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Visiting Provence in Autumn

October 4, 2019

“The South of France” is a hugely popular summer destination among travelers worldwide. Dreamy flower fields, aqua coastline and festivals – what’s not to like? Huge crowds and expensive prices for one.

This is where I offer you an attractive alternative: Autumn in Provence.

I really enjoy traveling in this region during the shoulder season of late September, October and November. The crowds are smaller, hotels are lower priced. Also, it’s easier to book last minute and the weather is still pretty beautiful! In fact, my water-loving husband has been known to take a dip in Marseille’s gorgeous Calanques as late as October!

My first trip to Provence was in November of 2011. Since then I’ve spent several more years exploring the region and enjoying it’s autumnal charm…

wall at vineyard in provence with colorful ivy

Getting There

The most centrally located airport to the Provence Region is the Marseille/Provence Airport (code: MRS). The recently renovated airport is a low key base to fly in and out of.

Flights from the US tend to route through another major European city like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, etc. The airport is also serviced by several European budget airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling and EasyJet.

Transportation

I think it’s essential to rent a car for exploring the small towns in Provence. I suggest you rent it online beforehand via a site like KAYAK to get a better rate. Also FYI for my American friends, we have found also that for some reason when we rent it from a United States IP address we get a lower price!

Weather & What to Pack

Just for reference, here is a breakdown of the average temps for Marseille in the fall months:

Month Average High/Low (Fahrenheit)  Average High/Low (Celcius)  Days of Rain
September 78° / 61° 25.5° / 16.1° 3
October 70° / 55° 21.1° / 12.7° 6
November 60° / 47° 15.5° / 8.3° 5

As you can see, it’s pretty mild weather. So, a daily uniform of jeans, comfortable walking shoes or boots, tops that can layer, scarves and a light leather or jean jacket. You can pack a heavier coat but honestly I’ve never needed one, even in winter.

I made the mistake of choosing fashion over comfort during my first trip to Provence and tried to walk around cobble stoned villages in heels! Please save yourself the pain and opt for a flat or chunky heeled boot or walking shoe. Also make sure to pack sneakers or hiking boots if you plan on taking advantage of the beautiful trails. If you are visiting in September or October you can even optimistically throw a bathing suit in your suitcase.

Looking out over the Mediterranean at the Cap Canaille

Taste All The Wine

In my opinion you can’t miss the vineyards in the South of France in the autumn months. Even if you’re not a big drinker or wine connoisseur, the landscape and scenery alone is worth a day of touring around. Trust me, driving through the beautiful Plantane tree tunnels with their changing golden leaves is a magical experience you will not forget. Of course, it does help if you like wine (and have a reliable DD)!

There are basically two wine regions that are easy to visit from here:
Provence and the Rhone Valley.

Here is a comprehensive guide to the wine regions included in Provence. Personally, I enjoy the Bandol, Cassis, & Aix en Provence area (this includes my absolute FAVORITE vineyard Chateau LaCoste), particularly for rosé and white wines.

If you travel a bit north towards Avignon into the Rhône Valley you will find the prestigious region of Chateauneuf du Pape which is well known for it’s reds. You can visit the little town there and as you drive along the countryside roads you will pass vineyard after vineyard.

The Luberon region (within the Rhône) is also filled with vineyards – we had a great experience staying at Chateau Perreal, a vineyard with vacation rentals onsite (this is pretty common).

(From Top Left: Rosé at Chateau LaCoste, Foliage in Chateaneuf de Pape, Outside Chateau Perreal in the Luberon, Pool at Chateau Perreal at sunset.)

Visit Fairytale Towns

It’s no coincidence that painters like Van Gogh and Monet used the South of France as a consistent subject. The towns and landscapes here are right out of a painting! Speaking of Van Gogh, the town of Arles is home to the cafe that was the subject of his famous “Cafe Terrace at Night” and is worth seeing.

Other favorite towns in the region that are gorgeous during fall are Gordes, a postcard perfect perched village, Isle Sur La Sorgue, a tiny town filled with canals and antiques, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a small hamlet with a “magical” natural fountain at the top of a hill. Honorable mentions include: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Les-Baux-des-Provence, and Lourmarin.

The great thing about these towns is that a lot of them are close together so you can knock out several in a day, making the most of your vacation! I’ve put them on a google map you can reference below:

Also the larger cities of Aix en Provence and Avignon are worth spending at least a day visiting. Aix is great for shopping and Avignon is great for history (the immense Papal Palace there was the seat of the Catholic Church from 1309 to 1376).

Featured Post: My Favorite Spots in Provence

(From Top Left: Arles, Isle Sur La Sorgue, Aix en Provence, Walking in the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, The Pool at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, View of Gordes from outside the town)

Really Get to Know Marseille

I think Marseille is a completely underrated French city and you could spend days or weeks exploring it. If you are limited on time though, you can definitely get to see a lot of the main sites (Vieux Port, Notre Dame de la Garde, etc) in a few days.

I’ve written a large guide to visiting the city which includes all my favorite spots and you can find here, and an Instagram Guide to Marseille’s best photo ops here.

Featured Post: Why You Shouldn’t Skip Marseille

(From Top Left: Marseille’s Vieux Port, The funky Cours Julien Neighborhood, a street in the Panier Neighborhood).

Enjoy the Amazing Nature

This region is RICH in beautiful nature and scenery. For example, one of my favorite things to do here is visit the Calanques, a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, however it is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time.

There are also plenty of options for hiking, one being the Mont Saint Victoire at the outskirts of Aix en Provence. This resource provides guides to other options in the area with detailed info on length, time and difficulty.

(From Top: Port Miou Calanque near Cassis, View of Marseille from the Mountains, Mont Sainte Victoire.)

Time to go!

In short, there are honestly so many activities to do in the South of France in the fall! Basically it’s hard to go wrong when planning your trip. I hope you consider visiting during this beautiful time and that this guide is a helpful starting guide to creating your perfect itinerary.

Bon voyage!

France Provence Travel

My Favorite Spots in Provence

October 27, 2018

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. ♥

AIGUE-MORTES/CAMARGUE

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

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!

CASSIS

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.

LE CASTELLET

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!

GORDES

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.

VALENSOLE/LAVENDER FIELDS

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.

Lavender fields near Puimoisson

THE VAR

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.