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The economy of Provence picked up in the 2nd half of the 20th century due to its location by the sea and the development of railways and canals with the rest of France. However, the tertiary sector, which also employs the most people, is currently the main source of income, and tourism is a very important factor in this.

The once important agricultural sector is decreasing in size and only 3% of the working population still works in this sector.

Agriculture and horticulture

Small-scale farming and livestock holdings are mainly found in the mountainous hinterland of the Côte d'Azur and Haute-Provence. Large farms are located in places where the landscape is not so demanding. Currently, only in the Vaucluse (8.6%), a large part of the working population still works in agriculture and horticulture. In départements such as Bouches-du-Rhône and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, only 2% and 1.9% respectively are working in agriculture. In the second half of the 20th century, particularly in the period 1960-1980 due to the strong growth of industry and services, two out of three farmers ceased their activities. Today, Provence has less than 15,000 farms.

Viticulture has changed a lot in the last 25 years due to modern methods of wine production. As a result, some labour-intensive forms of agriculture, such as olive growing and rice production, have been greatly reduced. Rice production in the Camargue has decreased from 33,000 ha to less than 4000 ha. Olive growing is declining, but is still the number one olive oil production in France. Top products are produced in the Baux valley, the regions around Aix and Nice, the region around Draguignan, from Lurs and the region around Forcalquier. Maussane-les-Alpilles is the most important producer of olive oil in France. The former rice fields are now also used for growing colza and maize. The agricultural region between Arles and Fontvieille is known for its wheat production.

The most important horticultural areas are all situated near the Rhone: the Comtat Venaissin, the Petite Crau and the Coulon Valley. The very favourable climate and the implementation of extensive irrigation and drainage works often allow fruit and vegetables to be harvested twice a year. Around Cavaillon, melon growing is an important economic activity.

The town of Apt has been called the "world capital" of candied fruit since the 14th century; 15,000-20,000 tonnes of candied fruit are produced here every year and exported worldwide.

A special feature of Provence is the production of flowers and herbs, especially lavender. The world famous lavender cultivation, often still harvested by hand, covers a total area of more than 10,000 ha. Around the town of Vansole, the most lavender in France is grown. Lavender has been cultivated in Provence since the 19th century and meets 80% of world demand. The lavendin, a hybrid of lavender, has largely taken the place of the real lavender. Buis-les-Baronnies is the largest linden blossom centre in France. The lime blossom is used for the production of lime blossom tea. The entirely manual picking of the flowers takes place at the end of June and should only last two weeks in order to preserve the beneficial work.

Several thousand farms are engaged in growing cut flowers in the area between Nice and Marseille. The increase in cultivated areas with sunflowers is also striking in this part of France. Dry, fruity rosé wines are typical of Provence, with those from the Côtes-de-Provence as the worldwide top. The region of La Crau is one of the most important hay producers in France. The hay is harvested three times a year and the yield is about 100,000 tonnes.

From the agricultural sector, many other commercial activities arise, such as transport companies, vegetable trade, food industry, packaging industry and service companies. The region around Avignon is an important agricultural area. Not only fruit and vegetable production, but also trade, agricultural education and research play an important role here. A so-called 'Agroparc en Cantarel' has even been developed, where a research centre, the agricultural board, various agricultural institutes and agricultural schools work together.

High in the mountains, especially in the region around Barcelonette, génépi, a kind of green absinthe, is distilled. The green digestive is made from a plant that grows at an altitude of between 2400 and 3500 metres.

Livestock and fisheries

The dryness of Provence means that cattle rearing is rare; only the Camargue, the Contat Venaissin and the Crau have some substantial rearing. The land is actually only suitable for keeping sheep (mainly for meat) and goats. Most of the herds (about 100,000 animals in total) make a twice-yearly migration ('transhumance') to better pastures, formerly often on foot, nowadays mostly by truck.

Most agricultural activity takes place in the narrow coastal region and includes the processing of lavender for the perfume industry. There are also many vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees. In the Var and the Vaucluse, there are many wheat fields.

The canal through Provence provides much-needed irrigation. Apart from anchovies and mackerel, tuna and sardines are fished mainly at sea, but from an economic point of view, this sector is not very important. Only Nice still has a reasonably large fishing fleet.

Industry and mining

Provence is now one of the most important industrial centres in France.

Since the 1950s and 1960s, most industrial activities such as shipyards, soap factories, foodstuffs and building materials have been concentrated west of Marseille around the Étang de Berre.

The oil refineries around the lake are the basis of an extensive petrochemical industry that also occurs on a somewhat smaller scale around Aix, Avignon, Aubagne and Tarascon. Planes are built in nearby Marignane. In the hinterland is Grasse, for more than 400 years world-famous as the centre of the perfume industry. In Château-Gombert, a north-eastern suburb of Marseille, and in Avignon-Montfavet, modern technology centres have sprung up with over a hundred companies in the fields of mechanics, robotics, electricity, electronics, informatics and control systems.

In areas with a lot of sheep farming, there are cheese dairies, tanneries and some textile industry. Pernes-les-Fontaines is home to one of the world's five bird whistle factories, used for attracting birds. Near Mazan is a large gypsum mine. Valréas is an important centre of cardboard production.

Salt is extracted in the eastern part of the Camargue and in the salt pans of Aigues-Mortes. Salin-de-Giraud has the largest salt pan in Europe (approx. 12,000 ha). The salt from Salin-de-Giraud is mainly used for industry. Salt production starts on 1 September, lasts 35 days and yields 700,000-800,000 tonnes of salt.

Another traditional industrial product of Provence is ochre, which is made from marine sediment from the Cretaceous period (200 million years ago), when Provence was still a sea. The Roussillon region in particular became one of the richest ochre producing areas in the world. Between 1871 and 1930, ochre mining was in full swing. After 1930, the extraction of ochre gradually declined due to the advent of synthetic dyes. A total of seventeen varieties of ochre were discovered in Roussillon. Nowadays ochre is only extracted in the quarries of Gargas.

Mining is mainly concerned with the extraction of bauxite near Brignoles (about 2 million tons per year) and lignite in Gardanne. The name bauxite is derived from the Provençal village of Les Baux, where aluminium ore was found in 1822.


Blisse, M. / Provence

Eck, N. van / Provence, Côte d’Azur

Guérin, R. / Provence
Van Reemst

Jardinaud, M. / Provence


Williams, R. / Provence & Côte d’Azur
Van Reemst

Zwijnenburg, H. / Provence, Côte d’Azur

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Last updated May 2024
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