Rhône Valley and Provence
Map of Provence
In appearance, despite the throngs of foreigners and French from other regions, inland Provence remains remarkably unscathed. The history of its earliest known natives, of the Greeks, then Romans, raiding Saracens, schismatic popes, and shifting allegiances to different counts and princes, is still in evidence. Provence's complete integration into France dates only from the nineteenth century and, though the Provençal language is only spoken by a small minority, the accent is distinctive even to a foreign ear. In the east the rhythms of speech become clearly Italian.
Unless you're intending to stay for months, the main problem with Provence is choosing where to go. In the west, along the Rhône valley, are the Roman cities of Orange, Vaison-la-Romaine, Carpentras and Arles, and the papal city of Avignon, with its fantastic summer festival. Aix-en-Provence is the mini-Paris of the region and was home to Cézanne, for whom the Mont Ste-Victoire was an enduring subject; Van Gogh's links are with St-Rémy and Arles. The Gorges du Verdon, the Parc National du Mercantour along the Italian border, Mont Ventoux northeast of Carpentras, and the flamingo-filled lagoons of the Camargue are just a selection of the diverse and stunning landscapes of this region.
Before you reach Provence from the north there are the vineyards of the Rhône valley and, before them, the French centre of gastronomy and second largest city of the country, Lyon. With its choice of restaurants, clubs, culture and all the accoutrements of an affluent and vital Western city, it stands in opulent contrast to the medieval hilltop villages of Provence.
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