When Ashley from Curious Provence asked me to write an article for her attractive and interesting blog, I jumped at the chance. She’s covered lots of aspects of the Bouches-du-Rhône and the Vaucluse, so I thought I’d pass on what makes Provence special for me.
Visiting the Côte d’Azur
I’ve stayed in over twenty places in Provence, from Menton in the east to Cassis in the west and Orange in the north and, I confess, it’s my favourite region in the whole of France. It’s also the setting for my latest novel, Stolen Summer, the sequel to Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez. Although I might not have visited some of the places in the story, researching is a feast for the eyes – all those beautiful photos on the Internet tempting me to visit or write about another new place on the coast or inland – I don’t mind which.
Apart from a few unappealing stretches, the Côte d’Azur is pretty much spectacular. Some insist that this famous coastline starts in Menton and finishes in St Tropez while others say that it finishes in Marseille. I’m in the latter camp! A great place to stay is Villefranche-sur-Mer (A-M) with its delightful quayside cafés and restaurants, and stunning views all around as it tumbles down the hillside into the sea.
Almost as agreeable, Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Cap Ferrat are within walking distance. It’s ideal for a long weekend. Fly into Nice, hop on a train to Villefranche and explore on foot or train. As it’s easy to reach Nice and Monaco from here, too. Stay for a week, hire a car and add the perched villages of Èze, Saint-Paul-de-Vence and the authentic town of Vence to name but three inland charmers to add to your itinerary. Cannes is an easy train-ride away, too.
Along with the wonderful coast and villages, the markets of Provence are mouth-wateringly fabulous and are everywhere but oh, so different. Sometimes, they will be tiny – a meagre three stalls, two vans and a small display of plants, occasionally indoors and permanent but still colourful and, somehow, more professional. My favourites are the middle-sized weekly street events in towns like Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (B-d-R), Sanary-sur-Mer (Var) and Apt (Vaucluse), not forgetting St Tropez (Var) where bikinis are on sale at all times of the year. If you’re not visiting in high or mid season, it’s worthwhile visiting on market day as you’re more likely to find the village or town bustling with life. See more about Provencal markets here.
Provence wouldn’t be Provence without the wonderful trees that grace many a square and hillside. I love the palm trees and parasol pines of Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes and the plane trees of the Place des Lices in St Tropez. Sitting in a café with a vin rosé in the shade of a beautiful tree or two is difficult to beat.
From sophisticated villas and glorious Belle Époque hotels to flower-bedecked, narrow three-storey village houses, as well as the beautiful, old stone farmhouses of the Vaucluse and the Var, there is an architectural style to please everyone in Provence. For sumptuous villas, head for Nice and around, for Belle Époque hotels, Cannes’ Boulevard de la Croisette is the place, plus there’s a beauty in Juan-les-Pins, the Belles-Rives, steps from the Mediterranean and a wonderful setting for the last scenes of my novel.
Pretty village houses abound in up-and-down streets of the inland villages – not at all far from the coast. The Luberon, east of Avignon is probably the best place to see an example or two of the typical farmhouse, known as a mas. Try the area around Gordes and Roussillon and you might spot lavender fields as a bonus!
(Key to départements in Provence: A-M = Alpes-Maritimes, B-d-R = Bôuches-de-Rhone, Vau = Vaucluse)
Find out more about about Villefranche-sur-Mer and lavender in the Vaucluse on Jane’s Facebook page.
Books by Jane Dunning
Jane Dunning’s novels are set in the Var, on a vineyard thirty-five minutes from St Tropez, and in Antibes and Monaco, along with a few other places along the way. In the first book, life is generally good for the Ferguson family but in the sequel, several frightening and upsetting incidents take place both on the vineyard and in the glamorous setting of Monte Carlo.
For an escape to Provence, you can find her books on Amazon.
Thirty-five Minutes from St Tropez by Jane Dunning
Stolen Summer by Jane Dunning