Camping in Provence
124 in France, Provence
This is a corner of France that evokes dreamy images of lazy afternoons amongst sleepy village squares, sunny vineyards and beautiful lavender fields basking under the dazzling blue of the sky.
Provence is a region of magical light, bleached landscapes, olive groves, herb-scented garrigue, vineyards and Roman and medieval antiquities. Its unique character has, for years, encouraged artists and writers to settle amid the sleepy villages with their narrow streets and sun-baked terracotta tiles.
Whether you're motoring along twisting turning mountain roads, with epic views at every bend, or strolling through bustling markets, popping with colour and heady aromas, Provence never fails to deliver; few places in France are this beguiling or this sensuous. The warm sunshine, the exquisite food, the rich heady wines and all around the fragrance from a thousand plants and wild herbs that drift on the warm scented air.
Landscapes of Provence
Let's leave out the Côte d'Azur and Riviera for now. It tends to hog the limelight and Provence has so much magic of its own to shout about.
Trundling around the quieter roads of Provence is one of life's pleasures. When you're on holiday it becomes an even greater treat, and people have been doing this for centuries; always seduced by the intoxicating scenery. Artists like Renoir, Cézanne, Chagall and Picasso all produced some of their greatest work here, inspired by the brilliant, but soft, light.
All the ingredients that make up an endlessly rewarding landscape are found here: the astonishingly vibrant lavender fields, peaceful groves of ancient, twisted olive trees, vast azure lakes peppered with windsurfers and bordered by picnicking families, craggy hills clad in the maquis scrub and leading up to snow-capped peaks in the high Alps.
The river valleys provide natural routes, weaving through the mountains. The Hautes-Alpes reward you with stunning vistas and some much-needed peace and quiet. Not to mention lay-bys and viewing points crammed with tourists looking for that elusive perfect Instagram pic.
In late spring the southern slopes of the Montagne du Luberon are a mass of colour with wildflowers, while Briançon, Europe's highest town, perches on a high plateau and challenges visitors to brave the high passes around it. To the south-west, the extinct volcanic cone of Mont Ventoux is a windswept peak that provides dramatic views of the surrounding countryside.
For the Romans Provence was a key piece of their Empire jigsaw. They invested heavily in stunning architecture, fortifications designed to intimidate those on the outside while impressing and seducing those on the inside. The tools of empire, from the provision of clean water to the structure of law and the entertainment of arenas and theatres. Provence is scattered with Roman remnants, with Arles, Orange, Bonnieux, St Remy de Provence and Vaison-la-Romaine being just a few outstanding gems.
Campsites in Provence
There's a wide range of campsites in Provence. Depending on your tastes you'll find large, well-equipped campsites offering loads of activities and on-site facilities like restaurants and shops, as well as abundant excursions. Other campsites are smaller, family-run and more personal.
Whichever campsite you choose you'll find fellow campers who have come for a variety of reasons: the superb outdoor activities like hiking, cycling and climbing, perhaps water sports enthusiasts who come for windsurfing or kayaking, and others who are in search of fascinating and ancient culture. Everyone seems to enjoy the sublime gastronomy!
If you're towing a large caravan or driving a particularly long motor caravan or RV, it's worth checking the access to some campsites in the mountains. Gradients can be challenging in some spots. And the ground can be hard and rocky - if camping in a tent it's worth having a supply of rock pegs just in case.
Regardless of where you are staying, if staying in high season it's advisable to request a pitch with shade (perhaps from a mature tree) as midday temperatures can soar. Of course, the UV rays are just as powerful, if not more so, at high altitudes so don't be complacent about the pleasant breeze and cool nights.
7 hotspots of Provence
Gorges du Verdon
Known as the 'Grand Canyon of Europe', these canyons and gorges are a spectacular location for white water rafting, kayaking and boating. The turquoise glacial water is mesmeric and the drive along the southern edge is sensational with plenty of lay-bys and viewing points for amazing views.
With impressive 14th century architecture still dominating the town today, Avignon was once the home of the popes. The Palais des Papes is a massive Gothic building, immensely popular with tourists and a stunning setting for art exhibitions.
Just north of Avignon, Orange boasts a Roman theatre, believed to be the best preserved in the world and still hosting performances today. The centre is an appealing place to wander with medieval streets, fountains and courtyards.
An artist's haven, Aix is sometimes called the Florence of Provence for its artistic connections (notably with Cézanne) and little art shops, galleries and exhibitions.
This sprawling region of wetland is famous for its unique character, rich wildlife and sometimes melancholic feel. The white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos are part of the traditional landscape, along with all manner of birdlife making its home along the labyrinth of canals and waterways. Arles is the gateway to the Camargue, charmingly characterful with an amphitheatre and jauntily painted houses that once were an inspiration for Van Gogh who spent time here.
Famous as one of the most gruelling legs of the Tour de France. If you can make it to the summit you'll be rewarded with fantastic views.
This is the lavender-cloaked region that features on tourist board posters, complete with little picturesque villages like Bonnieux and Gordes that perch on the edge of the Luberon foothills. Here you'll find the sometimes disconcerting silence of the empty squares baking in the summer heat, with cafés tucked away on the side streets offering shade and cool drinks.
Food features prominently in Provence where it is dominated by the holy quartet of the Mediterranean kitchen: olive oil, wine, tomatoes and garlic. Something as straightforward as home-made tapenade or a bowl of soupe au pistou can be a holiday highlight while visiting local artisans and food producers - maybe tasting a local farm's olive oil - can be a fascinating foody experience. Heading east to the Italian border you'll find a leaning towards Italian cuisine, certainly with pizzas, while further south the coastal influence takes over with amazing fish dishes and classic Mediterranean bouillabaisse.