Each resort on the Riviera, known as the Côte d'Azur (Blue Coast) -- be it Beaulieu by the sea or eagle's-nest Eze -- offers its unique flavor and special merits. Glitterati and eccentrics have always been attracted to this narrow strip, less than 200km (125 miles) long, between the Mediterranean and a trio of mountain ranges.
Tourism is the prime industry in Provence and the Riviera, with the majority of visitors clustering along the coast and leaving much of the vast hilly hinterland of Provence intact. Approximately five million people visit the Côte d'Azur in the summer months. While tourism brings employment to the area, it's mainly on a seasonal basis, with the summer months being the most crowded -- reservations are imperative in July and August. Many of the villages turn into ghost towns in the winter months, reawakening briefly to celebrate Christmas in colorful Provençal style. The average summer temperature is 84°F (29°C); the average winter temperature, 55°F (13°C).
Popularity, overbuilding of the coast, and the summer hordes descending on such cities as Avignon have made the region less desirable in parts, especially if you're driving behind long lines of cars in summer heat. The disposition of its citizens is a bit taxed by the endless tourist pressure and tempers can easily flare.
Unlike the overbuilt Côte d'Azur, Provence still has vast pockets of rural area, and, yes, old men today still play a leisurely game of boules on a hot afternoon under the shade of trees. And although hordes of tourists flock to the region -- especially in the summer -- Provence still hasn't been irretrievably spoiled, as many claim. The vast hilly hinterland of Provence remains relatively intact.
Some of the vast migration to Provence has been good. Many villages in nostalgic decay and depopulation have been rescued by the arrival of craftspeople and artists, including potters and weavers, who have saved buildings from total collapse. Summer residents from Paris and Provence-loving foreigners have poured new energy, vitality, and money into this corner of France. The flip side to this, unfortunately, is the number of maisons secondaires (second homes) that are left empty for much of the year. This can create animosity between some permanent Provence residents and newcomers, particularly those from the capital, as it becomes harder for locals to remain in the villages and towns in which they were brought up.
Like the rest of the world, Provence suffered some of the effects of the recent global economic crises, but not nearly to the extent of some of its European neighbors. Although prices for food and accommodation have risen rapidly in recent years, the number of tourists continues to swell. One area that has grown in particular is business and conference travel, with cities such as Cannes and Marseille hosting major conferences for many months of the year. Foreign investment continues, with multinational corporations setting up offices in the region's business parks, such as Sophia Antipolis near Antibes, a sprawling technology park about 10km (6 miles) northwest of Antibes, where blue-chip companies including IBM, Hewlett Packard, and Accenture have opened offices. As a result, the income from high-tech businesses and services is rivaling the amount brought in by tourism.
Marseille is the largest port on the Mediterranean, receiving nearly 100 million tons annually as well as countless cruise ships. It has been deigned the 2013 European Capital of Culture and will host a year of cultural events along with its Provençal neighbors Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Aubagne, Gardanne, Istres, La Ciotat, Martigues, and Salon-de-Provence. The city has been busy refurbishing many of its major art galleries and museums, most of which won't be open until 2013. Major regeneration projects have been announced too, including turning part of the Vieux Port into one large traffic-free zone.
Although many perceive Provence to be idyllic, the region is not immune to tensions between different ethnic groups, which flare up occasionally, but not as frequently as in the impoverished suburbs of Paris, for example. There is also a large underclass of third-generation North Africans that finds it difficult to be integrated into mainstream French society. The French government invited people from its former North African colonies to rebuild the country after the devastation of World War II, but treatment of its immigrant population hasn't been fair over the decades. Provence has generally been a conservative area, and this attitude has been exploited from time to time by far-right xenophobic political parties. One thing that unites most Provençaux, however, is their dislike of France's unpopular president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who at press time was running for re-election in France's 2012 presidential election.
Neighboring Languedoc is another compelling region of France sending out its siren call. Much of the landscape, cuisine, lifestyle, and architecture of Languedoc is similar to Provence. Today, Languedoc-Roussillon consists of the eastern region along the coast and up towards the Cévennes mountains, stretching from Carcassonne to Montpellier and taking in the area of Roussillon, which is French Catalonia. The capital, Montpellier, has one of the oldest universities in France as well as one of the youngest populations in France. The city continues to expand, with relatively new districts that were created in the 1980s and 1990s, such as the Corum, Antigone, and the Port Marianne neighborhood.
Like Provence, Languedoc has also experienced an influx of foreign buyers, although not nearly on the scale as seen in Provence. This has brought new dynamism to many of the smaller villages that were becoming depopulated.
Large numbers of locals as well as newcomers are involved in one of Languedoc's main industries: wine production. It's the world's largest wine region, and there isn't a single département that doesn't feature endless rows of vineyards. Languedoc used to have a reputation for producing vast quantities of inferior wine, but that has been changing in recent decades as winemakers focus more on quality.
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.