|Provence: an overview|
|Attractions Around Marseille|
|Attractions beyond Marseille|
|More Places of Interest|
Page 1 of 4Sunshine, the scents of lavender and thyme, the tangy tastes of olives and wild strawberries, the dazzling sight of the blue Mediterranean and ochre-coloured villages are all just part of what makes Provence a feast for the senses. Like the open-air markets that move from village to village, there is an ever-changing array of things to see and experience.
For visitors who are ancient history enthusiasts, there is a wealth of evocative ruins to explore stemming from the days when Julius Caesar claimed to explore the region. Superb examples of Roman theatres, baths, amphitheaters, mosaics, and villas still stand in a remarkable state of preservation in such cities as Arles, Fréjus, Orange, and Vaison-la-Romaine. Today some of these theatres and amphitheaters are still in use as venues for cultural festivals, bullfights, and concerts.
Art lovers can gaze at the sunflower fields that inspired Vincent Van Gogh, who painted in tortured frenzy while living in Arles, or explore the picturesque harbour of St-Tropez which Pointillist Paul Signac immortalised on canvas. The life and times of Paul Cézanne are recounted in Aix-en-Provence, where the artist was born and did much of his work.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure of visiting Provence lies simply in exploring its abundance of enchanting villages that dot the hillsides through the region. Among the many are Roussillon, built almost entirely of red sandstone; l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, known for its canals and antique shops; and Ménerbes, the setting for author Peter Mayle's best-selling book A Year in Provence. Many of the towns and villages feature wonderful outdoor markets, the most famous of which is the Friday market in Carpentras. Shoppers will find tables laden with such treats as marmalades, fresh herbs, olives, nougat, truffles, and fruits and vegetables of all kinds.
With its own distinctive Mediterranean-inspired cuisine that emphasises tomatoes, peppers, and olive oil rather than butter or cream. Local dishes to try include daube (a savory beef stew), roast lamb, pistou (a basil-infused vegetable soup), tapénade (an olive and anchovy spread), and bouillabaise (the classic fish soup from Marseille served with croutons and a garlicky sauce called rouille). Among the many fine red wines of the area are Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. The regional aperitif is pastis, an anise-flavoured liqueur diluted with water.
The 2,600-year-old capital of Provence is Marseille, France's most important seaport and the largest one in Europe, after Rotterdam. Long a magnet for immigrants, the city has a diverse ethnic population from around the Mediterranean basin, West Africa, and Indochina. The city boasts a rich assortment of museums, ethnic restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. The calanques are deep narrow inlets cut into the limestone cliffs along the coast between Marseille and the tiny charming port of Cassis, about 20 miles south-east.
Marseille's most intriguing area is the Vieux Port, situated at the lower part of the main street called La Canebière, where ships have docked since the time of Greek mariners around 600 B.C. Locally born author Marcel Pagnol in his classic trilogy of books, Marius, Fanny, and César, immortalised the lively waterfront with its bars, cafés, and open-air fish markets. Filled with fishing craft and pleasure boats, the Vieux Port is flanked on each side by two imposing fortresses built by Louis XIV, Fort St-Nicolas and Fort St-Jean.
To the south of the Vieux Port is Place Thiars, a square with late-night restaurants and cafés. North of the harbour is Le Panier, a former red-light district which is now a picturesque enclave of narrow streets and old houses. Its centre piece is the Centre de la Vieille Charité, which began as an elegant poorhouse and now houses two excellent museums.