Spring has fully sprung come May with daily temperatures ranging between 55-72°F (13-22°C). The days are warmer, daylight hours continue to increase, and while there is moderate rainfall throughout, the Mediterranean might just be warm enough for the brave to venture a swim (64°F/ 18°C).
Given the geographical diversity of Provence, you can experience varying weather beyond its Mediterranean climate. This includes a cooler Alpine climate further inland from Nice and a Continental climate in the northwest of Vaucluse. Wherever you find yourself, you can’t go wrong with layers. Think t-shirts and lighter clothing for the day and a warmer sweater and light jacket in the evening. And as always, remember to pack that umbrella.
For more on the weather this month, see France in May: Travel Tips, Weather, and More.
Crowds & Cost
May is a time to experience Provence at its most comfortable. There are enough visitors to add vitality but few enough that you won’t have to compete for space while sightseeing or finding a spot on the beach. It’s also the last month before prices surge for peak season, making it a good time to snag a decent hotel rate and plane ticket while there are deals to be had and the weather is nice for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
And with Labor Day and Victory Day taking place this month, you can count on nationwide closures where transportation services are operating on a reduced schedule.
Where to Go
May is a great time to enjoy the pleasant weather and best-loved attractions before the major crowds arrive. Not to mention wherever you find yourself this month, there is likely some kind of food, sporting, or cultural event taking place. A classic route option is to start along the French Riviera. Consider a visit to La Ciotat for Les Calanques Classiques, a regatta that sees traditional sailing boats and tall ships participate in exciting competition. Meanwhile, Provençal food comes into its own over the next couple of months with a slew of food festivals all over. Find strawberries in Carpentras and cherries in Venasque. Wash it all down with wine now that much of Provence partakes in the informal wine-themed Fête de la Vigne et du Vin (the Festival of Vine and Wine).
If your trip coincides with the Saturday closest to May 18, take advantage of the Europe-wide Nuit des Musées (Night of Museums) and visit any museum and gallery across Provence for free. Try Musée Matisse and Musée Chagal in Nice, Musée du Petite Palais in Avignon, MuCEM in Marseille, Musée du Calisson in Aix-en-Provence, Musée Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and Musée Picasso in Antibes to name but a few.
Fans of film will want to check out the Cannes Film Festival in southeastern France to spot celebs on their way to gala screenings or take in a provoking documentary at the Cinéma de la Plage—an open-air theater on the beach and open to the public. Further east along the coast, Nice welcomes in the spring season with singing, dancing, theater, and local fare on every Sunday following May 1. Find your way to the Jardin des Arènes de Cimiez to partake in the festivities. And for a spectacular live production make your way to the Arena d’Arles for the Fête des Gardians, a show put on by the Brotherhood of the Gardians (Camarguais cowboys) for insight into the region's fascinating traditions.
What to Do
May is an excellent month to head outdoors and explore Provence by foot with plenty of options for hiking, biking, and sightseeing. Take a stroll through Avignon’s Palais des Papes’ cloisters for the biennial Alterarosa festival devoted to the thousands of rose bushes in bloom (held in even-numbered years).
Or amble through Aix-en-Provence’s Jardins d’Albertas and discover the rare and Mediterranean plants featured during the Journées des Plantes fair. Rent a car and get out into the Provençal countryside to take in all the blooming beauty. Head to the Luberon to discover the châteaux and be sure to allow for a few hours to explore the hilltop villages of Gordes, Roussillon, and the impressive Châteaux de Lacoste.
There are few better activities in which to indulge in than a wine tour. Consider meeting with an expert oenologist to discover the fruits of Avignon’s legacy on a tasting journey of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s famous reds, Grenache and Syrah. A classic next stop would be to visit the vineyards of Gigondas in the Rhône Valley for a continued tour, the perfect setting for pretty views of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range.
And the truly fit might want to make their way to Mont Ventoux to hike or bike the steep terrain, particularly popular with cyclists (and often featured in the annual Tour de France). Plus, the cherry trees are blooming adding another layer of beauty to your day.
For those that prefer the water, book yourself in for a tour of the Gorges du Verdon in southeastern France’s Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department. The largest canyon in Europe offers plenty for the active nature lover, spring being one of the best times to white water raft or kayak down the Verdon River between Castellane and Lac Sainte-Croix. It’s also possible to swim and canoe the river as well as hike, rock climb, and go canyoning.
Events in May
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.
Traveling to Provence in May? Check out these great itineraries.
Active Family Adventure in Verdon Gorge - 9 Days. This family-friendly itinerary features heart-pumping fun and adventure in Southern France's Gorges du Verdon, the largest canyon in Europe and your playground for the next 9 days. You will raft the Verdon River, hike the edge of the canyon, paddle Lac de Sainte-Croix, and climb Via Cordata for an exceptional experience, ending your stay in Aix-en-Provence.
Hiking & Hilltop Villages in Provence - 7 Days. Immerse yourself in the best that Provence has to offer with a week-long retreat in the Mont Ventoux area. You'll hike to charming villages, cook with locally-sourced ingredients, and enjoy plenty of relaxation time at the region's world-class spas.