Charming Hidden Gems in Provence That I'll Never Forget
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Here's my guide to discovering 15 secret and idyllic villages in Provence.
Provence is a dreamy, bucolic history book of a land, perfect for a geographical cure. Though universally beloved, there are still some secret and seductive hidden gems in Provence. These villages have everything the mind conjures when you think of Provence -- medieval lanes, clifftop panoramas, lyrical seascapes, pastel houses with French blue shutters, and a "step back in time" vibe.
Provence is beguilingly romantic. Everything is sun-kissed and lavender wafts in the air. Provence is so beautiful that artists like Renoir, Chagall, Cezanne, and Picasso flocked there. They adored the sun-drenched light, which Matisse described as "soft and tender, despite its brilliance."
Provence stretches from the region of Occitanie in the west to Italy in the east to the Rhone Valley in the Roman town of Orange in the north. It includes both the beautiful French Riviera (Cote D'Azur) and what people traditionally think of as inland Provence.
The Romans were there in full force. Provence is dotted with ancient Roman ruins and historic sites. The Provencal landscape is incredibly diverse -- mountains, beaches, lavender-filled plains, pink salt marshes, and oceans of vineyards.
Travel Guide to the Prettiest Secret Towns in Provence: What To See and Do in Provence and the French Riviera
Here's my travel guide to 15 must see secret villages in Provence for people who want to get off the beaten path in southern France. I guarantee these picturesque hamlets will enchant you. Like me, you'll never forget them and dream of returning for another dose of romance and wonder.
1. Villefranche-sur-Mer: French Riviera Hidden Gem
Villefrance-sur-Mer is a lovely less touristy village, just a stones throw from Nice. Serently quiet, the village makes a perfect base for the French Riviera. Villefranche-sur-Mer boasts pretty faded pastel houses cascading down to the waterfront.
Though its tiny, there are plenty of things to do in Villfranche-su-Mer. There are beaches for sun bathers, an old town for explorers, a citadel for history buffs, and artistic gems for culture vultures. The old town is truly quaint and dates from the 13th century.
Villefranche-sur-Mer is tailor made for aimless wandering. Get lost in the maze of streets and amble up and down the stone staircases. Duck into Rue Obscure, a dark passageway under the town hall.
Villefranche-sur-Mer has some pretty churches too. The Eglise Saint-Michel is an 18th century Italian Baroque affair. Saint-Pierre Chapel is a 16th century church along the water. Inside, you'll find restored murals by artist Jean Cocteau depicting the life of the local fishermen.
Don't miss the 16th century Citadelle Saint-Elme. Built by the Duke of Savoy, this rather domineering citadel now houses the town hall, museums, and an outdoor theater.
If you want a half day trip, head to the pretty in pink Rothschild Villa, the villa of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild, in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. It's a lovely Italian palazzo with nine beautiful gardens. You'll have a rare glimpse into the lifestyles of the uber rich.
2. Porquerolles Island: Isolated French Riviera Paradise
The pristine oasis of Poquerolles Island is a wisp of land off the coast of southeastern France. Porquerolles is an unspoiled tropical island that needs no glitz. It's a sanctuary of birds and butterflies with fetching beaches.
Porquerolles is a little remote and can only be accessed by boat from the town of Hyeres, a fact that makes it delightfully less touristy.
The French government bought 80% of Porquerolles Island in the 1970s. Porquerolles is protected from overdevelopment and is now a national park. This makes Porquerolles one of the best places to visit on the French Riviera.
With sweeping white beaches and limestone cliffs, Porquerolles is a place to relax and enjoy life. You can easily sink into the languorous rhythm of beach-to-meal and back again. Plage de la Courtade is an easy walk from the village. The more secluded Plage de Notre Dame is one of Europe's best beaches, a little crescent cove of white sand and Caribbean blues.
If you're more ambitious, stroll among the eucalyptus and pine trees, snorkel in the crystal clear waters, or have a picnic. Renting a bike is also an excellent way to tour the seven miles of the island.