Provence is in the South of France next to Italy. Dotted by hilltop villages overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this region is so beautiful that Cezanne, Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet all painted there, and it’s famous for sunflowers and lavender. It’s also well-known for lilies, thanks to Monet’s famous painting The Water Lily Pond. You’ll see it amongst these pictures here.
Provence was also the stomping ground of the ancient Romans so there’s lots of other things to discover about its history, and in the summer you’ll come across small circuses and fairgrounds in the towns and villages.
The landscape is a mixture of everything. There’s the gorgeous French Riviera, with miles of white beaches and harbours full of the most expensive luxury boats – a great place to spot famous film stars, especially at le Festival de Canne, one of the world’s oldest film festivals which is held in May. Then there’s the Camargue – an absolutely awesome nature reserve, and just a few hours drive along the coast are the Alps.
So, have you ever seen a purple field? Do you fancy taking a ride on a steam train over a Roman viaduct, or exploring the 60 million year old Thouzon Cave? How about paddling in a canoe in a river so clear you can see the bottom, or bungee-jumping, or go-karting up in the mountains?
In Provence there is something for everyone, whether you’re a daredevil of just happy visiting places – or both!
Here is our Top 10 list…
Zoo de la Barben
Or as the French call it – la Barben Parc Zoologique. Between Marseille and Avignon, this massive zoo has nearly 600 species, including the usual giraffes, elephants, tigers, bears, lions, rhinoceros…along with reptiles housed in a restored 12th-century sheepfold.
What makes it different is its size – it’s on top of a hillside in a forest and there are 9 kilometres of paths! Fortunately there’s a miniature railway that runs around the zoo in case you get you get fed up of walking. Save your energy for the adventure playground which you can enjoy whilst your parents enjoy the view of Provence from the park.
The zoo is near Le Château de la Barben, one of the biggest castle’s in Provence which was founded in the 11th century. It has furniture which belonged to Louis XIV, XV, and XVI and you can even go down in its dungeons!
Photo: Guillaume Piolle
Horseback riding in Camargue
The most exciting way to discover the Camargue and its secrets is on horseback. Just imagine riding through a magical land full of colour with white horses, black bulls, pink flamingos and blue skies. The bulls and horses roam wild and are looked after by Camargue cowboys. There arequite a few ranches and stables in Camargue that can offer outings for all levels of riders. Go to www.visitprovence.com/en/territory/camargue.
Welcome to the Jungle!
Ten minutes away from Gap (the capital of the Hautes-Alpes department) lies the exciting Parc Jungle Laye, the largest forest climbing park in all of Europe! There are six different attractions for adventurous kids – two small courses for kids aged 4-6 called Parc Kids and Parc Superkids, and four more ultimate challenge courses for older and more experienced kids. These take a minimum of two hours to complete each and reach heights of up to 21 metres! For adrenalines junkies there’s paintballing and a Bungee Jumping arena.
If that looks too scary, there are more tame things to do like a treasure hunt!
Visit the Biggest Gothic Fortress in the World!
The Palace of the Popes in Avignon is the biggest Gothic fortress in the world! This superb fortress with its 50 metre tall tower is the 10th most visited monument in France! Enter the rich world of the Popes in the 14th century and discover how they led their daily lives in splendour as you visit each room. Tours in English are available and kids under the age of eight get free entry.
Fun Farm Visit
Get close to nature and some of its most amazing creatures on the 10-acre farm – Autruche de Provence. As well as traditional farm animals such as goats, pigs and ponies, the farm is home to ostriches, emus and nandus (a tall, fast-running flightless bird found in South America, which is similar to an ostrich). You can go on a tour or find your own way around, and you can even buy an ostrich feather or egg to take home with you!
Village des Automates
Village Des Automates in Saint Cannat is a fantastic place full of rides, animals, swings, a picnic area – and giant story book characters! There are magic shows, workshops, festivals and loads of other activities for kids. The website is in French so you’ll need someone to translate but the pictures give you a good idea of what it’s all about.
Say Howdy to the OK Corral
After watching cowboys on the Camargue you might want to saddle up at the OK Corral Western Theme Park between Marseille and Toulon. You can see shoot-outs and stagecoaches passing through town, watch battles between cowboys and Indians, get your face painted and dress up at the Indian Village camp. If that’s not exciting enough, there are rollercoasters, a giant swing boat and fairground rides. You can even ride down’ Splash Mountain’ on an inflatable raft!
The Crocodile Farm
La Ferme aux Crocodiles is a huge tropical greenhouse of 8000 square meters where you see more than 400 crocodiles. This is home to some of the world’s rarest species and also includes a magnificent group of giant tortoises from the Seychelle islands. There’s even a laboratory and incubator room for a real “scientific safari” and in the summer you’ll see the crocodile and tortoises swimming and walking outside in the sun. Take a look at these videos of crocodiles and giant tortoises.
Canoeing and Kayaking at the Ecrins National Park
Canoe or kayak along the borders of the Ecrins National Park and you will be seriously in awe of you what you see on your way. This is THE best way to find out about the land, plant and animal life of Provence. The Pays des Ecrins is the perfect place for white water sports with the tumultuous torrent of the Gyr, the Onde and the Durance. Try Rafting, white water swimming, kayaking, air boat, canoeing and river bugging.
Take a Rally around Aubagne
This is a really fun way to find about the town of Aubagne, which is halfway between Marseilles and Cassi, near the St. Baume mountains. You get a road map from the tourist office and then answer questions to win a fairy or knight diploma. The rally, which will help you discover important landmarks like the huge clock tower, costs five Euros which includes free entry to the Marcel Pagnol house, where the French novelist, playwright, and filmmaker was born. His novels include Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. You may end up studying one of his books in school, if you haven’t already.
So that’s our top 10 but we couldn’t resist adding a few more ideas, not least because we haven’t included any cool places to swim.
Aqualand at Saint Cyr Sur Mer – this is one scary waterpark. There’s the steep and straight Crazy Horse, the Anaconda that twists and twists like a giant snake, the Rapid Raft where you go down on an inflatable tyre and Total Zebra where you slide inside a tube.
La Palmeraie on Barthelasse Island in Avignon which has water games, a diving pool and an olympic pool – all adding up to 2500m² of wet fun! There’s also a Marrakesh style bar which parents will love.
The Pont du Gard World Heritage Site, near Nimes, with a world famous aqueduct, and the Ludo Discovery Centre for 5-12 year olds where you can become a Roman greengrocer or water carrier in the morning and an archaeologist in the afternoon.
The Park of 1000 Gnomes – Légend’Aire, also known as the Park of 1000 Gnomes, in Aix-en-Provence, has all sorts of activities for kids of all ages, including trampolines, bouncy castles and a ‘Volcanik Park’ for climbing and sliding.
Karting des 3 Lacs for speed lovers aged 7-plus in the Provence mountains. The go-kart track is nearly a kilometre long and is full of twists and turns, and you can even win a medal.
And last but not least in case you’re wondering about those purple fields, they’re purple because they’re full of lavender!
A bientôt, mes amis!
For more information on cool kids’ activities in Provence, visit www.discover-southoffrance.com
To book a holiday with a real Provence specialist check out www.52coupsdecoeur.com/en There’s a map and lots of information and advice to help you plan your trip.