30 Aug 2022

The top 8 towns and cities in Provence 



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Located in the south-eastern corner of France, Provence is a popular travel destination thanks to its balmy Mediterranean climate, beautiful scenery, historical landmarks, and its production of lavender, wine, and olives.   

And while picturesque villages with winding streets, vibrant lavender fields, and the sunny weather may come to the forefront when discussing Provence, there's so much more to discover in this historic region in the South of France.

From the stunning architecture and vibrant atmosphere of Avignon to the quaint charm of Aix-en-Provence, there is something for everyone in this beautiful part of France. Here’s our list of the top eight towns and cities in Provence. 

Our top eight towns and cities in Provence 

Located on the left bank of the Rhône River, Avignon is one of the best cities in Provence, well-known for its imposing 14th century palace, the Palais des Papes. The city is often referred to as the ‘City of Popes’ as the palace became the papal residence between 1309 and 1376, following a dispute between papacy and French crown, which eventually led to the death of Pope Boniface VIII.   

Avignon has so much to offer, from its many Renaissance-era churches to its lively markets and fascinating past. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site is one of the most popular destinations to visit in Provence. With its well-preserved architecture, the city is a must-see for any history buff.   

Avignon is also known for its vibrant nightlife and excellent cuisine – be sure to try the city's famous calissons, a type of almond candy, while you're here. 

Top attractions in Avignon: 

Palace of the Popes: One of the most important buildings in European Gothic architecture, this former papal residency was once the seat of Western Christianity and held six papal conclaves during its serving years. In 1995, the palace (along with wider Avignon) was declared a World Heritage-listed site by UNESCO for its historical importance and outstanding architecture.  

Pont du Gard: A marvel of antiquity, the Pont du Gard is the remains of an ancient aqueduct which once carried water from Uzès to Nîmes. The aqueduct, which features, marvellous arches, was built by the Romans over 2,000 years ago. At 50km long, and still in spectacular condition, the Pont du Gard is the oldest standing ancient bridge in the world.  

Musée Calvet: The Calvet Museum is Avignon’s premiere museum and gallery space. Here you’ll find collections and exhibitions from archaeology to the fine arts. The collections pay homage to Avignon’s interesting history and also draw influences from across the world, with a dedicated Egyptian collection.  
Marsielle, France Marsielle, France
Marsielle, France
The most populated of Provence’s cities (and the second-most populous in France), the city of Marseille is known for its beautiful port and lively atmosphere. Now a cosmopolitan hotspot filled with galleries, theatres and museums, Marseille has a long and illustrious history, and is home to France’s oldest and largest harbour.  

Founded by the Greeks in 600BC, and later coming under Roman rule, Marseille was once an important port trading city. But more than that, Marseille has always been an epicentre for culture and learning – most notably during the Renaissance era.  

Those travelling to Marseille will want to pay a visit to Vieux Port, the Old Port of the city. This is where you’ll feel the true atmosphere of the city, taking a walk to the fish market, or watching the nearby boats. You’ll find a plethora of cafés, restaurants, bars, and shops around the port, meaning you’re never short of things to do in the hub of one of the best cities in Provence; Marseille.  

Top attractions in Marseille 

Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde: Known to the locals as ‘Bonne Mère’, this Catholic cathedral is probably the city’s most iconic landmark. The basilica is built on the foundations of an ancient fort and lies on the highest natural point in Marseille.  

Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure: The Cathedral of Sainte-Marie-Majeure is located just outside of the city’s centre. This striking structure was the only cathedral to be built in France during the 19th century and has space for up to 3,000 people inside. Its Byzantine-style architecture makes this cathedral truly stand out on Marseille’s skyline.  

Château d'If: Located on an island just off the shore of Marseille, Château d'If is a fortress and former prison. The prison can be found on Île d'If, the smallest island in the Frioul archipelago, just under a mile from Marseille. Château d'If has held famous prisoners not only in real life, but also in fiction, with the fort being the backdrop for the iconic work of Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo. 

3. Aix-en-Provence 

One of the region’s largest cities, Aix-en-Provence (pronounced ‘ex-on-prov-ons') is often referred to as the capital of the region. Known for its fountains and flowers, the city is also home to the prestigious University of Provence, making it one of the best cities in Provence to visit if you're interested in learning more about the region's history and culture.  

This historic city is renowned for its beautiful architecture and is home to many famous landmarks, such as the Palace of the Counts of Provence. Aix-en-Provence is also a popular destination for shopping, with its many designer boutiques and antique shops.  

Enjoy a walk through one of the city’s many cobblestone boulevards and picturesque squares, dotted with striking buildings and quaint cafés.   

Top attractions in Aix-en-Provence:  

Cathedral of the Holy Saviour: Built on an ancient Roman forum, this Aix cathedral is a fine example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. A Roman Catholic church, this is the seat of the Archbishop of Aix-en-Provence and Arles.  

Church of St. John of Malta: Situated at the corner of rue d'Italie and rue Cardinale, Église Saint-Jean-de-Malte was Provence’s first Roman Catholic church, built in the 13th century. Here, you’ll find beautiful and historical stained-glass window art completed by several Aix artists in the 19th century.  

Musée du Vieil Aix: Anyone looking to learn more about Aix’s history should pay a visit to the Museum of Old Aix, which is housed in the 17th century Hôtel Estienne de Saint-Jean. Visitors will learn all about the Provençal capital’s history through collections of furniture, sculpture, and miniature scenes. 
Arles is a small city located in the Rhône delta, and despite its small size, Arles has a long and rich history. Today, it’s one of the best cities in Provence for art lovers and history buffs alike.  

Arles was once an important Roman outpost and is home to many well-preserved Roman ruins, such as the Amphitheatre of Arles. Arles is also famous for its association with the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh, who lived and worked here for a time.   

Thanks to its well-preserved Roman ruins, Arles is also a UNESCO World Heritage-listed city, and these landmarks are not to be missed when visiting.  

Top attractions in Arles:  

Arles Amphitheatre: This Roman amphitheatre is one of the most prominent attractions in the city, which saw large popularity throughout Roman rule. Dating back to 90AD, the amphitheatre once held chariot races and gladiator-style battles for crowds of up to 2,000. The structure is now a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site as part of the Arles, Roman and Romanesque Monuments group.

Baths of Constantine: This Roman bathing complex dates back to the 4th century, built in a former palace, Palais Constantine. Visitors will find the remains of the baths are well preserved today, taking you on a fascinating journey into Arles’ Roman past.  

Musée de l'Arles Antique: This archaeological museum hosts a large collection of antiquities, art and sculptures showcasing the Roman influence on the city. The museum itself is housed in a modern building designed in 1995 by Peruvian architect Henri Ciriani. 
Sénanque Abbey, Gordes Sénanque Abbey, Gordes
Gordes is one of the most beautiful villages in Provence. Built entirely of stone, Gordes sits atop a hill, offering stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Situated in the Luberon mountain range, this village is home to only 2,000 people.  

Those wishing to explore the village and see the views can take a walk up to the castle or take a hike up the mountain. For a more relaxing experience, visitors can explore the shops or enjoy a meal at one of Gordes’ many restaurants. If you're interested in history, there are a number of museums and historical sites to visit here. The village is also home to a number of art galleries.   

Gordes is a beautiful village with plenty to see and do. Whether you're interested in history, hiking, or simply want to relax in a beautiful setting, Gordes is the perfect destination.  

Top attractions in Gordes:  

Abbey of Sénanque: Located nearby to the village of Gordes, this small abbey is flanked by a picturesque backdrop of lavenders fields, giving visitors a true taste of Provence.  

Village des Bories: This open-air museum just west of Gordes showcases around 20 dry stone huts. These huts date back to the 18th century and once served as outhouses for agricultural workers. This deserted hamlet is a glimpse into Provence’s past.  

Le Château de Gordes: This Provençal castle was built in the 11th century and was rebuilt again 500 years later. Now well restored and well preserved, the castle showcases a mixture of architectural styles from the Middle Ages and Renaissance era and has since been declared a historical monument. 
Promenade des Anglais, Nice Promenade des Anglais, Nice
Promenade des Anglais, Nice
Nice is the capital of the French Riviera and one of the most popular tourist destinations in France. It's known for its beautiful beaches, stunning Promenade des Anglais, and its many museums and art galleries.  

Revered for its mild climate, beautiful scenery, and friendly people, Nice has a long history dating back to the Roman Empire. When it comes to food, Nice is certainly one of the best cities in Provence to explore. There are a number of excellent restaurants, cafés, and bakeries, and Nice is also home to the famous French dish, ratatouille.  

Whether you're looking to relax on the beach, amble the city, or experience the French culture, Nice has something to offer everyone.   

Top attractions in Nice: 

Promenade des Anglais: One of the Mediterranean’s most famous promenades, this walkway stretches almost 4 miles along the coast of Nice. A stroll along La Prom (as it is known to locals) is a great way to take in all the views that the city has to offer.  

Opéra de Nice: This is the city’s principal opera house, where you’ll also find performances of ballet and classical music. Originally formed out of wood in the 18th century (under the name Théâtre Royal), the building was later bought by the city of Nice and rebuilt and has featured many stage premieres throughout its history.  

Basilique-Cathédrale Sainte-Marie et Sainte-Réparate de Nice: Construction on Nice’s Catholic cathedral began in the 17th century, and the building features beautiful Baroque decorative elements. The cathedral is the seat of the Diocese of Nice and is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Reparata. 
Antibes is a chic resort town on the French Riviera. It's known for its sandy beaches, luxury hotels, and art galleries. Picasso spent time in Antibes and even painted a mural while he was here.  

The town of Antibes is built on a hill that rises from the Mediterranean Sea and its Old Town is surrounded by medieval walls. Antibes has a long history spanning all the way from Greek rule to the Counts of Provence before being annexed by France in the 13th century.  

Antibes is home to some of the best Provençal bakeries, and travellers shouldn’t miss out on the chance to try sweet treats such as colourful macarons.  

Top attractions in Antibes:  

Picasso Museum: Located in the Grimaldi Castle in Antibes, the Picasso Museum opened its doors in 1966. The castle was Picasso’s studio for a short time in 1946. Picasso completed a number of works during his time here and, on moving back to Paris, he left 23 paintings and 44 sketches in the custody of the castle which now form part of the museum’s collection.  

Antibes Old Town: Antibes’ medieval quarter is not to be missed, with its fortified walls and enchanting cobblestone streets. Taking a walk through the Old Town offers the opportunity to take in stunning sea views and visit small boutiques and cafés.  

Fort Carré: Standing 26 metres above sea level, this 16th century fort provides 360° views of Antibes below. The fort, located on the peninsula of Saint-Roch, once served to protect Antibes as a sentry post.
Cannes, France Cannes, France
Cannes, France
This lovely city by the sea has long been a popular destination for travellers from all over the world. Situated on the French Riviera, Cannes is known for its mild climate, beautiful beaches, and luxurious lifestyle. With its lovely weather, stunning scenery, and wealth of things to do and see, Cannes is sure to please visitors of all ages.  

The city is home to the annual Cannes Film Festival, one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. But being one of the best cities in Provence, Cannes has so much more to offer, from its chic shops and restaurants to its stunning beaches.  

Visitors to the city will enjoy the many sights and sounds of Cannes, including the Promenade de la Croisette, a beautiful tree-lined promenade that runs along the coastline, and the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the site of the Cannes Film Festival.   

Top attractions in Cannes:  

Palais des Festivals et des Congrès: This is where the Cannes Film Festival is held each year, and during the festival, you’ll see movie stars and filmmakers coming from across the world. While the festival is not running, you’ll still be able to pay a visit to the Palais and take a walk down the iconic red carpet-lined steps.  

Vieux Port: Cannes’ Old Port is the best showcase of the city’s Mediterranean scenery, backed by the azure waters of the French Riviera and dotted with hundreds of boats and yachts.   

Promenade de la Croisette: Another of the French Rivera’s stunning coastal walkways, this boulevard features ocean views and is home to many of the city’s prominent buildings (such as the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès), as well as luxury boutiques, bars, and cafés.

Plan your Provençal escape with Emerald Cruises

As European river cruising and luxury yacht cruising experts Emerald Cruises is delighted to offer a number of itineraries throughout Provence and along the French Riviera.

Download your free brochure and begin planning your French getaway today! 

A luxury river cruise brochure featuring multiple images of river cruising. A river cruise ship infront of the hungarian parliament building, the mekong river and a quintessential European town and river on the cover
A luxury river cruise brochure featuring multiple images of river cruising. A river cruise ship infront of the hungarian parliament building, the mekong river and a quintessential European town and river on the cover

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