We really wanted to spend time in the region of Provence during the peak lavender season, which is typically end of June through early July. Our visit was during the first weekend of July, which happened to be a perfect time as most of the lavender was in full bloom prior to being harvested. Note that the “peak” time frame is largely dependent on the weather, and you may find that some farmers harvest earlier than others (but don’t worry, there are plenty of lavender fields in Provence!). The best way to see Provence, in our opinion, is to rent a car and bounce around from town to town, taking in the scenery and exploring some of the unique and historic villages and towns, including Avignon, and enjoying authentic Provençal cuisine. One fun tip while visiting the lavender fields is to find or buy a few lavender stalks and put them on the floor of your car; then once you step on them, the lovely scent of lavender will fill the air during your journey throughout Provence!
Here is our list of the top areas to visit and things to do in Provence:
Explore the cute villages and frolic through the lavender fields of the Luberon. For a helpful driving itinerary, refer to this Google Maps link: https://goo.gl/maps/DiKccCnMmnA2.
Oppède le Vieux
Oppède le Vieux is the very small old town of Oppède, dating back to the 12th century. Built into a rocky hillside, this town has cobblestoned and narrow roads and is so tiny that is only contains about two restaurants (check out Le Petit Café Réouverture, which has a nice terrace patio) and a few hotels.
Ménerbes is a walled village, situated on the top of the Luberon hills. Explore the town a bit, including some of the back roads with artists' shops scattered throughout.
Tips: There is a nice picture moment as you are approaching Ménerbes (from Oppède le Vieux).
From Ménerbes, head over to Lacoste and explore this town, perhaps grabbing a light lunch at the Cafe de France, where you can experience beautiful views of the Luberon valley.
Tips: For a great view of Lacoste, from the D3, drive a bit west of where the D3 intersects the D109.
We really loved Bonnieux; we arrived on a gorgeous market day and the panoramic views from the terrasse were stunning. Park in the lot at the bottom of the village, then walk up the Rue de la Mairie through the narrow and hairpin streets of the town up to the terrasse. Take in the amazing views from this historic village that dates back to Roman times, perched on the top of the Luberon hills.
Tips: Look into the market hours, as it is a really fun market to experience. They sell things from lavender sacks to oil, to baskets and clothing, to olives and sausages. If you can, try to get some of the Provençal tomato and olive spreads - we had one that was incredible!
Note that some shops may be closed on Sundays in the smaller villages/ towns, especially when it is not high season. On your way to Saignon, you will drive by some lavender fields near Buoux. You can also stop at Fort Buoux, which was a refuge fort before King Louis XIV destroyed it, and walk around.
Saignon is another small village, with a just a handful of stores and cafes, that has origins dating back to the Middle Palaeolithic age. It is a pretty walk through the village. Be sure to stop at the Notre-Dame de Pitié, La fontaine, and walk to the observation/ scenic viewpoint.
Drive through Apt on your way to Roussillon, a village that lies within France’s Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon. This village is known for the ochre deposits in the nearby clay (a yellow to red color). You can even buy an ochre-infused soda! This village has many cute shops and cafes (a good lunch or afternoon snack spot) and a variety of colorful buildings.
Tips: You can visit the fields where the ochre is, but beware, make sure you are not wearing anything white! Park in the lot at the bottom of Roussillon (as you approach the village), as it seems to be a nightmare driving into and out of town. Plus, the way to the next stop is at a road juncture adjacent to this parking lot.
Goult is a quieter and quaint village in Provence. Take a walk along the Rue de la République and stop into Restaurant La Bartavelle for an authentic French meal in a lovely ambience. Don’t miss the old windmill in this village, too!
Tips: After Goult, drive through Saint-Pantaléon on your way to Gordes.
We thoroughly loved staying in Gordes and exploring this picturesque village perched on a giant rock hill, part of the Vaucluse Mountains. There are numerous quaint shops and restaurants in Gordes, and a few small market stores to pick up snacks. Gordes is definitely more touristy, like Roussillon, so it is best to explore earlier in the day, if possible.
Tips: If you are looking for luxury, stay at the Bastide de Gordes. Amazing views (especially at dusk) of the village from the D15. Also, from town, if you walk straight from the church and follow signs for Point de Vue, you will find another great panoramic view of the valley below.
Sénanque Abbey and Sault
Explore the famous Sénanque Abbey and the beautiful lavender fields surrounding Sault. For a helpful driving itinerary, refer to this Google Maps link: https://goo.gl/maps/5HXMVLL2yvE2.
Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque
The Sénanque Abbey is a Cistercian monastery founded in 1148, and is located about 10 minutes from Gordes. At the abbey, you can take guided tours through the church and cloisters and take in the beautiful lavender fields (when in bloom). It makes for quite a stunning photo, and one you may have seen before on travel books and sites!
Tips: Visit early in the day for less crowds (you purchase tickets upon arrival) and for the best light for pictures. An optional stop after the Abbey is the village of Les Imberts.
On your way from the Abbey to Simiane-la-Rotonde, you will pass through a village called Joucas. We found the most amazing and seemingly never-ending fields of gorgeous sunflowers. Certainly worth a stop for some pictures!
Simiane-la-Rotonde is one of the quieter villages in the area near Sault, and the narrow streets are also quite steep as the village is built into the hillside. A good stop to stretch your legs and walk the streets to find a quick snack or stop into some of the artisan shops.
Tips: When you head towards Simiane-la-Rotonde, be sure to check out the “sheared” rock formations near Lioux.
When you approach the town, follow signs to “La Rotonde” (to the left) to take you to a large parking lot. From there, you can walk up to the village and explore.
On your way to Sault, stop near Saint-Christol where the D166 meets the D30. There are some beautiful and vast lavender fields right in this area. Avoid the D30 in this area, it is less scenic than the smaller roads.
Sault is full of cute shops and outdoor cafes to explore. Find the area where Rue des Aires meets the D942 (there is a square with a park as well). This area overlooks the vast lavender fields in the area below Sault.
Tips: Take the D245 to Sault (as the D30 is less scenic). Stop into the famous nougat store in Sault, Nougat André Boyer, for some sweets.
Once you reach Aurel from Sault you will be surrounded by fields of lavender. There is not much to see or do in the village, but you must drive through this area for the lavender (keep your windows rolled down if it is not too hot).
Tips: To get into the vast lavender fields, take the D164 from Sault. Take the first road on your right (will feel like a “straight”) instead of continuing on the D164 where it makes a very sharp left hairpin turn. Drive along this road (parallel to D942) and enjoy the lavender.
From Aurel, drive to the village of Montbrun-les-Bains with great views of Mont Ventoux (Lance Armstrong climbed this mountain in 2002 during the Tour de France). The is known for its spa treatments that help manage respiratory diseases and ailments.
Gorges de la Nesque
Les Gorges de la Nesque is a deep canyon carved into the largely limestone mountains of Vaucluse by the River Nesque. It is a really neat sight to see! There will be a pullout for an observation deck on the D942, on your left. Along the D942, take the opportunity to stop at various places to take in the scenery and take pictures.
Tips: On your way to the Gorges de la Nesque, you will see beautiful landscape in and around Monieux.
The town of Venasque sits on the top of a hill, overlooking the nearby landscape and lush forested area. Explore Venasque for a bit on foot, grabbing an ice cream and enjoying the quaint streets and old architecture.
Tips: You can get a nice picturesque view of Venasque from the D77.
After Venasque, you can drive south to the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, but note that this area can get quite busy with tourists.
Explore the history of Avignon and the surrounding areas, including Bouches-du-Rhône.
Set on the Rhône river, Avignon is a large town in Provence and is known for the Palais des Papes, which was the seat of the Catholic popes from 1309-1377, until it became a part of France in the late 18th century.
Palais des Papes
Located in the heart of Avignon, Palais des Papes is a historical and medieval Gothic style fortress and palace. It was the the papal residence for the seat of Western Christianity in the 14th century. Visitors are welcome into over 20 rooms, full of artifacts and frescoes in a self-guided tour. Be sure to check out the nearby Avignon Cathedral, built in the 12th century, that houses tombs from various Avignon popes.
The ruins of this bridge date back to the 12th century, with arches that used to span across the Rhône. From the bridge ruins, you can get nice views of the old city of Avignon.
Pont du Gard
About 30 minutes west of Avignon, the Pont du Gard aqueduct bridge still spans the River Gardon with its three arched tiers. Pont du Gard was built by the Romans in the 1st century, an incredible feat of its time. You can take a guided tour along the top level of the aqueduct , which we highly recommend!
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a quintessential town located in the heart of Provence. The narrow streets are lined with centuries old buildings and cute little shops and cafes, bustling on market days.
Gorges du Verdon and Lac de Sainte-Croix
Explore the dramatic Gorges du Verdon and the gorgeous teal water of the Lac de Sainte-Croix.
Les Gorges du Verdon
Carved by the Verdon River, Les Gorges du Verdon is the deepest gorge (river canyon) in France and a must-see when visiting Provence; it is often considered one of the most beautiful in Europe! The steep canyon and green-blue water is simply breathtaking. You can drive from the town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to Pont du Galetas where the river canyon meets the Lac de Sainte-Croix.
Tips: Drive down the D952 (just past Moustiers-Sainte-Marie) for a little bit, which takes you into the river canyon. Note that the roads are quite narrow and curvy.
After driving through the river canyon and taking pictures from the Pont du Galetas, head to the southwest part of the lake, Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon. This picturesque town is perched on the hillside overlooking the stunning lake and is a nice stop for spending some time on the beach or grabbing some lunch.
Tips: Once you reach the top of the hill on your way to Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon (via Route de Sainte-Croix/Moustiers) from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, be on the lookout for magnificent sunflower fields near Roumoules (we saw the flowers in full bloom in early July).
Aix-en-Provence is located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region and is mainly a university city. It is a nice place to experience a larger city in Provence from the small villages, and thus, has a more bustling feel with a larger variety of shopping and restaurant options. Walk around the Old Town, including the well-known street, Cours Mirabeau, and the nearby Fontaine de la Rotonde; the small cobblestone square, Place D’Albertas; and the Cathedral of the Holy Saviour.
Where to Eat in Provence
Restaurant Fou de Fafa, Avignon
This is a great husband-wife run restaurant in the middle of Avignon. The cuisine is a wonderful mix of gourmet and homey, making it the perfect place to enjoy an authentic Provençal meal (and the price is great!).
L'Artégal & La Trinquette, Gordes
These French restaurants are both great options when visiting Gordes. Both serve authentic French cuisine, in a nice atmosphere, with a great selection of local wines to choose from.
Where to Stay in Provence
Le Prieure, Avignon
Located in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, this upscale hotel is full of charm and character and is situated in a 14th-century priory. The rooms are situated across a few buildings, surrounded by beautiful gardens and a courtyard. The rooms are nicely decorated in antiques and there is a gourmet, Michelin-starred, restaurant on site.
Mas de la Beaume, Gordes
We recommend staying in Gordes, as it is not only a beautiful town perched on the hilltop of the Plateau de Vaucluse, but because it also has various shops, restaurants and cafes for walking around in the evening and enjoying dinner. We stayed at a lovely bed & breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed our room, the delicious breakfast served on our private terrace, the beautiful grounds, and the friendly hosts.