Classic Paris highlights: 10 things to do

Heading to Paris for the first time? It’s a big city that begs to be explored. Since there’s no way to fit everything into one visit, here is French Side Travel’s Top 10 list of highlights. Start you trip with these can’t-miss favorites. 


The Louvre Museum

Mona Lisa painting in Louvre Museum
Visitors admiring DaVinci’s masterpiece

The Louvre is the world’s most visited museum. Originally a medieval fortress it has lived many lives. It’s been a museum since 1793. It famously houses Leonardo DaVinci’s Mona Lisa and the ancient Winged Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo statues. It’s worth lingering here. The massive collection includes Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern antiquities through 19th-century paintings. Avoid the crowds and wander in the lesser-frequented, but no-less-spectacular collections. Even the architecture is a draw. The medieval ramparts, Pavillon de l’Horloge, and the iconic Louvre Pyramid entrance impress.

If you love museums, you will love Paris. There are dozens of excellent museums to explore, but the Louvre is undoubtably la crème de la crème.

Head up the Eiffel Tower

silhouettes of two men eating over paris. view on Eiffel tower.
The Eiffel Tower seen from Montparnasse Tower

When the Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair it became the tallest building in the world. It remained so until New York City’s Chrysler Building surpassed it in 1930. Today it’s France’s most famous building. When it was built, however, it was controversial, even offensive to 19th-century sensibilities. Some critics questioned whether it was even technically possible. The soaring wrought iron lattice tower was radically different from anything that came before it. 

You can take the elevator or walk up to the second level (380ft or 116m). The top floor at 905ft or 276m is accessible only by elevator. If you wish to stay a while, splurge on the Michelin-starred The Jules Verne on the second level or enjoy a glass of bubbly on the top level’s Champagne Bar.

Watch the Eiffel Tower twinkle
The one place you don’t see the Eiffel Tower in Paris is from the Eiffel Tower. For 5 minutes once per hour every hour from sunset until 1am, the Tower is lit up by more than 20,000 flashing bulbs. Enjoy the show from anywhere with a nice view. The Trocadéro is a favorite. From a boat on the water is even better.  

Cruise down the Seine 

Young woman enjoying beautiful landscape view on the riverside from the tourist ship during the sunset in Paris

A river cruise on the Seine is a classic way to visit Paris. Pass under the many ornate bridges, and float by Paris’s most famous sites – the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Conciergerie, and Notre-Dame. We recommended a cruise at night. It’s pure magic after dark when the monuments are illuminated. You can even join a cruise with fine dining options. 

Go for a walk in the park

Jardin du Luxembourg with the Palace and statue. Few flowers are in front and blue sky behind.

The Tuileries and the Jardin du Luxembourg are two of the great green spaces in Paris. Either is perfect for a peaceful break after a long morning trekking through museums. Have some time? Try visiting both to compare the formal gardens, the palatial architecture, and statuary. Both are accessible for free. 

Try a real croissant and pain au chocolat 

pile of pain au chocolate pasteries in french bakery

Breakfast in Paris is one of life’s simple pleasures. Pop into a café with a nice terrace. Eat breakfast like the French – a simple croissant or pain au chocolat with your coffee. Take your time to enjoy it. Early on a weekend morning is a particularly tranquil time to watch the world pass. 

La Sainte-Chapelle

stained glass windows. interior of sainte-chapelle in paris.

Notre-Dame de Paris is closed for restoration following a fire in April 2019, but its little sister, La Sainte-Chapelle, remains open. It’s located just a couple minutes walk away on the Île de la Cité. It was once the royal chapel, reserved exclusively for the royal court and their guests. One step inside and you will know why they kept it to themselves. It’s a breathtaking site. The walls appear to be made almost entirely of intricate stained glass, a majority of which is original and dates to the 13th-century. It has survived floods, fires, the French Revolution, and wars. 

Visit Montmartre

evening in the Place du Tertre and the Sacre-Coeur in Paris, France
Get lost in Montmartre

Montmartre is like a small village in Paris with gardens, cobblestone streets, and an association with great 19th and 20th-century artists. These include Picasso, Degas, Renoir, and Toulouse-Lautrec, to name but a few. It even has its own tiny urban vineyard, the Clos Montmartre. This is a neighborhood to linger in and enjoy. Its Moulin Rouge cabaret is a perennial draw. Montmartre’s star attraction is, however, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica. It’s a masterpiece. It offers an impressive panorama from its perch at the highest point in the city. 

Visit the Palace of Versailles

chandelier and statue of woman in Versaille
A statue in Versailles’s Hall of Mirrors

Versailles is just outside of Paris. It became the royal residence and the seat of the French government in 1682. It remained so for more than a century until the French Revolution drove out Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette’s monarchy. Despite its reputation for opulence, nothing really prepares you for the monumental size. 2,300 rooms over 679,748ft2 (63,154m2) is incomprehensibly large. It’s opulent and refined, yet ostentatious. The grounds contain lush manicured gardens, statues, and fountains spread over 1,945 acres (787 hectares). 

Want to be treated like a royal? Sleep at Versailles
Following the opening of the Airelles Château de Versailles – Le Grand Contrôle in 2021 it is now possible to stay at Versailles yourself. The 5-star property is spectacular. Its complete with a spa, a restaurant from the celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse, unlimited access to the L’Orangerie, and exclusive before and after-hours tours. The hotel itself occupies a 17th-century palace building with views on the Château, the Orangerie, and the Pièce d’eau des Suisses.

Imagine having this view from your room

Take a guided tour!

Go for a tour of the Saint-Ouen
Flea Market © Paris Tourist Office – Photographer: Marc Bertrand

Seeing a place through the eyes of a local makes it all that much better. Hear the stories of the people who have lived there and better appreciate those little details. Need a tour idea? Our travel designers can help. Whatever your interest there’s almost certainly a tour to match. Some favorites include looking for the perfect antique or vintage wears at the Saint-Ouen flea market, gourmet walking tours of Saint-Germain des Prés, and exploring what makes the lively Latin Quarter tick. 

Eat well and learn to cook

a cooking class in paris
A tasting during a cooking class

France is famous for its food. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn a few tricks for yourself. Do the tasting menu at a Michelin-star restaurant or go on a guided market tour. If you like getting your hands dirty, there are cooking classes too. Learn to bake like the French do or to make your own macarons! It is sure to impress your dinner guests back home.


A few days in Paris and you’ll never want to leave. There is so much more to do. Get started with these suggestions. We bet you’ll love so much that you’ll be back next year too to explore even more deeply. A trip to Paris combines wonderfully with detours to Champagne, Normandy, and the Loire Valley.

France is famous for its food. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn a few tricks for yourself. Do the tasting menu at a Michelin-star restaurant or go on a guided market tour. If you like getting your hands dirty, there are cooking classes too. Learn to bake like the French do or to make your own macarons! It is sure to impress your dinner guests back home.

Need some help planning your trip?

France is reopening: What you need to know

Note: This article was updated on July 21th, 2021. Regulations related to Covid-19 are subject to change.

For official up-to-date information in English from the French Government see here.

Learn how we are protecting you and read our flexible rebooking terms here.


It’s finally time to make those travel plans and pack your bags. France has reopened to visitors after extended closure due to Covid-19. Here’s everything you need to know. These are the current rules for entering France. As this article only covers entry, please check with your airline and country of departure to see if other regulations may apply to you.

Countries ranked by color 

Map updated July 17th, 2021

The French government ranks countries by risk and classifies them based on a color system.

To travel to France for pleasure you must come from a category green country or an orange country and be vaccinated.

Green Countries

European Union and Schengen Area countries

Albania

Australia

Bosnia

Brunei

Canada

Hong Kong

Israel

Japan

Kosovo

Lebanon

Montenegro

North Macedonia

New Zealand

Saudi Arabia

Serbia

Singapore

South Korea

Taiwan

The United States

Vanuatu

Orange Countries

All non-green and non-red countries are orange. This is the majority of the world. This includes the United Kingdom.

Red Countries

Afghanistan

Argentina

Bangladesh

Bolivia

Brazil

Chile

Colombia

Costa Rica

Cuba

Democratic Republic of the Congo

India

Indonesia

Maldives

Mozambique

Namibia

Nepal

Oman

Pakistan

Paraguay

Russia

Seychelles

South Africa

Sri Lanka

Suriname

Tunisia

Uruguay

Zambia

Entry Regulations:

*The French Government requires that visitors entering under the proof of vaccination statute have completed their course. It considers full vaccination is two weeks past a second Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca injection -or- four weeks past a single Johnson & Johnson injection.

Please note that travelers from green countries must provide proof of vaccination or a negative test. Travelers from orange countries must provide proof of vaccination and a negative test.

Unvaccinated travelers from orange countries and all travelers from red countries require an essential travel motive. Tourism is not considered an essential motive. 

Minor children:

Minors traveling with their parents or legal guardians are not required to be vaccinated. Those over the age of 11 are, however, required to show a negative test. Minors may be administered a test upon arrival as a condition of entry. Children 10 and under are exempt. 

Current rules in France

  • Restaurants, bars, and cafés may open at 100% capacity.
  • Museums, covered markets, cinemas, and shops may welcome guests at 100% capacity. 
  • Interior and exterior events, including concert and sporting events may open. (Exterior at 100% capacity. Interior events at 75% capacity).
  • In public indoor spaces, people are required to wear masks. 
  • In crowded outdoor spaces, people are required to wear masks (markets, public transport, lines, train platforms, etc.)
  • Nightclubs reopened on July 9th to those with a health pass.

As of July 21st, 2021 a valid health pass is required to access all cultural and leisure establishments welcoming more than 50 people at a time. This includes museums, monuments, theatres, cinemas, festivals, sporting events, etc. 

Starting in August 2021, a valid health pass will be required to board planes and long-distance trains and buses. It will also be required to access cafés, restaurants, shopping malls, amusement parks, hospitals, retirement homes, and clinics.

About the health pass

France’s health pass refers to one of following three documents:

  • Proof of vaccination
  • A negative test less than 48 hours old
  • Proof of recovery (a positive test that’s more than 15 days old, but fewer than 6 months). 

France’s health pass is commonly confused with an application called TousAntiCovid. This app is a digital version of the health pass. It is the most common way of showing one’s status in France. It is possible, however, to present a paper copy of one’s proof. 

Visitors vaccinated outside of the EU are not able to upload their documentation into the app at this time. Visitors should therefore carry paper proof of their status. For Americans this would be their CDC-issued vaccine card. Please be prepared to show this documentation as a condition of entry to some establishments. Consider packing paper copies and/or a digital copy on your phone as a backup.

Visitors vaccinated in Europe can show proof of vaccination and a corresponding QR code using the EU Digital COVID Certificate. 

If you wish to download that app it is available for iOS and Android

Vaccinated travelers should not anticipate any issues. Travelers who have not been vaccinated, but are able to do so may wish to complete their vaccination prior to their trip. It will ease travel in France. If you are unvaccinated and entering on a negative test, please be aware that you may be required to get tested regularly in France to ensure continued access to establishments and transportation.

Have a question? Ask our experts

These rules are in place to help you take advantage of your trip to France. If there is something that you are unsure of contact our experts today. We look forward to welcoming you in France!

Tips for exploring France by car

Driving yourself is an excellent way to visit France. It gives you the flexibility to see small villages at your own pace, to get out into the lovely French countryside, and to linger at far-off vineyards and restaurants. Visitors miss so much of France if they never leave the cities. Driving is the best way to avoid crowds and to have the most authentic experience. Following Covid-19 it is also a more comfortable way for many people to tour.

If you plan to drive, here are a few things to know before setting off on your French road trip. Familiarizing yourself with these rules will help you to have a comfortable, safe, and fun visit. 


Drivers License

To drive in France you must have a valid drivers license in your home country. Short-term visitors from the USA, Canada, or Australia may drive with their national license provided that they have an international driver’s permit or a notarized French translation to accompany it. American visitors can get theirs quickly and inexpensively with the American Automobile Association. Licenses from other EU countries are valid in France. 


Vehicles

Cars in Europe are smaller than many North Americas are used to. If you have lots of luggage, are traveling with 3 or more adults, or feel more comfortable in a larger vehicle, know that SUVs and large cars are available for rental. With that said, a standard-size rental may be a better match. They’re easier to drive on France’s narrower roads and to park in the smaller parking spaces.

In Europe a majority of cars have manual transmissions. If you prefer to drive an automatic book early in order to ensure availability.


Driving Norms

Drive on the right

In France, traffic is on the right-hand side of the road. This is just like in the United States and the majority of the European Union. Be aware of this when visiting from a country where the left-hand side is the norm. 


Priorité à droit

A unfamiliar rule for many visitors to France is the priorité à droit. When there is a triangular sign with a black cross, you must give way to people emerging from your right. This is true even when you are on a major road and the other vehicle is emerging from a smaller one. It can be a confusing and potentially dangerous rule. If you are unsure, slow down and always be prepared to give way. You are most likely to encounter this in smaller villages. 

Yield to incoming traffic from your right



Roundabouts 

Roundabouts or traffic circles are very common in France. They may feel uncomfortable to visitors from places where they are less common. Unless otherwise marked, traffic already within the roundabout has the right of way and you should yield when you enter. In some cases, you may see solid white lines on the ground or traffic signals indicating that you should yield in incoming traffic. Unusually, at Paris’s Arc de Triomphe the norm is to yield to traffic entering into the roundabout.

The signs indicating roundabout and yield

Sharing the Road

Roads in France are more narrow than those in the United States and often lack shoulders, so be aware of other road users. Pedestrians at crosswalks always have the right of way. If you pass cyclists you are required to leave a distance them at least 1 meter (3.2 feet) in urban areas and 1.5 meters (5 feet) outside of urban areas. In some parts of France, it is permitted for motorcycles to travel between lanes on the highway. This may be unfamiliar to drivers from elsewhere, so do not be surprised if you see it. It is particularly common during traffic jams. 


Speed limits

Speeds are in kilometers per hour. The speed limit is not always posted, so it is important to remember the following guidelines: 

  • On paid highways, the speed limit is 130km/h (81mph) and drops to 110km/h (68mph) in rainy weather.
  • On highways, the speed limit is 110km/h (68mph) and drops to 100km/h (62mph) in rainy weather.
  • On single-lane two-way country roads, the speed limit is 80km/h (50mph). Note that this was reduced from 90km/h in 2018, so you may still see the old number in guidebooks or online.
  • Within cities, the speed limit is generally 50 km/h (31mph). In areas with crosswalks or heavy pedestrian traffic, it is reduced to 30 km/h (18mph).

Note that if you see a round sign with a black slash through it means that the previous speed limit exception is over and you should return to the normal speed. For example, you may come across this on a highway while traveling at 130km/h. A section of the road could drop to 110km/h. Once you see the sign the speed returns to 130km/h.

The signs for speed limit and an end to a restriction

Speed limit enforcement 

Speed cameras are common in France. Some are permanent, while others may be a police officer temporarily stationed with a mobile unit. It is far more common to receive your fine by mail rather than being immediately pulled over by the police. Often there is a sign that warns when you are entering a section with a radar. If you are caught speeding or committing another infraction, the fines will likely be sent the rental car agency and then passed onto you. 

This area contains speed cameras

Tolls

Tolls on highways in France can be expensive, so be sure to factor them into your budget. See current prices here (link is in French). 

Generally, count on paying around 10€ per 100 km traveled. Stop for a paper ticket when you reach a paid section. When you exit that section stop again to insert that ticket and payment into the machine. Payment is with a credit card or cash. Pay attention to the markings above each lane. They indicate what methods of payment are accepted. A green arrow indicates that all payment methods are accepted. You may also see credit card or cash-only lanes. 

Note: the yellow or orange “t” symbol indicates that the lane is only for holders of the liber-t electronic payment pass. 

Signs indicating method of payment. Avoid the “t”.

Depending on your route, it can be more relaxing to take a train across large distances. You can almost always rent a car when you arrive at the train station. 


Alcohol

Please drive responsibly. We do not recommend that drivers drink any alcohol. If you are interested in a wine tour, let our travel experts know. They will help arrange a chauffeur and guide so that you can visit and sample wine safely.

Note that the limit in France is a 0.05% BAC. While this is in line with the norm in many countries, it is notably less than the 0.08% common in the US and Canada. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can result in fines, license suspension, and even imprisonment.


Emergency numbers

In the event of an accident, reach emergency services by dialing 112. This number is standard in Europe and an operator will transfer you to the relevant emergency services. People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may contact 114 by sms or fax. 

Alternatively you can directly dial 15 for an ambulance, 17 for the police, and 18 for the firefighters. 


Setting off on your adventure

Keep these rules in mind and you’ll have a wonderful time visiting France. Many of our visitors love having a car to themselves. It opens up rural, authentic, and more far-flung experiences. This liberty means you can sleep in quaint villages, enjoy hikes in nature, or visit artisanal food producers. The Loire, Normandy, Provence, and Corsica are particularly magical with your own transport. Speak with your local France expert for ideas or get inspired with these self-drive itineraries.




More information on driving in France

For the purposes of this article we have only covered the basics. If you would like additional information about driving in France here are two great resources:


The top spots to experience France’s lavender fields

In early summer, Provence’s countryside is made magical by its blooming lavender fields. They’re an iconic site that are well-worth timing your trip around. The vibrant violet color signals the changing of the seasons, the arrival of Provence’s buzzing cicadas, and long, hot summer days.  The perfectly lined lavender rows are a feast for the eyes and are wonderfully fragrant. If you’re really lucky you might even catch one next to a sunflower field! Every year, French Side Travel gets requests from travelers to visit France’s lavender fields. If you’re dreaming of them too, our travel experts are here to help. These tips will help to get you started.

What you need to know

Timing:

It’s important to keep in mind that lavender is a seasonal phenomenon. The timing can depend on the year’s weather, but generally, there’s a four to six-week window that’s ideal. Plan to come between the mid June and late July. Which fields are at their best will depend on when you’re here and the fields’ elevation. Fields in southern and lower-lying areas are harvested by mid July.  After early August, you’ll need to wait until the following year. 

Getting around:

The fields are spread out and located far from the city centers. A car is required. Depending on your preference, we recommend either a rental car or a tour with a local chauffeur guide. Talk with our destination experts to book the right one for you. 

Whether on your own or with a guide, exploring by car allows you to see the fields when they’re at their most beautiful. Early morning or late evening make for better photographs with long shadows, golden light, and colorful skies. You’re more likely to  avoid overcrowding too, which is perfect if you want the fields all to yourself!

Where to go:

For visitors to Provence, there are three main areas to consider for seeking out lavender: Valensole, Luberon, and the Plateau d’Albion

Valensole:

The Valensole Plateau is France’s biggest and most famous lavender region. Over an area of more than 300 square miles, photograph lavender fields, visit farms, and tour distilleries. The medieval village of Valensole makes for a perfect stop for lunch or souvenir shopping.

Valensole is just over an hour from Aix-en-Provence and Marseille. From Cannes, Saint-Tropez, or Nice it’s a two to three-hour drive. 

A tip for nature lovers: Valensole is on the border of the Verdon Natural Regional Park.  The park is home to the Gorges du Verdon, one of Europe’s deepest canyons. Known as the Grand Canyon of Europe, it’s easy to see why. At its highest point, the limestone walls soar almost 2,300 feet above the turquoise Durance River. It’s a paradise for hikers. The village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is undoubtably one of Provence’s loveliest. Nestled between two cliffs, a stream and waterfall run through its center. Moustiers is also known for its fine faïence ceramics. They make for fantastic souvenirs.

The Luberon:

We’ve previously written about the amazing Luberon Valley. If you come during the summer, the colorful lavender fields make it all the more special. The most memorable lavender field surrounds the Cistercian Abbaye-de-Senaque. Lavender adds to the region’s rainbow of colors – red and orange ochres, yellow sunflowers, and omnipresent greens. There may be fewer fields here, they have the advantage of being in bloom earlier than Valensole and Sault. 

luberon mountains villages senanque abbey near gordes

Looking for a lesser-known spot in the Luberon? We love the Plateau des Claparèdes near the village of Bonnieux. Besides its lovely fields, you can visit traditional stone bories (cabins) while there. They are constructed without cement and have been used here for centuries by farmers and herders. 

These lavender fields are also the closest to Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. You can reach them in forty five minutes from either base.

Sault and the Plateau d’Albion:

Worried that you’ll miss the lavender season? The area around the village of Sault is a wonderful place to visit. Due to its higher elevation, the lavender here is harvested later than its southern counterparts. You can catch blooming lavender fields as late as early August. The village of Sault holds its Fête de la Lavande every August 15th to celebrate the end of the harvest.

shopping for lavender at market

You’ll need about one hour and fifteen minutes from Avignon or one hour and forty five minutes from Aix-en-Provence to reach here. 

Where to stay:

Visitors can certainly see lavender fields as a day trip from Provence’s larger cities: Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, and Marseille. Côte-d’Azur hotspots like Nice, Cannes, and Saint-Tropez are further, but still doable for a determined day-tripper. 

If you can, though, we suggest lingering a bit longer. Maximize your stay in the Provençal countryside. Consider spending a couple of nights in the Luberon. The towns of Forcalquier or Manosque on the eastern side of the park are great for lavender. This will give you more time in the fields.

Outside of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur région, you can also see wonderful lavender fields in the neighboring Drôme and Ardèche. These are further off-the-beaten path, but can be wonderful for those looking for a more authentic, or secluded experience. 

Need a place to stay?

Here are two of our favorites. You’ll be away from the crowds and perfectly positioned to see lavender.

We suggest Airelles’ Gordes la Bastide and its connected La Maison de Constance villa.

This 5-star luxury hotel and spa is in lovely Gordes. The perched village is one of Provence’s most beautiful, complete with 12th-century ramparts, a castle, and expansive views over the valley below. The hotel itself was a former mansion and it retains every ounce of its former charm: stonework, molding, exposed wood, and vaulted ceilings all surrounded by century-old olive trees and soaring cypresses. And, yes, the Abbaye-de-Senaque’s postcard Lavender field is just a hop away. 

The refined rooms are fully equipped, and most offer a view of the valley and the mountains. The chic Sisley spa has an indoor swimming pool, a hammam, and a fitness facility. The establishment boasts multiple onsite dining options and a bar.

If you’re looking for something more secluded Homanie’s Drôme Provençale is a wonderful option.

homanie village in stone with lavender field

For a true luxury experience away from the crowds, treat yourself to a stay at their hamlet. The property consists of five restored houses of former lavender farmers. Today, it’s a pampered experience on a 200-hectare private property surrounded by the rolling Natural Park of the Baronnies Provençal.

Booking your trip

Are you reading to book? Maybe you still need some help? French Side Travel’s local experts are excited to plan your lavender getaway with you.

The Alpilles countryside that Vincent Van Gogh made famous

France’s Provence owes its popularity to the density of its cultural attractions, rich history, and natural beauty. A relatively small area reveals a thousand charms. Whether you love great food, the outdoors, history, or art, there’s always something amazing around the next corner. Explore colorful markets and eat at Michelin-star restaurants. Kayak through the gorgeous Gorges du Verdon or horseback ride in the Camargue river delta. Follow in the Popes’ footsteps in Avignon. Visit fine museums and galleries and take in the scenery that inspired generations of artists. 

Wheat Field with Cypresses, 1889 – Vincent van Gogh

With so much to do, take care not to overlook the rolling Alpilles. It is quintessential Provence. Located across the Durance River from the spectacular Lubéron Massif, these compact, low-lying mountains boast a deep connection to the painter Vincent Van Gogh. 


The area’s spectacular light drew the artist. He settled in lively Arles before recovering at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole monastery in Saint-Remy. The Starry Night, one of the artist’s most recognizable paintings, is the view from his room there. Visitors to the monastery and his room will immediately recognize the landscapes. A visit to the Alpilles reveals truths about and the inspiration for Van Gogh’s work. His characteristic paint swirls and bending cypress trees are more than just an artistic flourish. They are acute renditions of the sensations of being in Provence’s sun-drenched, windy landscapes.

The Starry Night, 1889 – Vincent van Gogh

Take care not to overlook the rolling Alpilles. It is quintessential Provence.

An Impressive Medieval Village

A short drive from Saint-Remy drops you into the Vallée de Baux-Alpilles. This valley is home to Les Baux-de-Provence, one of the country’s most attractive villages. Climbing its narrow medieval streets is rewarded with expansive 10th-century castle ruins and panorama dominated by olive groves, vineyards, and the mountains. 

The village is also home to the Carrières des Lumières. This former bauxite quarry today hosts immersive music and light art shows. The carved white walls are a brilliantly white, textured surface for the projections. You’ll feel as if you’re walking through your favorite paintings. 2021’s shows are Cézanne, the Master of Provence and Kandinsky, the Odyssey of Abstraction. Previously shows highlighted work by masters including Van Gogh, Dali, Picasso, Chagall, and Klimt. 

The music and light art shows give the feeling of walk through your favorite paintings.

culture-art-history-tours-france
Van Gogh, Starry Night at the Carrières des Lumières, 2019

Tasting Olives in Les Baux-de-Provence

As you leave town, the Valley of Baux-de-Provence olive orchards are striking. They hold an appellation d’origine contrôlée or controlled designation of origin. This protected status recognizes their quality and unique terroir. This isn’t the olive oil from your supermarket back home. It’s vibrantly colorful, a touch cloudy, and fragrant.

Passionate foodies and cooks won’t want to miss out on an oil tasting. There’s great variety from one oil to another, and careful tasting reveals nuance and artistry. Try oils made from both green or black fruits. You can find notes that include artichoke, pepper, green apple, almonds, cacao, and truffle notes. It’s a delight. 

Olives on their branch in Provence

Anne and Magali Sourdon’s Moulin Saint Jean makes for a nice stop. Their olive mill has been family-owned and run for generations. The orchards contain more than 5,000 trees in four distinct varieties. The property and the neighboring chapel date to the 12th and 11th centuries respectively. 

The markets in the Alpilles town are another opportunity to pick up a nice oil or local olives to snack on too. Our travel designers will help you find a great one. There are nice markets in Provence everyday.

This beautiful area of Provence is well worth a couple of days. It’s easy to access by car, from Marseille’s airport, or by high-speed TGV train from Avignon or Aix-en-Provence. Combine your visit here with a city-stay or wine tasting in the Côtes-du-Rhône. 


Need a place to unwind?

Les Baux-de-Provence’s Baumanière is highly recommended. The 5-star hotel exudes Provençal charm. Its five buildings are surrounded by gardens, orchards, and jagged limestone formations. This is the Mediterranean at its best.

The property is quite literally fit for a queen. Queen Elizabeth II and celebrities Hugh Grant, Johnny Depp, and Bono are counted among its famous guests.

Onsite dining is highlighted by the Oustau de Baumanière. The restaurant is an institution, having first earned a rare 3 Michelin stars in 1954. In 2020 it was again awarded 3 Michelin stars under Chef Glenn Viel. With the award it also received a distinction for sustainability, thanks, in part, to the kitchen’s impressive vegetable and herb garden. The wine cellar features more than 50,000 bottles of fine French vintages. This puts it among France’s largest private cellars. La Cabro d’Or offers another onsite dining option featuring refined, but authentic Provençal cuisine.


A spa, cooking classes, and wine appreciation classes round out what makes the Baumanière special.

The Luberon Massif, the Provence of Dreams…

The Luberon massif is one of the can’t-miss attractions of any trip to Southern France. Tucked between low-lying mountains east of Avignon and north of Aix-en-Provence, this is the France you dream about. Think long, summer days, brilliant sunshine, medieval villages crowning hilltops, and rolling olive, apricot, and almond orchards. Did we mention the seas of purple lavender waving in the mistral winds? If you’ve ever read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence or seen Ridley Scott’s film A Good Year starring Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard, you might well have had your eyes on this region for a while. 

Long, summer days, brilliant sunshine, medieval villages crowning hilltops, and rolling olive, apricot, and almond orchards… seas of purple lavender…

Locally-grown strawberries in the market

While compact, this region has so much to see and do. Arrange a call with our local experts. They’d love to help. To get you started planning, here are a few the Luberon’s iconic sites:

Favorite stops in the lovely Provence countryside

Roussillon

This charming town is best known for its vibrant yellow, orange, and red ochre pigments. Here and in neighboring Gargas, Rustrel, and the Provençal Coloradoochres were mined on an industry scale starting in the late 18th century. They were exported worldwide for use in artists’ paints, stucco, cosmetics, and occasionally food! Give the material’s abundance here, it’s no surprise that the town’s buildings are also flamboyantly colorful. Those eye-catching buildings make Rousillon one of the most strikingly unique and beautiful stops in the region. Don’t miss the Sentier des Ocres trail. On the 30 or 60-minute circuit you’ll get you up close to the sandy red and yellow cliffs and through a shaded oak and pine trees forest. Just wear shoes that are ok getting red and dusty!

red alleys in luberon village
Roussillon’s red alleys
red and orange ochres in the luberon
The ochre trail

Gordes and Senanque Abbey

Gordes and its neighboring abbey are two more iconic Luberon sites. The ancient village perché, or perched hilltop village, has a flair for the dramatic. It stands on a steep slope descending from the Plateau de Vaucluse into the Coulon Valley. The location provided protection from invaders during the Middle Ages. The castle dominates while winding streets and homes spilling town the hill around it. At the center of town, the Place du Château de Gordes is a lively town square with cafés, restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops.

Gordes, perches village luberon
Gordes, one of the Luberon’s prettiest perched villages

Just down a narrow country road is the 12th-century Abbeye Notre-Dame de SénanqueIt’s still home to an active community of Cistercian monks. This fine example of Cistercian architecture is made all the more impressive when its sprawling lavender fields are in bloom (from mid-June to mid-July). Seeing the inside of the abbey is possible, but plan ahead! Visiting hours are limited. 

The Abbey of Sénanque, lavender in bloom

L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue

L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue lays at the foot of the Vaucluse plateau. It is famous for its winding canals and narrow streets. You might even feel like you’ve wandered into a little Provençal Venice. All along the Sorgue River, you’ll cross small bridges and pass by large, moss-covered water wheels. Today the town has become known as a hub for antiques, boasting numerous shops and an active brocante market along the canals on Sunday mornings. Looking for a unique souvenir? This just might be your spot.

If you love the canals, head to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, a few minutes’ drive upstream. There’s a short footpath up to the source of the river, among the world’s largest. This is the almost mythical fountain for which the village was name.

Waterwheel in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

The Markets

The farmers’ markets are a must-see. Every day there’s an open-air market somewhere in the Luberon. See here for a list. Don’t miss out on a morning wandering around one for your dose of the local culture and flavor. Try regional specialties including olives, goat cheeses, and excellent fresh fruits. For an authentic experience grab a spot on a terrace, sip on a café or limonade, and watch the world pass. These markets reveal their charms over time. Take in scenes of the vendors shouting the virtues of their products to passerby or the locals laborious picking the freshest produce. No market would be complete without the retirees playfully their squabbling, cigarettes and pastis at hand. 

Local olives at a market stand

Planning my trip

Do as the Provençal do. Take it slow!

While there’s plenty to see and do here, a leisurely pace is best. Do as the Provençal do. Take it slow! Particularly in the summer, midday can be hot here. Wander through the markets, sunbathe by the pool, take a long lunch, and linger over a glass or two of rosé on a café terrace. The lackadaisical pace and gorgeous landscapes are a huge part of the charm, so try to schedule a few days here. Our team can help you to book a rental car or a chauffeur and guided tours.


Looking for a place to stay?

One of our favorite bases in this region is La Bastide de Marie, just outside of lovely Ménerbes. Heading out of town the road is lined with vineyards and cypress trees, while the Petit Luberon mountains and bright blue sky dominate the backdrop. Stay in the restored 18th-century bastide country house or the 5-bedroom Villa Grenache lost in the estate’s vineyards and complete with a private heated pool. Whichever you stay in, you’ll enjoy traditional Provençal charm: stonework, exposed wood beams, fine antique furniture, and views on the gardens or vineyards. Fine dining and spa treatments are available. Pamper yourself after a day out exploring. 

The town of Ménerbes itself is worth a stop. Like many other towns in the region, it’s on the top of a hill, complete with medieval ramparts and a castle dating back to the 16th-century French Wars of Religion between Catholics and Huguenots. Along with the the towns Bonnieux, Goult, Lacoste, and the aforementioned Gordes, this area makes up the Luberon’s famed triangle d’or or golden triangle.  

Need a souvenir idea?

Good souvenirs that won’t take up too much space in your luggage are honey, olive oil, traditional soaps made in nearby Marseille, and lavender sachets (to keep your closet and dresser drawers smelling great).

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