Whether you're cruising the clifftop roads, sunbathing on the beaches or browsing the weekly markets, Provence and the Côte d'Azur are sexy, sun-drenched and seductive.
Two thousand years ago Provence was part of Roman Gaul, and the Romans left behind a fabulous legacy of monuments, structures and buildings – not to mention some of France's first vineyards. The area is littered with Roman remains, including an amphitheatre in Arles, a theatre in Orange, many bridges including a fine one near Bonniuex, and even whole towns near St-Rémy de Provence and Vaison-la-Romaine. Factor in a collection of prehistoric sites, medieval abbeys, elegant churches and art deco buildings, and Provence begins to feel like a living history book.
It wasn't just the scenery that drew artists like Rénoir, Chagall, Cézanne and Picasso here: it was the light, described by Matisse as 'soft and tender, despite its brilliance'. Whether you're gazing over a glittering seascape or watching a fiery sunset in the hills, a trip around this corner of France feels like stepping straight into an impressionist canvas. And with such a rich artistic legacy, it's no surprise that the region is home to a wealth of iconic art collections, not to mention studios where Van Gogh, Cézanne and Renoir worked.
Provence and the Côte d'Azur are made for explorers. One of the joys of travelling here is touring the back roads and soaking up the stunning variety of landscapes: fields of lavender, ancient olive groves, clifftop roads, maquis-cloaked hills and even snow-tipped mountains. It's home to France's deepest canyon, oldest road and some striking mountain passes, all a dream come true for drivers. And then there's the Mediterranean itself, a bright mirror of blue reflecting back craggy cliffs, white beaches and endless skies. Take your time – getting there is half the fun.
Flavours of Provence
Wherever you end up in Provence, you certainly won't go hungry. Food is a central part of French life, but in Provence it becomes an all-consuming passion. Dominated by the hallowed ingredients of Mediterranean cooking – olive oil, wine, tomatoes and garlic – the region's cuisine is guaranteed to be a highlight, whether that's savouring a simple bowl of soupe au pistou, trying candied fruits near Apt, tasting the season's first-press olive oil on a local farm, or indulging in a full-blown bowl of bouillabaisse in a bistro on Marseille's harbourside. Bon appetit.