* Sipping Pastis in Provence: Pastis is synonymous with Provence. This anise-flavored liquor is sipped at sundown on every town square, from Arles to the Italian border. Beware: The Provençal are seriously brand-conscious. Order a “51” if you want to look like a local, or a “Janot” for the region’s favorite organic offering. Impress the barman by ordering a tomate (pastis with a dash of grenadine) or a perroquet (literally a parrot, which is pastis with a splash of green mint syrup).
* Breaking the Bank at Monte-Carlo: The Casino de Monte-Carlo has been the most opulent place to have a flutter for over 150 years. Its creation, built in 1863 by architect Charles Garnier (of Paris Opera House fame), turned the tables for Monaco by transforming a provincial port into a world-class tourist destination. Expect frescoed ceilings and wealthy, well-dressed clientele from as far afield as China, Russia, and the U.S.
* Ogling the Pomp of the Pope’s Medieval Party Pad: Those medieval popes knew a thing or two about interior design. Avignon’s Palais des Papes, or Pope’s Palace, is a moneyed medley of Gothic architecture and vast banqueting halls. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape papal vineyards just north of Avignon still produce some of the most noted wine in France.
* Buying Your Daily Bread: That cute little boulangerie just down the street? Depending on where you are, there’s likely to be another—or several—a short stroll away. The daily baguette run is a ritual for many French people. Get your coins ready (one euro, give or take 10 centimes) and join the queue. To really fit in, ask for your baguette chewy (pas trop cuite) or crusty (bien cuite).
* Shopping at a Market: Markets offer one of the best ways to explore French towns like a local. We recommend the open-air market in Arles, one of Provence’s most authentic destinations. A colorful line of vendors sells olives, fresh bread, cheese, and local ham underneath the city ramparts, a few blocks from the town’s Roman amphitheater. Alternatively, French covered markets are time machines—visiting one is like taking a trip back through the centuries. Both Avignon’s Les Halles and Cannes’ Marché Forville offer high-quality artisanal treats to take home, like olive tapenade, as well as great things to snack on while you shop, such as vegetable-stuffed fougasse bread, Mara des Bois strawberries, and wedges of Cavaillon melon.
* Cycling in the Countryside: The country that hosts the Tour de France offers thousands of options for bike trips, all of them ideal for leaving the crowds far behind. You’re even welcome to take your bike aboard most trains in France, free of charge. For cycling through Provence’s vineyards and past pretty hilltop villages, check out Vélo Loisir en Luberon’s downloadable routes. (And if all that pedaling sounds too much like hard work, you could opt to rent an electric bike in Bonnieux instead! )
* Hunting for Antiques: The 18th- and 19th-century French aesthetic was gloriously different from that of England and North America. Many objects bear designs with mythological references to the French experience. France has some 13,000-plus antiques shops throughout the country. Stop where you see the sign antiquaire or brocante.
* Traveling First Class: France’s TGV rail network is arguably the world’s fastest. Yet these trains are not just high-speed. When routes are booked in advance, they’re wallet-friendly too. Throw in decor by Christian Lacroix and PlayStation Portables available to rent, and you’re looking at the classiest public transport on the planet.
* Discovering secret beaches between Monaco and Roquebrune-Cap-Martin: The Riviera’s rippling coastal path turns up plenty of hidden surprises. Head east out of Monaco, passing the Monte-Carlo Beach Hotel. The trail then meanders along the Mediterranean shoreline. Aleppo pines and fig trees part to reveal the tiniest turquoise coves. Be sure to pack your swimming suit.
* Staking out a private stretch of sand on the Iles de Lérins: The Iles des Lérins may lie just a 20-minute ferry ride from Cannes, yet these two car-free islands attract just a fraction of the visitors. Take a picnic lunch and a good book, and get ready to leave the crowds back on the coast.
* Rambling the Sentier des Ocres de Roussillon: Located in the heart of the Luberon, Roussillon once possessed some of the world’s most important ochre quarries. Today this landscape is just as brilliantly hued, and can be explored via a picturesque hiking trail.
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.