When Should You Visit Provence?
Though Provence is a relatively small region in southern France, its varied landscape and mostly Mediterranean climate lend to its year-round appeal. From the snow-covered Southern Alps and the marshy plains of the Camargue to the elegant French Riviera, world-class vineyards, and sweetly-scented lavender fields, Provence is a wonderful destination at any time of year.
Take advantage of the Alpine climate in the winter months and ski the fresh powder found on the slopes. Or, explore the tourist hot-spots that are otherwise bustling with crowds during the peak season and visit the museums, wineries, and cultural attractions and indulge in the Provençal food scene. The spring brings warmer weather and sunnier skies, prompting blossoming flowers throughout, a perfect backdrop to any outdoor excursion or road trip through the Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse departments.
Come summer, Provence's southern shores teem with holidaymakers. The hot weather and the Mediterranean Sea entice local and foreign tourists alike to the seaside villages, resort towns, and beaches, from Marseille to Monaco along the Côte d'Azur. Elsewhere, there are picture-perfect villages perchés to wander and the seemingly endless fields of purple-blue lavender to photograph. The coast is best visited during the late spring, early summer, or September, whereas if you're here for the lavender, come mid-June to mid-July before it's harvested.
Autumn is another excellent time to visit as the weather is pleasant and the crowds have thinned. It's also the right time to tour wine-country, take in the fall foliage, and explore the iconic French Riviera. Take a look at this article for some suggested itineraries.
Winter in Provence (Dec-Feb)
The southern coast remains quiet with near-empty beaches offering a serene environment due to the winter weather. This means lowered prices on airfare and hotels. The exception to this, however, is in the lead up to Christmas when the December 4 La Calendale season brightens Provence with twinkling lights, convivial window displays, and bustling Christmas markets. For some of the prettiest sights, get yourself to Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, or Marseille. Meanwhile, January and February is high season for winter sports enthusiasts seeing the friendly resorts of the Southern Alps bustle with vacationers.
If you're looking to escape the cold, enjoy Provence’s cultured, indoor activities (museums and galleries) or indulge in the dynamic food scene as the winter months center around a host of food festivals, like Aups’ Journée de la Truffe Noire for the Haut-Var's prized black truffle or Carry-le-Rouet's oursinade for everything seafood. And if you like to party, head to the French Riviera and join revelers celebrating the return of spring, from Nice's vibrant Carnaval de Nice—the oldest running carnival scene sees cavalcades of masked participants, grosse tête (giant head) puppets, and theme-decorated floats—to the vibrant Fête du Mimosa in Mandelieu-la Napoule and the quirky Fête du Citron in Menton.
Events & Festivals in Winter
Fête de la Sainte Barbe. The Feast of Saint Barbara kicks off the two-month La Calendale Christmas season on December 4 when wheat seeds or lentils are grown in sets of three to represent the Holy Trinity. You’ll see them in windowsills and on shop counters where they’ll make an appearance on the table of the Great Supper. As the Provençal saying goes Quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn or, "When the wheat goes well, everything goes well."
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. Both days are celebrated across France in much the same way as they are in many countries that celebrate the Christian holiday, with a Christmas Eve meal, followed by a visit from Santa in the night. Christmas is a national bank holiday so note there will be plenty of business closures.
New Year’s Eve. Cities and towns throughout Provence launch fireworks, family and friends gather for music, dancing, and champagne toasting.
New Years Day. A bank holiday you can expect nationwide closures and transportation schedules will be on a holiday schedule (if there's one running).
Epiphany/ Feast of the Kings. A national holiday held annually on January 6 marks the 12th day of Christmas. It is customary to serve a special cake known as une galette de rois which contains a porcelain figure inside. Whoever receives the figure in their slice is named king for the day.
Journée de la Truffe Noire. For 25 years the small town of Aups turns its largest public space into a day-long celebration of the prized black truffle from the Haut-Var. There are tastings of truffle pâtés and a slew of truffle-related concoctions, as well as music, restaurants featuring dishes made with the delicacy, and truffle hunting demonstrations.
Fête du citron (Menton Lemon Festival). The small town of Menton, also known as the Cité des Citrons (City of Lemons), on the French Riviera runs a two-week spring festival honoring the fruit. Parades of impressively large and ornately decorated fruit-covered floats line the streets and drinks, jams, soaps, and perfumes made with lemons are sold.
Le Carnaval. Held annually 40 days before Easter on the liturgical calendar, France’s Carnival celebrations occur sometime between January and April but often fall in February. The Carnaval de Nice attracts over one million visitors to the Côte d'Azur and is arguably one of the most famous events in the world, lasting for two weeks.
Les Oursinades. Every February for a few weeks the seaside resort town of Carry-le-Rouet comes alive to celebrate the oursin (sea urchin) with dinners, performances, art exhibitions, and events.
Spring in Provence (March-May)
Spring welcomes warmer weather, blooming flowers, and short bursts of rain giving way to clear blue skies that characterize southern France. And while the foreign tourist numbers begin to increase there are still bargains to be had on airfare and hotels. One great way to experience the Provençal spring is to rent a car and drive through the Luberon and the departments of the Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse, breathing in the scents of the garrigue all the while admiring the colorful early spring views of red poppies, yellow broom, and purple-pink Centranthus.
Along the coast, the beaches remain relatively quiet; free of casual swimmers and sun-seekers with May being your best bet to take a dip in the Mediterranean. Try Antibes' Plage de Garoupe or Nice's Coco Beach. Alternatively, Provence at this time beckons outdoor adventurers. Hiking and cycling options abound from the seven valleys of Mercantour National Park to the river canyon of Verdon Gorges, to the steep mountain terrain of Mont Ventoux. There's also the white water of the Ubaye river to discover as well as plenty of walking tours of historic town centers to join. Uncover Arle's ancient Roman legacy on just such a walk.
Events & Festivals in Spring
Pâques (Easter and Holy Week). Because Easter follows the liturgical calendar, it may occur in April (sometimes if falls in March). If it does, enjoy the celebrations and processions that occur throughout the country and expect closures on Vendredi Saint (Good Friday), Lundi de Pâcques (Easter Monday) and Sunday.
Fête du Travail/Fête du Premier Mai (Labor Day/May Day). Held on the 1st of the month, many businesses are closed for this national holiday. Most attractions are closed too, as the French choose to spend this day off relaxing with family and friends. And as it is also May Day, many individuals gift lilies of the valley to their loved ones for happiness and good luck.
Fête de la Victoire 1945 or Jour de la Liberation (Victory Day). A nationwide event on May 8 celebrating the end of World War II in France and the people’s freedom. Expect closures as well as parades.
Cannes Film Festival. A prestigious film festival held annually in Cannes mid-May previews new films of all genres, including documentaries, drawing in the rich and famous.
Monaco Grand Prix. A prestigious Formula One motor race held each year the last weekend of the month on the Circuit de Monaco.
Summer in Provence (June-Aug)
If you can’t beat the crowds, don your party hat (or swimsuit) and join in the revelry. The summer months see plenty of festivals and events with the French joining tourists on their holidays from July 14 (Bastille Day) to mid-August, and the extensive coastline teems with beachgoers and traffic. To avoid disappointment, book activities and restaurants well in advance. If you aren’t crowd-shy, head to Provence’s southern shores to explore the number of seaside villages, resort towns, and beaches, from Marseille to Monaco along the Côte d’Azur.
For a less-crowded alternative, consider venturing to Côte Bleue for striking views of turquoise waters, dramatic coastlines, and the calanques. And if you're into wildlife, find your way to the marshy Camargue, the “Wild West of France,” to seek out the flocks of flamingos that feed here. Elsewhere in early July, you'll want to explore the sweetly scented lavender-blanketed fields, like that of the Valensole Plateau. Another option is to choose a Luberon mountain trail to pretty villages perchés (hilltop villages) that overlook romantic panoramas of mountains, plains, and valleys of vineyards and olive groves.
Events & Festivals in Summer
Fête de la Saint-Jean. Originating as a pagan celebration of the summer solstice (June 21), the event now marks the feast of St. John the Baptist with Provence-wide folk dancing, ceremonial bonfires, priests blessing animals, craft fairs, Provençal mass, and general merrymaking.
Rendezvous aux Jardins. Gardens throughout France open during this annual festival. A great opportunity to get into private gardens normally shut to the public.
La Fête de la Musique (Music Festival). On the day of the summer solstice (June 21), you’ll find all genres of music celebrated throughout France. Catch free performances: on the streets and in parks, in museums and concert halls, and in bars and restaurants.
Tour de France. The world’s most famous cycling competition lasts for three weeks in July (precise dates and routes change each year). Even if you don't have much interest in witnessing a cycling race, you should still check the schedule. The route passes through many cities and towns throughout the country, and most lodging options in these locales will be fully booked during this time.
La Fête de la Bastille (Bastille Day). A national holiday celebrated annually across the country on July 14 marks the anniversary of the 1789 storming of the Bastille Prison—one of the first major events leading up to the French Revolution. Countrywide there are fireworks displays, balls, processions, parades and plenty of merrymaking.
Festival d’Avignon. The courtyard of Avignon’s Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace) as well as other locations throughout the city, holds the annual arts festival—the largest of its kind in Europe!—showcasing a French or world premiere of a new musical or theatrical production.
Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. Following WWII, Aix hosts opera, orchestral works, chamber music, and buskers throughout the month, held mainly in the atmospheric Théâtre de l’Archevêché in the courtyard of the former Archbishop’s Palace.
Chorégies d'Orange. A summer al fresco opera event held each year in Orange’s ancient Roman theater in southern France.
L’Assumption (Assumption of the Virgin Mary). Expect some closures for this August 15 public holiday as the country honors the assumption of Mother Mary into heaven.
Les Rencontres d’Arles Photographie. Arles hosts an annual photography festival that makes excellent use of a number of its heritage sites as venues to showcase over 60 exhibits. There are debates, performances, and workshops, as well.
Autumn in Provence (Sept-Nov)
Temperatures begin to drop and the rain increases as the Autumn progresses and the holidaymakers migrate home making this one of the best seasons to explore the sights and beaches on a budget. Plus, the vineyard's darkened vines bear grapes ready for the picking with the start of the vendange (grape harvest) in September and the primeur tastings in November. Tour the number of vine-covered regions and stop to sample a glass or two at any of the wineries open to the public (call in advance). Consider the Châtenuneuf-du-Pape or Côtes du Rhône appellations.
While the weather remains in your favor, head into the Sainte Baume and Garlaban mountains near the hillside town of Aubagne to choose from several routes varying in length and difficulty to get in some hiking or cycling. And beyond enjoying the autumn foliage, particularly toward the end of October, you’ll want to visit Saint-Trinit to mingle with the locals and take part in foraging for fungi or chestnuts in the mostly uninhabited Massif des Maures. Reward your trekking efforts with delicious marrons glacés (chestnut ice cream), in season at this time of year.
Events & Festivals in Autumn
Fête de la Gastronomie (French Gastronomy Festival). This annual nationwide food festival takes place the last weekend of the month celebrating French cuisine with a slew of events. Some events include chef demonstrations, workshops, wine cellar and brewery tours, discounted gourmet cuisine, and tastings.
Fête Votive de Saint-Rémy. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence puts on their six-day celebration of their patron saint where bullfighting takes place, and you’ll see parades through the streets.
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez. An exciting week-long sailing event that takes place at the end of September to early October and sees over 300 of the finest traditional and modern yachts (crewed by up to 4,500 team members) come together to compete.
La Toussaint (All Saints Day). November 1st is a public holiday that commemorates the dead, expect some closures.
Armistice de la Première Guerre Mondiale (Armistice Day). November 11 is a solemn national holiday marking the end of World War I and sees many schools and businesses closed. Families visit the graves of their departed loved ones and many rites and rituals are held at the great French battlefield
Beaujolais Nouveau (Festival of New Wine). Taking place on the third Thursday of the month, this annual nationwide event celebrates the release of new wine at 12:01 am, mere weeks after the grape harvest, with music, fireworks, and parties.