Many of our trips in this area start in Nice, not because of Nice itself, but because of the airport, good ability to rent cars and its location. Typoically we have stayed just north of Nice in St. Paul de Vence. Although I like Nice for some shopping and a walk through the old town, being up in St. Paul de Vence is more peaceful. We have also stayed in Villefrance-sur-Mer.
In 2004 we visisted the Abbaye de Sénanque located just outside of the town of Gordes. The Abbaye dates from the 12th Century. So many start at that time as there was a massive expansion in building monasteries across Europe. In the 12th Century over 700 were built.
A community of cistercian monks returned to the abbaye in 1988 and today live and pray in the abbaye. Tours of the abbaye are limited to specific times as this is an "active" abbaye. More information in the Cloisters Site.
The abbaye church is plain, as nothing was to detract the monks from their prayers. Cistercian Abbayes are known for their extreme simplicity in design. Only light, a symbol of God, is allowed to transform the space.
One year, rather than staying in Nice, we decided to stay in Antibes, as it is only 23 km from Nice. I am not sure if I would do that again as we found ourselves driving into the Nice to see things like the flower market and other sights. But Antibes was nice. IT is located on a bay and has numerous colourful streets. It is known from its roses which are exported all around the world.
Arles is a very interesting town and our first visit we were drawn to see the Roman Arena and experience a bull fight.
The Roman Arena was impressive, but the bull fight, I don't think I want that experience again.
But years later we returned to see the Roman architecture of the city.
Arles was once a major Roman city now it is a great destination within Provence.
The Boulevard des Lices is a good starting point, as this is where it all happens in this town. Lined with plane trees, cafés and markets (Wednesday and Saturday mornings). At the Place de la Républic is the obelisk that originally in the Roman Circus - in Rome.
In 1981, Arles, was listed as a World Heritage site due to the number of Roman monuments outside of Italy.
The Cathédral Saint-Trophime, and its cloister are impressive.
You won't find this a sleeping town of Provence. There are bus loads of tourists in the summer.
The buildings from the Roman era include the arena, the theatre and the cryptoporticus. the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of Alyscamps.
Of course there are buildings from the Medieval times that include the Saint-Trophime and its cloister (11th and 12th centuries). The catherdral is considered one of Provence's major Romanesque monuments. On our 2011 visit to France we were staying near Avignon and traveled down to Arles for the day specifically to see the cloisters. Well worth the drive.
This was an important location for the Romans. They even built a floating bridge to cross the Rhône and through Arles was the land route from Italy to Spain. So established was Arles that it was the first area outside of Italy that Roman officers were given land on which to retire.
In 1888, Vincent van Gogh came to Arles to live and created over 300 paintings and drawings here -- this is where Starry Night Over the Rhône was created. Despite this, don't be looking for exhibitions of his work. You'll have to go back to Paris for that!
The Cathédrale St.Trophime with its bell tower and Romanesque doorway is stunning. The cloister is considered one of the best in Southern France. Four galleries and a courtyard.
The Roman Theater, or Théâtre Antique is a semicircle of tiers facing towards the stage house with its Roman columns with two columns remaining. The Amphi Theater - the Arènes could hold 30.000 people. Two tiers of the arches remain as during Medieval times, the upper levels were taken away to build other buildings in Arles.In fact, in medieval times, the arena was used as for with more than 200 houses built inside.
Oh yeh, about that first visit. The bull fight was not something that I would want to see again. They basically torment the bull until it runs around the arena is a state of confusion. I particularly like the shot I captured of the man jumping for his life over the wooden fence. At the point the bull tried to jump the fence and came crashing down on the wood. Enough.
After many tours through the more northern areas of France with the great vineyards around Beaune and in the Medoc the very famous wines of Châteauneuf du Pape are from nowhere near those areas. Located some 10 km south of the city of Orange, in Provence-Alpes-Côte D'Azur on the D68.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is near the remains of it's fortress castle. The appellation "Châteauneuf-du-Pape" means the wine production meets the controls of some 55 vineyards.
This is a very popular site in France, worth a detour as they say in the Michelin books. Well, I am not sure what we were expecting, but it was not what we found.
The Fontaine de Vaucluse is where a subterranean river, one that drains the water from the linestone plateaux of the Vaucluse comes out of the ground.
We were there when there was little activity, in terms of water. A pool of water is before us. Well actually it is a pool of water being filled by this underground spring/water system. It is actually one of the most powerful springs in the world. How deep is the pool? We were told that in 1985 they sent a small robot submarine down 315 meters and it still did not find the bottom.
Gordes is located about 38 km from Avignon.
We had this on a list of places to see for some time. Perched on the edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse its stone stark buildings say you are in the inland of Provence. Like most small towns, there are cobbled stone streets, narrow passageways, and the streets and roadway wind their way to the top there there is a church and a castle.
The castle has been restored. IT was rebuilt back in 1525 and some of the features of note include an impressive renaaissance-styled staircase and ornate fireplace.
The homes are made from white stone and they have been very carefully restored.
The town has a starkness about it, but at the same time there are interesting arches and doorways to keep most photographers happy. Some of the travel books refer to this as the most visited of the villages in this area. It is one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" so it is on the list to see!
But don't rush to get the village. Take your time as it is most impressive to see from the distance. The views of Gordes on the approach really bring out the hill and stark look of the village.
From the town there is an incredible view out to the valley and the mountains of the Luberon.
The Abbaye de Sénanque is only 4 km from here, that that was part of our Cloisters Tour and well worth a vist.
Located about 15 km from Cannes, a visit to this town makes a nice day trip when you are staying along the coast and need a break from the scene.
Built on the slopes and up the hill, the narrow streets seem to wind and wnd up towards the upper levels of the town. There are plenty of 17th and 18th century buildings that make up the visual look of the town. There are losts of arched tunnels to walk through.
Near the top is the main square, Place aux Aires. You will find the classic fountain in the middle and then arcaded passage ways on one side.
Somewhere down in the old village a narrow street comes out onto the Place du Petit Puy. There is the 10-11th-century Notre Dame du Puy cathedral. It was rebuilt in the 17th century. Of note, inside are three paintings by Rubens. There's also the 1754 painting Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Persons of note have stayed here. They include Napoléon's sister, Princess Pauline who stayed in Grasse in 1807 to gain back her mental and physical strength. Queen Victoria also spent vacations here staying at the Rothschild's and the Grand Hotel — so you are in good company!.
Grasse is about perfume. The industry started here in the 16th century. There are tours of the perfume factories and we found the tour we took to be interesting, especially when you get the idea of the number of petals required to make perfume.
The tourist office offers a walk tour that lasts about one and a half hours.
Orange is located 31 kim from Avignon. We have enjoyed visiting this town.
I had read about the Roman Theatre and was thinking that the theatre may be something like a coliseum - similar to the what is in Arles.
But the theatre in Orange is a theatre that was used to stage plays. The Théâtre Antique and the Arc de Triomphe are two of the largest Roman structures standing in in Western Europe and worth seeing.
The stage wall, seen in the photo at the right, is the only complete Roman Theatre stage wall left inthe world and is classified as the 9th momument in the world. So don't miss it!
The theatre was built in pre-christian times, with the rise of Christianity, the theatre was ordered closed after the fall of Rome. In fact, it stood idle for years.
Then the town of Orange was invaded and the theatre was sacked and burned.
During Medieval times it became its own fortified town with houses and streets. Later during the French Revolution it was converted into a prison. Then, thankfully for us today, in the 1800's, while it was still serving as a prison, efforts were made to reconstruct what could be back to its status as theatre.
From taking our tour we found our some of the history and character of a Roman Theatre. The productions would have lasted an entire day. The original theatre also had a retractable canvas roof. It was built into the side of a hill, and the hill forms the nature slope for the rows of seats to rise from ground level to a significant height. I was impressed and glad we spent some time here.
The other significant Roman structure is the Arch de Triomphe. The Arch was built around 20 BC. Get up close as the structure is covered with intricate frieze and relief work.
The Arch was originally built by the Romans to celebrate their victories against the Gauls. When it was first built, it was well outside the walls of the town. Today, it sits in a traffic circle. I guess is it is okay to have a famous Arch in Paris be in a traffic circule, then what is so wrong with leaving this as is. But, despite its location, it still stands a regal as ever.