Le Tour de France – Part Two, Provence & The Camargue

Continuing my touring ideas for France, not by bicycle but by road and rail (see my stage one post for Côte d’Azur).


Also accessible from Nice, a better gateway is Marseille, especially as you can now get a direct train there from London. You can read about my journey and stay in the great city here.

Marseille Saint Charles Station Steps

Marseille Saint Charles Station Steps

Marseille is very big and can be a little stressful, but still offers all that you would expect from a large city such as great restaurants and wonderful churches, as well as having some very nice coastal areas to relax in. If you go in autumn or winter make sure you have a bowl of their signature dish of Bouillabaisse (fish soup to you and me).

Marseille, France

View from our AirBNB balcony in Marseille

For authentic Provence, head first for the nearby much smaller city of Aix-en-Provence.

Aix is a very pretty place and well worth a day or two stopover to chill out, enjoy the al fresco cafe and bar culture and visit the lovely cathedral and cloisters.

Aix-en-Provence, a leafy square

Aix-en-Provence, a leafy square

Provencale goods for sale, Aix-en-Provence, France

Provencale goods for sale, Aix-en-Provence

Cloisters at Aix-en-Provence Cathedral

Cloisters at Aix-en-Provence Cathedral

The best thing about Aix though is its proximity to the villages of Provence, those of a Year in Provence fame and the equally famous Abbaye de Senanque.

Think lavender fields, picture perfect villages adorned with a riot of colourful flowers, scented wild herbs, soothing fountains, eclectic art galleries, charming boutiques and gift shops that shout ‘spend your money’ at you. The word idyllic was invented for these small settlements.

We went in June and barely saw another car on many of the minor tree-lined roads that connect les villages beaux.

Road in Provence, France

Provence Road – One Tractor = Busy!

Our particular favourites amongst a strong list were Gordes, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Lourmarin and Saignon. I will let the pictures do the talking…..

Villages of ProvenceVillages of ProvenceVillages of ProvenceVillages of ProvenceVillages of ProvenceVillages of Provence, GourdesVillages of Provence

Villages of Provence, Fontaine de Vaucluse

Villages of Provence

The villages are easily doable in a day or two, however lingering, browsing and long lunches are highly recommended.

The Abbaye de Senanque adorns a multitude of biscuit tins, bookmarks, mugs, posters and postcards.

We spurned the pricey guided tour and just lapped up the familiar scene.

Abbaye de Sénanque, Provence, France

Abbaye de Sénanque

The Natural World Of Provence

As well as all of the man-made wonders, there are a couple of natural jewels within a couple of hours of Aix that are well worth the effort to get to.

The Verdon Gorge is Europe’s largest and you could easily spend a few days exploring the area. We went en route between Cannes and Aix, but met a few travellers in campervans who were doing just that.

The drive up the hairpin bends to the summit of the gorge were spectacular enough and we were further rewarded with stunning views of the gorge and the winding river within it.

The Verdon Gorge, Provence, France

The Verdon Gorge

We stopped in several places to take in the breathtaking scenery and having seen many photos on-line since, it is clear that there are many more that we missed. It was a choice of Left Bank or Right Bank as we did not have time to do both. The Left won out, perhaps meaning we need to return to do the rest.

The Verdon Gorge, Provence, France

The Camargue

Head west from Aix and you will get to The Camargue, France’s premier national park. The area is vast and a paradise for ramblers, climbers, serious hikers, flora and fauna watchers and all sorts of activity sports. Bordered by the Mediterranean on one side, the area is a real natural wonderland.

We satisfied ourselves with a lovely picnic (Boursin with fig on crusty baguette is to die for!) and a visit to the bird sanctuary. As a (extremely) part time twitcher, I was beguiled by the flamingos, herons, storks and egrets.

Sitting ducks they may have been, but this did not stop me snapping away in search of the perfect pink pose!

Bird Sanctuary, The Camargue, France

Bird Sanctuary, The Camargue, France

Proud Stork Mum!

Bird Sanctuary, The Camargue, France

Flamingo Divas!

Bird Sanctuary, The Camargue, FranceBird Sanctuary, The Camargue, France

One comment

  1. […] of Avignon, you can also use it as an alternative base for the alluring villages of Provence (see Le Tour Part Two for details) or the famous wine growing region of Côtes du Rhône topped by the daddy of them […]

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