One of the reasons I love Marseille is it’s proximity to so many amazing towns & natural wonders! While I wouldn’t have enough info to write a detailed guide for each place, I thought I would do a little list for anyone traveling to the area that highlights towns I would recommend checking out..
We always have a car when we are there which makes traveling to the villages much easier, although some are accessible by train from Marseille. There are sooo many quaint little villages so I may expand this post eventually or write longer posts for specific villages. For my detailed Marseille city guide, please click here. ♥
The Camargue is a really interesting region in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages. We spent a day in the village of Aigue-Mortes which is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! You can also find wild pink flamingos as well as over 400 species of birds. Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting. While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night” (you can actually visit the cafe where he based his painting off of – I’ve read that the food is not great so you can go for the picture only!). We ate at this very cozy Spanish tapas place in Arles called Bodeguita.
Avignon is a must see – about an hour and a half from Marseille on the Autoroute. It’s larger than the other villages I’ve recommended (more of a city) and has quite a rich history as well as nice shopping & restaurants. The city center is walled so when you arrive there are large parking lots between the city and the river that is priced very reasonably and you are able to leave your car and walk in. Once inside the city, it’s easy to spend hours walking around exploring. Place de l’Horloge is great for strolling or people watching from a cafe. Rue de la Republic has a lot of French stores & international Boutiques – you can also find many shops selling local products and souvenirs. Les Halles d’Avignon in Place Pie is a large vine covered market with 40 stalls selling local and regional food & wine.
Avignon was briefly home to the Catholic church, and you can see evidence of that in the form of the grand Papal Palace that sits in the center of the city. The palace is colossal and you can simply walk inside or you can pay an entrance fee to tour the museum, which I would recommend. Avignon is situated on the Rhone river, and you can take a boat tour around the city which is a nice way to spend an hour or so. There is also the famous Pont Saint-Bénézet, the inspiration for the song Sur la Pont’Avignon. You pay a small fee to walk on the bridge, but you get a headset which tells you all about the history as you walk on it.
AIX EN PROVENCE/PUYRICARD
Every time I’m in Marseille I make at least a few trips to Aix, about a half an hour away on the autoroute. A large University town in the middle of gorgeous countryside with charming pedestrian streets, Aix is what I would picture/describe as a classic Provence experience and it is absolutely lovely in my opinion. Since we usually just drive in for the day or the afternoon from Marseille we haven’t needed to stay overnight much. There have been a few occasions though where we have needed to book accommodations, including a week stay with our friends in a luxury villa outside of Aix (that was AMAZING but unfortunately got sold and I’m not sure if the new owner rents it out!) and an AirBnB for my Grandfather right in the heart of the city that he thought was great.
Like most French and European villages, one of the best things to do in Aix is wander the streets. There are so many great shops (from luxury, to bargain, to local artistsans & souvenir shops) and great places to stop and eat or drink. A tradition for us is getting a slice of Pizza at Pizza Capri on Rue Fabrot- with takeaway slices as big as your head – you will not regret it! Walk by the Place d’Albertas – an old brothel but now a nice little fountain square where people hang out and there is sometimes live music. Rue de la Verrerie has a lot of bars and a good Kebab shop. There is a large market on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays that is not to be missed.
One experience I highly recommend it Chateau LaCoste – a beautiful winery/restaurant/museum outside of Aix in Puyricard. I’ve been here several times and the grounds are beautiful, the wine is great and they have a lovely terrace restaurant where it’s nice to get lunch or aperitif. There are also beautiful sculptures throughout the grounds and an art and architecture museum. During the summer they have movie showings on a large screen outside. It’s truly a wonderful place!
About a half an hour from Marseille along the beautiful (and winding!) Mediterranean coast. Cassis is a special place to me because I got engaged there, on the top of the Cap Canaille, which I highly recommend you visit for sunset. Cassis has more of a Riviera vibe being right on the sea and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the harbor where the people watching is excellent. Also there’s plenty of great boutique shopping in the village and there is usually a market in the Place Baragnon with art or different items depending on the day and time of year. There is a beach in the village, but if you feel like an easy hike you can visit my favorite calanque (see the Marseille post re: Calanques), Port Pin! There is a car park and a snack bar before the hike and it’s really not bad. The water there is gorgeous, just make sure you watch for jelly fish and you can because the water is CRYSTAL clear. You can also take a Calanque cruise if you prefer to see the Calanques by boat. If you decide to spend the night in the area, we stayed at a lovely B&B right after our engagement right outside the city center called Le Clos De Cigales.
About 40 minutes from Marseille, this charming little village is easy to visit for an afternoon. Do not get confused, as there are apparently 2 places in France called Le Castellet, but I am recommending this one! Perched and walled, you park your car at the foot of the village in a car park and walk up and into the pedestrian streets. There are plenty of little gift and artisan shops and nice cafes, and the view is amazing. If you want to make a day of this area, there are tons of vinyards around as it is in the Bandol wine region. Also – there is a feral (?) cat colony there so you will see plenty of them roaming around, sleeping on your car, and some may let you pet them!
One of France’s most picturesque perched villages, the breathtaking part of visiting Gordes will be your approach. Make sure to stop at the foot of the climb to the village and take photos! Once in the village it is mostly pedestrian and you will have your typical shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. It is very close to the famous Abbaye de Sénanque which you will most likely recognize as the church among the lavender fields in countless Provence posters, stock photos, etc.
ÎLE DE PORQUEROLLES
Lovely day trip from Marseille, drive to Hyères and you can take the ferry to this beautiful and virtually vehicle free island with a gorgeous beach. There are also dolphin watching excursions you can book from here, as well as biking, windsurfing, paddle boarding, etc.
LAC ST. CROIX/VERDON
The Gorges du Verdon are known as the Grand Canyon of France and are within 2 hours of Marseille. We rented kayaks with our friends during our summer group trip to Provence and had a great time paddling our way through the river running through the gorge. The water is a beautiful light green and there are plenty of caves and mini waterfalls to explore. It was pleasant and also a pretty good workout! There is also Lac St. Croix nearby which is a beautiful crystal lake with a beach where you can swim, camp and canoe. After our day of adventures we went to Sainte Croix du Verdon and had a magnificent dinner with a view overlooking the lake at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta I ate there, and the view was truly unbeatable.
If you’ve ever dreamed of running through the never ending lavender fields of provence like you see in all of the posters/stock photos, this is the place to go! Lavender is in season June-August so if you are visiting in the summer be sure to check it out. You can find sprawling acres of fields around the village of Valensole, where you will also pass numerous farms/shops selling lavender honey and various other deliciously scented goodies. You can pull off the road to take pictures in the fields, and trust me you WILL have company! There are also many bees flying around the fields but they seem to be really focused on the lavender blossoms vs. stinging unsuspecting tourists. We made the mistake of having our windows down the first time we drove through and had a few bees fly into our car, so maybe only crack your windows or put on the AC :). After some photo ops we drove to the village of Puimoisson and had dinner on the lovely terrace of Cote Soleil, a simple and lovely pizza/french food place there.
The Var is a department that is included in the Provence Region and borders Bouche-de-Rhone (where Marseille is located). It is home to some beautiful countryside and quaint towns, including the towns of Tourtour and Correns which we spent a few days exploring. We stayed with friends in Correns (fun fact: this is where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married at their winery Chateau Miraval) which was small & simple but was a great base for exploring the region. During our stay we visited Le Cascade de Sillons – an easy walk to a lush (and freezing) water hole where we had a lovely picnic. There is a gorgeous waterfall where brave travelers take the plunge and jump into the deep waters below. We went to Tourtour one day for lunch and it was such a charming village with amazing views of the valley below, shops , restaurants & a sprawling antique market.