I love pairing Provence with Paris for a perfectly balanced “best of” urban and rural family vacation in France. At least four days should be allocated to this region in the south of France so that there is enough time to explore the wonderful things to do in Provence. If you want to dig into more remote nooks and crannies, and/or add in a day or two at the beach on the Côte d’Azur, plan on spending seven days in the countryside.
Here’s a look at five of my favorite activities when you visit Provence with kids.
The village of Roussillon in the Luberon is known for the ochre clay around the village that used to be mined for its rich pigment. This former quarry is now home to a fantastic walking path, the Sentier des Ochres, through a stunning Dr. Seuss-like landscape. Although the walk is not difficult, some of the drops are steep. This is recommended for kids who are school-age and up.
A visit to Roussillon can easily be paired with a visit to nearby Gordes for lunch and photos. The views of (and from) this village, perched on the side of a hill, are incredible. All these outdoor activities are perfect jet lag busters, so they work well early in the trip to pump the family full of fresh country air.
Sénanque Abbey is also easily accessible from Gordes and Roussillon. The monks who live here grow lavender, and when it’s blooming (June to early August), the monastery is one of the most stunning places on the planet. Visitors can visit the abbey and the cloister, then peruse the array of wonderful handcrafted lavender products in the gift shop.
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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Avignon was home to several popes in the 1300s; their castle, the Palais des Papes, is in excellent condition and interesting to tour. The city is also famous for the beautiful Pont d’Avignon, an incredibly scenic bridge over the Rhône River that dates back to the Middle Ages. This is a good day trip with older kids who can digest the history and are happy with a bit of walking, as the city is good-sized.
No visit to Provence is complete without a market visit. These rural markets have everything imaginable, from clothes and soaps to spices and kid-pleasing candy in every size, shape and color. Be sure to do a little research in advance. Most markets are held weekly, but the days vary from town to town. Just strolling the narrow streets of Provence’s villages is incentive enough to go.
Île sur la Sorgue is the most famous market in the region and home to the biggest flea market in France outside Paris. If you are not an antiques buff, this excursion may be overkill. We enjoyed the market at Lourmarin, a pretty village in a dramatic setting near the Luberon Massif.
For a day of all-ages loitering in one of the most picturesque villages in Provence, look no further than Saint Rémy de Provence. Home to Vincent van Gogh (where he painted The Starry Night) and the birthplace of Nostradamus, the streets are wonderful for wandering and there are a number of excellent restaurants. The Roman ruins of Glanum are a short distance from town; we didn’t get a chance to see them, but I hear this is a worthwhile stop.
Nearby Les Baux-de-Provence is good to pair with Saint Rémy de Provence. Dramatically situated in the heart of the Alpilles mountains, the rocky scenery is stunning and very unique with spectacular vistas and a ruined castle to explore.
And if you can’t get enough art history, devote a day to Aix-en-Provence, which was home to post-Impressionist master Paul Cézanne. It has a great walking trail connecting various sites that were of importance to him. It’s also a lively university city and a nice change of pace from the smaller villages.
I wouldn’t stay ON the beach on the Mediterranean Sea in late July and August for all the tea in China. It’s very crowded. I would, however, plan a day trip to the beach from Provence, provided you ask a local for the best traffic avoidance strategy.
Sainte-Maxime is a lovely village within 2 hours of many central Provence locations. There are beaches there or you can take the ferry to Saint-Tropez (although the beaches of Saint-Tropez require a bus or taxi ride from the center of town).
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