Provence has long been a byword for beautiful scenery, rustic charm and delicious food – for all things French, in fact. Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence and the iconic film Jean de Florette did much to establish the region in our imaginations as endlessly bounteous and peaceful, but despite its popularity as a holiday destination there are still many villages where you can escape the tourist crowds and enjoy an authentic experience.
James Villas offer more than twenty perfectly appointed villas and apartments in Provence, all within striking distance of rolling meadows, shady olive groves and, of course, breathtaking Provençale villages. Here are a few of our favourites.
Perched on a hilltop east of Avignon, Roussillon commands spectacular views of the national park which surrounds it. However, the real spectacle is the town itself. Roussillon was once the site of huge ochre mines (one of which can be toured today), and the houses all boast shocking red, yellow and orange walls. Try to time your visit so you’re still there at sunset – the entire town seems to glow as the Mediterranean sun lights up the colourful buildings.
The nineteenth-century village of Porquerolles has stayed remarkably well-preserved for two reasons. First, it’s on an island, so it receives fewer visitors than Provence’s coastal towns; second, the French government bought most of the island in the 1980s to protect it from development. The result is a charming seaside village with only 200 inhabitants, surrounded by a perfect white beach on one side and the pristine countryside on the other. Take a walk, explore the forest or settle down on the quay with a seafood lunch – Porquerelles is ideal for a lazy day.
Lourmarin is both the biggest and the busiest of the villages on this list, but it’s well worth a visit despite the large tourist presence in the summer season. The burial place of Albert Camus and the current residence of Peter Mayle, Lourmarin’s striking Renaissance château and beautiful Catholic and Protestant churches are ideal for photo opportunities and holiday memories.
A hilltop retreat west of Cannes, Seillans has made remarkably few concessions to the modern world. The village centre is so steep that it can only be accessed on foot, so the winding alleys which are often sacrificed in favour of cars remain intact. Seillans has a vibrant cultural life, including an annual fortnight of concerts, a pottery festival and a collection of sculptures by Max Ernst, who made the village his home some fifty years ago.
An ideal destination for those who like the sound of Porquerelles but would rather not take a boat trip, the fishing village of Cassis is like a miniature St Tropez that’s been frozen in time. Surrounded by calanques – small fjords gouged into the shoreline – Cassis feels wonderfully cut off, and you’re unlikely to hear another English voice while you’re there. If you decide you’ve found your sea legs after all, take to the waves and admire the gorgeous Provençale coast from one of the traditional local fishing boats.
If you can’t wait to explore some of these beautiful locations for yourself, you can find out more about our villas in Provence on our website.