This article covers our superficial familiarity with Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, and Arles, all of which can be visited on intraday trips, while each can certainly sustain more in-depth exploration. The French Riviera, which belongs to the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur administrative region, enjoys its own entry.
Aix-en-Provence ♥♥♥ is a gem of a city full of architectural delights, lovely squares, inviting cafés, as well as an occasional church worth wandering into. An idle perambulation from one shady square to another in the historic town center can easily fill a day of pleasant adventure. Aix has been called “the city of a thousand fountains” for a reason. Every square is adorned with a beautiful fountain, which makes the overall ambiance all the more enchanting. Start on the grand, if too traffic-heavy, Rotonda, walk along elegant and tree-lined Cours Mirabeau ♥ (which is home to three of the most impressive fountains itself), and then lose yourself in the labyrinth of the Old City streets.
Among the points of interest, Atelier de Cézanne or Pavillon de Vendôme may be worth checking out, as well as Musée Granet or Musée des Tapisseries. The Cathédrale de St-Sauveur reputedly provides examples of every architectural style between the 5th and 17th centuries.
Avignon ♥♥♥ is a charming town in its own right, with many splendid houses found within its historic core, also very conducive to wandering about. Palais des Papes ♥♥♥, where the Curia resided for most of the 14th century, is massive and even threatening, and unfortunately practically empty of the furnishings and works of art. But a number of its rooms are utterly impressive and a couple of vast grand halls are nothing short of breathtaking. There is an excellent audio guide that talks about the construction of the palace and of the history of the Papal Court.
The remains of the renowned Pont St-Bénézet ♥ can be toured with another audio guide, which gives insight into the medieval history of Avignon. The tiny chapel on the bridge is an interesting curiosity. The Papal Palace appears very imposing when viewed from the bridge. Other potential points of interest include Petit Palais, Cathédrale de Notre-Dame-des-Doms, Musée Calvet, Musée Lapidaire.
Pont du Gard ♥♥♥ will undoubtedly awe you at first sight. This 2000-year-old aqueduct is one of the best proofs of the erstwhile greatness of the Roman Empire, considered so by the Romans themselves when it was built, and it continues to majestically span the river Gardon after all these years. If access to the top level of the aqueduct is open, you can enjoy the splendor of the view. While technically in Languedoc, the aqueduct is located less than 30 kilometers away from Avignon. You don’t have to plan on more than an hour for the actual visit to Pont du Gard unless you want to have a picnic in its sight (which is what a large segment of visitors do).
Arles ♥♥ is customarily considered a bastion of Provençal culture and is also famous for its Roman sites. Of the Roman Amphitheater ♥ and the ruins of the Roman Theater ♥, the latter somehow leave a more lasting impression. The streets of the town are not exactly exceptional, but a number of attractions may be worth checking out: Constantine’s Roman Baths, Espace Van Gogh, Museon Arlaten, and Eglise St-Trophime, to name a few. A medieval burial ground southeast of town, Les Alyscamps, is another possibility.