At the heart of the department of Bouches-du-Rhone, the magnificent River Rhone flows out to the Mediterranean, its valley the region’s most important highway through mountains separating Provence from the rest of France.
The Rhone delta becomes a vast wetland wilderness known as the Camargue. Now protected as a ‘Parc Naturel Regional’, it is famous for white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos.
Amongst the quiet beaches along the coast, Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer keeps alive ancient traditions with the colourful gypsy festival of the Black Madonna in May.
East of the Rhone lies cosmopolitan Marseille, France’s second city, oldest port, and home of bouillabaisse - a delicious saffron and garlic flavoured fish soup.
Visit the old port and cathedral and climb to Notre Dame de la Garde to enjoy a breathtaking view out to sea. Beyond Marseilles towards Cassis, steep white cliffs reach to the Mediterranean. A boat trip along the ‘calanques’ - enchanting mini fjords cut into the limestone - is worth it just to swim from beaches not accessible by land.
Follow the Rhone upstream to historic Arles, once home to Van Gogh and where he painted his famous ‘Starry Night’. Arles’ impressive Roman arena, built to stage gladiatorial combats, now presents Provence-style bull fights and pageants.
North of Marseille on the Arc River the elegant university town of Aix-en-Provence, known for its fountains and shady boulevards, has always been popular with artists and intellectuals.
Visit the tapestry museum, Cathedral, and studio of Paul Cezanne where the artist created his many paintings of nearby Mont St Victoire.
The food, fish, flower and flea markets in Aix are amongst the best in Provence and restaurants offer a variety of ethnic cuisine as well as regional dishes such as the slow cooked daube or beef stew, flavoured with balsamic vinegar and herbes de Provence.