On the road
Population: 1.1 million
On the south-eastern corner of France, by the Mediterranean, with the Italian border to the east and the Alps to the north, Alpes-Maritimes and the French Riviera are one of the world's most famous tourist areas. The department's particularity, outside the beauty of its seafront, is to display steep and rugged landscapes so close to the shore – here the Alps literally drop into the sea. Beaches and summits are only an hour apart and the departments boasts several ski resorts (Auron, Isola 2000). With 320 sunny days a year, the sun is one of the main attractions of a department whose 1.1 million inhabitants mainly live on tourism. Other activities are essentially tertiary, accounting for 76.2 pc of the jobs. Construction is another overgrown sector in the area while science and high technology are also present in Sophia Antipolis or in the Cannes-Mandelieu space centre, the first satellite manufacturer in Europe.
Sub-prefectures: Brignoles, Draguignan.
Population: 1 million
Oddly, Var bears the name of a river that does not flow on its soil since Grasse became part of Alpes-Maritimes. Located on the territory of the old County of Provence, bathed by 420 km of shores, the department is as a result a tourist favourite thanks to its famous seaside resorts – Saint-Tropez, Saint-Raphael, Le Lavandou, Bandol.... - but few visitors are aware that it is also the French department with the most forest, 62 pc of its territory being covered with woods. Tourism is obviously Var's main resource, but its agriculture – fruit, flowers and wine – resists well in its beautiful hinterland. The Upper-Var (Haut-Var) with its 37 communes grouped in the La Provence Verte association offers a different approach to local tourism based on love of nature and sporting activities. A rich and varied historical heritage – St Maximin basilica, Ste Baume, small uphill villages, castles and abbeys – is another incentive to leave the beach or visit Var outside the tourist season. Industrial activities – shipbuilding, National Navy and a strong construction sector – are restructuring, notably in Toulon, which became the prefecture in 1974 at the expense of Draguignan.
Sub-prefectures: Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Istres.
Population: 1.9 million.
With a population of nearly 2 million, Bouches-du-Rhone is the third most populated department in France. The three major cities of Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Arles each left its mark on the territory. Urban, maritime and working-class in Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhone is also in the very heart of the eternal Provence around Aix, while Camargue and its wildlife preserve the natural aspect of the department around Arles. As a result, the economy is extremely diverse, tourism siding with traditional industries, a rich agriculture –olive oil, fruit, wines – and the weight of the port of Marseille, the largest in France. The installation in Cadarache of the Iter nuclear reactor and the Euromediterannee project in Marseille also keep Bouches-du-Rhone in touch with present challenges.
Tourism also reflects this variety. From Cassis to Saintes-Maries de la Mer, the seafront is an undeniable asset, but the busy shopping streets of Aix, the Roman remains of Arles and Glanum, exceptional sites like Les Baux-de-Provence and the several cultural events held every year – Aix festival, Arles feria, music in castle of L'Emperi in Salon – preserve the heritage of writers of such stature as Mistral, Daudet, Zola or Pagnol. The whole of the department was associated with Marseille designation as the European Capital of Culture in 2013.
Km 4 : Biot
Population: 9 200
A medieval jewel up on a green hill, ideally located east of Antibes, Biot managed to preserve its quality of life and an identity inherited from history and a long tradition of craftsmanship. Artists such as Fernand Leger, whose museum lies at the foot of the village, or Eloi Monod, who launched the trade of glassblowing in Biot brought with them an artistic drive still present in the glass, pottery, ceramics and jewellery shops in town. The extension of the Sophia Antipolis science park today marks a new step in the destiny of a city also turned towards the future. The narrow streets of the village bear witness to a long historical past when Biot was home to Knights Templar and Knights of Malta. Rebuilt in 1470, the village retains a peculiar architecture from the period with vaults, fortified gates and engraved stones.
Biot hosted the finish of a Paris-Nice stage in 2011and two stages of the Tour Mediterranean in 2010 and 2011.
The Biot glass-factory is a real tourist attraction with several major points of interest – the glassworkers hall, the Biot Glass Museum, the grand showroom, the International Glass Gallery, a decoration boutique and a restaurant. Some 700,000 persons visit the site every year.
Fernand Leger Museum
A unique collection of paintings, ceramics and drawings allows visitors to discover the work of this major artist, from his cubist research to the large colourful compositions of the 1950s. Contrasting shapes and vivid colours evoke the pace of the machine, the poetry of objects and the beauty of modern cities. Located at the foot of the village in the middle of a Mediterranean park, the museum offers a wide programme of exhibitions and cultural activities with audioguides in seven languages
Biot history and ceramics Museum
Created in 1980 and enlarged in 1997, the museum was entirely renovated in 2004. The restoration of a chapel and the creation of a gallery provide new exhibition spaces in the centre of the village. The museum tells 2,000 years of history. First a Celt land, Biot became a Gallo-Roman castrum before hosting a Templar House and welcome a whole new population of Ligurian immigrants in the 15th century.
Thanks to the quality of its clay and stone, Biot became the main Mediterranean centre for jar making. In the mid-17th century, the town numbered more than 40 potteries whose production was exported all around the world. The museum has an important collection of those jars manufactured between the 17th and the 19th century. Pottery later turned to ceramics.
PACA is the third biggest region in France. Its population of nearly 5 million mainly live in or around its four major cities, Marseille, Nice, Toulon and Avignon. Comprising most of the South-East of France, it is bathed by the Mediterranean in the South and bordered by the Alps in the East.
Tour de France of the Monuments Nationaux
Abbey of Thoronet
A Cistercian abbey set in secluded woods, famous for its remarkable stonework.
The Abbey of Thoronet was built at the end of the 12th century. It is one of the “Three Sisters of Provence” (with Senanque and Silvacane Abbeys) and one of the finest examples of Cistercian architecture. The whole monastery is a forceful expression of the simplicity and precision of the order of Saint Bernard.
Castle of If
The famous island fort facing Marseille immortalised by Alexander Dumas in The Count of Monte Cristo.
The castle was built by François I in 1529 and over the centuries it gained a fearsome reputation as many opponents of royal power were jailed and died in the fortress. A prison from 1541, it housed the most famous prisoners in the history of France, including the Comte de Mirabeau, incarcerated on the orders of his father, the famous Physiocrat. The Castle of If has been perfectly preserved and is one of the most impressive historical sites on the Mediterranean coastline.
Archaeological site of GLANUM
In the heart of the Alpilles mountains, important remains of a settlement with Greek then Gallo-Roman influences.
At the heart of the magnificent Alpilles mountains, the archaeological site at Glanum features the remains of an important Roman settlement that prospered from the 6th century BC to the third century AD. This fascinating site includes the ruins of both civic and religious edifices and is unique in Provence.
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