Forget Philadelphia, it actually is always sunny in Provence! Well, almost! One of the most beautiful regions in the south of France, Provence has an unfair amount of things to boast about. With the balmy Mediterranean climate of the Côte d’Azur/French Riviera, glamorous beach resorts, vineyards and lavender fields to rival the Loire Valley, incredible historic monuments, world-class food, and some of the most naturally stunning countryside in Europe, summer in Provence is as close to paradise as it gets.
Here are some of the things you need to see if you’re planning to spend your summer in this beautiful corner of southern France.
For a reminder of the Roman Empire’s reach
Why you’ll love it: The Pont du Gard aqueduct is the most-visited ancient monument in France! This exquisite structure dates from antiquity and stands as one of the best-preserved Roman sites in the entire world. It took over 1,000 men 5 years to construct this colossal structure, weighing almost 50,000 tonnes. In use as an aqueduct until the 6th century, Pont du Gard was a toll road in the Middle Ages, then a road bridge from the 18th to 20th century. In 2000, the ancient beauty was restored to its original condition, minus the fleets of Romans in their sandals.
Step inside the atmospheric underground museum on the Pont du Gard’s left bank and relive the eye-opening story of how the aqueduct was built. Learn about the structure’s importance back in Roman times via virtual reconstructions, movies, and exhibitions. Who says a summer in Provence can’t be educational too?
For the Gothic grandeur of it all
Why you’ll love it: There are palaces, and then there are palaces. This massive monument is the largest Gothic building in the world, towering over the idyllic town of Avignon. Built by Pope John XXII (likely with some help) in 1316, the Palais has hosted nine popes and countless monarchs and nobility over the years. And this summer, it might just host you too!
The ‘Palace of the Popes’ is officially the biggest building ever constructed during the Gothic period. When you consider this was the era of castles and fortresses, that means it’s very big indeed – a testament to the sheer power and influence of the Catholic Church. It wouldn’t be a palace without some lavish decor, and the walls and ceilings are covered with frescoes by Matteo Giovanetti and Simone Martini. Needless to say, it’s all rather spectacular.
For a trip to the Middle Ages
Why you’ll love it: This medieval town and former state prison offers an eerie insight into 13th century France. If a peek into the 13th century complete with medieval military and gothic architecture makes your inner history buff whoop with joy, don’t miss the Towers and Ramparts of Aigues-Mortes!
Climb Saint Louis’ keep for a bird’s-eye view of the old port city. Wander around the medieval fortifications of Aigues-Mortes and wonder what it must have been like to be in prison there. And take in the view of the gothic Notre-Dame-des-Sablons church. Once you’re done exploring the ramparts, walk along the Grande Rue Jean Jaurès and have a drink in a café or explore the shops.
For a glimpse into Van Gogh’s mind
Why you’ll love it: Not only are the ruins of this Abbey a history lover’s dream, they’re the inspiration for one of the world’s greatest artists. Talk about standing the test of time! Montmajour Abbey was first built in 948 AD and since then it has captured the attention of people the world over – including Vincent van Gogh.
The abbey inspired the famous painter during his final years in Arles, an artistic commune in the region of Provence. Spend some time strolling around the ruins of this famous Benedictine monastery and you’ll soon see why it was such an inspiration for Van Gogh.
For that unmistakable UNESCO feeling
Why you’ll love it: Pont d’Avignon attracts more than 300,000 visitors every year – not bad for a bridge that doesn’t go anywhere! An iconic piece of French history, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was complete in 1185, and despite being a shadow of its former self, it still provides some of the best views of the Rhône and Palais des Papes.
When Pont d’Avignon was first completed it measured an impressive 920 meters long, with 22 graceful arches. While flooding and fighting might have shortened its reach somewhat, it still stretches around 200 meters across the water. Your journey begins at the exhibition station, where you’ll learn all about the creation of this historic bridge, and the role it played throughout the ages.
For the Roman ruins
Why you’ll love it: If you’re a history buff spending summer in Provence, you absolutely have to stop by for a visit to the Glanum Archaeological Site. Just a stone’s throw from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (the quaint commune depicted in Van Gogh’s iconic Starry Night), it boasts the wonderfully preserved remains of an ancient Roman settlement – complete with marble columns and triumphal arches – that was only rediscovered a century ago.
The site contains traces of multiple ancient settlements, with Celto-Ligurian and Hellenistic Greek features having been identified amongst the more conspicuously Roman ruins. The long-lost remains of the Roman forums truly look like something you’d find in the blast radius of Mount Vesuvius, not the foothills around Saint-Rémy. Summer in Provence really has it all!