Of course Paris is wonderful and many people find themselves unable to move beyond that great city – but there is a world beyond Paris that is also wonderful. Many areas of France are beautiful and beguiling but Provence in the south-west has a magical allure that you might never want to leave.
The provincial capital of the region is Aix-en-Provence, thought by many visitors to be the loveliest, most charming town in all of France, with its quaint streets and squares. Everywhere there is the splashing of the many old fountains and the wide sidewalks with their busy, colorful cafes offer plenty of opportunity to relax and watch the passing throng.
South-west of Aix is the Provencal region, unique for its special light and aromas, the scented air coming from the lavender fields all around. The flowers are used in the vast perfume industry of France and the mauve flowers are widely grown here where the warm sun releases the scent into the air. The special light quality of Provence was adored by the artist Van Gogh and he chose to paint there, especially around the town of Arles.
Arles, on the bank of the river Rhone, was established by the Romans and much of their durable architecture remains; they built a bullring there that is still in use for its original purpose. This is a lovely old town and the countryside around it is equally beautiful.
The Camargue is unique within Provence: it is an area set on the salt marshes of the Rhone delta, home to gypsies and wild horses. The picturesque town of Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is on the coast, surrounded by wide plains and vast skies where the famous Camargue cowboys watch over the wild horses and bulls. In this town each year the gypsies with their music and folklore traditionally congregate and hold their annual parade.
A sense of the historical past pervades Provence and nowhere more than in the city of Avignon where a vast 13th century palace was once the home of popes and the medieval character is still to be felt. The bridge of the famous song, “Sur le Pont d’Ávignon” is still partially there. Many medieval buildings create this memorable city, with an atmosphere like no other.
Not far from Avignon and very near the city of Nimes, [which has a 1st century AD Roman temple] is the astonishing Roman aqueduct over the river Gard, the Pont du Gard. This beautiful piece of architecture dates from about 50AD and is still in remarkable condition, standing 160 feet above the river.
Provence is a richly lush area of vineyards, ancient olive groves and fields of flowers and its southern Mediterranean coast, the Cote d’Azur or the Riviera is a magnet for holidaymakers. Although it tends to be crowded, especially in summer, the Riviera with its glamorous cities of Nice and Cannes is a fabulously lovely part of Provence.
Like all regions of France, Provence has its own unique cuisine, one that is acclaimed and reproduced worldwide with such dishes as bouillabaisse or a daube; if you were able to cook some dishes yourself, an added delight would be a trip to the colorful and aromatic local market to select ingredients for your masterpiece.
Provence is truly like another country within France, a land of perpetual sun where winter troubles nobody; a magical land of blue sea, quaint hill towns and hamlets of cobbled streets that lead only to more charming views.
When you reluctantly leave Provence, you will undoubtedly experience a deep longing to return; but you can bask in the knowledge that it is always there, waiting for you as you plan your next visit.