The French region of Provence and Côte d’Azur is a feast for the senses. With gorgeous landscapes overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the region is best known for its rich history, delicious cuisine, olive groves, lavender fields, rolling vineyards, and, of course, the famous French Riviera.
But it is the region’s many beautiful villages that really make Provence so delightfully enchanting. It is the provençale way of life in these tiny picturesque villages, with their daily markets, little shops and café terrasses that really attract visitors.
In addition, the surrounding landscape is absolutely beautiful, with old, traditional farm houses painted in a variety of pastel colours. From villages perched high in the hills like Gordes, to other towns villages tucked away, there is something to explore around every corner.
The region has warm climate with dry hot summers and mild winters. Whether you’re looking for a romantic weekend getaway or a weeklong excursion with your family, Provence is the perfect place to visit all year round.
So let’s take a look at the top villages and towns to visit in Provence, shall we? Allons-y!
1. L’Isle sur Sorgue
If there is any town that epitomizes provençale charm, it is Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The commune is an arrondissement of Avignon, about 20 miles (33km) from the old fortress town.
It is known for being one of the largest antique markets in Provence. Each Sunday, more than 500 antique and brocante dealers from across France and Europe descend on the pretty village to sell their vintage wares and collectibles.
Even if you don’t want to buy any antiques, the town is full of cafés, provençale souvenir shops, and artists’ galleries, all bursting with life and activity. With plenty to do in the area, there are many reasons to make a stop in this special town.
Where to stay in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
- €€€ – Hotel Les Nevons
- €€€€ – Grand Hôtel Henri – Les Collectionneurs
- €€€€€ – La Maison sur la Sorgue – Esprit de France
Officially recognized as one of the plus beaux villages de France (meaning one of the “most beautiful villages in France”), Gordes a tiny gem of a town that attracts quite an exclusive clientele.
The village of Gordes is in a stunning location on a clifftop and offers some expansive views of the valley below. The village itself is tiny and much of it is built on a slope.
With a 5-star hotel in its midst known as the Bastide in Gordes, this is a town that tends to attract the wealthy, looking for a getaway that can last all summer.
Where to stay in Gordes
- €€€ – Mas des Romarins, The Originals Relais
- €€€€€ – Airelles, La Bastide de Gordes (with amazing views of valley below)
St. Rémy de Provence is just 50 miles (80km) from Aix-en-Provence and is one of the most beautiful towns in all of France. With its pastel-colored buildings and cobbled streets, it’s definitely worth a visit.
It is also famous for being the place where Vincent Van Gogh lived, albeit under rather odd circumstances.
From 1889 to 1890, Van Gogh was a patient at the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and it is here that he painted some of his most memorable works, including The Starry Night, which actually features St. Remy. In the old town of St. Rémy is the Musée Estrine, dedicated to Vincent van Gogh and his works.
Where to stay in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
The following hotels are within walking distance to the town center of St. Rémy de Provence:
4. Les Baux-de-Provence
Les Baux de Provence has been named one of the “plus beaux villages de France“, with an impressively large Château, pedestrianized village, and more.
In addition to the village, it is also famous for its light show, the Carrières des Lumières is. Ancient quarries that were used to dig out limestone for construction, have been taken over by a digital art studio.
The art exhibition projects the imagery of famous artists like Picasso and Van Gogh on these centuries old walls, of what is classified as a “Site naturel classé” (listed natural site).
You can take a tour to the Carrières-des-Lumières from Avignon and read more about visiting Baux-de-Provence and the Carrières des Lumières here.
Where to stay
Baux-de-Provence is quite small, so I recommend staying in St. Rémy de Provence which is 5 miles (8km) away.
Perched on a hill, near the Gorges du Verdon is the charming town of Moustier-Sainte-Marie which has also been recognized as one of the “most beautiful villages in France”.
The village was founded by a group of monks in the 5th century, who built a church there, high on the hillside.
There are many small shops selling local artisanal products as well as a couple of small art galleries you can wander through. With beautiful views of the valley below, there are also several great restaurants offering local specialties to have lunch in rather exquisite surroundings.
People from all over flock to this beautiful part of Provence, which has managed to retain its charm and village feel in a fast-paced world. There are several tours visiting the village from Nice and Aix-en-Provence. You can read more about visiting Moustiers-Sainte-Marie here.
Where to stay in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
In Moustiers, you can either stay at one of the small hotels directly in town, or one of the larger hotels just outside of town.
If you do decide to stay outside of town, the one thing to note is that after dinner it is a rather dark 5-10 minute walk back to your hotel.
- Outskirts of town:
- €€€ – La Ferme Rose-Hôtel de Charme
- €€€€ – La Bastide De Moustiers – Les Collectionneurs
About 40 miles (65 km) from Aix-en-Provence, you will come across orange and yellow ochre hills of an old quarry, surrounded by the lush greens of the forest. Nearby sitting atop a hill is Roussillon, the town officially recognized as one of the “plus beaux village de France“.
The town sits atop the hill, and its lower part is lined with all sorts of artisan shops. The main commodity here is pottery and pigments.
There are several organized tours that visit Roussillon and the nearby lavender fields from Avignon and nearby Aix-en-Provence. You can read more about visiting Roussillon here.
Where to stay in Roussillon
7. La Ciotat
About 22 miles (35 km) away from Marseille is the small seaside town of La Ciotat. The town has a rich sea-faring history dating back to antiquity and contains some stunning examples of 18th-century architecture.
La Ciotat is known for its beautiful marina and its walks along the harbor. It is a town that doesn’t take itself too seriously, making it an ideal place to visit during summer vacations.
The town’s big claim to fame: the site of the world’s first cinema by the famous Frères Lumières. These days tourists flock to it for its outdoor markets and nearby beaches that among some of the best in the French Riviera.
Where to stay in La Ciotat
Depending on your preference, you may prefer to stay near the center of town or near the beaches on the east end:
With ancient buildings made of stone, the lovely little village of Venasque feels like it belongs to another era.
Perched on a rocky edge of a cliff, it is about 24 miles (38 km) from Avignon. It has been officially recognized as one of the “plus beaux villages de France” (one of the most beautiful villages in France), welcoming thousands of visitors every year.
When the sun is shining, this little village is a stunning place to visit, with its medieval stone buildings and historic church.
Where to stay
I would recommend staying in the village next door, Gordes which is slightly bigger. It is about 10 miles (16km) away, with equally lovely views of the valley. Crucially, it has more cafés and restaurants for visitors, while keeping that same village feel.
Right next to seaside cliffs of the Calanques and Marseille, is the small seaside town of Cassis. It is a stunning place full of beautiful pastel architecture with houses perched on hills, vibrant flowers, and gorgeous beaches.
If you intend to visit the Calanques, there are boats leaving from Cassis as well, that will visit different Calanques than the ones leaving from ones near Marseille.
The French Riviera is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world.
With its glistening waters, beautiful coast, and the attractive towns that line it, it’s easy to see why this place is so popular. You can read more about visiting Cassis here.
Where to stay in Cassis
If you wish to stay in Cassis, parking can be quite a hassle so I recommend staying within walking distance of all the main sights and attractions:
Lourmarin has been labeled “une des plus beaux village en France” (one of the most beautiful villages in France) to visit.
The village owes its existence to its strategic location near a route to Aix-en-Provence, around the Massif of Luberon. Aix-en-Provence has always been a bustling town due to its natural thermal springs, so the route to Aix needed to be defended.
A fortress was built in the area in the 12th-century to protect that route, and gradually the village around it expanded to what it is today, with a population of approx. 1000 people.
There is a beautiful château in the village to an exhibition to French philosopher and writer Albert Camus who lived in area for several years. Along with bustling cafés and small boutiques, this is the quintessential French village in Provence.
Where to stay in Lourmarin
About 30 miles (50km) from Nice, lies the French capital of luxury perfume. Grasse is a small town in Provence, that has become an international leader when it comes to scents and perfumery.
And even if you are not into perfume, this little town in the south of France, with its pastel buildings and colorful shops will undoubtedly leave you with a smile on your face. With its lovely town center perched on a hill, it is a wonderful day trip from Nice.
There are a number of perfume museums and workshops where you can learn about the history of this beautiful industry. There are several tours you can take from Nice to visit Grasse and its perfume workshops. You can read more about visiting Grasse here.
Where to stay in Grasse
There are not many hotels in Grasse, Les Passiflores B&B is a great value for the location right outside the Old Town.
€€€ – Les Passiflores
A little further east than La Ciotat, you have the small town of Bandol which is about 35 miles (55 km) away from Marseille along the coast.
Overlooking the Mediterranean, you’ll find Bandol with its beautiful sandy beaches, and coastal hiking trails to make an excellent holiday destination. It captures all of the charm and culture of the quintessential south of France.
The town plays host to some of the most stunning beaches in the area with plenty of entertainment nearby, including a casino. In addition, you could go hiking, swimming, or boating in the area, as the natural parks that surround Bandol are quite unspoilt.
Where to stay in Bandol
Most people have never heard of the village of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in Provence. And they don’t know its connection to Mary Magdalene, and her years in France.
Located about 87 miles (140 km) away from Nice, this is reputed to be the town that Mary Magdalene is buried in.
Provençale tradition recounts that she arrives in France in a broken-down little boat with Lazarus, Maximin, Mary Salomé, and their servant Sara. From there she is said to have gone to Marseille, and converted the locals to Christianity.
Where to stay in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume
I highly recommend staying at Hotel le Couvent Royal. It is a convent that directly adjoins the Basilica and is almost as old. Today it is a hotel that you can stay in, for very reasonable rates.
Located around 37 miles (60 km) away from Marseille’s Vieux Port, Sanary-sur-mer is famous for its daily markets which were voted the most beautiful markets in France in 2018 by TF1, a major national French television station.
The markets sell everything from fresh seafood, to local specialties like lavender and olive oil, as well as other souvenirs that can easily survive in luggage to take back home.
Slightly smaller than La Ciotat and Bandol, it also has plenty of small boutiques and cafés to enjoy.
Where to stay in Sanary-sur-mer
About 10 miles (16 km) from Nice near the Italian border, lies the leafy suburb of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It is a tiny, Mediterranean peninsula nestled between Nice and Monaco that was once modest fishing village.
Today, however, it is better known as an enclave for billionaires and a lovely stop for tourists visiting the French Riviera.
There are two major trails that meander around the Peninsula. The longer at 6 km, is a cliff-top Tour du Cap path which hugs the coast, affording views all the way to Cannes on one side, and Italy on the other.
Then there’s the shorter, but no less beautiful, walk around the Pointe Saint-Hospice. Starting just a few steps away from the port and village, this 2 km trail winds around Saint-Jean’s other, smaller headland.
It is very easy to get to the town and its surrounding area, whether by car, taxi, or public transportation. You can read more about visiting Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat here.
Where to stay in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
- €€€ – Boutique Hotel & Spa
- €€€€€ – Royal Riviera
- €€€€€ – Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat (the hotel of the rich and famous)
Glitzy Saint Tropez may seem to be quite a change from middle-of-the-road Nice and gritty Marseille, but in reality it is merely a few miles in between the two.
If you are looking for a luxurious beach holiday that will help you relax and enjoy life, the small town of Saint Tropez is the place to be.
Now, the real glamor of Saint-Tropez is the nightlife and the people you meet. It is a party town, and just walking through its streets on a simple day trip, may not help you get to know this luxury enclave, compared to staying at least 1-2 nights.
Where to stay in Saint Tropez
Located on the outskirts of Nice about 5 miles away, Villefranche-sur-mer has a lovely beach, a harbor, and a maze of narrow winding alleys.
It is a favored beach escape for local residents, as well as being a village with a ton of charm. In all, an obligatory stop for tourists visiting the area.
The waterfront promenade leads to the most popular beach in the area, known as Plage des Marinières.
Villefranche’s Saint Elme Citadel is a fortification structure overlooking the Bay of Villefranche and is a more than just a pleasant area to stroll. Nowadays it houses the town hall.
There are also a few museums you can visit. However, it is the views from the Citadel that are truly spectacular. You can read more about visiting Villefranche-sur-mer here.
Where to stay Villefranche-sur-mer
You can’t go all the way to Provence and not have some fabulous French wine.
And one of the most famous is Châteauneuf du Pape AOC which is one of the most popular French wines sold around the world.
The village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is about 10 miles (16km) away from Avignon, and there are many tours that will take you to visit the vineyards.
The name translates to “Pope’s new castle”, and it is named for the castle that was built in the area by the Avignon Popes as their summer residence. The actual village and vineyards of Châteauneuf du Pape are about 25 minutes away by car (such distances took longer to cover back then!)
Only the facade of the castle remains these days, but the village itself is quite charming and surrounded by vineyards.
There are several tours (with wine tastings) leaving from Avignon, which I highly recommend, especially to avoid drinking and driving.
Where to stay
I recommend staying in nearby Avignon or if you prefer the small town feel, in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Tourrettes-Sur-Loup is a charming hill-top village in Provence, known for its violet confectionery and artisan shops. It is easily accessible from cities on the Mediterranean such as Nice, Cannes, and Aix-en-Provence.
Located about 17 miles (27 km) away from Nice, this medieval city is quite a world away. The village is renowned for its arts and crafts artisans, like weaving, pottery, paintings, sculptures, jewellery, crystallized flowers, candied fruit, organic goat cheese, etc.
It is also known for growing violets and making various souvenirs and products from them, such as perfume, candied violets, and even ice cream. You can read more about visiting Tourrettes-sur-Loup here.
Where to stay in Tourrettes-sur-Loup
This charming medieval village doesn’t have a lot of hotels, but there are other lovely accommodation options right in the heart of town.
The small town of Eze is about 7 miles (12 km) away from Nice. According to legend, this small provençale village received its name on behalf of the Egyptian goddess Isis.
There is an Egyptian cross in the local church that was said to initially be a temple. It was said to be erected in her honor by those who colonized these lands from across the Mediterranean.
Check out the views from the Jardin Exotique, and wander down its cobblestone streets.
There are plenty of small shops and restaurants in the small village and make your way to Château d’Èze. You can read more about taking a tour from Nice to Eze here.
Where to stay in Eze
21. Fontaine de Vaucluse
The Fontaine de Vaucluse is not actually a fountain. It is a natural spring, and one that is considered the 5th largest in the world. And it is about 22 miles (35 km) from Avignon.
And the this makes the tiny village of Fontaine de Vaucluse one of the most popular with tourists in the region.
Located in at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains, between the towns of Saumane-de-Vaucluse and Lagnes, this little corner of the Natural Park of Lubéron gets thousands of visitors every year.
The spring itself is situated at the feet of a steep limestone cliff 230 metres high, and has an annual flow of 630 million cubic metres. It is a beautiful area, with a few provençale restaurants dotted all around.
You can take a tour from Avignon that will bring you to Fontaine de Vaucluse and read more about visiting Fontaine de Vaucluse here.
Where to stay
The vibrant seaside town of Antibes is about 17 miles (28 km) away from Nice. With beautiful beaches, a Picasso museum, and several small festival events held around the year to attract visitors, Antibes is a lovely place to visit.
This is also where the super rich arrive to park their yachts in relative anonymity, compared to the fish bowls of Saint Tropez and Monaco.
Visit Port Vaughan, walk along the Sentier de Tirepoil and head to Cap d’Antibes for some of the most beautiful seaviews of French Riviera. You can read more about taking a tour from Nice to Antibes here.
Where to stay in Antibes
23. Saint Paul de Vence
Known as the town that the rich and famous flock to, the small village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence is about 12 miles (19 km) away from Nice. Once catering to Pablo Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre, it still attracts a high-end clientele looking for fun in the sun.
One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, it is known for its modern art museums and galleries like Fondation Maeght, and for the 17-century Chapel Saint Charles-Saint Claude. You can read more about taking a tour from Nice to Saint Paul de Vence here.
Where to stay in Saint-Paul-de-Vence
- €€€ – Le Hameau (in outskirts of village)
- €€€€€ – Hotel Le Saint Paul (in village center)
Compared to its neighbors, Gréoux-les-Bains doesn’t have the charm and the beauty those popular tourist attractions, but what it does have is several luxurious spa resorts right at its doorstep.
Located about 35 miles (55 km) from Aix-en-Provence is a town that originally grew around its natural hot springs.
Today is now one of the biggest spa resort towns in France, overtaking Aix-les-Bains in the Rhône Alps, and Aix-en-Provence when it comes to attracting spa-goers. You can read more about visiting Gréoux-les-Bains here.
Where to stay in Gréoux-le-Bains
For the full spa experience, the best thermal spas hotels in the area include:
- €€€ – Hôtel des Alpes
- €€€ – Club Vacances Bleues Domaine de Château Laval
- €€€€ – Villa Borghese
- €€€€ – Le Mas de La Crémaillère
So have you decided where you are going to go? If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about the local foods and drinks specialties in Provence. A bientôt!