Formed from several different historical regions, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region (PACA) has a culture as varied as its landscape. From the Rhône in the west to the Italian border in the east, the region is known for its historic cities, warm weather and lively culture.
Provence has a warm, mild climate with hot summers. During the hottest months, between June and August, the weather is blissfully warm – perhaps even a little too hot for some. Additionally, the warm weather in the summer months draws huge crowds of vacationers. Spring and autumn are milder but still warm and ideal for a holiday in Provence, and the crowds are much less dense. Away from the Riviera, though, watch out for the chill of the mistral, a strong wind from the northwest.
The attractions for a holiday in Provence can be divided into three main categories: its historic cities, blissful beaches and its majestic inland scenery.
The largest city in the region is Marseille. Founded by Greek settlers in around 600 BC, this port city is home to communities from all over the world. Its most famous sites include the Vieux Port and the small but interesting Palais Longchamp. The tower of Notre Dame de la Garde, where fishermen once asked for their boats to be blessed, has excellent views of the city.
Close to Marseilles is Aix-en-Provence, a wealthy enclave that provides a striking contrast to bustling, working-class Marseille. Famous for being the home of Cezanne, this city is also known for its well-preserved historic architecture, particularly the many fountains. Pay careful attention to the bell towers of the churches, made of open wrought-iron frames to protect them from the fierce mistral.
Other cities in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur include Avignon, once home to a dynasty of French-backed Popes who rivalled the Popes of Rome, as well as the historic port of Toulon.
The eastern part of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region is the home of the famous French Riviera. Resort destinations like Saint-Tropez, Antibes, Nice and Cannes attract visitors from all over France and around the world, especially during events like the Cannes Film Festival, which draws international celebrities and local film lovers alike. The Riviera isn't all glamour and crowds, though – it has tiny seaside villages, fine art galleries and museums and even some stretches of quiet beach.
In the northern part of the region, the French Alps provide a cool contrast to the blazing heat of the Riviera in summer. Skiers, snowboarders and hikers come from all over the world to take in the striking scenery of this mountain range.
Another, lesser-known natural attraction in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur is the Camargue. This area of wetland surrounds the delta of the Rhône and is popular with equestrians and cyclists. Above all, it's beloved by bird watchers, who delight in the many species that live in the area. The Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau protects these important habitats.
The traditional cuisine of southern France is very different from the food of the northern parts of the country, and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur typifies this difference. Seafood, olives, garlic, lamb and fruit are all abundant in this region, and each plays an important role in the local diet. Herbes de Provence are a mixture of different herbs which grow throughout the region; these local plants give Provençal cuisine its distinct flavour.
Size: 31,400 square kilometres
Population: 4,951,388 people
Capital city: Marseille
Provinces: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Var, Vaucluse
Landscape: rocky outcrops, high mountains, olive groves, blue water, deep gorges, fields of lavender.