September is a glorious month to visit Provence. The heat of summer has passed, and most of the visitors have gone home, leaving cafés, restaurants, markets and roads relatively empty. In Provence in September you are more likely to be held up by a tractor and trailer taking harvested grapes to the local co-operative than anything else. Here are some of our favourite things to do at this time of year.
You’ll notice aisles in the supermarkets full of stationery, books and backpacks for ‘La Rentrée’ (the start of the new school year). If you do find yourself in a supermarket, steer clear of harassed mothers checking lists as they fill their trolleys with shiny new exercise books, pencils and pens, and head to the wine section. Most of the major supermarkets have a ‘Foire aux Vins’ (a wine sale) in September or October and you should be able to pick up a few interesting bottles.
The grape harvest in Provence takes place in September, although thanks to a warm spring and a very dry summer, harvest in parts of Provence started about two weeks early this year, in August. It’s a busy time for wine makers and not necessarily the best time to visit the smaller cellars as everyone may be in the vineyards, although larger wineries are staffed to cater for wine tasting and buying.
In the markets of Provence, you’ll find table grapes, plums and figs along with shiny black aubergines, the last fat red tomatoes and the first orange squashes and white-ribbed ‘blettes’ (Swiss chard).
The daily market in Aix-en-Provence.
Out and about
Cooler temperatures make September a great time to do some walking, but because 2017 has been particularly hot and dry, access to the woods and hills may be restricted for part or all of the day this year. You should check before heading out on these sites:
Bouches du Rhône
And you’ll also find it easier to take on cycling challenges in September than in high summer. If you head to the coast, you’ll find the beaches are not crowded and the sea is still warm.
Other tourist attractions and markets will have fewer visitors than in the summer months so it’s a good time to go almost anywhere. And there are still plenty of Provence festivals taking place where you’ll probably meet more locals than tourists. Here are a few we’ve picked out for you with 2017 dates:
3 September, Monteux – Spelt Festival (Fete du Petit Epeautre et de la Gastronomie). Spelt has been grown on the plateau around Sault for 9000 years. Medieval costumes, fire eaters, acrobats and a market of regional products.
8 – 10 September, Arles – La Feria du Riz – bull fights, a free two-hour show in the arena with 100 horses participating, bodegas, produce from the Camargue. See also our destination guide to Arles.
9 – 10 September, Orange – Roman Festival – gladiator fights, military manoeuvres and Roman dancing.
The Roman festival at Orange.
15 – 17 September, Nimes – La Feria des Vendanges – bull fights, concerts, parades, salsa, flamenco, a horse show. See also our destination guide to Nimes.
16 – 17 September – Journées de Patrimoine (European Heritage Days) – many monuments, museums and churches and remarkable sites open their doors to the public this weekend, either free or at reduced cost. Some of these places are never normally open to the public, so it’s a great opportunity to discover some hidden treasures.
See what’s available by department.
Until 24 September, Arles – Les Rencontres d’Arles – the large-scale international contemporary photography festival, with 40 different venues in the centre of Arles.
Until 7 October – Festival des Musiques d’été – Piano recitals at the Chateau de Lourmarin, Lourmarin.
And these are on all month:
If it’s hot, head to the Carrières de Lumières near Les Baux de Provence to see a spectacular show of pictures by Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo projected onto the walls of a former bauxite quarry. The temperature is between 14° – 16°C (57°- 61°F), so take a jacket.
‘Sisley l’Impressionniste’ around 60 paintings by Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley – at the Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix-en-Provence
‘On Aime l’Art’ – a selection from dress designer Agnes B’s collection at the Collection Lambert, Avignon
Luminessences d’Avignon, a spectacular light show in the courtyard of the Popes’ Palace in Avignon, presenting the history of the Palace, the town and the region. Some shows are in English.
Luminessences d’Avignon is a spectacular light show projected onto the inner walls of the Popes’ Palace.
Small villages also have fetes and festivals primarily for locals. Don’t hesitate to join in and enjoy everything Provence has to offer this month.
September is also a great time to rent a house in Provence, as prices are lower than in summer – check out our hand-picked Provence vacation rentals!