In Provence, most things revolve around food. The rich soil and warm sun provide a perfect basis for fantastic produce, and the breeze is faintly scented with wild herbs such as thyme, lavender and rosemary. Here you spontaneously invite your friends to dinner with slow-cooked stone oven-grilled young rooster and here you enjoy a glass of cool rosé wine in the shade of an olive grove. For rosé wine is what flows in Provence's veins. Rosé wine accounts for 80% of the wine production in Provence and everywhere over the hills the red vines wind seemingly endlessly.
Wine has been made in Provence since the Greeks founded the city of Marseille 2600 years ago and since then many great men have conquered and lost Provence. However, it was the Romans who gave the province its current name – nostra provincia – our province. Provence's long history has left its mark and the area is full of thousand-year-old cities, ruins, castles, bridges and aqueducts. But it is probably the Provençal landscape that is the greatest attraction of them all, even though Van Gogh and Cezanne have painted this landscape in several priceless paintings. 300 days of sunshine a year, sunflower and lavender fields, sweet Mediterranean beaches, deep valleys and colorful food markets leave imprints on the cornea that can make the grayest November day burst into sunshine.
We went to Provence for a wedding and took the opportunity to stay a little longer and explore the area around Marseille. We found cozy towns, lovely beaches and the occasional olive grove.
July and August are the most beautiful months for sun and swimming in Provence, but the beaches are often packed and it can be difficult to find parking spaces and available hotels. The tourist season runs from April to mid-September and then many restaurants and hotels close, but Provence offers pleasant daytime temperatures and plenty of sun both in spring and autumn. During the winter, the temperature can drop to minus degrees at night.
TRAVEL HERE AND AROUND
There are several major airports in Provence. The easiest way to fly to is from Stockholm Marseille to get to Bouches du Rhône-region, but also Nice can be an option for cheap plane tickets.
The great asset of Provence is to go around the small mountain villages, enjoy the beautiful landscapes and find the perfectly cooked swordfish in a small harbor town. Many people get around Provence by bicycle and there are plenty of alternative routes to the main highways. Car is of course the convenient option, although France is not adapted to cars in terms of parking spaces and size of cars. Expect that a rental car that is considered "large" in France is like a small rental car in the USA and or a mid-range car in Sweden.
It can be a bit tricky to find accommodation in Bandol or Sanary-Sur-Mer during the summer months. There are hotels all along the coast, but July and August are popular months that often sell out well in advance. We rented a wonderful stone house with a fantastic location up in the hills of Bandol, overlooking the sea and with a large terrace where we enjoyed many breakfasts and dinners. There are many apartments and houses that are rented out by private individuals in the area, but be a little vigilant and check the landlord before paying too much money in advance. The cost of our large two-story house with 8 beds was approximately 3000 kronor per night, which is affordable if you can share the house with some good friends.
Aix en Provence
It is no wonder that Aix en Provence is usually called the "city of a thousand fountains", because no matter which little alley you wander down, it always ends in a fountain. The most famous fountain is the big one La Rotonde, which is behind Cours Mirabeau. Cours Mirabeau is one of the most popular places in Aix and here famous artists like Paul Cézanne and Emile Zola hung out in cafés when they weren't painting the irresistible lavender fields or villages nearby. Because in Aix you like to hang out for a few days. The city is known for its natural hot springs, rich history and culture, many museums and long pleasant dinners in the southern French sun. Here in one of France's richest cities, the sidewalks are well-kept on the many pedestrian streets and no wilted flowers are to be found in the many flower beds.
The Great Cathedral – Cathedral Saint-Sauveur d'Aix - is a French national monument that began to be built in the early 12th century on ancient Roman ruins. At the end of the 12th century, Aix became the capital of Provence and the exploding population meant that the cathedral was not enough. The cathedral subsequently underwent several reconstructions and it was not until the 16th century that the cathedral got the look it has today.
I Atelier Cezanne takes you back to the famous artist's studio from the end of the 19th century, in the well-preserved apartment in the center of Aix. Here are objects that can be recognized from some of his still lifes and everywhere in the city you walk in his footsteps. At the tourist office you will find a guide to the places in the city where Cezanne influenced history.
Sanary is located in a protected bay surrounded by hills and beautiful beaches between Marseille and Toulon, with a beautiful and lively fishing port and nice restaurants on the harbor promenade. Despite all these alluring features, Sanary is far from its cousins Nice and Cannes in terms of tourism. Here you walk with the locals and buy goods directly from the fisherman or the small market in the harbour. There are no high-rise hotels here. Just classic lovely France. Without tourists.
Marseille is one of France's oldest and largest cities, founded as early as the 600th century before Christ. Europe's second largest port is located here, and the city is known both for being industrial and for its beautiful location on a dramatic stretch along the Mediterranean coast. Viex port (old harbour) are cozy quarters in the middle of town with restaurants, fish market and the fort Sint-Niklaas. At the fish market you will find all the fish needed for the city's most famous dish – Bouillabaisse. An authentic Bouillabaisse is prepared with at least 6 different types of fish and served with a garlic mayonnaise with saffron.
Other attractions in Marseille are the old town with its narrow streets. Here you will find the city's symbol Basilique Notre-Dame de La Garde, which is strategically located on top of a high hill and Chateau d'If with its prison known from Alexandre Dumas' book The Count of Montecristo.
In a sheltered bay lies the lovely little town of Bandol. Here, the golf courses are conspicuous by their absence and despite the fact that there is a small casino in the middle of the city, the glamor factor is low. Here, the beaches and the fantastic location attract. During the summer months, the roads after the coast are full of parked cars and the beaches are full of holidaying French people enjoying the cooling Mediterranean sea and the tranquility far from the big city.
Around the sandy slopes of Bandol, Mourvèdre grapes are grown, which after a couple of years of aging give wonderfully full-bodied wines with aromas and flavors of dark berries, vanilla, leather and cinnamon.
The well-protected medieval village Le Castellet is a nice day trip from the coast of Provence. On a high cliff overlooking vineyards and olive groves, the village is protected by high walls. The streets are made of cobblestones and the alleys are filled with small restaurants and galleries. On the top of kullen is an old church from the 12th century and a castle from the 15th century.
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