Sign up to our newsletter

Medieval palaces, turquoise coves & hilltop villages: What to visit in Provence

France cruise vacations along the French Riviera open up a captivating world of lavender fields, glitzy resort towns and sleepy villages – here’s what to do in the south of France.

A south of France cruise is an excellent way to soak up the myriad delights of the Côte d’Azur, whether you’re after rosé wine or rural charm.

Let’s have a look at what you can do ashore as you cruise France.

What to do in Provence


Begin your Marseille adventure at the Old Port (Vieux Port if you want to blend in with the locals), where you can take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront to admire the fishing boats, enjoy fresh seafood and relax amid the lively atmosphere (we like to do this with a glass of wine…).

Right, culture time. Work off the bouillabaisse with a 45-minute walk up to hilltop Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica (or hop on a bus if you’re feeling too rosè-infused) where you’ll find an impressive interior along with breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the Mediterranean. Fun fact, it’s known as “la Bonne Mère” (the Good Mother) as the majestic monument watches over sailors, fishermen and the people of Marseille.

For more time-travel fun, explore the historic neighborhood of Le Panier with its colorful streets, medieval buildings and vibrant art scene. If you want to learn more, head to the MuCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) which showcases the history of European and Mediterranean civilizations.

For nature enthusiasts, a trip to the Calanques National Park [above right] from Marseille cruise port is a must – it’s home to a series of deep fjord-like inlets with crystal-clear turquoise waters and limestone cliffs; hiking, snorkeling, swimming and boat tours are all popular options here.

To truly appreciate Marseille’s coastal beauty, take a drive or bus ride along La Corniche – it serves up glorious vistas of the sea and nearby islands.


Immerse yourself in Avignon’s rich history and cultural heritage by visiting the Palais des Papes [above right], a grand medieval palace that served as the residence for popes during the 14th century, and explore the iconic Pont Saint-Bénézet, also known as the Pont d’Avignon [above, left], a partially-ruined bridge over the Rhône River. Singing the famous French nursery rhyme as you meander is very much encouraged…

Elsewhere you’ll find charming cobblestone streets in the old town lined with medieval buildings, quaint cafes and boutique shops, while the Musée du Petit Palais boasts an impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance art.

Hungry? Tuck into local dishes such as ratatouille and Provençal-style seafood in the central square, Place de l’Horloge.

Aix en Provence

Aix en Provence features on a plethora of cruise shore excursions. Wander through the gorgeous city’s historic streets – the most famous of which is the fountain-studded boulevard Cours Mirabeau – and admire the beautiful architecture (Cathédrale Saint-Sauveur and the Hôtel de Ville are particular highlights). For more culture, there’s Musée Granet and its remarkable collection of paintings and sculptures from the 14th to the 19th century.

If you’re peckish or after artisanal souvenirs visit the bustling markets, alternatively, take a relaxing walk in the Parc Jourdan (you might spot locals playing pétanque) or the Pavillon de Vendôme gardens.

Les Baux-de-Provence

Another option from Marseille cruise port is the quaint village of Les Baux-de-Provence, a picturesque hilltop village. Explore the medieval ruins of the Château des Baux, perched on a rocky outcrop, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and visit the Carrieres de Lumieres, a cool multimedia art exhibit displayed in an ancient quarry.

Keep energy levels up by sampling local olive oils, wines and Provençal cuisine at one of Les Baux’s cafés and restaurants or root around for antiques in the mountain village’s cute shops.


Cannes is most well-known for its celebrated annual film festival so you know you’ll be walking in the footsteps of your favorite actors. Hey, maybe you’ll even spot a celeb if you’re lucky!

Begin your visit with a stroll along the famous Promenade de la Croisette, a palm-lined boulevard that hugs the coastline and affords excellent views of the Mediterranean Sea. Along the promenade, you’ll find upscale boutiques, elegant cafes and luxurious hotels, including the iconic Intercontinental Carlton Cannes [above, left].

Relax on the sandy beaches (Plage de la Croisette is a good choice) or meander to the hilly and historic Le Suquet neighborhood (easily walkable from central Cannes) for charming cobblestone streets, art galleries and medieval buildings. Top tip, Notre-Dame de l’Espérance church is your best bet for enjoying panoramic views over the bay.

For a slice of natural beauty as you cruise the south of France, take a short boat trip to the Îles de Lérins, two picturesque islands off the coast of Cannes. Île Sainte-Marguerite is known for its pristine beaches, scenic walking trails and the Fort Royal, where the legendary Man in the Iron Mask was once imprisoned in the 17th century (10 points if you gen up on your Dumas beforehand).

Meanwhile, on Île Saint-Honorat, you can explore the historic Lérins Abbey, still home to a community of Cistercian monks, and enjoy the serenity of the peaceful surroundings… before tucking into fresh seafood and fine wines at a local eatery.

Published 07.27.23