These are the tourist guides we tend to use. They work for us, some better than others. They are not necessarily the best for you, nor are they the only good tour guides available.
I have several thoughts about how frequent travelers end up the tour books in their libraries. Once we travelers find a line of books that works for us--that is, one that addresses what is important to us, be it historical overviews or architectural information, quick tidbits of information or long detailed pages, restaurant recommendations or theme park tips, photos or no photos, etc.--I think we return to that line out of habit and without regard to what else may be available.
Instead of falling victim to old habits, keep your eyes open for new additions. You may surprise yourself, as we did recently.
Find a good bookstore--we happened to be blessed with Gulliver's Travels in our hometown (http://www.gulliversbooks.com/) --where there are tour guides galore and a very knowledgeable and well-traveled owner.
Also, remember that the best books for planning your trip may not the ones you want to lug around while touring. Make sure to purchase the most current version. If a book is not a recent publication, check to see if a new edition is imminent.
Here is a list to get you started:
Cadogan Guides: Provence
These are serious guides, filled very good detailed information, including websites for nearly all the recommended sights. Few pictures, but lots of interesting information. Great resource. (FYI: "ca-DOG-an" is the correct pronunciation, according to our favorite travel bookstore proprietor.)
Cadogan Guides: Take the Kids South of France
Like the traditional Cadogan Guides, this is loaded with information and terrific ideas for families. We really like these guides.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: Provence and the Côte d’Azur
These guides are particularly easy to use. They divide, in this case Provence, into "areas" and cover its highlights, including a map of the area as well as maps of many of the cities or other tourism sights. There are also suggested driving tours. At the beginning of each tour guide, there is a review of the history, cultural arts, architecture, and festivals, among other aspects of the region. I particularly like the timelines. Nice photographs.
DK Eyewitness Top 10 Provence and the Côte d’Azur
This is a fun book. Although very small in size, it is filled with lots of ideas--all in the form of the Top 10 this and that--into which you can then delve more deeply in another tour book. Here, after Provence’s Top 10 Sights, you will find the Top 10 Roman Sights, the Top 10 Offshore Islands, the Top 10 Vineyards, the Top 10 Beaches, Top 10 Provençal Legends, and so on.
Insight Guides: Provence
This is a book that you read beforehand, rather than carry with you. It is very informative, but does not have the practial detail a traveler needs when touring. It is written as if you are traveling around with the author as he or she describes the sights and weaves the story of Provence into the writing.
Knopf Guides: Provence and the Côte d’Azur
These are some of our favorite tour books. They are as informative as Michelin, but oh-so much prettier and a joy to read, especially if art and history is your thing. It seems that Knopf could be phasing out these beautiful books as they don’t seem to be publishing updated editions. They may be replacing this series with the book described below.
Knopf Map Guides: Provence and the Côte d’Azur
These small books can easily fit into a back pack. They are organized in sections, each with a fold-out map and information on restaurants, cafés, delicacies, crafts, and thumb-nail summaries of the major sights. We have not had a chance to put this book to use.
Markets of Provence: A Culinary Tour of Southern France by Dixon Long (1996)
This might be my very favorite guide to spending time in Provence. It is organized around the days of the week, featuring one market each day. There are also recipes, restaurant recommendations, and lovely photography.
Michelin Green Guide to Provence
Old faithful--easy to carry, essential information, lots of detail, and pretty comprehensive--but nothing off the beaten path.
The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence by Michael Jacobs and Hugh Palmer (1994)
This is a coffee table book--large and filled with lovely photographs of the most beautiful villages of Provence along with interesting information about these villages. Lourmarin is listed among the most beautiful villages featured here.
Rough Guide to Provence and the Côte d’Azur
This is one of our newly found favorite tour guides and, as I write this, I hark back to an earlier point about choosing tour books based on habit. Even though most of our friends have always reported an undying passion for this series, we had never warmed up to the Rough Guides. But, I think that those feelings were more a reflection of old habits than a real look at any of the books.
After actually purusing this book in an effort to give the series a fair chance, we must report that it would not be an exaggeration to say "we love it." It is exceptionally informative with lots of practical information that is supplemented with very useful maps. I love the "25 Things Not to Miss" list.
If you are a traveler with a keen interest in cultural arts and history or a reader who enjoys photographs, you will want another guide as well, such as the Knopf Guides.
Rick Steves' Provence and the French Rivera
Steves’s books are not as comprehensive as other tour books, but they offer detail on subjects that other books do not. For example, he accurately reports that parking is very difficult to find in Cassis and provides directions to where it may be found. He is also opinionated and, if you happen to share his views about travel (as we generally do), the advice is always helpful. Beware that there may be significant areas he does not cover and that there are so many Steves’s fans that, when you follow his advice, you may find yourself surrounded by more followers of Steves than residents of Provence.
Secret Provence: Walking off the Beaten Track by Jean-Pierre Cassely (2006)
This book might also have been entitled "Quirky and Down-Right Weird Provence." With a few exceptions, it is a book for visitors who are on their tenth trip to Provence and have exhausted other conventional destinations.
Time Out: South of France Provence and the Côte d’Azur
I find this series a little dry and often don’t agree with the restaurant recommendations, but I also must say that I have read interesting tidbits of information here that I have never seen in other books. I wish the maps were better interspersed in the text.
Tour de Provence by Julian More (2001)
This is a detailed and inspired travel diary of More’s circuitous tour through the south of France, complete with lovely photographs and great sightseeing advice. I love the opening paragraph: "Even the longest lasting love affairs need a booster from time to time. And mine with Provence, which was already forty years old, called for more than the traveler’s equivalent of a dozen oysters or ginseng; nothing but a complete second honeymoon would do."
With those thoughts in mind, More travels along the small "D roads" taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes in his beloved Provence.