Beautiful Provence & Cote d’Azur, France by Ray Raposo

Writer Ray in front of Avignon's Palais des Papes
Scenic landscapes, blue seas, wonderful wines & food, plus incredible historical heritage is what you’ll experience driving from town to town in France’s Provence region and the Cote d’Azur.
Religious sculptures outside the church part of the Papal Palais in Avignon
After driving from Paris and the visiting several of the incredible chateaus of the Loire Valley with our friends Rick and Marilyn Smit, we arrived in Avignon, France. A city in southeastern France’s Provence region, set on the Rhône River. Interestingly Avignon from 1309 to 1377, was the seat of the Catholic popes, and remained under Roman papal rule until becoming part of France in 1791. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palais.
High in Avignon, Writer Ray, wife Peg and friends Rick and Marilyn Smit
Its walled center, surrounded by medieval stone ramparts, contains the massive Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace). The Palais construction began in AD 1252. Avignon became the residence of the Popes in 1309. The Palais is today a palace of culture and primarily a tourist attraction, attracting around 650,000 visitors per year. Another site is the remains of the Saint-Bénezet bridge, also known as Pont d’Avignon.
The central area in Avignon with its many outdoor restaurants
Some of the outdoor restaurants around Avignon

There are lots of outdoor seating restaurants, pastry shops and shops in the central walled town along with an opera house and a lovely park-like town center.

Another of the wineries we visited in the Provence area

We drove a short way to Arles, the artistic and original Roman town.

The Arles tourist street train with Peg and Marilyn
We drove a short way south to historic Arles. The Arles Amphitheater is a Roman coliseum in this southern French town is one of its main attractions, it along with the ruins of a small theater really reveal its history. We have visited many of these old Roman towns, and most feature a coliseum style amphitheater.
Ray inside the ancient Roman Amphitheater in Arles

This rather large Roman amphitheater was built in the 1st century to seat 20,000. It is used in more recent times for bullfighting, concerts & plays.

Arches inside the large Church of St. Trophime

We stopped in the large Church of St. Trophime, a Roman Catholic church and former cathedral featuring two large red doors at its entrance. We also visited some Romanesque Heritage sites featuring numerous well-preserved Roman ruins, with columns and including an expansive amphitheater.

Ray outside the Roman Amphitheater

While this two-tiered Roman amphitheater is probably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city of Arles, to artists, the history and memorabilia of Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh who lived and painted there in 1888-89 means the most. Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles, which he painted three times and many other Arles works are classics.

Rick outside a typical Arles residence

While he didn’t achieve much success during his lifetime, the Dutch painter is now considered one of the most original and loved artist of the Impressionist style. Van Gogh finished over 300 paintings while living in Arles including “Cafe Terrace at Night” and as mentioned earlier, many of his bedroom at Arles works. Still operational today and now named Café Van Gogh, is the Café that Van Gogh painted in The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum, Arles, at Night. For Art lovers it’s a treat.

One of the ornate buildings of Nikes University

We also stopped in another Roman outpost town, the lovely Nîmes, visiting its impressive Nîmes Cathedral. This 17th-century part Romanesque, part Gothic Catholic church is dedicated to Saint Castor & the Virgin Mary. We also stopped at classic Nîmes University.

Ray by the impressive Nimes Cathedral’s facade

It is also known for well-preserved Roman monuments such as the Arena of Nîmes, a double-tiered circa-70 A.D. amphitheater and a Roman temple the Maison Carrée, both around 2,000 years old. Although not large, Nîmes has a lot of historic sights to visit. All these southwestern French towns were part of the Roman empire and still preserve their rich history for locals and visitors to enjoy.

We also stayed in the lovely and artsy city of Aix-en-Provence on the way to the Côte d’Azur and Saint Tropez.

The lively nightlife of Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence is a university city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It was the birthplace of Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, and a walking trail links sites including his childhood home, Jas de Bouffan, and his former studio, Atelier Cézanne.
Magnificent round-about Fountain in Aix-en-Provence

The main street named Cours Mirabeau is a wide thoroughfare, planted with double rows of plane-trees, bordered by fine houses and decorated by fountains. It follows the line of the old city wall and divides the town into two distinct sections.

Huge walkways along one of Aix-en-Provence’s main boulevards

The new town extends to the southwest; the old town, with its narrow, irregular streets and its old 16th-18th century mansions, lies to the north.

As we continued driving south, we stopped for a fantastic wine tasting experience in a Provence vineyard, Chateau des Bertrands, home of hundreds of acres of grapes, and a lovely wine tasting store.

Wine tasting at Provence winery Chateau des Bertrands
The Chateau des Bertrands wine tasting and sales center on their vineyard

From Provence we drove through lush hilly landscapes on the way to the sea…

Enjoying the small villages and the mountains while driving to towards the sea

We finally made it to the French Riviera, right on the Mediterranean Sea.

Saint Tropez and the sailboat filled marina
From there we made our way to the bustling Saint Tropez and it’s impressive and large marina area surrounded by lots of boutiques, eateries and tourists. There are hundreds of sailboats and huge yachts in this large marina. A most lovely French Riviera seaside town, perfect for an outdoor cafe lunch which we all enjoyed. Besides a seaside artist show, there was a new car display by BMW where we saw their new electric car the i3 premiere.
Ray and Peg at Ville de Saint Tropez Marina area
Our southern French part of this trip ended in breathtaking Cap-d’Ail, a modern seaside resort town with a lively shopping district on the Basse Corniche and quiet, fashionable residential quarters. Many of the people who work in Monaco live here where it’s just a bit more affordable and with perhaps less tourists as well. It is quite lovely itself.
At our Cap-d’Ail hotel’s balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea

Both the magnificent Mediterranean Sea views from the hilltop, and it’s Mediterranean Sea beach were just incredibly breathtaking. We enjoyed the hotel’s infinity pool and walked all the way down to the sea down the many steps for an early morning swim. Cap-d’Ail was the perfect place to relax for a couple days before continuing on our journey.

Rick enjoying a refreshing early morning swim at this Mediterranean Sea beach
This part of the French adventure comes to and end…
From France our driving trip continued on to lovely Monaco and later to Italy’s picturesque towns of Rapallo, Portofino and the Cinque Terre towns, but that’s a great story for another time. Meanwhile keep Discovering Dream Locations to visit and enjoy!
Sunrise view of Cap-d’Ail and the Mediterranean Sea

® All photos taken by Ray Raposo, Peg Raposo or Richard Smit and Maria Smit.