Only in Provence: the ultimate insider guide

Provence is a magical corner of France, with unique sights, surprising legends, and a rich Roman, Jewish, and Catholic heritage. Let’s at a look at some of what you’ll find Only in Provence.

1. Brilliant Roussillon

Before the invention of synthetic dyes, ochre-rich soils were mined for their brilliant colors—oranges and reds and yellows and purples. Roussillon was once a center of world ochre production, and while its quarries are now abandoned, walking through them is like walking through a rainbow. Read more here.

2.Magic in a Mountain

Imagine entering a massive cavern, inside a mountain. The walls shoot straight up and the ceiling is high above your head. Here and there are side chambers, and rough-hewn benches are carved into the walls.

Then you hear music start to play and images begin to dance on the walls and floor. It might be art by van Gogh, or Picasso, or Cezanne, moving and swaying with the music. You are inside the world’s most spectacular sound and light show. It has spawned a thousand imitators, like the popular “Immersive Van Gogh,” but there’s nothing like the original. Read more here. 

3.Roman Provence

Back around 50 B.C., Julius Caesar conquered Gaul (now France) and it remained part of the Roman Empire for the next five centuries. Today there are Roman sites all over France, but the best are in and around Provence. There’s Nîmes, “the most Roman city outside of Italy,” with its breathtaking temple. And Arles, where events are held year-round in its 2,000-year-old arena. And don’t miss the Pont du Gard, a triple-decker aqueduct taller than the Statue of Liberty! Read more here.

4. Jewish Provence

Only in Provence

People are often surprised to learn that France has the third-largest Jewish population in the world. And they are even more surprised to learn that for centuries the center of Jewish life in France wasn’t Paris, it was Provence… thanks to the Pope!

In the Middle Ages, when Jews were being expelled from France, the Pope welcomed them to the French Papal States in Provence. Today you can explore the rich Jewish heritage of the region, including the oldest synagogue in France. Read more here.

5. The Popes of Provence

One of the highlights of a visit to Avignon is seeing the magnificent Papal Palace, once home to seven popes. But what were they were doing in Avignon rather than Rome?

In the 14th century, the Pope and the French king got into a dispute, and king was excommunicated. Then the Pope ended up dead. The cardinals got the message and elected as pope the king’s friend, who promptly move the papacy to Avignon. It remained there for nearly a century, and it is fascinating to explore Provence’s papal legacy, including some of the world’s greatest vineyards. Read more here.

6. Provence Legends

Two thousand years ago, Mary Magdalene was banished from the Holy Land and sent out to sea. Guided by the hand of God, she and her fellow passengers—Mary Salome, Lazarus, and others—washed ashore in Provence, where they began to spread The Word. You can still visit the grotto where Mary spent her last years.

Maybe you heard about Mary Magdalene in France from The da Vinci Code. Fact or legend? Come to Provence and find out! Read more here

7. Animal Kingdom

Let’s say you are walking through a French village and come across thousands of sheep bleating in the streets. Or maybe you see horses strolling about with flowers in their manes. Or perhaps you are startled by French cowboys charging past with a bull in their midst. Where might you be?

You are probably in Provence, where the people have a deep respect for the animals that have long been part of their rural life. And they maintain their traditions, many of which have to do with animals. Come to Provence and enjoy a unique side of French life. Read more here.

Have you been to Provence? Were you aware of all of these wonderful attractions? Please share in the comments below.

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Image Credits:
1. Roussillon: Pixabay
2. Van Gogh: Culturespaces
3. Arena: Nîmes tourist office
4. Synagogue: Carpentras synagogue website
5. Pope Innocent VI: from an image that is in the public domain
6. Mary Magdalene: from an image that is in the public domain
7. Shepherd and sheep: copyright Keith Van Sickle

About the Contributor

Keith Van Sickle

I am a lifelong traveler who lives part of the year in Provence. I am the author of Are We French Yet and One Sip at a Time, as well as the upcoming An Insider’s Guide to Provence, all available at Amazon. You can follow me on Facebook,  Twitter and

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