Praise for Fodor’s Exploring guides:
“Authoritatively written and superbly presented…worthy reading before, during or after a trip.”
- Philadelphia Inquirer
“Absolutely gorgeous. Fun, colorful, and sophisticated.”
- Chicago Tribune
Fodor’s helps you unleash the possibilities of travel by providing the insightful tools you need to experience the trips you want. While you’re at the helm, Fodor’s offers the assurance of our expertise, the guarantee of selectivity, and the choice details that truly define a destination. It’s like having a friend in Provence!
Fodor’s Exploring Provence is a concise, comprehensive and colorful guide to Provence that’s packed with practical information, including:
•Exceptional coverage of Provence’s HISTORY and CULTURE
•ITINERARIES, WALKS, and EXCURSIONS on and off the beaten path
•Savvy regional cuisine and lodging picks for EVERY BUDGET
•COLOR PHOTOS by the hundreds
•RATINGS for key sights
Visit Fodors.com for more ideas and information, travel deals, vacation planning tips, reviews and to exchange travel advice with other travelers.
Read an Excerpt
Provence Is ... A Landscape of Contrasts
Mountains, Rivers, Gorges
Despite the picture-postcard images of mellow landscapes, in reality Provence is rugged and mountainous, with arid, windblown terrain alternating with the lush river valleys.
In the northeast corner of Provence the craggy peaks of the Alpes de Haute-Provence tower above glaciated valleys, such as the Vallée de l'Ubaye, the dramatic mountain passes often cut off by deep snow in winter. To the south, these alpine heights adjoin the Mercantour massif on the border with Italy and lead down into the upper valleys of the Var, Tinée, Roya, and Vésubie rivers. En route to the coast these torrents have created chasms through the pre-Alps, which shelter the hinterland and the Riviera resorts.
To the west, the Verdon river has carved out of the limestone of the Plateau de Valensole one of the great natural wonders of the region, the Grand Cañon du Verdon. The Plateau de Valensole and the Plan de Canjuers to the south of the Verdon are among the least populated regions in Provence, desolate, wild areas dominated by garrigue (scrubland).
Provence Is ... People
Who are the real Provençals, and what are they like? Generations of writers and travelers have tried to provide answers and more often than not come up with patronizing generalizations. Victor Hugo considered them typically Mediterranean and hot-blooded ("in Paris one quarrels, in Avignon one kills"), while almost everyone from Stendhal to Lawrence Durrell thought they embodied the mañana attitude lazy, unhurried, ready to put off work until demain or (more likely) après demain. This reputation is no doubt partly due to the difficulties newcomers experience getting locals to work on their houses a storyline that has been mined from the days of Lady Fortescue (who settled near Grasse in the 1930s) through to Peter Mayle in the 1980s. Alphonse Daudet was first responsible for portraying the Provençals as whimsical, comic characters through his Tartarin novels, and the enormously popular books and movies of Marcel Pagnol have reinforced this stereotype of the light-hearted, playful Provençal who spends all day doing nothing more serious than playing boules and drinking pastis.
There may be a grain of truth in these caricatures, but in reality Provençals are far more serious and hardworking although they also know how to enjoy themselves. They also have a reputation for surliness and distrust of outsiders (natural enough, one would think, in a region that has seen so many invasions including invasion by tourism), but once the ice is broken they become welcoming and hospitable.
Provence Is ... Tourism
Tourism plays an essential part in the Provençal economy, as it has done for the last 160 years since foreigners first started vacationing on the Côte d'Azur. Today around 24 million tourists annually contribute between 36 and 39 billion francs to the region.
Tourism on the Riviera started in the 1830s when the English aristocracy started building luxury mansions in which to escape the winter fog in England. In the interwar years, Coco Chanel popularized sunbathing and the season switched to the summer a phenomenon that intensified after World War II with the emergence of mass tourism. By the mid-1970's, millions of people were vacationing on the coastline, but inland Provence still remained largely unspoiled, discovered only by more adventurous visitors.
The Alpes-Maritimes (which includes the Côte d'Azur) is today the most popular destination for foreigners, followed by the Vaucluse, the Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, and the Alpes de Haute-Provence. Conversely, the French (who constitute three-fourths of all visitors to Provence) favor the Var and the aples de Haute-provence, followed by the Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse, and the Alpes-Maritimes which may tell you something if you want to avoid your own neighbors.
The number of people who visit the Côte d'Azur (just over 8 million annually) is equivalent to the number of people who visit Greece or the entire Caribbean, and the coast accounts for around 25 billion francs out of total tourism revenues for Provence of between 36 and 39 billion francs. Despite these seductive figures, tourism on the coast is in crisis. There is a huge overcapacity of hotel rooms, and the changing patterns of international tourism are also having an effect: due to increased awareness of the dangers of sunbathing, fewer people are taking beach vacations. No longer content to simply fry their brains (bronzer à idiot as the French say), vacationers want more things to do, they want better value for money, and they want to experience the real Provence.
Cultural tourism is now being more heavily marketed, emphasizing the extraordinary artistic legacy of the Côte d'Azur, which is blessed with no fewer than 80 museums, running the gamut from Impressionist paintings to Picasso and Chagall, perfume and honey to wine and wildlife. Many have been upgraded (such as the Matisse museum in Nice) and new ones are being opened (such as the Musée des Merveilles in Tende).
The rich natural and cultural heritage has always been the main drawing card in inland Provence, but with increasing numbers of people now wanting to hike, bike, or simply do their own thing discovering the mountains and valley byways, the authorities are eager to tap into this market and promote rural tourism. In recent years, they have embarked on a coordinated program that includes supplying management expertise for rural communities who want to diversify into tourism. Initiatives such as these are not only good news for rural communities, but also point the way forward for better quality tourism and a sustainable future for this important sector of the Provençal economy.
Table of Contents
How to Use This Book
A Landscape of Contrasts
The Coast and the Sea
The California of Europe
Dark Ages to Feudalism
Union with France
Wars of Religion
The Revolution and After
Recovery and Growth
Protecting the Lubéron
Mistral and the Félibrige
Herbs and Herbal Lore
Cézanne in Aix
Wildlife in the Camargue
A Country Calendar
Forests and Fires
The Esterel Massif
The Rich and Famous
Corruption on the Riviera
Grand Caçon du Verdon
Gorges du Loup
Arriving and Departing
Hotels and Restaurants
Picture Credits and Contributors
Maps and Plans