Provence is an astonishingly versatile region and truly a year-round destination, why not spend a year?. To help you decide when to plan your trip I thought we’d take a little journey through the months, beginning with December, taking a look at what’s on offer at that time of year. Whether you’re looking for a weekend getaway or two weeks R&R, I’m confident Provence should be at the top of your go-to list. And if you think I’ve missed any key events, feel free to add them in the comments below!
I know, I know, normally a 12-month guide would begin in January but, at the time of writing there is still the opportunity for you to get your skates on and book a trip down here over the festive period. If you can, you really must! The run up to Christmas and New Year really is very special and you’ll be glad you made the trip. Cheap flights are available into Marseille courtesy of the low-cost airlines like EasyJet and there is plenty to keep you occupied for 48hrs or more.
Make sure you find time to visit a Christmas market (or two) where you’ll find some great gifts and plenty of fantastic food and drink to sample. Try ice skating in Cassis or head to Arles the week before Christmas to take in their ‘funny’ Christmas festival, the Drôles de Noëls, which sees circus performers, puppeteers, magicians and much more turn out onto the city’s streets along with scheduled fireworks displays. Needless to say, if you can stick around for Christmas itself then do!
I’m biased, but I can’t think of a better place to welcome in the New Year than Provence! New Year is enthusiastically celebrated and you’ll definitely be able to find a good fireworks display to watch. Come the 1st of January, wake up to air that is crisp and fresh and a palpable sense of optimism in the air for the year to come.
New Year aside there is plenty to do during January. Whilst some tourist attractions will be closed, many more remain open and delightfully free of crowds. The village of Lourmarin is a classic example… as one of the most popular villages in Provence it’s heaving during the summer months but much quieter during the winter. A year-round cultural programme ensures there is lots going on and the excellent bars & restaurants remain open. Love seafood? Head to one of the many coastal towns at the weekend to enjoy one of the open-air seafood feasts that are held weekly.
February is a fantastic month to organise a mini-break. With the Christmas festivities feeling like a distant memory but spring yet to, well, ‘spring’, it can be quite a depressing time of year. To counter the winter blues, get a weekend break booked in your diary now so you have something to look forward to.
With Valentine’s Day mid-month, it can double up as a romantic surprise for your significant other. Start your mini-break in Marseille with its endless cafes, boutiques, museums and restaurants. Hire a car and head up to Aix-en-Provence which is a feast for the eyes and senses, from the St. Savour cathedral with its cloisters, to the bubbling fountain of Place des Quatres Dauphins with its water-spouting dolphins.
Unlike more northern climes, Spring is definitely on its way in the south of France come March with temperatures beginning to hit 15C. This makes it the perfect time to go hiking, not too hot and not too cold.
There are endless trails and tracks to follow throughout the region which work their way along the coast or through national parks. The Calanques are one such destination that is perfect for hikers. Take in breath-taking views of cliffs and sea plus, in March, you will have this amazing landscape almost to yourself.
The vines are beginning to come to life as another wine growing season kicks off making this a great time of year to focus on wine!
A good starting point is the ‘Les Printemps de Chateauneuf-du-Pape’ Salon des Vins (6th – 7th April 2019). As many as 90 producers will be presenting their wines for you to sample, so it is a unique opportunity to discover the diversity of Provencal wine production. Even better, wine can also be purchased. As is usual with these wonderful French events, there will be tasty ‘eats’ plus a gourmet market.
The weather is now definitely feeling more summery making a trip to the Carmargue a truly pleasant experience.
This renowned region is home to more than 400 species of birds as well as lots of other wildlife including the famous Carmargue horses. The annual Festival de la Carmargue is being held from 3rd to the 9th of May 2019 and promises to offer an extensive program of activities. A must attend event for wildlife lovers.
With the real summer weather finally here, the festival and market season really begins! There are too many festivals to list but in short, you won’t struggle to find events to attend. The Fete de la Musique is normally held towards the end of June with individual concerts organised right across the country.
Market lovers rejoice… whilst French markets tend to be year-round events they gain some added vigour with the warmer weather. Ask your hotel for details of the best near you.
The hottest month of the year! And with it comes the lavender with acres and acres of this sublimely scented, vibrantly purple plant marching across the landscape. It really is a sight to behold and well worth experiencing in person.
And after a day out exploring the lavender fields why not treat yourself to a decadent evening sipping chilled Rosé and enjoying a superb meal at one of the several Michelin starred restaurants in Provence. Bastille Day is on the 14th July and will be celebrated throughout France with Provence being no exception. Fireworks are a norm, but Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Toulon offer some of the best, so expect lots of spectacular flashes and bangs!
Time to head to the coast! From Marseille heading east, there are a whole variety of seaside experiences waiting for you, from the fabulous Parc National des Calanques with its breathtakingly beautiful inlets (now best explored from the sea rather than on foot), to family friendly, but ‘classy’ resorts such as Bandol offering a choice of several beautiful beaches to enjoy. In-between, the coastline dips and winds between multiple fishing villages, creeks and bays.
There’s always lots going on in Provence during September. The weather is just a touch cooler with some arguing this is more pleasant than the raw heat of the summer. In addition, the bulk of the summer holidaymakers have left, making travelling around a little easier. Septembre en Mer (September by the Sea) is a notable attraction with a month of over 200 marine-themed events up and down the coast, particularly around La Ciotat, Cassis and Marseille.
The foodies amongst you won’t want to miss the government-sponsored Fête de la Gastronomie. This is a nationwide celebration of all things ‘foodie’ normally held towards the end of September.
Another great month for wine lovers! The harvest is in full swing and the energetic might want to take part… many wineries will be only too happy to accept some extra help. Wine fairs (Foires aux vines) also feature prominently on the events calendar. These offer a great opportunity to stock up with some bottles for Christmas at heavily discounted prices. For those of you that are organised, book in advance for the Saint Victoire rally.
This involves a day-long hunt around the region’s vineyards by car with plenty of eating and drinking involved (well for the non-drivers anyway!). It’s a sell-out event each year so remember to register well in advance.
It’s hard to believe we’ve almost already gone full circle with the arrival of November. Despite the summer being over, this is still an amazing time of year to visit. Marseille plays host to Savim – a well-established gastronomy fair normally held in late November. It also happens to be the largest in France!
Keeping with the foodie theme, head to the village of Richerenches to celebrate the official start of the truffle season with the first truffle market of the year at the historic village of Richerenches.
So, when is the best time of year to visit Provence…? Well I’d say January, February, March, April, May June, July, August, September, October, November or December!
By Su Stephens, Owner of Olives & Vines. Olives & Vines is a luxury holiday company based in the South of France offering stays at their beautifully designed holiday house and boutique hotel in Le Castellet.