Last Updated on 21st August 2019 by Sophie Nadeau
Sparkling sea, winding roads and endless fields of Lavender: The countryside of Provence is easily one of the prettiest parts of France… Oh, and the Provençal towns? All cobbled lanes, shuttered windows, and pastel hues, the villages, cities, and settlements are easily as lovely as all of the green spaces, albeit in a different way. Here’s your complete guide to finding the most beautiful towns in Provence!
Thanks to its status as a land of mountains, coastline, Mediterranean Sea, and swathes of vineyard producing world-famous wine, the region of Provence has long been a favourite for holidaymakers and tourists alike.
For a full introduction to the region, check out my guide to one week in Provence. Otherwise, for those seeking a little inspiration, these books about Provence are sure to spark your wanderlust! Finally, read on to discover the delights you’ll surely discover should you choose to plan a trip to this area of Southern France.
A French Renaissance château overlooks a dreamy town. Paved with plenty of stone, the architecture of Lacoste town glows a warm orange in the evening sunlight. Situated in the Luberon, an area famed for its quaint hillside villages, this Provençal mountainside town overlooks the nearby village of Bonnieux.
Here in Lacoste, it seems as if time has stood still for many centuries. Little has changed for decades and wandering along the cobbled alleyways and narrow side streets feel akin to stepping back in time. And the oldest structure in the town, Maison Forte dates all the way back to the 9th-Century.
Many of the other buildings in the town date back to the 1500s, meaning that Lacoste is a must-see for any history buff. You can’t go wrong by spending at least an afternoon wandering these ancient streets. After all, there are a few cafés, brasseries and boulangeries to explore. For the ultimate Provence getaway, book to stay a little more time in this Provence town. Check the best Lacoste accommodation rates here.
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Fairytale pretty, the Provence town of Cassis looks like something straight out of a storybook. A seaside port town that’s functioned as such since Gallo-Roman times, the quaint little settlement is flanked on either side by rocky cliff faces. Commonly referred to as the ‘Calanques de Cassis’, these inlets and craggy peaks are the perfect place to spend the day hiking.
Within the Calanques de Cassis (which are quite barren due to the chalky nature of the soil), you’ll find little, hidden alcoves and beaches. As such, this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which also happens to be designated as a National Park is the perfect Provence destination to hike, swim, and even enjoy a picnic.
Even if you don’t feel like venturing into the mountainous areas of the Calanques, then Cassis itself offers plenty to see and do in the way of sites and activities. There’s an old town to explore, a port to see and local ice cream to be tried (a particular speciality flavour of the region is lavender). For an extra romantic weekend in the Provençal town, be sure to check out the best of Cassis hotels.
Once inhabited by the Romans, the town of Arles is full of culture and holds plenty of festivals annually. A must-see in Provence for any history buff, much of the historic city centre is dominated by the well-preserved remains of a Roman Arena, and several other Roman remains dotted across the city.
Located on the river Rhone, the Roman monuments here were listed as UNESCO world heritage sites in 1981. During the late 1880s, the Dutch painter Van Gogh lived here (he also lived and died at Auvers-Sur-Oise just outside of Paris).
During his time at Arles, van Gogh painted prolifically. In total, he produced over 300 paintings within the span of a few years. For more Van Gogh in Provence, you may well want to book this excursion from Arles. Otherwise, this two-hour private walking tour with a guide will give you a more in depth look at the Provence city itself.
La Chambre de Van Gogh à Arles, 1889
#4 Les Baux de Provence
The town of Les Baux de Provence is located in the very heart of the Alpilles Mountains, perched atop of a rocky outcrop. As a result, it offers spectacular views over the surrounding landscape. Often topping the lists of the most beautiful villages in France, this little town welcomes over 1.5 million visitors annually and is easily one of the best places to visit in Provence!
And that’s not all! There are plenty of eateries in town, including the rather delicious Raw Vegan restaurant of Les Baux Jus, as well as a few quirky museums, including a free-to-visit cultural space dedicated entirely to nativity figures.
Though you could elect to stay in Les Baux de Provence itself, it’s easy to explore the town in just a half-day. If you don’t have access to a car, then you can always book an excursion from Avignon to Les Baux de Provence like this one.
#5 La Ciotat
Sleep and tranquil, the little town of La Ciotat lies lazily by the sea. A hidden gem sitting on the Provençal coastline, this town lies a little off the beaten path. As such, it sees fewer tourists and offers a quiet space to wander, take photographs and enjoy traditional French cuisine.
The main town train station was the setting for one of the first ever movies created and is the birthplace of Boules (a game commonly played in Southern France). Due to its position along the coastline, there is no natural beach. Instead, a sandy artificial one has been installed alongside the clear, cool water.
No trip through France would be complete without a visit to some ruins of a medieval castle… and a visit to Provence is no different! The quaint town of Bargeme is small but still worth a visit, if only to see the remains of the once great Château.
The town sits at over 1900m above sea level and provides excellent views over the surrounding countryside. Its prominent position on the hillside, as well as its geographical location as the highest village in the Var department, meant that its castle was of great strategical importance during the 100-year war.
The medieval fortifications were sadly badly damaged during the war and never rebuilt. Today you can see the ruins of this once great château and imagine how it must have looked all those Centuries ago. The rest of the town’s architecture and lovely atmosphere means that Bargeme is regularly featured among the most beautiful towns and villages in France.
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The sun always seems to be shining in Aix-en-Provence… but that’s not the only reason it’s one of the most beautiful towns in Provence. Aix is home to just under 150,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest settlements in the area and the perfect place to book a Provence place to stay (check here for great accommodation in Aix).
Though Aix-en-Provence may be one of the largest towns in Provence, its cobbled lanes, and independent stores ensure that it still feels like your typical Southern French Town. Here, there are plenty of restaurants, museums, and markets to visit. There are bars which stay open late and vintage clothing stores. There are also plenty of churches and quirky architectural features to be discovered.
The town sits in the shadow of one of the largest mountains in the region, Mont Saint Victoire. From the city centre, it’s easy enough to take a bus out into the countryside to explore Aix’s surrounds. You can climb the mountain, or even wander one of the many vineyards which grow on its slopes.
In the past few centuries, famous writers and artists alike have often found a muse in Aix-en-Provence. Paul Cézanne, Émile Zola, and Ernest Hemingway were all inspired to create works based on their time in this lively, but beautiful, city. Aix also makes for a great base from which to explore the wider Provence region. Check here for the best Aix-en-Provence day trips.
Another Provençal hilltop village in the South of France region, Saint-Paul-de-Vence is like no other. After all, it’s the oldest town in the French Riviera. Filled with plenty of history, it’s easy to get lost in the charming streets and little alleyways that make up the town.
Of all the most beautiful towns in Provence, Saint Paul de Vence may well be the prettiest. Perhaps rather surprisingly, considering the town’s history, it’s also well known for its modern art museum and contemporary art galleries showcasing modern artwork. Even if you’re short on time, you can easily enjoy all that this pretty Provence town has to offer thanks to its close proximity to Nice.
Located in the Luberon and often named as one of the best villages in France, Gordes is well worth a visit on any trip to Provence. Situated to the east of Avignon, residents are referred to as ‘Gordiens’. The settlement has been occupied since as early as the Roman Empire, meaning that the town’s history is rich and varied.
Close by to the village, you’ll find one of the most Instagrammed locations in all of Southern France. Sénanque Abbey is close by to Gordes and was founded in 1148 by an order of Cistercian monks. The abbey’s location in the middle of a lavender field means that each summer the entire façade is covered with the sweet-smelling flowers.
A small town with little by way of attractions, Lourmarin is situated not far from Gordes in the Luberon. The cute Provençal town is best known for its chic eateries and trendy cafés. There’s also a 15th-Century castle to discover, as well as ample opportunity to take stunning photographs of both the quirky architecture and the incredible views the town has to offer.
Avignon was one of the very first towns I ever visited in Provence. As such, it holds a special place in my memories as somewhere I could easily return to again and again. There’s a French nursery rhyme about Avignon that’s almost as famous as the half-finished bridge that sits in the middle of the river here.
Fairly large and yet still quaint, the town of Avignon sits in the very heart of Provence, surrounded by mountains. Lying on the left bank of the river Rhone, was once home to a succession of popes. The site has been occupied since as early as the Neolithic Period and was home to the Romans. Even Emperor Hadrian visited the town at one point (as well as nearby Orange- home to the Original Arc de Triomphe).
Today, Avignon is bustling and busy, a reflection of its rich history. There are plenty of museums, galleries and chic eateries to discover. Although the population is similar in size to Aix-en-Provence, it has a completely different atmosphere and is filled with hidden gems.
The town also happens to be a great base from which to explore the wider Provence region thanks to its transport system and facilities to rent a car. Check here for the best accommodation in Avignon and be sure to check here for the best-guided tours from the walled and medieval city.
A hilltop village complete with a wine museum, Ansouis is your typical Provençal village. If you want a taste of the real Provence, then this is where you should head to! Artists Ateliers line the cobbled streets and there are plenty of little boutiques just waiting to be explored.
The cute town is complete with a 12th-Century Medieval Castle containing plenty of French Renaissance furniture. Though the castle is owned and managed privately, it’s occasionally possible to visit the interior. Other sites of historical interest in the town include a 900-year-old church and a minuscule museum.