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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Bates

The top Roman sites to check out in the Provence region of France

Did you know the Provence region in France has a fantastic Roman Empire history? The small area featured in this post has quite a few buildings which are well preserved and still in use today. The towns of Nimes, Arles, Orange and the surrounding countryside is an area to check these beautiful structures and learn a lot about Roman history. Here are the top sights to check out when road tripping around this part of Provence and all can easily be done in a long weekend.

Nimes Roman arena, Provence, France
Roman arena in Nimes

Nimes - this beautiful town became a Roman colony around 28BC and became an important centre for business. Nîmes was located on the strategic Via Domitia, the road that first connected Italy to Spain by passing through this area of France. This location allowed Nîmes to develop into a bustling colony led by emperor Augustus in the 1st century B.C. There was a wall surrounding the city but most of it has disappeared apart from two gates which still stand today. In the heart of the city is the Maison Carrée which is one of the best preserved temples from that era and now hosts a museum with a mini cinema inside. Nearby is the amphitheater which dates back to 2AD which is still in use today where bullfighting and concerts usually take place. The arena is one of the most well preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world and at its peak, the amphitheater could fit around 24,000 spectators to observe events like gladiator fights.

A short walk from the tower to the top of Mont Cavalier is the Tour Magne (Great Tower) which is the ruins of a Roman watch tower and Maison-Carrée, which means ‘square house’ but is not actually a ‘square house’ but a Roman temple, which was built in honour of Augustus’s grandsons, Gaius and Lucius. This monument has inspired other buildings like the église de la Madeleine in Paris. There is not that much to do here but admire the design of this temple.

Nimes Roman arena, Provence, France
Tour Magne
Nimes Roman arena, Provence, France

On the outskirts of the city in a nearby rest area on the A54 (southbound) at Aire de Caissargues is the remains of a theater which is known as le temple de l'aire de Caissargues. It makes a great stop from a long drive, to stretch the legs and walk around this pretty building which is a few feet away from the car park.

Pont du Gard - This aqueduct crossing the Gardon River is one of the most preserved in the world (along with the aqueduct of Segovia in Spain) and is the highest elevated. The aqueduct is part of a 50km system built way back in 1AD to carry water from the springs near Uzes to the town of Nimes, just south of here. Now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, the aqueduct does have a visitor centre and is now one of the most visited sites in France. There are also plenty of hiking routes along the river and places to take a picnic and relax.

Arles - Not far from Nimes is the town of Arles. The town hosts an outdoor theater and baths, the main sight is the amphitheater which is very well preserved and still in use, like Nimes for bullfighting and concerts. Outside the main town there is the ‘Arles Obelisk’, standing 20 meters high and has stood in the city since 3AD. One of the best things to do here is to overlook the rooftops, the nearby river and square from the top of the amphitheater, the views are quite nice and pleasant underneath the sunshine. 

Orange - located north of the largest town of the region, Avignon, Orange boasts the most impressive outdoor Roman theater in Europe, (Théâtre antique d'Orange). Built in the 1st century, the theater was used for mimes, pantomimes and poetry reading which were performed nearly every minute of the day and was free for the locals to come and see. Standing at the top of the theater, looking down at the main stage is one of the most impressive things we have ever seen and the day we came, we saw a local perform with a guitar. Watching this, we were probably feeling the same as the locals who were watching performances from the Roman era, the feeling being happy, calm and relaxed. On the outskirts of the center is the Arc de triomphe d'Orange, a triumphal arch which was built during the time Augustus ruled the empire (27BC - 14AD), and is to honour the guys who lost their lives in the Gallic Wars (a war with tribes from Northern France and Belgium).

Other places in the Provence region to check out in the area which are not to do with the Romans

As Olga and I hired a car for this trip it would be rude not to check out some of the other top sights in the area. No, we didn’t check out the famous lavender fields as it was the wrong time of year (hopefully we will return to see these in the near future), however the main highlight for us was to check out the town of Avignon. The small city itself is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was easy to see why. The first calling point was the Pont d’Avignon (Avignon Bridge) which has stood on the River Rhône for over a thousand years. The bridge is also known as Pont Saint-Benezet, just to confuse visitors. With its four arches and a small chapel to Saint Nicholas on it, it's worth checking out.

In the center of town is the massive Palais des Papes (Popes Palace). Avignon was the seat of the Catholic popes from 1309 to 1377 and remained under papal rule until the region became part of France in 1791. The palace is surrounded by medieval stone ramparts which makes this building really beautiful. We did our own walking tour inside the palace with audio guides to learn the history whilst looking at the impressive Gothic architecture. After seeing all the chambers, the Grand Chapel and the Cour d’honneur (the courtyard), our time in the city was running out as the sun began to set (we spent a day in the city checking out the center and taking in walks along the river). Official information on the Palais des Papes and other tourist attractions in Avignon can be found here.

Mont Ventoux has been a mountain I wanted to check out for a long time. The mountain has been used as an official race route on a stage on several Tour de France’s, one of the world’s biggest cycling races. As a big cycling fan, I have always wanted to conquer this mountain by hiking it or cycling it. Well, that didn't happen when I was in the area and instead drove to the summit as it was only an hour away from Avignon. Starting from the climb from the west, coming in from Malaucene on the D974, I was overtaking a heck of a lot of cyclists. Olga and I kept stopping on our climb to take in the amazing views to the north. By the time we nearly reached the summit, the landscape was baron and the wind was very gusty. Well, Ventoux means in English, windy, so the locals who named the mountain have got that right. Nicknamed the ‘Beast of Provence’, we reached the summit at 1910m (6270ft) with glorious sunshine. The views are truly breathtaking from the top of Provence’s highest mountain. 

After a short stop we descended on the same road by taking the south-eastern direction. I saw a memorial in honour of cyclist Tom Simpson who died in the 1967 Tour de France race before reaching the summit from heat exhaustion at a young age of 27. Half way down the mountain the weather turned, heavy rain came but I was taking the road slowly. Luckily there was no other traffic as I drove the 800cc car I was in around tight turns. However at one corner, I am not sure what the hell happened, but the car spun in circles a couple of times, I managed to get the brakes in and stopped the car facing the direction we just came from. I looked out of the window and we were right on the edge of the road with no barrier, staring down to the ground, probably about 800 meters to go. It was scary. I brushed it off, got the car turned around and drove down the rest of the mountain with no problems, but then it hit me at the bottom that Olga and I had a brush with death and avoided it. Eventually we returned to Avignon in one piece, an hour later from the incident (which is about 60km between the summit and the city centre if going through the town of Carpetras). 

Here are some tips for when you want to go to the top of Mont Ventoux, either driving, hiking or cycling. 

  • Bring warm clothes and rain gear: it can be very cold at the top and the wind blows hard.

  • Wear good walking shoes and bring sunscreen.

  • The road to the top of Mont Ventoux is only accessible by car from May to October. The route to the summit is closed from November 15 to April 15.

  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast on the day you want to go hiking. The weather can change quickly and that can be dangerous.

Further to the east of Mont Ventoux is Lac de Serre-Ponçon. Olga and I took a trip to this large lake before doing Mont Ventoux in the afternoon. It is a couple of hours drive but the scenery is stunning so it is worth it. This man made lake which was built in the late 1950s and was finished by 1961, is actually a large reservoir which gathers waters from the Durance and the Ubaye rivers. There is a 123 meter high earth-core dam at one end of the lake known as Barrage de Serre-Ponçon. There is a choice of activities for fun moments with the family, such as motor-boat rental, excursion boat, pedalos and canoes. For us, we just did a hike on the shoreline for a short while and took in the amazing scenery.

Here you have it guys. If in the area, these are the top sights to check out if interested in Roman History (and other bits of bobs of this stunning part of the Provence region. There are probably a lot more in this region and if so, I really hope to check them out when I am back in the area. Have you already been to this part of Provence and seen the Roman ruins and buildings for yourself? What are your thoughts, experiences? I would love to read about them (comment below). Also is there any advice you can give to first time visitors to the area? 

Essential information on the Provence region and France

How to get to & where is it located: The Provence region located in Southern France is pretty easy to get to. The main airport in the region is Marseille Provence Airport and is located near the town of Vitrolles and is north of the city of Marseille. The other airport which no-frill airlines serve is Nimes.

By car there are plenty of Autoroutes which go through the region. There is the A7 (Lyon to Marseille and is usually the main way to get to the region from the North of France and Paris), A9 (Avignon to Barcelona), A8 (Marseille to Genoa passing Nice and Monaco), and A51 (from the French Alps down to Marseille).

By train their region has the TGV lines going through it. The main stations which are served for TGV trains coming from Paris and Lyon are Avignon TGV, Aix-en-Provence TGV and Marseille. There are plenty of regional train lines as well and there is a train which goes along the coastline to Cote d'Azur region (Nice/Monaco) as well as one heading south-west to Montpellier and Narbonne (as well as services to Spain).

Accommodation: There are a lot of accommodation options and a lot of websites which can do some great deals. Our first point of call is always and can offer a range of hostels, hotels, campsites, apartments, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts. After that we always have a look through AirBnb for great deals on apartments and other lodgings especially when traveling as a family. 

Currency: France uses the Euro currency which is also widely used in most European countries. Currency can be exchanged at the airports and train stations (for a huge fee) so we would recommend either going to a currency exchange place downtown, to a bank (if they have good rates) or if you got a good bank account with fantastic exchange rates, then use an ATM machine (may incur a small fee but I always do this option as we got good bank accounts). 

Language: It’s France, so it would be French. However at major tourist sites, a lot of staff do speak English (it is not like the old days where French people refuse to speak English, that has changed you will find the locals here love to practise their English as well as visitors trying to learn French). If there are places like Versailles Palace which have tour groups, there maybe groups which do tours in different languages like German, Chinese and Japanese. Enquire with the tourist site in advance. 

Watch out for: Didn't have a problem here. Use common sense, like watch out for pickpockets etc.

Flying into the area: Then I would recommend using Skyscanner to find flights as that is my first point of call. Then if necessary use the airlines directly to find a good deal. I sometimes use Momondo as well to compare prices before booking. 

Travel insurance: This is essential to anywhere you go in the world. I always carry travel insurance. Having travel insurance will cover you from theft, illness and those annoying cancellations which can happen on the road. 

Need a visa for France? Always check if you need a visa when coming to France, especially for those who come from outside Europe. 

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Danik's pin - Provence - Voyager avec Danik

Disclosure: Please note that while I was not working with any companies in the Provence region, my review and experiences written about in this post are 100% genuine. I value my readers too much to lie to you. My blog would be nothing without you and your continued support! There maybe some links above which are affiliate and are at no additional cost to you. If my readers use them, I earn a commission to buy their products and remember, I only mentioned products and companies I use. The income from this keeps this website going. Thank you.


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