In bloom from mid-June to mid-August, many a tourist is drawn to Provence to view the purple lavender fields, and to sample some of the products made from it. Throw into the mix the many fields of orchards bearing apricots, peaches, cherries, and apples; vineyards and wineries; sunflower fields; local markets with tantilising fresh produce; and a plethora of charming villages; and you have an area that is sure to delight.
If you don’t have a hire car to explore to area, the next best option is to take a small group tour, since many of the areas are just not accessible or practical to reach with public transport. You'll certainly want to stop by the roadside to see the lavender and sunflowers up close, and to snap some photos.
The tourist office in Avignon has details on several companies that run half- and full-day tours of the region, and they can also book them for you. Also make sure you get hold of the free Avignon Pass while you’re there, as some of the companies offer a discount with the Pass.
Here is an overview of some of the beautiful villages in this region that are worthy of a visit:
Aptly recognised as one of "The Most Beautiful Villages in France", this stunning village is perched on the top of a hill, with its buildings tumbling down the side towards the valley below.
As you approach the town up the winding road, follow the crowds for a photo stop en route that provides a great vista of the town and surrounding countryside. The town itself is a labyrinth of narrow winding streets, with shops, cafes and artistic offerings. Market day is Tuesday.
l'Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
As you descend out of Gordes, pay a visit to Sénanque Abbey, which dates from 1148 and is still home to Cistercian monks. You’ll see it featured in all the shops in the region on postcards, with its fields of purple leading up to the stone buildings of the Abbey and chapel. Do venture off the road and down to the Abbey itself for a closer view, where you can also tour the Abbey and visit the shop.
Another hilltop village, the buildings in Roussillon are made from local ochre stone, giving the entire town a reddish-orange hue.
Particularly enchanting as the light changes throughout the day, the village has numerous photo-worthy buildings, and quaint cafes and shops to explore. Walk up to the top of the village for lovely panoramic views across the valley to the Grand Luberon mountain range, the slopes of Mont Ventoux, and the plateau of the Vaucluse.
You can also take a walk along the "Giant's Causeway" (Sentier des Ocres) park, to get a closer look at the natural stone deposits in the area. You'll find the market here on a Thursday.
This stunning village is nestled between rocky outcrops in the Alpilles mountains, with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. The village gives its name to the aluminium ore bauxite, which was first discovered here in 1821.
It is an amazing sight from the viewpoint on the road across the valley, as you approach by car from the north-west on the D27. The buildings are made from grey stone, giving the impression it was carved out of the rockface itself!
Situated at the foot of Mont Ventoux, I spent an entire day exploring this lovely town. You can reach Vaison by bus from Orange (about an hour away). Market day is Tuesday, and you will also find lots of shops here selling all sorts of products made with lavender – from soap, to essential oils, to chocolate!
Home to France's largest archaeological site, pay a visit to the Gallo-Roman ruins of Vasio Vocontiorum, the Roman city that was situated here from the 6th to 2nd centuries BC. The ruins span over two sites: start in Puymin to collect your audioguide (included in the ticket price; 8€); visit the small museum; see the amphitheatre; and wander through the other ancient remains of this village.
Then cross Avenue General de Gaulle and walk past the Tourist Office to the other Roman site: La Villasse. This site is smaller than Puymin with less to see, so if you only have time for one, I would suggest Puymin.
The audioguide contains information for both Roman sites, the cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth), and old city (Cité médiévale) across the river. After visiting the cathedral, wander through the charming town centre and take a look in some of the shops, or stop for an ice-cream.
From here, cross the Pont Romain (Roman bridge), dating from the 1st century, and explore the winding streets of the medieval city, with its colourful doorways; fountains; vines enveloping the houses; and multitude of flower boxes in windowsills. It is worth climbing up to the ruins of the 12th century chateau for spectacular views of the village, surrounding vineyards, and mountains beyond.
This is just a selection of the many beautiful towns and villages this region has to offer. Enjoy the markets, sample the local produce (I can highly recommend the lavender ice-cream!), and soak up all there is on offer in this lovely region.