Staying on a budget in Provence isn’t difficult as long as you know what to do! Save your money for wine with these excellent free sights and attractions.
1. Frolic through lavender fields
Everyone wants that quintessential lavender field photo when they go to France. However, you’ll need to travel between the months of June to August if you want that Instagram-worthy pic. Even if you can’t make it there in time, you’ll still be treated to lovely countryside views.
2. Graze at an outdoor market
Almost every city and town in Provence has a weekly market – some even occur several times a week or daily! Aix-en-Provence, Arles and Avignon all have great outdoor markets to peruse the season’s best offerings and nibble on samples. If you’d like to try something, ask “Est-ce que je peut avoir un échantillon?” (May I please have a sample?)
3. Peruse the paintings at Musée Granet
Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence is one of the region’s most important museums – and it’s totally free! Pay a visit to see exceptional works by Cezanne, Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Van Gogh.
4. Gawk at ancient Roman sites
The region encompassing Provence was under Roman rule until 1481, and many of the Romans’ most formidable sites can still be seen today. Check out the Roman amphitheaters in Nimes, Orange and Arles and Maison Carrée in Nimes. The Pont du Gard, while the most famous of Provence’s Roman ruins, has an admission fee.
5. Play a game (or two) of petanque
Petanque, also known as boules or bocci, is one of the favorite pastimes in the south of France. Originating in Ancient Greece, the modern game as we know it dates back to the 19th century. You don’t need to have special skills to play; just join a local game or admire from afar. You’ll be surprised how competitive people get!
6. Stroll down Cours Mirabeau
Aix-en-Provence is often called a mini Paris, and the best place to soak in the elegance of this city is Cours Mirabeau. Starting from the Rotonde roundabout, stroll down the tree-lined avenue to the fountain as you pass chic terrace cafes, shops, fountains and townhouses.
7. Walk the Pont d’Avignon (Saint-Bénézet)
While the Palais des Papes in Avignon isn’t free, the Avignon Bridge is! One of the most important pilgrimage routes between Italy and Spain, only four arches of the bridge remain. Despite the fact that it doesn’t cross the river, the bridge is one of the most popular attractions in Provence and even has a song dedicated to it.
8. Hike through the Gorges du Verdon
Often compared to the Grand Canyon, the Gorges du Verdon is a spectacular natural sight carved by the Verdon river. There are many different ways to experience the gorge. You can hike at one of many trails, take a paddle boat or kayak on the water, or spend the day driving the 85 miles around the gorge.
9. Peep the antiques in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Often called the antiques capital of France, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is home to the largest flea market (marché aux puces) outside of Paris. Every weekend, the market consists of 300 stalls selling the best bric-a-brac you’ll find.
10. Go village hopping
It’s worth going off-the-beaten-path in Provence to discover the lesser-known towns and villages that offer a slice of provincial life. Les Baux de Provence, Roussillon and Gordes are just a few enchanting villages to add to your itinerary.
11. Visit Marius Fabre soap factory
Provence is famous for its soap made from the abundance of raw materials like olive oil, salt and lavender. While you can purchase soap from practically any market or shop, it’s worth visiting an actual factory to see how it’s made. Marius Fabre in Salon de Provence is one of the few remaining factories that offers free guided tours.
12. Taste wine at Musée du Vin
Learn about Rhône Valley wines (especially Châteauneuf-du-Pape) at the Wine Museum located at Brotte Vineyards. Discover fascinating old tools used to make wines and enjoy a free tasting at the end!
13. Follow the artists’ trail
With its golden light and gorgeous landscapes, it’s no secret Provence attracted a slew of famous artists. If you consider yourself an art fan, seek out the real-life places portrayed in famous paintings, like Mountain Sainte-Victoire and the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. You can also visit the garden and temporary exhibitions at Cezanne’s studio and the visitor center in Arles, which provides a walking tour map of the places Van Gogh painted.
14. Catch a festival
From spring to fall, Provence hosts countless festivals that are free and open to the public. Check out the Festival D’Avignon (film and theater), Festival d’Aix (opera), Les Suds in Arles (world music), Fêtes d’Arles (theater and music) and the Fête des Gardians in the Camargue.
15. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Camargue
One of the best-kept secrets in Provence is the Camargue, a vast wetland between the Rhone River and the Mediterranean Sea. This UNESCO-certified area is home to more than 400 species of birds, black bulls and the native white Camargue horses. Unsurprisingly, this area is known as French cowboy country.