Marseille, the capital of PACA, is the largest and most diverse city in south-east France. Recently nominated the 2013 European Capital of Culture, Marseille can be called the oldest city in France, as well as a major centre of art and history. No stranger to urban oasis, PACA also has other maritime cities that attract millions of visitors. Nice, the second largest city in France, provides a picturesque setting of the French Riviera, as well as fabulous shopping, markets and restaurants. Cannes, another resort town, is the ideal town in which to hit the beach and people-watch. Don't forget St. Paul de Vence, a fortified hilltop village known for its art galleries and fine restaurants. And charming cities like Avignon, the former home of the papacy, will surely impress history buffs. Other notable places include :Aix-en-Provence, Grasse, Toulon, Fréjus and Antibes.
The cuisine of PACA is heavily influenced by the Mediterranean and Italy. Olive oil, garlic, olives, aromatic herbs and sun vegetables are used liberally, as well as fresh seafood, particularly rouget and loup. In the northern part of PACA, lamb and goat are popular. Some classic must-try dishes include bouillabaisse (seafood stew), fougasse (traditional bread of Provence), pissaladière (pizza in Nice), ratatouille (stewed vegetables), socca (chickpea bread), calisson (almond-based cookies), and soupe au pistou (vegetable soup). And of course, visitors should try a glass of pastis, known to be the iconic anise liquor of the south.
PACA is easily accessible via train. TGV connections from Lyon and Paris are efficient, and typical gateway cities include Aix-en-Provence, Avignon and Valence. In addition, on certain Saturdays, the Eurostar offers a train from London directly to Avignon. Motorways enable easy travel by car so visitors can explore the various towns. With a village every ten minutes by car, Provence is one of those places where getting lost can be an advantage. Cyclists can also explore the beautiful PACA region with its many designated trails.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, many of the most famous painters in the world converged on Provence, drawn here by the climate and the clarity of the light. The special quality of the light is partly a result of the Mistral wind, which removes dust from the atmosphere, greatly increasing visibility. They include: Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Auguste Renoir, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Paul Signac and more! In addition, the climate and lifestyle of Provence attracted writers almost as much as it did painters. It was particularly popular among British, American and Russian writers in the 1920s and 1930s. Now, PACA is known for its hip hop artists like IAM and Diams.