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Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Main attractions

Verdon Gorge, France
Verdon Gorge / Casper Moller, Flickr CC BY 2.0

This region of France is very rich both with natural and man-made landmarks. Most outstanding are the monuments of urban planning. In the region are hundreds of amazing ancient villages and towns, such as Avignon walled city, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie and many others.

Avignon City is especially rich with valuable cultural heritage – the city served as the residence of pope in 1309 – 1423.

Outstanding natural monuments include the incredible Fontaine-de-Vaucluse – one of the most powerful springs in the world and up to 700 m deep Verdon Gorge.

Natural landmarks

Canyons and cliffs

  • Cap Canaille cliffs – Bouches-du-Rhône. Tallest sea cliffs in France – 394 m tall.
  • Cians Gorges – Alpes-Maritimes. Dramatic gorge with road hewn through it. Provides numerous breathtaking sights.
  • Colorado Provençal – Vaucluse. Unusual landscape, formed by eroded cliffs, consisting of sandstone in 20 different colors. Many hoodoos, tunnels and other amazing formations.
  • Daluis Gorges – Alpes-Maritimes. Impressive chasm, where a blue-green river breaks through a chasm formed of red rocks.
  • Verdon Gorge – Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Up to 700 m deep canyon, about 25 km long. Verdon here has unusual green-blue color, thus together with the white limestone creating a beautiful landscape.
Réotier petrified fountain, France
Réotier petrified fountain / Denis, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Other natural landmarks

  • Cascade de Courmes – Alpes-Maritimes. Some 40 m tall waterfall in dramatic natural setting.
  • Fontaine-de-Vaucluse – Vaucluse. Very powerful spring at the foot of 230 m high cliff. Average discharge – 22,000 l/s, at snow melts – 110,000 l/s. Dived up to 308 m depth. Source of Sorgue river.
  • Port-Miou submarine spring – Bouches-du-Rhône. Powerful submarine spring, discharging 7,000 l/s of freshwater. It formed in the past, when the sea level was much lower. Now the submarine cave has been dived for more than 2,200 m, it goes up to 178 m under the sea level. Water is discharged some metres under the sea level.
  • Réotier petrified fountain – Hautes-Alpes. A thermal spring which is depositing travertine deposits, forming natural terraces and other unusual formations.

Man made landmarks

Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine, France
Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine / Allie Caulfield, Flickr CC BY 2.0

Archaeological monuments

  • Alyscamps – Bouches-du-Rhône. Roman necropolis near Arles Old town, main burial ground of the city for over 1,500 years. In medieval times until sometimes around 1100 AD people from all Europe wanted to be buried here.
  • Grotte Cosquer – Bouches-du-Rhône. Unique cave with prehistoric paintings. Entrance of this cave is located 37 m below the sea level – it was inhabited when the sea level was considerably lower than now. Most of paintings have been destroyed by sea water, the remaining ones are made in two periods – 27,000 years BC and 19,000 years BC.
  • Glanum ruins – Bouches-du-Rhône. Ruins of fortified town, established by Salyens in the 6th cerntury BC. Later it became Roman town, abandoned in 260 AD. Best preserved structures are – Roman mausoleum and triumphal arch.
  • Mount Bégo petroglyphs – Alpes-Maritimes. One of the richest petroglyph sites in Europe. Around 2000 BC here were created more than 37 000 engravings. Many of petroglyphs are just rectangular boxes with bovine horns rising from the upper corners.
  • Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine – Vaucluse. Impressive, Roman built bridge with a single span (17,20 m). Constructed in the 1st century AD, still in use.
  • Triumphal Arch of Orange – Vaucluse. Well preserved Roman trimuphal arch, built during the reign of Augustus. Structure is 19.57 m long and 19.21 m tall.
Coaraze, France
Coaraze / Nicois de Coeur, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Urban planning monuments

  • Avignon walled city – Vaucluse. Medieval centre of once very important city, surrounded by well preserved city walls. Walls were built in papal times – in 1349 – 1368, are 4,330 m long, 8 m high and have 35 large towers and 50 smaller towers. In this time period Avignon was one of main cities in Europe and underwent fast development.
  • Briançon old city and fortress – Hautes-Alpes. Fortified upper town of the town, surrounded by the 17th century fortress, built by Vauban.
  • Callian – Var. A historical village, perched on a top of mountain with a castle in the centre.
  • Coaraze – Alpes-Maritimes. Medieval town, densely built on a hill top.
  • Fayence – Var. A historical village, perched on a top of mountain.
  • Fréjus medieval centre – Var. Ancient Roman city with medieval centre, contains numerous very old buildings.
  • Gourdon – Alpes-Maritimes. Small medieval town, densely covering an isolated cliff. Developed around the castle.
  • Les Baux-de-Provence – Bouches-du-Rhône. Spectacular village in Alpilles mountains on the top of rocky outcrop. Site used as a hillfort since the 2nd century BC or earlier.
  • Lourmarin – Vaucluse. Beautiful mountaintop village with houses arranged in a ring. Many medieval buildings.
  • Mont-Dauphin – Hautes-Alpes. Small town within start fort, located in impressive natural setting in Alpes. Fortifications were built by Vauban in the second half of the 17th century.
  • Moustiers-Sainte-Marie – Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Very interesting small town, located among giant cliffs. Preserved fortifications of the town from the 15th century. Large Romanesque church. Above the village is hanging a star, connected to two cliffs in both sides of the village.
  • Roussillon – Vaucluse. Gorgeous hilltop town with many medieval buildings.
  • Sainte-Agnès – Alpes-Maritimes. Medieval mountain village with a view on the sea. Located approximately 750 – 800 m above the sea. Developed since the 11th century.
  • Tourrettes – Var. A historical village, perched on a top of mountain. Houses are arranged by forming a ring, thus improving the protection of the village.
  • Vaison-la-Romaine – Vaucluse. Very old city, gradually developing as urban centre since Bronze Age. Capital of Vocontii since the end of the 4th century BC. After Roman conquest Vocontii managed to retain their city and it is possible that medieval street network to large extent has been preserved up to this day. Fortified in medieval times. In vicinities many ruins of Roman buildings.
  • Venasque – Vaucluse. Historical town on the top of mountain, with many interesting and old buildings and other structures.
  • Village des Bories – Vaucluse. A village, consisting of 28 drystone huts – agricultural outhouses. Long abandoned, very interesting monument of urban planning.
  • Walled city of Salon-de-Provence – Bouches-du-Rhône. The centrum of once important town, still enclosed in medieval walls. Can be entered through two gateways, built in the 17th century.
Château d’If, France
Château d’If / Yann Droneaud, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Castles and fortifications

  • Château d’If – Bouches-du-Rhône. Legendary fortress on a small island in the Bay of Marseille. Built in 1524 – 1531. Used as a prison since the 16th century.
  • Gordes Castle – Vaucluse. Medieval castle on the top of cliff. Rebuilt in Renaissance style in 1525.
  • Gourdon Castle – Alpes-Maritimes. Castle in an isolated rock, with a town around it. Built in the 12th – 18th century. Beautiful garden from the 12th – 17th century.
  • Palais des Papes, Avignon – Vaucluse. Enormous castle, towering above Avignon – the largest Gothic palace in Europe. Residence of Popes in the time when they were located here, in Avignon. Walls are up to 5.5 m thick. Palace basically consists of many linked towers. This building was almost prohibitely expensive, costing most of the income of papacy in this period. Adorned with valuable frescoes.
Marseille Cathedral, France
Marseille Cathedral / Marc Dupuy, Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Churches and monasteries

  • Aix Cathedral – Bouches-du-Rhône. Large cathedral, built over a long time period and includes many styles of architecture. Built in the site of Roman forum. Current structure built mainly in the 12th and 19th century in Romanesque, Gothic and Neogothic styles. Includes parts from the 6th century church with details of Roman temple (1st century AD). Very rich with important works of art.
  • Arles Church of St. Trophime – Bouches-du-Rhône. Romanesque cathedral, built between the late 11th and 15th century. Contains some of the best Romanesque sculptures. Built in the site of the 5th century basilica.
  • Avignon Cathedral – Vaucluse. Large and very important cathedral, built in Romanesque style. Built mainly in the 12th century. Contains numerous valuable monuments of art, including the beautiful mausoleum of Pope John XXII – a masterpiece of the 14th century Gothic stone carving. Imposing is the gilded statue of Virgin Mary on the western tower of church.
  • Avignon St. Didier church – Vaucluse. Exquisite Gothic church, built in Papal times in 1356 – 1359. The interior is comparatively scarce, influenced by Cistercian monastic art. Altar cross is considered to be one of the earliest Renaissance works in France (1478).
  • Fréjus Cathedral – Var. Part of a larger group of medieval structures, built in the 5th – 13th centuries. Baptistery of this church is built in the 5th century but most of the cathedral – in the 12th – 13th centuries. Cloister with painted wooden ceiling, built in the 13th century.
  • Le Thoronet Abbey – Var. Well preserved complex of Cistercian abbey. Buildings constructed in the late 12th – early 13th century. Buildings are strict and simple and represent well the spirit of Cistercian monasteries.
  • Marseille Cathedral – Bouches-du-Rhône. Giant church building in Neo-Byzantine style, built in 1852 – 1896 in the site of earlier cathedrals of Marseille.
  • Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseilles – Bouches-du-Rhône. Enormous Neo-Byzantine basilica, located on a 162 m high limestone outcrop above Marseilles. Constructed in 1864. The 41 m tall bell tower is topped by 11.2 m tall gilded statues of Madonna and Child.
  • Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Nice – Alpes-Maritimes. Beautiful Neo-Byzantine church, built in 1912.
  • Sainte Jeanne d’Arc church, Nice – Alpes-Maritimes. Very impressive and unusual church, built in Art Deco style in 1926 – 1933.
  • St.Victor church, Marseille – Bouches-du-Rhône. Church of St.Victor Abbey – one of the oldest monasteries in France, established in 415, rebuilt in the first half of the 11th century. Church is built in 1040, rebuilt in 1200. Located over Hellenic burial ground.
Palais Longchamp, France
Palais Longchamp / Hedwig Storch, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

Other man-made landmarks

  • Hotel Negresco, Nice – Alpes-Maritimes. Luxury hotel with a view on Mediterranean, built in 1912. Ornate interiors.
  • La vieille charité, Marseille – Bouches-du-Rhône. Almshouse, built in Baroque style in 1671 – 1749. Designed by Pierre Puget. This large complex of buildings was a working camp – almshouse – for the poor.
  • Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon – Vaucluse. This museum houses valuable collection of Renaissance paintings of Avignon school and other areas. Petit Palais is city palace. Construction of this palace started in 1314. The Renaissance style facade was added in the 15th century.
  • Palais Longchamp – Bouches-du-Rhône. Large and sumptuous museum building, built in 1839 – 1869. Museum houses art and natural history collections. Surrounded by a beautiful park with fountains and artificial waterfalls.
  • Unité d’Habitation – Bouches-du-Rhône. Modernist residential building by Le Corbusier. Built in 1947 – 1952, this building is one of the predecessors of Brutalist style in architecture with huge influence on housing design in coming decades.
  • Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild – Alpes-Maritimes. Luxurious palace style villa, built in 1905 – 1912 in Neo-Renaissance style by Rothschild family. Beautiful garden.

List of described attractions by departments

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is divided into 6 departments:

Alpes-de-Haute-Provence
Alpes-Maritimes
Bouches-du-Rhône
Hautes-Alpes
Var
Vaucluse
ArrowFontaine-de-Vaucluse (Vaucluse Spring)Springs, Caves, Ancient shrines, Sites of legends

Map of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

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