One Hour From: Marseilles

Who needs celebrities when you can have Cezanne?

Get away from the glitz to discover the real Provence and the nearby Côte d'Azur.

Get away from the glitz to discover the real Provence and the nearby Côte d'Azur.

The Château d'If

Built by François I, the 16th-century fortress-cum-prison on the tiny island of If housed hundreds of political prisoners, including many Protestants, the rebels of 1848 and the Communards of 1871. It was also where Alexandre Dumas imprisoned his fictional protagonist Edmond Dantès in the The Count of Monte Cristo. Visit the "cell of Dantès" where many internees died or went mad.

By boat: ferry from Quai des Belges in Vieux Port; journey time approx 20 mins.

The Calanques

Rocky inlets at the foot of dramatic, towering white cliffs, they are dotted with old fishing huts and beach cabins. The jagged cliffs are stunningly reflected in the dazzling turquoise water. The area can be explored only on foot or by boat.

By car: D599 towards Cassis; approx 20 mins. By bus: No 19 from Castellan to the end of the line, then No 20 to the terminus; approx 30 mins.

Aix-en-Provence

Known for its antique shops, markets, fountains and sweets, elegant and sophisticated Aix-en-Provence was the first Roman settlement in Gaul. Pay homage to Cézanne, who painted some 60 canvases here in the late 1800s, and pamper yourself with a visit to Thèrmes Sextius, a modern über-spa on an historical site. Time your visit for July and you can take advantage of the international music and opera festival, which attracts major musical figures such as Sir Simon Rattle.

By car: take A51 and follow signs; approx 20 mins. By train: hourly service from Marseilles St-Charles; approx 50 mins.

Bandol

Bandol is one of the best of the Côte d'Azur towns, packed with flowers, palm trees and posh villas and Belle Epoque houses. Don't miss the smart marina and the attractive promenade. If you have time, take in the two medieval wine-producing hilltop villages of La Cadière-d'Azur and Le Castellet.

By car: D599 and follow signs; approx 35 mins. By train: frequent service from Marseilles St-Charles; approx 40 mins.

Arles

This Roman town, with the Rhône running through it, has a medieval centre which is a maze of cobbled alleyways and secret courtyards. The top sights include the Roman amphitheatre (les Arènes) and the Théâtre Antique. The Musée Réattu has some fine paintings by Picasso.

By car: take the A7 then the A54 and follow signs; journey time approx 50 mins. By train: frequent service from Marseilles St-Charles station; journey time approx 55 mins.

Marcel Pagnol Country

Tucked away in the hills behind Marseilles, around Aubagne, is Marcel Pagnol country, made famous in the films Jean de Florette, Manon des Sources and Le Château de ma Mère. Well-marked tracks take you across herb-scented valleys.

By car: N8 and follow signs to La Treille; approx 25 mins. By tram and bus: tram No 68 from the Noailles stop in Marseilles to end of the line, then bus No 12S to La Treille; approx 40 mins.

Cresta Holidays (0870 33 33 303; www.crestaholidays.co.uk) has a two-night b&b break at the Résidence du Vieux Port in Marseilles from £357 each, including flights. Europcar (0870-607 5000; www.europ car.com) has weekend car hire from £73.

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