Provence, The Hilltop Villages

provencal hilltop village

Leave the French Riviera with its crowds of tourists and mega yachts and follow the breathtaking back roads high into the hills above the coast to discover towns and romantic small villages of Provence once lost in time but rediscovered by writers, poets and painters for their alluring charm.

clock tower entrance to Tourrettes-sur-Loup
Original Gate to Medieval Village of Tourrettes sur Loup

Fortified hilltop towns perched on cliffs in the Alpes-Maritimes district of Provence look out toward the sea and the surrounding hills covered in vineyards, olive groves and cypress trees. Guarded by ancient fortified gates and towers, ramparts and Roman ruins, each beautiful village beckons you to explore.

Click or swipe on any photo in the article to enlarge and see a slideshow.

Park outside the gates and wander through narrow passageways and winding cobbled streets lined with bougainvillea, oleander and potted plants. Enjoy the old honey colored stone buildings with thick doors and painted shutters and the occasional cat lazing in the warm sunshine of a lace curtained window. Peak into tiny alleyways that lead into courtyards filled with fragrant roses and geraniums. Browse in small boutiques  selling paintings and handmade crafts.

Stop at a café on the main square to relax under an umbrella with a glass of Provençal rosé wine, order a simple salad Niçoise or noisettes of lamb and enjoy the beautiful moment.

If this sounds too good to be true, perhaps it is at the present time with travel restrictions in place for most of us. What we can do is remember our past travels and dream of when we can once again visit this charming part of France with tiny villages dotting the hinterlands high above Nice and yet only at a 30 minute drive from the French Riviera and Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport.

The small medieval village that I was just describing above is Tourrettes-sur-Loup, known as the “City of Violets“, and yes it really is as romantic as it sounds. On our last visit, we arrived in the late morning, parked at the edge of the village and entered through the passageway beneath the medieval clock bell tower and had the village basically to ourselves. Everywhere you walk, there is one picturesque spot prettier than the next. At the back of the village there’s a lookout point next to the ramparts where there is an exceptional view of the countryside and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. After wandering along the narrow streets lined with limestone houses along its ramparts and peeking into boutiques, artists galleries and local craft workshops, we knew that the lovely village was well worth a visit for its authentic atmosphere.

St. Paul-de-Vence, only about 6 miles away is another fortified hill town that is on most tourists “must see” list. While hordes of tourists, more than two million people a year, visit St. Paul, that shouldn’t stop you from visiting. The town has been restored into a picture perfect village with many of its 16th century ramparts, arcades, winding flights of stairs and ancient wells.

Since my first visit years ago, the town is now mostly souvenir shops and high end art galleries and I feel it has lost a lot of its authentic Provencal way of life. You share the beautifully kept streets with bus loads of tourists filling the shops that sell typical  souvenirs, expensive paintings, clothing and ice cream. Thankfully, one thing that hasn’t changed over the years are the magnificent views over the hills toward Nice and the coastline. You will also still see old men playing pétanque in the shade of large trees at the popular Place du Jeu de Boules just opposite the famous Colombe d’Or hotel know for its priceless art collection.

If you decide to visit St. Paul, I would suggest going early in the morning or visiting in late afternoon to avoid some of the crowds. If you plan to lunch at the famous Colombe D’Or restaurant, make reservations well in advance and if you want to visit the Maeght Foundation, with its famous collection of 20th century art, make reservations online.

If you are staying in the area, also visit the walled, hilltop medieval towns such as Vence where you can visit the Chapelle du Rosaire, also known as the “Matisse Chapel” and Grasse, the world’s capital of perfume, Biot, Mougins, Gourdon and other wonderful villages nearby for a peek into Provence’s past.

If you decide to explore this region of Provence and want to splurge on a hotel, there isn’t a more beautiful one than the luxury resort Château Saint-Martin & Spa. It is perched on a hilltop overlooking the historical village of Vence and has 32 acres of landscaped grounds. The historic chateau retains a wall and original drawbridge that dates back to the time when the site was the stronghold of the Knights Templar back in 1150. The rooms are very spacious and comfortable, the last time we stayed, our room had a large balcony offering lovely views of the pool and the Mediterranean sea. The hotel’s main restaurant serves delicious light seasonal dishes and has been awarded one Michelin star.

Another hotel I would recommend is just below St. Paul-de-Vence. Le Mas de Pierre, a Relais & Chateau hotel, is closed for a large scale renovation and extension project but is planning to reopen in the spring of 2021. The hotel is beautiful with a good restaurant, gorgeous pool area and lovely terrace and gardens.

We haven’t been in years but if you are looking for a small budget hotel with A/C and a parking garage, the Hotel Diana in Vence might be just what you are looking for.

 

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I travel the back roads of the world, sharing great food and interesting places and enjoyable pastimes.

109 thoughts on “Provence, The Hilltop Villages

  1. I visited both of those villages before the shutdown in March this year . They are truly beautiful and at that time there were few tourists. I stayed with my group in Julia Child’s’ summer house. It was a beautiful trip, thank you Karen for bringing back the memories. Gerlinde

    1. Hi Gerlinde, You were so lucky with that whole trip. What a wonderful experience and then you were able to get back home safely. I’m glad you enjoyed the post on Provence and that it brought back those delightful memories.

  2. I love Provence and its lovely little villages. My friend and I took a wrong turn and ended up driving down a country road that took us through a sunflower field. Amazing! Would love to explore some more.

    1. Hi Darlene, your comment gave me a chuckle…the things we experience while traveling. A drive through a sunflower field had to be a moment you will always remember. Our GPS took us through a farmer’s field one time in France but we did eventually get where we wanted to go. 😊

    1. Hi Ksenia, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Yes, we used to stay in a small family owned hotel where you could easily walk to the top of Les Baux. Unfortunately the couple decided to stop taking guests.

  3. We haven’t spent much time in Provence — one of those places we had hoped to linger in around this time in our lives. Can’t do it now, obviously. In fact we have a trip planned for next June that we’re not at all confident we’ll be able to take. And if we technically can, will it really be the experience we crave. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’ll look at your wonderful pictures and dream of a time we CAN plan a trip to Provence!

    1. Hi John, How times have changed for all of us. The only thing it seems we can do right now is dream and hope for a cure for covid. As you say, things are going to be really different for travelers for the foreseeable future. I do hope you make it to Provence, it is such a charming part of France.

  4. Karen, thank you for the tour of Provence. If we can go now at least we can plan with all of your great hints of things to see and times to go. Don’t you just love all the beautiful quaint buildings. Like you said… one just prettier than the next. I bet you needed to buy extra cards for your camera.

    1. Hi Bobbi, Yes you are right, when you travel in Provence you are definitely going to take a lot of photos. I’m happy that you enjoyed the post, thank you.

    1. I agree with you about traveling Ronit, hopefully sometime next year we might start to be able to make plans. I’m the meantime, we have our memories. Thank you for your compliment, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos from Provence.

  5. Your photos are beautiful as always! What a lovely place to walk and enjoy the sights and architecture. Being a cat lover, I enjoyed the cat in the window with the blue shutters!

    1. Hi Jan, you would love those small villages and I’m sure you would make a few cat friends during your visit. Thank you for your compliment, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos from Provence.

    1. Hi Larry, Let’s hope that our world can conquer this pandemic and that you will be able to plan your trips to Provence and Tuscany, I know the two of you would have a wonderful time. Thank you for your nice compliment, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post.

  6. Karen, we have visited the hilltop villages with the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean! I so hope to return one day to these lovely places. Thanks for sharing, you brought back sweet memories!

    1. Hi Pam, I’m glad to know that you enjoyed the post about the hilltop villages in France and it brought back memories of your visits there. Hopefully we all will be able to return someday as Provence is so charming. Thank you for your lovely compliment.

  7. I would love to visit Provence. All I see of it is so very beautiful — even if it has gone a bit to the tourist crowd. Thanks for sharing these lovely photos. Not being able to travel these days, photos like this “take me there.”

    1. I do hope you get an opportunity to visit Provence Jeanie. We have found if you go to the areas that are known to becrowded with tourists, an early morning visit seems to work well. Photos is about all any of us have to replace our travel plans…I know you had wanted to return to England.

  8. What a magical captivating tour you’ve taken me on. I love those carved balconies and all that beautiful looking history that just beckons to be explored. Thank you for the virtual tour and for sharing the magic. Love it! ✨❤️🙏

    1. Thank you Ursula for your nice compliment about the post on the hill towns in Provence. I too hope that we will again be able to make travel plans but until then, you are right…we have our photos. 😊

  9. Thank you for wondrous memories . . . we would normally stay on the Coast but have most of our lunches in the courtyard of Colombe d’Or . . . I remember my younger daughter, six at the time of her first visit, being rather quiet during a long lunch . . . and then staying ‘If there is heaven, Mommy, I think it is here . . . ‘ The atmosphere was unreal, the food indescribable, so much to see after . . .if I could get the girls away from the petanque players afterwards . . .they wanted to try also . . . and did . . .

    1. Hi Eha, It was so fun watching the petanque players, they take the game so very seriously. I certainly know why your daughters fell in love with lunch at Colombe d’Or.

    1. Thank you for your compliment Inger, I’m glad you enjoyed the Provence photos. Yes, the out of way places can end up being some of the best travel surprises.

    1. Hi Mary, let’s hope and pray that covid is conquered ant that you will have the opportunity to visit Provence in the futue. In the meantime, I’m glad you enjoyed the photos and post, thank you.

    1. Hi Judy, I’m sure it would be so very interesting to travel to France and the region your ancestors were from. One of my blogging friends, searched in France to find the memorial for one of her husband’s relatives that lost his life in WWI and did.

  10. So beautiful. Do you remember Stephane from My French heaven? He doesn’t write his blog any more, but he was our tour guide a few years ago, traveling through Provence from Bordeaux to nice for 3 weeks. At one point we stayed close to Tourettes, in Boulbon. So beautiful. All of the villages were beautiful. I could spend a week in each one. I love your photos. Unfortunately they’re making me sad!!!!!

    1. Hi Mimi, I do indeed remember Stephane from My French Heaven and know that you have toured with him and your are featured on his blog. Another of my friends, Liz Thomas did as well. I’m sorry that my post made you sad.

  11. Thank you for taking me to the lovely Hilltop Villages Karen. Architecture and old doors have always fascinated me and your photos are so enjoyable…I loved wandering the streets virtually and imaging dining at an outdoor cafe and experiencing the beautiful views!
    Jenna

    1. Hi Jenna, I have a love for old doors, latches and door knockers…sometimes they are real works of art. You would enjoy the villages and I’m sure they would inspire some of your art. Thank you for your lovely compliment.

  12. Karen,
    True to the saying a picture speaks a thousand words hold so true with your each click! Absolutely stunning. I especially loved the honey coloured stone buildings and those perfect views. Haven’t been to France yet, but you have definitely inspired me to plan a visit. This half term we are in Cyprus for a week. Hopefully the lockdown measures ease the distance beyond! Thanks

    1. Thank you for your kind words Hasin, I’m glad that you enjoyed the photos of the hilltop villages. Hopefully you will be able to see those honey colored buildings some day soon.

    1. Thank you Mad Dog, I know what you mean about Peter Mayle…A Year In Provence was a favorite. Yes to having an afternoon Pastis under an umbrella in one of those villages.

  13. Karen, thanks for taking us on this journey today. Provence is indeed a lovely area of France. Although it’s been some years since I visited, we hope to return soon. My daughter finished her last two years of high school in Avignon, so I visited her as often as possible. I’d pop in for a weekend between my business travels and we’d take off into the countryside exploring. Your post brought back some wonderful memories…

    1. Ron, I always enjoy when you share your comments here because you have traveled to so many of the same places we have. I’m happy that this post reminded you of your visits to see your daughter when she was going to school in Avignon…another fascinating town to visit.

    1. Thank you Jeff, I appreciate your nice compliment on the photos from Provence. When we can all travel again, I do hope you have the opportunity to visit this wonderful part of France.

    1. Hi Fran, I happen to like the way you think. I would indeed be wonderful to rent a little house in the French countryside to cook and practice your France. Hopefully your wish will come true when it is once again safe to travel.

  14. I’ve not been to Provence for many years but it looks so beautiful, as most of France is! I have memories of the Fragonard perfume factory at Grasse and the whole area is on my wishlist for some point in the future. Who know when?

    1. Hi Susanne, Thank you for stopping by for a visit and your nice comment. This part of Provence does remind you a lot of Italy, actually the border is not that far away.

    1. I would love it Jo, if you could wander the hilltop towns in Provence. You would share your walk with beautiful photos and I’d feel like I’d returned. Perhaps someday.

  15. Ah, to dream of where we’ll go next! Lovely post on Provence! I’m not sure if you’ve been to Ireland yet Karen, but I have a recommendation for you! For my birthday in September, we stayed at Ashford Castle (in County Mayo) and it was such a wonderful experience from start to finish! Everything was top class. Perhaps you’ll visit after the pandemic? 🙂

  16. I really need to keep a notebook of all the lovely European hotels you recommend. When we were in France, we spent only 2 days in Provence and stayed in a beautiful contemporary hotel. Bill wants to explore Normandy again, so I hope we’ll get back when we can travel abroad again.

    1. Hi Liz, When we have the opportunity to travel again, I’ll be happy to share recommendations with any of my blogging friends. I appreciate your lovely compliment, thank you.

    1. Hi Lorraine, I appreciate your kind words. I know exactly what you mean. This is the time of the year we are always in Europe…I too am missing the wonderful places we use to visit.

  17. Hello Karen.

    What a wonderful post full with stunning photos! Your photos made to feel like travelling with you. I enjoyed every single photo. Thank you for this report.

    Have a good day!

  18. Hello Karen, thank you taking me along on this magical trip to Provence. I never got to experience it when we went to France. Maybe someday when the world is better, I would love to experience it for myself.

    1. Hi Linda, I’m always happy to have you along on one of my little travel tours. I do hope that in the future, we will all be able to return to lovely destinations again. Thank you for your nice compliment.

  19. Oh Karen, thank you so much for sharing the pictures…they are so charming…I would love to see these places one day…again…thanks for the pictures.
    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Thank you Juliana, I’m happy that you enjoyed the photos of Provence. One day, I hope you will be able to visit one of these pretty little villages in person.

  20. Such beautiful photos, Karen. We spent only two weeks in Provence and obviously missed a beauty in Tourrettes sur Loup! Next time – and, there will be a next time! 🙂 Thanks for another beautiful post.

    1. I’m sure that we will be able to return David, we just have to be patient until they have a successful vaccine. Until then, I’m glad that you enjoyed the photos of Tourrettes sur Loup, you two would love it.

  21. Wow, thank you for the opportunity to whisk away to Provence for a few minutes. The travel restrictions are really tough right now, and I miss visiting wonderful places like this. We haven’t explored Provence yet, but we have talked about it. Now it’s moving up higher on our list!

    1. David, Provence is definitely a place you should visit once it is safe to return to Europe…or should I also add, until they let us back in. 😊 Thank you for your nice compliment.

  22. My parents lived in nearby Grasse for 10 years, so this has brought back to many happy memories. I agree about St Paul – it is such a gem but navigating the crowds can be a little tricky. I have bought some very special pieces of art there, (and I may have had a few glasses of rose!) Merci for the memories.

    1. Hi Scarlett, I’m so happy that this post on Provence brought back nice memories of time spent there. We bought a wonderful painting in Vence on one of our travels and for many years, the artist would send us a hand painted Christmas card. So many memories from our travels that we can reminisce about while we are unable to travel. Stay safe.

  23. I love how these pictures make me feel like I was there on vacation with you, Karen! But someday, I hope to experience this beauty in real life.

    1. How sweet Thao, I’m happy to know you enjoyed the photos. I hope one day, you will be able to visit the pretty little hilltop villages in Provence, they are so special.

  24. I wonder what changes we will see post Covid? I’ve saved your post and suggestions under my travel Pinterest page, sigh. Hopefully we will get to see those lovely places again in the near future. I spent 2 weeks wandering the countryside in that area about 30 years ago and have very fond memories.

    1. Hi Liz, I do hope we will all get the opportunity to travel again…I would love to return for another visit in Provence. Thank you for your lovely compliment and the pin, they are much appreciated.

  25. HI Karen! So many beautiful places to visit in Provence, we certainly need to go back. My husband and I spent most of the summer traveling in Europe (2019) and we spent 2 weeks on the French Riveria, Cote d’Azur, and had our two younger daughters meet us in France. It was a wonderful trip for all of us. We also lived in Prague last fall and returned home for the Christmas holidays. We loved living in Europe and have so many wonderful friends and memories. It’s a dream, every time we go back. LOVE your photos and descriptions! We enjoy your posts every time you travel! So keep them coming! 🙂 thanks so much….

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