Bouches-du-Rhone: tourism & sightseeing
Visit Bouches-du-Rhone (Provence, France)
The Bouches-du-Rhone department is an interesting and varied region for visitors to south-west Provence, from the bustling centre of Marseille to peaceful hill villages, and with the beautiful coastal scenery of the calanques and fascinating towns such as Arles and Aix-en-Provence to explore.
The Bouches-du-Rhone department of France is situated in the south-west corner of the Provence region, on the Mediterranean coast and with the Languedoc-Roussillon region to the west. Marseille is the principal city in the department.
Due to its diversity, the towns and roman monuments, the impressive scenic highlights, and its typically 'Provencal' character a visit to Bouches-du-Rhone has something of interest for both the 'first time' visitor to France and returning visitors.
The department is quite different in character according to where you are so we have reviewed the highlights below separately for each region.
Note: the Provencal coast between Cassis in south-eastern Bouches-du-Rhone and the Italian border is known as the French Riviera. See our Cote d'Azur travel guide for details.
To the south-west of the Bouches-du-Rhone you can explore the flat, marshland area and nature reserve of the Camargue, best known for its wildlife and Camargue horses, and commonly explored from the coastal town of Saintes Maries de la Mer.
On the coast to the east of the Camargue close to Marseille the harbour town of Martigues has an attractive port and old town to explore.
To the north of the Camargue is the vibrant city of Arles, a town with a very 'Provencal' feel and best known for its associations with Van Gogh and the impressive Roman monuments of Arles that include one of the largest amphitheatres in France.
Close to Arles the Abbey de Montmajour has a substantial keep and cloisters and dates in part from the 10th century. It is one of the most imposing historic monuments in the department.
Continuing north through the pleasant town of Fontvieille and on to Tarascon you enter the landscape of the Alpilles, with broad valleys and craggy rocky outcrops providing a very scenic backdrop. This is one of the most scenic regions of the Bouches-du-Rhone department.
North of Tarascon the Abbey of Saint-Michel de Frigolet dates largely from the 19th century and is worth visiting both for the attractive setting and to admire the extensive painted decorations inside the church.
We highly recommend that you visit Les Baux-de-Provence, the most western of the famous 'perched villages of Provence'. Surrounded by some of the most attractive scenery in the department, the village itself has a great deal of interest and historic buildings to see and is one of our favourite villages in France.
The village of Saint Remy-de-Provence is also very pleasant to explore, after which you can explore the extensive roman ruins at the nearby archaeological site at Glanum.
Towards the west of the Bouches-du-Rhone we enjoyed a stroll around the villages at Barbentane and Boulbon. You will discover many other small traditional villages as you explore.
The character of the landscape changes again as you cross the centre of the department, typically much flatter than the area to the north-west until you reach the eastern areas.
Visit Salon-de-Provence which has a medieval castle and traditional historic centre to explore, then perhaps take a detour to visit La Roque d'Antheron, a traditional small Provencal town to the north-east of Salon-de-Provence where you can visit the 12th century roman style Abbey de Silvacane, very simple in design and beautiful as a result.
Other villages that we enjoyed visiting include Mallemort and Eygalieres, and Aureille is in a lovely setting.
From here you can continue to the lively Aix-en-Provence, a typical sunny Provence town and a very pleasant town to explore with numerous attractive houses and cafes set around shady squares.
The historic centre of the perched village at Ventabren to the west of Aix-en-Provence is a pleasant detour in this region. We also enjoyed exploring a group of villages including Vauvenarques and Meyrargues, among others, to the east of Aix-en-Provence.
As you continue towards the east the scenery becomes more interesting with an increasing number of hills, rocky valleys and limestone cliffs.
On the coast of south-east Bouches-du-Rhone the city of Marseille is one of the most important cities in France. While Marseille is not usually thought of as a tourist destination, you will find a vibrant and bustling city, recently European City of Culture, which is very interesting to spend a day exploring.
The city has all the sights and noise, markets and shops, historic monuments and museums that you would expect of such an important Mediterranean port town. See Marseille for details.
The Chateau d'If is the fort immortalised by Alexander Dumas in 'The Man in the Iron Mask' that stands on a small island in Marseille harbour.
To the west of Marseille the resort of Carry-le-Rouet is very popular, in part because it is one of the closest to the city. The backdrop to this section of coast is a very attractive small chain of mountains called the Chaine de l'Estaque and easily explored on one of the trails.
A short distance east of Marseille the town of Aubagne was the birthplace of Marcel Pagnol, and in the countryside nearby we suggest a visit to the villages of Cabries and Mimet.
The coast in the south-west of the Bouches-du-Rhone is among the most attractive coastlines in France, and has several notable highlights.
Start exploring at the very picturesque harbour in the town of Cassis, which also has a small beach.
From Cassis you can walk or take a boat trip along the stunning sea cliffs of the Calanques of Marseille. We strongly recommend you take the boat trip because it is an exceptional way to enjoy the scenery.
To the east of Cassis the coast road is called the Route des Cretes and has very attractive views along some of the highest coastal cliffs in France, continuing to the town of La Ciotat, in the south-eastern corner of Bouches-du-Rhone.
Map of Bouches-du-Rhone and places nearby
See more places, tourist attractions and local markets at visiting Bouches-du-Rhone
See an index of all Bouches du Rhone places
French version: Bouches-du-Rhone (Francais)