Provence

Travel Guide Europe France Provence

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Introduction

Provence is a geographical region and historical province of southeastern France, which extends from the left bank of the lower Rhône River on the west to the Italian border on the east, and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on the south. It largely corresponds with the modern administrative région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, and includes the départements of Var, Bouches-du-Rhône, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and parts of Alpes-Maritimes and Vaucluse. The largest city of the region is Marseille.

The Romans made the region into the first Roman province beyond the Alps and called it Provincia Romana, which evolved into the present name. It was ruled by the Counts of Provence from their capital in Aix-en-Provence until 1481, when it became a province of the Kings of France. While it has been part of France for more than five hundred years, it still retains a distinct cultural and linguistic identity, particularly in the interior of the region.

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Geography

The Rhône river, on the western border of Provence, is one of the major rivers of France, and has been a highway of commerce and communications between inland France and the Mediterranean for centuries. It rises as the effluent of the Rhône Glacier in Valais, Switzerland, in the Saint-Gotthard massif, at an altitude of 1753 metres. It is joined by the river Saône at Lyon. Along the Rhône Valley, it is joined on the right bank by Cévennes rivers Eyrieux, Ardèche, Cèze and Gardon or Gard, on the left Alps bank by rivers Isère, Drôme, Ouvèze and Durance. At Arles, the Rhône divides itself in two arms, forming the Camargue delta, with all branches flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. One arm is called the "Grand Rhône"; the other one is the "Petit Rhône".

The Durance river, a tributary of the Rhône, has its source in the Alps near Briançon. It flows south-west through Embrun, Sisteron, Manosque, Cavaillon, and Avignon, where it meets the Rhône.

The Verdon River is a tributary of the Durance, rising at an altitude of 2,400 metres in the southwestern Alps near Barcelonette, and flowing southwest for 175 kilometres through the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Var (départements) before it reaches the Durance at near Vinon-sur-Verdon, south of Manosque. The Verdon is best known for its canyon, the Verdon Gorge. This limestone canyon, also called the 'Grand Canyon of Verdon', 20 kilometres in length and more than 300 metres deep, is a popular climbing and sight-seeing area.

The Var River rises near the Col de la Cayolle (2,326 metres) in the Maritime Alps and flows generally southeast for 120 kilometres into the Mediterranean between Nice and Saint-Laurent-du-Var. Before Nice was returned to France in 1860, the Var marked the eastern border of France along the Mediterranean. The Var is the unique case in France of a river giving a name to a department, but not flowing through that department (due to subsequent adjustments to the department's boundaries).

By considering the Maritime Alps, along the border with Italy, as a part of the cultural Provence, they constitute the highest elevations of the region (the Punta dell'Argentera has an elevation of 3,297 metres). They form the border between the French département Alpes-Maritimes and the Italian province of Cuneo. Mercantour National Park is located in the Maritime Alps. On the other hand, if the département Hautes Alpes is also considered as part of the modern Provence, then the alpin Écrins mountains represent the highest elevations of the region with the Barre des Écrins culminating at 4102 metres.

Outside of the Maritime Alps, Mont Ventoux (Occitan: Ventor in classical norm or Ventour in Mistralian norm), at 1,909 metres, is the highest peak in Provence. It is located some 20 kilometres northeast of Carpentras, Vaucluse. On the north side, the mountain borders the Drôme département. It is nicknamed the "Giant of Provence", or "The Bald Mountain". Although geologically part of the Alps, is often considered to be separate from them, due to the lack of mountains of a similar height nearby. It stands alone to the west of the Luberon range, and just to the east of the Dentelles de Montmirail, its foothills. The top of the mountain is bare limestone without vegetation or trees. The white limestone on the mountain's barren peak means it appears from a distance to be snow-capped all year round (its snow cover actually lasts from December to April).

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Sights and Activities

Camargue

With an area of over 930 km2, the Camargue is Western Europe's largest river delta (technically an island, as it is wholly surrounded by water). It is a vast plain comprising large brine lagoons or étangs, cut off from the sea by sandbars and encircled by reed-covered marshes which are in turn surrounded by a large cultivated area.

The Camargue is home to more than 400 species of birds, the brine ponds providing one of the few European habitats for the greater flamingo. The marshes are also a prime habitat for many species of insects, notably (and notoriously) some of the most ferocious mosquitoes to be found anywhere in France. It is also famous for bulls and the Camargue horse.

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Weather

Most of Provence has a Mediterranean climate, characterised by hot, dry summers, mild winters, little snow, and abundant sunshine. Within Provence there are micro-climates and local variations, ranging from the Alpine climate inland from Nice to the continental climate in the northern Vaucluse. The winds of Provence are an important feature of the climate, particularly the mistral, a cold, dry wind which, especially in the winter, blows down the Rhône Valley to the Bouches-du-Rhône and the Var Departments, and often reaches over one hundred kilometres an hour.

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This is version 2. Last edited at 8:54 on Jul 19, 16 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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