 200km (125 miles) along the sun-kissed Mediterranean. Chic, sassy, and incredibly sexy, the region has long attracted artists and jetsetters alike with its clear skies, blue waters, and carefree cafe culture.
A trail of modern artists captivated by the region’s light and setting has left a rich heritage: Matisse at Vence, Léger at Biot, Renoir at Cagnes, and Picasso at Antibes and seemingly everywhere in between. The finest collection of modern artworks is at the Foundation Maeght in St-Paul-de-Vence. Lesser-visited museums dedicated to Jean Cocteau in Menton and Pierre Bonnard near Cannes offer an equally vivid introduction to the Riviera’s storied art scene.
A century ago, winter and spring were considered high season on the Riviera. In recent decades, July and August have become the most crowded months, and reservations are imperative. The region basks in more than 300 days of sun per year, and even December and January are often pleasant and sunny.