Welcome to Provence - Official site for the Bouches-du-Rhone region of France.

Aix-en-Provence

Aix en Provencewww.aixenprovencetourism.com Office of Tourism of Aix-en-Provence. Provides  information on the walking tour, In the Steps of Cezanne under appropriately enough - Cezanne. There are a number of other guided walking tours. Each one focuses on a different aspect of the city. The lecturer/guide is registered with The Office of Historical Monuments. For more information check under - Tours. In addition the site covers  events, leisure, museums, restaurants, and hotels. The web site has an English version.

For information about the Atelier Paul-Cezanne go to www.atelier-cerzanne.com. The site has an English version.

www.fondationvasarely.fr Fondation Vasarely. The site has an English version.

Accommodations:

Hotel Le Manio, 8 rue d’Entrecasteaux Tele: 33 (0) 442 26 27 20. Near the Place des Tanneurs in the historic center. Simple, but comfortable rooms. For more information including photo and room rates click on the link to their web site.

Restaurants:

Restaurant Côté Cour, 19 cours Mirabeau Tele: 04 42 93 12 51. Opening times: 11:30am to 3:00pm (lunch) and 7:30pm to 12:00am (dinner) and closed on Sunday. French, Mediterranean. Decor was a little over the top, but in a way I liked it. The pre-fix lunch is a good deal. Food (quality and presentation) and service were excellent. Traditional French/Mediterranean dishes. There are usually a couple fish dishes along with a meat dish or two on the menu. Moderately priced. Definitely cheaper to do the pre-fix versus a la carte which is usually the case. If you want to have a more upscale lunch versus bistro or brasserie this is a good choice.

Le Bistro Latin, 18 rue de la Couronne Tele: 33 (0) 442 38 33 88. Inexpensive to moderately priced. Cuisine: Provençal. Cozy bistro with great food. Reservations advisable.

Trattoria Chez Antoine Cote Cour, 19 rue Mirabeau Tele: 33 (0) 442 93 12 51 Cuisine: Mediterranean. Moderately priced. Elegant setting. Friendly staff. Reservations advisable.

Shops

The Puyricard Chocolaterie, 9 Rue Rifle Rafle Tele: 33 4 42 21 13 26. One of the best chocolate shops in Aix. Perfect place to for calissons, a speciality of Provence.

Arles

ArlesFamous for Roman ruins, Van Gogh, photography, literature and of course the hometown of top fashion designer, Christian Lacroix. Once the capital of Roman Gaul (France, Britain and Spain). Today vestiges of imperial Rome stand along side buildings and streets that inspired Van Gogh (he painted over 300 canvases in less than  2 years while living here). Arles has a rich history that continues to draw people festivals for photography and music just to name two. Overall the city offers visitors a cornucopia of artistic and archeological wonders. Once you have seen the major sights there are many little nooks and crannies to explore. Fun and fascinating sights off the beaten track to discover. Not too mention a fabulous open air market that takes over the tree lined Boulevard des Lices. After an exhausting day of sightseeing, you can sit and enjoy an aperitif in one of the cute cafes that line Place de Forum.

Arles is also full of surprises. Actes Sud (the publishing house based in the city) owns not only a bookshop and cinema, but a restaurant/bar/Turkish bath as well. Talking about diversification. L’Entrevue is the restaurant and Hammam Chiffa is the gorgeous Turkish baths. You can have a look by going to http://www.hammam-chiffa.com/

Arles -  Carmargue Tourist Office Official Site. The website has an English version.

The Following museums are a few that I found especially interesting:

The Vincent Van Gogh Foundation hosts exhibitions by artists who were inspired by Van Gogh. Click on the link for a listing of current and future exhibitions. The web site has an English version.

The Musée Réattu (near the Thernes de Constantin) has a collection of drawing by Picasso, who personally donated them to the museum in the 1970s, in gratitude for the wonderful times he had in Arles. The building itself is of particular interest dating from the 15th century and at onetime a Knights of Malta priory.

The Musée de l'Arles Antique is located outside the city center in a modern building that makes an interesting contrast to the collection inside. There are models of the city during the Roman times along with a nice collection of Roman artifacts - from statues to pottery to carved friezes to sarcophagi. For more information on this extraordinary collection click on the link. The web site has an English version.

The cloister of St-Trophime is best viewed midday. One of the loveliest cloisters in southern  France with exquisite carvings from the 12th and 14th centuries. Even if you are not religious you cannot help to admire the craftsmanship and the overall beauty of the cloisters. Opening times are the same as Les Arènes. The Romanesque church of St-Trophime is also a must see in particular  the portal with carvings from the 12th century.

The Arles visitor’s pass gives you access to museums and monuments for one price. The pass is available at the Office of Tourism on the Boulevard des Lices (catty-corner from the Jardin d’Ete). I like to park off the Blvd. des Lices either in the parking lot or the parking garage, each located respectively on either side of tourist office. The center part of town has small narrow streets, which are great for walking, but not so great for driving. You can read about my driving misadventure under “hotels”. The location of the parking facilities also makes a great starting point for exploring all the major attractions. If you visit on market day there is another public parking lot off of Boulevard Emile Combres near Eglise Notre Dame la Major.

Festivals & Events:

Féria d'Arles - Bullfighting - April through September

Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie - Photography - July through September 

Les Suds à Arles - Music Festival - Summer

There is a complete listing festivals and events on  the official website for the Arles tourist office.

Entertainment:

Théâtre d'Arles - Venue for concerts, plays and so fourth

Théâtre Antique - hosts music and theater productions in the summer

Restaurants:

Le Cilantro, 31 rue Porte de Laure Tele: 04 90 18 25 05. Moderately priced. Contemporary bistro decor. The chef/owner, Jérôme Laurent uses only fresh (seasonal) ingredients to create delicious and imaginative dishes. Closed Sunday & Monday. Directly south of Les arènes, right near the Théâtre antique.

Le Criquet, 21 Rue Porte de Laure Tele: 04 90 96 80 51. Traditional Provençale/Seafood. Charming family run restaurant. Great food, reasonably priced with a nice offering on the menu so if you don’t like seafood you can order something else.

I have one other recommendation, but the restaurant is not in Arles. It's located about 7.8 miles northeast of the city. Not a difficult drive. Quite the opposite in fact. The drive though the countryside is lovely. The restaurant is in the small village of Paradou is called Le Bistrot du Paradou - Chez Jean Louis, 57 Avenue de la Vallée des Baux Tele: 04 90 54 32 70. Closed Sunday. Selection is limited to what is on the menu for the day. There is a starter, main course, cheese course and a selection of desserts. Now if you are a fussy eater this might not be the best restaurant to go to. However, if you are an adventurous soul then this is the place for you. The setting is a typical French village restaurant. The food fresh, cooked perfectly and delicious. And the wine (also excellent) is included in the cost of the meal.

Hotels:

Hotel Le Calendal, 5, rue de Laure Tele: 04 90 96 11 89. I found this hotel quite by accident. I was in France with some friends for the Christmas holiday. WeArles were walking around Arles sightseeing on a really chilly day (the mistral from the North was blowing down the Rhone valley). Well after an hour or two we needed something hot and a warm place to drink it in . We were near the Theater Antique and I spotted this brightly colored and rather cheerful looking building and noticed they served tea. I thought - perfect. It looked like a nice hotel so I asked for more information including room prices. In the Spring some other friends of mine was going to be in the area and asked me for hotel and restaurants suggestions. I remembered the Hotel Le Calendal and told them about the hotel. They decided to stay there. When they got back they told me how they were extremely happy with their beautifully decorated room, the great value for their money,  and the excellent service. I was happy they had a wonderful time so I decided to add the hotel to my web site. One thing to remember though, driving in the historic center of Arles is a nightmare - narrow streets, one way streets. I made the mistake, and I was driving one of those big four door Peugeot sedan no less. Oh my heavens - I nearly gave myself and everyone else in the car a stroke trying to get out there without damaging the car. Needless to say I would opt for “parking” when you book your reservation. For more information click “parking” on the the hotel’s web site. 

Carmargue

www.parc-camargue.fr. Good site for information on the Carmargue regional park except its only in French. You can cruise around on the paddlewheel boat, Tiki III to get different view of the wildlife and coastline. For additional information go to their website.

Cassis

Walking along the beach with the sound of the waves in the background and a cool salty breeze on my back or perhaps just sitting and watching the waves.Cassis Nestled into the limestone cliffs, once a sleepy little fishing village popular with artists like Matisse and Dufy. Today Cassis is popular with people who want to get away for a few days for a little rest and relaxation on the beach. No longer a fishing village per  se, but still known for their seafood.  

The Office of Tourism hosts a web site at http://www.ot-cassis.com/index_us.php (there is an English version). The Office of Tourism is located on the promenade Aristide Briandin right on the west side of harbor. When your enter town follow the signs to the harbor and keep a look out for signs for public parking, there are a number of public parking lots around town. In the summer expect traffic. The streets are narrow and were not really designed for a lot of cars.

Due to its popularity Cassis can get crowded in the summer. I went in the Fall – early October. People were swimming. It was warm and sunny. I found it pleasant and had a great time.

Les Calanques are fjords, an inlet cut into the limestone cliffs that rise majestically out of the Mediterranean. Some reach as high as 1,300 feet. One of nature’s natural wonders you might say. Between Marseille and Cassis there are number of them. Some have private beaches accessible only by boat. Others you can walk to to one of the most most beautiful, Calanque d’En Vau, which is about a hour and half walk from Cassis. If you drive and park at Port-Miou the walk is not as long.

One the best way to get a great view of the Les Calanques is from the sea. Excursion boats leave from the harbor around 10:00am. You can see anywhere from 3 calanques to 8 calanques depending on how much time you have. If you would like more information go to http://www.calanques-cassis.com/ or go stop by the kiosk at the east end of the harbor for tickets or information. Another great way is to go kayaking. You can rent a one from Provence Kayak Mer, their website is http://www.provencekayakmer.fr/. Leaves from Calanque de Port-Miou, you can either walk (quite manageable) from Cassis or drive. There is a parking lot on the Port-Miou inlet.

CassisYou can also catch a boat from Marseille for a tour of the Calanques. They leave from the quai des Belges on the Vieux Port daily in July and August. On Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday the rest of the year.

Throughout France there are Grande Randonnees (walking/hiking trails). The GR98 runs between Cassis and Marseille. It is a difficult hike (17.4 miles) and takes about 12 hours. The Federation Francaise de la Randonnee Pedestre publishes a series of hiking guides called TopoGuides. They are in French, but if you are planning a hike they are probably the best resource and they do have diagrams and maps so it’s not too difficult to understand. A little bit of French and a dictionary will go a long way. The one that covers the GR98 is called Les Calanques…a pied De Marseille a Cassis - ISBN 978-2-7514-0192-3. You can purchase the guide in shops. I bought mine at a shop at the Marseille airport. I also noticed on their web site an online boutique. I would imagine they could ship anywhere in the world since it is just book. Check out the web site for more information.

Restaurants:

Nino, 1 Quai Barthelemy, Tele: 04 42 01 74 32. Moderate - Expensive. Fresh seafood. Perfect location with a great view of the harbor.  I have found good boullabaisse is not cheap. However, it is a heavy meal so you will probably want a light dinner. I usually stay within by budget by doing this. If I have a somewhat expensive lunch, I will have a less expensive dinner.

Les Baux-de-Provence

Lying on a spur of the Alphilles Mountains, thus strategically placed (you can see for miles around) making it easy to defend. Today, the village is filled with galleries and restaurants along with incredible views of the countryside. Anne of Montmorency rebuilt the stronghold of the Seigneurs into a beautiful Renaissance style chateau in the 16th century. Only to have Cardinal Richelieu come along during the Wars of Religion in 1632 and  lay siege to the chateau. He even sent the bill to the owners. Les Baux has always been a hotbed of intrigue and deceit. What’s left of the ruined chateau is surprisingly quite interesting. With the audio guide (included in the price of admission) it isn’t too difficult to imagine what the chateau must have looked like and what life must have been like. There is a museum with models of the chateau, illustrations and archaeological finds. You also learn a lot of fascinating information about the area and the village including the ingenious drainage system. St-Vincent church dates from the Romanesque and Gothic periods and has some beautiful modern stained glass windows by Max Ingrand. Across the square is the smaller 17th century Chapelles des Penitents Blancs. Very popular especially during the high season in summer. It is best to arrive early in the morning to avoid the rush. And it can be quite windy on the top where the chateau stands.

The Tourist Office has an online site in English. You will find information on the village, chateau and restaurant/hotel listings.

If you are driving to Les Baux-de-Provence on the D17 from the direction of Arles you will also pass the former Benedictine Abbey of Montmajour, founded in the 10th century. Restoration of the abbaye started in 1907. You can miss it on the right hand side of road. You will see the 85 feet tall donjon. will also pass through the quaint little village of Fontvielle. For more information click on the link. The site has an English version. Close to Arles, about 13 miles away so you can combine a trip to Arles with one to Les Baux-de-Provence.

Marseille

Tourist Office and Convention Bureau of Marseille has a web site. There is an English version. You can get a 1 or 2 day CityMarseille Pass, which gives you access to 14 museums and use of the public transportation for one price. You can also search the site for what’s going on as far as opera, theatre along with information on cabaret, jazz clubs, piano bars and so on.

Two of my personal favorite attractions in Marseille are the Vieille-Charite and the Musee Brobet-Labadie. The latter has a fine collection of furniture and paintings from the 16th to 18th centuries housed in a townhouse of wealthy merchant family from the 19th century. You not only get to look at some beautiful pieces of furniture, decorative items and paintings, but you also get to see how a typical wealthy family from the 18th, 19th centuries lived.     

There is a bus (take the 82) that stops on the Quai de Rive Neuve that will take you up to Notre-dame-de-la-Garde. 

The Ballet National de Marseille performs in the Opera Muncipal. For information on the season click on the link. The web site has an English  version.

Accommodations:

I like to stay around the Vieux Port not only because it’s quite lovely and picturesque, but the location is an ideal home base for exploring the city. You just park your car in one of a number of parking garages located around the port and begin your adventure.

The Hotel Alize, 35 quai des Belges. The rooms are nice and tidy, rather on the small side, but the views of the port quite nice. Be sure to ask for a room facing the port. Moderately priced with a central location. I also like this hotel because the Place du General de Gaulle parking garage is conveniently located two blocks away.

MarseilleRestaurants/Cafes/Bars:

Le Miramar, 18 quai de Rive-Neuve Tele: 04 91 33 35 38. Located right on the Vieux port.  Expensive. Specialty: bouillabaisse.

Le Café Parisien,1 place Sadi-Carnot Tele: 04 91 90 05 77 is located in Le Panier. A fun and lively place to go for a drink. Originally opened in 1903, the decor is rather retro. A few years ago a renovation brought the cafe up to date while preserving the classic elements. Some nights there is live music. Definitely a pleasant way to spend a few hours relaxing in the evening.