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It can be difficult to find things that are “hidden” in Provence. France is the number-one visited country in the world (it has 84 million visitors every year) and after Paris, Provence is the most visited region—it’s also the number-one holiday destination for the French. Yet, there are still unique things to discover off the beaten path. We take a look.
Sainte-Croix beach is a favourite with French holidaymakers and is always packed, but is totally worth the effort. The beach is sublime and the restaurant and shop make it a practical place to hang out for the day. You need a car to get there, as it’s in the middle of nowhere surrounded by forest. No fires allowed, clearly.
The Butterfly House was created by artist Dany Lartigue, who spent years collecting over 35,000 species of butterfly. He painted backgrounds to their cases and handed the house over to the town of Saint Tropez so everyone can enjoy it in perpetuity.
La Maison des Papillons, 17 Rue Etienne Berny, Saint-Tropez, France, +33 4 94 97 63 45
At the end of World War II, Marseille had a housing shortage and the answer was provided by France’s famous architect, Le Corbusier. He created a ‘city within a city’, where he built apartment blocks with everything one could need – a doctor, a school, shops, a restaurant and a supermarket. Nowadays, an apartment here costs a lot but it’s free to visit, and views from the roof allow you to see all of Marseilles from a different perspective.
The beautiful cemetery in Saint Tropez sits overlooking the Mediterranean coast. It has featured in lots of seminal French movies, like And God Created Woman in 1956 with Brigitte Bardot, as well as the film La Piscine, in 1969.
There are four islands off the coast of Cannes that are often overlooked for the chic town centre. The largest is Sainte-Marguerite, which has some wonderful coastline. Alternatively, head to the second-largest, Saint-Honorat, where you’ll find the Lérins Abbey. It was built in the 5th century and has been run by monks ever since, who harvest wine and olives and offer a retreat to people willing to take a vow of silence.
Isle de Lérins, Cannes, France
Provence is well known for its vineyards and Château La Coste has been slowly building a reputation as one of the best in the area. It’s not just the wine, restaurants and vineyards that attract people; there is an architectural walk and lots of installation art by artists such as Tracey Emin and Frank Gehry.
The little village of Ensués-la-Redonne sits on the Blue Coast near Marseilles and is a great place to lay out your towel on the rocky beach. There are two restaurants but be warned, there is not much space in this idyllic spot. Locals have been fishing sea urchins here for centuries and it’s a good opportunity to taste some fresh ones.
The Cours Mirabeau is the most famous boulevard in Aix-en-Provence and the heart of the Old Town. It has one of the most famous bistros in the area, Les Deux Garçons, where Cézanne used to hang out with Zola, and is home to many of Aix’s fountains. Once a year in June, the city invites one of the world’s leading opera companies to perform a night of open-air opera, which is free to watch. If you’re not lucky enough to get one of the few seats, you can book a table at the nearby restaurants and watch it all for the price of a meal. Whether you like opera or not, it’s an amazing sight and sound.