The last few years have been difficult for couples planning to get married. The Covid pandemic has a lot of couples wondering what is actually right for them. For those couples who’ve waited, they’re wondering, do they want a huge party and huge expense? Or do they want an intimate, personal and very special elopement, in a dream destination like the Provence region of France? Couples from all walks of life are evaluating what getting married really means to them and are looking for personal and meaningful alternatives to a traditional wedding.
The Ultimate Guide to Eloping in Provence, France
The mention of Provence, France conjures up a magical region covered in sweet smelling lavender, and for sure, Provence is famous for its lavender fields, but it is so much more. Famous for its weather, the Provence region of France receives more than 300 days of sunshine a year. The weather, plus stunning natural beauty accounts for the incredible popularity of Provence. Provence became popular years ago with the publication of the novel, A Year in Provence, by British author Peter Mayle. Since then, it’s only gotten better!
When thinking about Provence, many people are surprised to learn just how large the Provence region is.
This map gives a good idea on how far the Provence region extends. From the high mountains of the department knows as the Haute Alpes, to the old Roman ruins of the department called Bouches du Rhône and beaches of the Var and Alpes Maritimes department, there literally is something for everyone in this very large region.
Whether you prefer seaside views, beaches, mountains, lavender fields, olive tree fields, apple orchards–the Provence region of France has it all and is the perfect place for a France destination wedding or elopement.
Before we go farther, let’s define the difference between a wedding and an elopement, because both are certainly possible!
A wedding, like this wedding I photographed for Tom and Tu Anh, who live in New York City, in the United States, took place as the Chateau des Fines Roches (Chateau of the Fine Stones). This chateau is outside the Provençal city, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is near the larger city of Avignon, France.
Tom and Tu Anh had a small destination wedding with about 30 guests. Their wedding ceremony took place on the patio of the chateau, and was followed by a dinner reception with dancing. A wedding usually has more than 10 guests, and takes place at a privatized location.
An elopement is usually a small ceremony, more than not, just the bride and groom alone, but there could be several special guests, but usually less than 10 people total. Because elopements are small, and personal, they are flexible and most couples elect to have their symbolic ceremony outside in nature. In a lavender field, on a mountain, or in a quaint medieval village.
This gorgeous elopement between Neomar and Lindsay, was exactly that! Gorgeous, intimate and very personal. Just the two of them and two family members, in a gorgeous medieval village in Provence. Most elopements begin with a short ceremony and is followed by a beautiful wedding session. You can see this couple’s Provence elopement here.
So now that you have an idea of the difference between a wedding and an elopement, how to do you choose a location?
Choosing Your Provence Elopement Location
If you’ve never been to Provence, France, before, it can be very intimidating to plan because there are so many options. First, I always recommend that couples choose to stay near a decent sized city, that way your transportation and lodging options are more plentiful.
For example, you could base yourself near Avignon. Avignon is a wonderful city to visit. With a population of just over 90,000 people, it has all the bigger city shops, excellent transportation from Paris, a ton of things to do, and is the gateway to the Luberon region, which is just east. The Luberon is a mountainous area and is absolutely amazing. There are many towns in the Luberon I recommend for a Provence elopement. Gordes, is the most popular and probably most stunning village in France.
Let’s take Gordes as an example, can you see yourselves here? What does an elopement day in Gordes look like? Preferably, the ceremony would start at dawn, because the sunrise in Gordes is unbelievable. On a rock overlooking the village, or another quaint part of the village, the ceremony will be complete before the baker has finished baking the bread for the day! You could elect to read your vows to each other, just the two of you, or utilize the services of an officiant or celebrant.
After your vow exchange, you’ll walk around this stunning village for wedding photos, capturing you as newlyweds. Many couples then go for a wonderful lunch or dinner. Here’s a great idea of what an elopement in Gordes would look like.
The top-of-the-line place to stay in Gordes is the Airelles Gordes, La Bastide. It is a stunning 5-star property with every amenity you can dream of. It was even featured in an episode of the Netflix show, Emily in Paris.
If an elopement in a lavender field is something you dream of, there’s many options to make your dreams come true! Lavender does not bloom all year in France, in fact, it blooms for just a very short time, and then it is cut and harvested. Depending on the year, and how much precipitation, the lavender blooms vary. However, in general, they begin at the end of June, peak around the 4th of July, and continue until the middle of July.
Lavender fields in higher elevations are cut a bit later, and lavender there may be present until the end of July.
A suggestion for a lavender field elopement (in season, of course) would be to have either a sunrise or sunset ceremony, when the light is the most beautiful, to be followed by beautiful wedding photos. It takes around an hour to two hours to get to the best lavender fields by car, so driving should be factored in.
If you’re thinking of having a lavender-themed elopement, you’ll likely want to stop at so many wonderful little villages for photos too, because it’s so incredibly romantic, and you’re in Provence, after all!
The best town to be based for a lavender-themed elopement is the little town of Valensole. The Valensole “plateau” is where some of the best lavender fields can be found. As you can imagine, tourists flock to these fields like crazy, so that’s another great reason to go early if you can. You could either stay in the town of Valensole itself, or the larger city to the west, Manosque. Manosque itself is charming and you can also tour the super interesting L’Occitane factory (the original) just outside the city.
Another great option in Provence, a bit farther south, is the magical town of Arles. I’m biased, because I live part of the year in Arles, but it’s a great place for so many reasons. First, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site, with unique Roman ruins to visit, like the well-preserved Roman amphitheater. Also, since Vincent Van Gogh lived in Arles for a year and painted up a storm in Arles, you can walk in his footsteps.
Arles is also the gateway to the Camargue Regional Natural Park, which is a large salt marsh that extends all the way to the sea. You’ll see traditional white horses, lots of birds, and if you love to bike, there’s a great trail as well from Arles to the sea called the ViaRhona.
Additionally, Arles is in excellent proximity to the Alpilles mountains (the “little” Alps), where you can go on some pretty hikes and experience some wonderful attractions like the town on the rock, Les Baux de Provence and visit nearby Saint-Remy-de-Provence, also where Van Gogh lived. You’ll find wonderful hotels in these areas as well as something called a “mas” or farm house. These farmhouses have been renovated and welcome guests, it’s a truly authentic way to relax and enjoy the region.
Maybe you like wine, there’s the possibility to taste wine, honey (a lot of honey is harvested in the area), and the most famous “crop” are olives. Have you ever tasted pure olive oil on a piece of bread? It’s to die for! You’ll find olive groves all over the Alpilles region of Provence.
Last but not least, if the beach and the sea is more your thing, you’ve got the entire French Riviera at your disposal, which yes, is part of Provence too! Your best bet is to base yourself in Marseille, La Ciotat or Cassis, with close proximity to the stunning cliffs of the Calanques National Park. It really is bluer than blue and stunning! Or, you can head farther east to Nice and book yourself a landmark hotel like the Art Deco stunner, Le Negresco, right on the Promenade des Anglais, the sea is right out your doorstep.
From Nice you have stunning coastline all the way to Italy, and your only struggle will be figuring out where to elope!
Book Your Dates
If it’s lavender you’re after, book your Provence elopement from the end of June to mid-July. Outside of these dates, lavender is not guaranteed. But there’s more than lavender. Beautiful sunflower fields exist too, as well as olive groves. There’s so much beauty you shouldn’t just limit yourself to lavender season.
High tourist season in France is generally June to September. November to March is the off-season, but while Provence can be mild, the weather is generally not as nice, as it can often get windy and chilly. The holiday season from December to January can be pretty in big cities like Nice, but Paris and Strasbourg are even better. Therefore, I’d plan your elopement to Provence in the spring, summer or early autumn months.
Where to Stay
Remember, this is a special occasion. It’s worthwhile to treat yourself a little! After all, you don’t get married every day and you’re not in Provence every day, either, so enjoy! Here are some hotels in Provence I recommend, along with links. Each web site is in English too, so you should be able to see the best fit for you!
Chateau des Fines Roches (outside Avignon)
Le Negresco (Nice)
Domaine de Manville (Alpilles outside Arles and Avignon, has golf course)
Maison Volver (Arles)
Airelles, La Bastide (Gordes)
Baumanière (Les Baux-de-Provence)
Le Château des Alpilles (Saint Remy)
Chateau d’Estoublon (Fontvielle, near Arles)
Hotel du Castellet (Cassis)
Book Your Vendors
Where you lay your head each night, the choice of hotel, of course is important. But for the other big details of your Provence elopement and wedding day? I may be a little biased, as I’m an English speaking Provence elopement photographer myself, but photos are extremely important!
First, you’ll want to have memories of this incredible moment in your lives, your wedding day. Incredible art work that you can hang on your walls or put in a pretty photo album. Second, you’ll more than likely want to share your special day with family and friends back home.
Therefore, I’d say photography is very important and when you’re budgeting your Provence elopement, allocate a substantial portion of your budget to capturing these precious memories.
When selecting your photographer, make sure to review their work and ensure it is the style you love. If it’s dark and moody images that move you, select a darker and moodier styled photographer. If light and colorful means romance to you, then select a photographer who photographs and edits in this style. You should get a good idea from their web site, but don’t hesitate to reach out to ask to see a full gallery or two, so you can see a Provence elopement from beginning to end.
For the elopement day itself, you may want the services of an officiant or celebrant, and maybe a musician like a violinist. An officiant or celebrant will work with you to craft and honest and authentic ceremony that you both will cherish. Ensure your officiant or celebrant speaks English well, and that they’re open to your ideas and want to get to know you as a couple, as well. This will help them tailor your ceremony to you.
Flowers, of course, are also very important. Even an elegant, simple bouquet will look so amazing in your elopement photographs. You can even ask the florist to incorporate flowers common to Provence, like lavender or sunflowers.
To ensure you’re photo ready, the services of a professional makeup artist and hair stylist are essential. Your makeup artist will work with you to ensure you not only look beautiful for your photos, but that you look natural too and feel your very best.
As a Provence elopement photographer, I help all of my clients find their perfect vendors.
What to Wear
Most couples prefer to dress formally for their Provence elopement, as they would back home. Most brides prefer a wedding gown that they typically bring with them from home (storing it on the plane in the overhead bin) and grooms love to wear a suit and tie with jacket. Shoes are also essential, wearing something stylish, yet somewhat comfortable is also important.
However, as elopements are not always traditional, your elopement attire doesn’t have to be formal either. If you’d like something a bit more “boho” or non-traditional, you can dress any way you like! The good news is, shopping in France is fantastic. You can find a wedding gown or suit that you love, or, did you know you can even rent wedding attire?
Unique Provence Elopement Locations
Most couples coming to Provence for their elopement prefer being outside in nature. Whether that’s a lavender field, sunflower field, near the sea on the beach, on a mountain, or in a quaint little chapel, there are tons of possibilities.
It’s best to discuss with your partner ahead of time the type of dream elopement you’re searching for. Really, almost anything is possible because of the flexibility of an elopement (which is why we love them so much!). Elopements at sunrise or sundown are particularly nice.
If you’re a nature lover, this is definitely the place for you. The beauty of Provence that you can find just about anything. Nature, wine tasting, sightseeing, spas and resorts, pretty hilltop villages, or walks in the woods.
Eloping in Provence on a Budget
One of the things couples love about eloping in Provence is that they don’t have to spend inordinate amounts of money on a traditional wedding. There are no guests to feed, no DJ to hire, and the freedom to create a wedding day that’s unique and special to you.
That said, travel isn’t always inexpensive, but no matter what, you’ll likely spend less on a Provence elopement than you would on a traditional wedding back home, plus you have the wedding and honeymoon all in one, how convenient!
You should plan into your elopement budget the following:
- Hotel (varies, but will be your honeymoon location too!)
- Officiant/celebrant (unless you wish to read your vows to each other, most officiants are 600-800€)
- Makeup artist/hair stylist (most range from 250-350€)
- Musician (if you’d like music)
- Flowers (a small bouquet is around 75€)
- Rental car (required in Provence if you’re traveling around)
- Photographer (varies widely but between 1000-2000€)
Getting married is a lifetime investment, and even though you’re not having a traditional wedding back home, ensure that you budget enough for your special day so that you can enjoy it forever, just as you should!
What’s the cost of a Provence elopement?
While you can definitely trim your budget compared to a traditional wedding back home, you should plan to budget at least 2000€ or so, not including your hotel or transportation.
Can I be legally married in France?
You’ll need to “reside” in France at least 40 days before you can be legally married, and this not do-able for most couples. Therefore, most couples take care of the legal formalities back home at city hall/courthouse or justice of the peace and your Provence elopement is a symbolic ceremony (but oh so worth it).
Should we elope in Provence?
If you’re looking for a very unique experience, in a gorgeous place, filled with beauty and all kinds of fun things to see and do, then eloping to Provence should definitely be on your bucket list. It’s a day you’ll never forget!
I’m an English speaking Provence elopement photographer and Provence wedding photographer, originally from the United States. I’ve been living in France since 2014, in Paris and Provence. I love to help couples plan their special day and capture it in images to treasure forever.
Because Provence is so romantic, my style is generally light and colorful. Unless we’re on a mountain or in the woods, and then my work is a little darker, but always capturing the magic of the best available light.
I’d be delighted to help you, so feel free to reach out to me with questions on how to plan your own Provence elopement at [email protected] or feel free to text me via Whatsapp at 33 07 51 42 35 78.
See you soon in Provence!