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1814 | Provence

The Luberon, a land of castles, hill-top villages & craggy landscapes: the essence of Provence

Our first tour to Provence, in May 2017, was, like so many tours before, born of a family camping holiday, when the six of us spent two glorious weeks in summer 2015 in Provence, ending up outside Cucuron for a week's exploration of the Luberon. By mid-week Sofia and I were glued to the local estate agents' windows! We fell in love with the Luberon, and now we want to show you what we found: beguiling landscapes and an early-evening light that's hard to describe; narrow-laned hill-top villages, asleep in the mid-day sun; warm and welcoming people, serving wonderful food and fantastic local wines; history, heritage, art and culture by the bucketful; and who can forget the sights and the smells, the noise and the hustle and bustle, and the sheer abundance of a Provençal market?

Provence
Some of Europe's earliest known peoples made this coastal strip their home; as did the Celts by around 900BC; followed by Greek colonists by about 600 BC. The Romans conquered at the end of the 2nd century BC and it became their first 'overseas' province - hence Provence. It became a largely semi-independent state throughout much of the early medieval period, not fully integrating with the rest of France until 1486... 

I shall stop there, but for those of you, who, like me, enjoy their history, the Wikipedia entry is here.

Today, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA), is one of 18 administrative regions of France, roughly coterminous with the historic province of Provence, it comprises six departments: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hautes-Alpes, Var and Vaucluse.



The Luberon
Provence is too large to see - or even attempt to see - in one visit, so we have chosen to concentrate on The Luberon, an east-west range of limestone hills in the heart of Provence, from where we may venture out, into the rest of Provence, and retreat back to our splendid hotel in the delightful village of Lourmarin.

It is in the Luberon that much of the two award-winning 1980s films, Jean de Florette and its sequel Manon des Source, were set and it is here, too, that Peter Mayle wrote his widely-acclaimed 1989 book, A Year in Provence.

The tour
This tour is unashamedly self-indulgent in its exploration of all that Provence has to offer, and especially that which excites the senses. We especially want to see and taste - and, possibly, take part in - the abundance of Provence's late-summer and early-autumn harvest, its food and wine and its attendant culture. We will explore gardens and villages in the Luberon, visit wineries, caves and co-operatives; visit olive growers and their mills; and, on the back roads, visit some of the lesser known and more quirky attractions.

We will explore with our guide the architectural delights of Avignon, its Papal palace and ancient bridge and, on our own, the town itself, likewise the historic capital of Provence, Aix-en-Provence and its markets. We will visit the Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard, see something of the life and work of Vincent van Gogh at the infirmary in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, and photograph the ancient Alpille village of Les Baux-de-Provence.

We will do a great deal, though unhurriedly and at not too fast a pace.

Average September temperatures
Please click here for Provence's average September temperatures etc, which are: average daytime temperature of 20°C/68°F, with highs of 24°C/75°F and lows of 15°C/59°F.

Getting to Provence

We wrote a short guide to Getting to Provence, for our May 2017 tour, here, and we will update this information in early 2018. 



Sleeping & Eating

We spend the entire week at the charming, well-appointed and superbly located Le Moulin de Lourmarin, a former olive oil mill in the centre of Lourmarin, itself one of the most beautiful villages in the Luberon.

 We dine in, at our hotel, on four evenings and dine out on the remaining three, once at the excellent Chez Laurent, in Eygalières, once returning to Lourmarin or in Lourmarin itself, and once nearby, at either Le P'tit Resto, in Vaugines, or Le Grain de Sel, in Ansouis.



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At a glance
Sightseeing tour
Gardens & attractions:
the heritage of Papal Avignon
Maximum group size 15
Chateau Val Joanis
walking tour of Aix-en-Provence
8-days/7-nights in one hotel
Pont du Gard aqueduct
Luberon villages & countryside
Village-based location
2 private gardens
Saint-Paul de Mausole
Wonderful food
Abbaye de Valsaintes
Fully escorted
Day 1 | Wednesday, 26 September

Meeting, Aix-en-Provence & Lourmarin

Our plan is to meet you, late morning, at Marseilles Provence Airport or from early trains into Aix-en-Provence TGV railway station or in Aix-en-Provence itself and, once we are all together, enjoy an early, light lunch. Please see Joining Instructions and my notes below.

After lunch, we will start our tour with a guided walking tour of Aix-en-Provence, and orient ourselves to this famous, elegant and historic city. Hopefully, we will be able to retain the services of Frédéric Paul, our guide last May, who, the night before we met him, won the Best Guide of Aix Award! Not bad, given that Sofia had chosen him because he was the most handsome! Frédéric will introduce us to the rich history and heritage of Aix, and you will have a City Tourist Pass, which provides unlimited access to Aix's principal attractions, allowing Frédéric to guide you in some places, and you to explore the city independently, after the tour.

From Aix it is about a 40-minute drive to Lourmarin and our hotel, Le Moulin de Lourmarin, where we will arrive in good time to settle in, and enjoy dinner in their dining room.

Today's total driving is about 50 miles/80 km

NB. Our meeting arrangements will be largely determined by everyone's individual travel plans, and if it seems that you cannot join us until later in the day, please don't worry, I will come and find you.

Wednesday, 26 September
Place Richelme market, Aix-en-Provence
Day 2 | Thursday, 27 September

Saint-Rémy, van Gogh, the Alpilles & Carrières de Lumières

We start the day with a scenic drive to Saint-Rémy de Provence, for a stroll around this historic market town and to visit Saint-Paul de Mausole, the monastery and psychiatric institute, to which Vincent van Gogh admitted himself in May 1889. Saint-Paul de Mausole is still a psychiatric institution, but parts are open to the public, and from the top of the stairs we will see the now-famous wheat field that van Gogh painted during his confinement.

We return to the town centre for lunch, before crossing the magnificent Alpilles, to Les Baux-de-Provence, for an afternoon visit to the Carrières de Lumières, an extraordinary multi-media show, created in 1976, in which large images, of the art of famous artists, are projected onto the stone walls of the huge underground galleries.

We will stop in the Alpilles hills, for photographs of Les Baux-de-Provence, but we don't plan on visiting the fortified, hill-top village, unless it is quiet! Finally, on our circular drive, we stop briefly at the Roman remains of the Barbegal Aquedect, which, not only supplied fresh water to Arles, some 12km away, but powered a massive series of sixteen mills.

We dine at Chez Laurent, in nearby Eygalières, some 45 minutes from home.

Today's total driving is about 100 miles/160 km

Thursday, 27 September
Carrières de Lumières, Les Baux
Day 3 | Friday, 28 September

A quieter day, close to home

Today is the first of two days exploring the villages, wineries, gardens and markets close to home, in the Luberon, the general - though imprecise - plan is to spend today on the south side and the second day on the north side, and today starts outside our front door in Lourmarin's weekly Friday market.

We have the morning in Lourmarin, giving everyone plenty of time to see the market and explore the village, or simply have a lie-in, and recover from your travels, before visiting two wineries, firstly a brief visit to Château Fonvert, within Lourmarin itself, and a longer visit to Château val Joanis, a winery just west of the town of Pertuis. Its wines are classified AOC Côtes du Luberon and its gardens are listed as a Remarkable Garden of France, by the Comité des Parcs et Jardins de France. The Chateau is built on the site of an ancient Roman villa, whose stones decorate the garden, and the house is decorated with the coat of arms of Jean de Joanis, secretary to King Louis III of Naples.

We will then visit some or all of the three nearby villages of Ansouis, Cucuron and Vaugines, not necessarily in that order, exploring as we go, and dining at either Le Grain de Sel, in Ansouis, or Le P'tit Resto, in Vaugines.

Today's total driving is about 30 miles/50 km

Friday, 28 September
L'étang, Cucuron
Day 4 | Saturday, 29 September

"All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education...

...wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system..." Ah! the fresh-water system, that's what the Romans did for us, and that is where we start the day, at the spectacular Pont du Gard, some 30-minutes north of Nîmes, to see, not just the superb aqueduct, but the fascinating museum, describing the brilliant engineering of both the aqueduct and the water supply that it carried fresh water to the people of Nîmes.

After lunch, at Pont du Gard, we drive to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, one of the most evocotive of all French place names, and a town steeped in history. Its ruined medieval castle, built for Pope John XXII in the 14th century, sits high above the town, dominating the landscape, a landscape where, seemingly, all the cultivable land is planted with grapevines. It is, of course, famous for the red wine, produced only from grapes grown in the surrounding fields, and we learn something of this at our first visit, to the excellent, indeed unique, museum at Brotte winemakers.

There will be plenty of time too, to explore the town and even make some purchases, before we return to Lourmarin for dinner.

Today's total driving is about 130 miles/210 km

Saturday, 29 September
Pont du Gard
Day 5 | Sunday, 30 September

An Abbey, a Priory & ethnobotany!

We spend today in the peaceful surroundings of the quieter and more rural eastern part of the Luberon, away from the traffic and bustle of the Rhone valley, visiting two gardens, firstly the Abbaye de Valsaintes, formerly the Cistercian Abbey of Valsaintes. The abbey was inhabited from the 12th century until the French Revolution and sits atop a 600m sandstone outcrop in the middle of a vast natural bowl, the Vallée de l'Absinthe (wormwood valley). Between 1996 and 2000, they planted some 600 roses, selecting the most resistant of them during dry spells between 2004 and 2008, and leaving the 400, or so, hardy roses we see today.

We will stop in Banon, for lunch and a brief exploration of this remarkable village, famous the world over for its goats cheese; its book shop, Librairie le Bleuet; and its sausages.

The second garden, Salagon, musée et jardins, is another former monastic building, although this time a former priory, which sets out to study and explain ethnobotany, the study of the interrelationship between people and plants, historically and cross-culturally (particularly the role of plants in human culture and practices, how humans have used and modified plants).

We return to Lourmarin for dinner, via a scenic drive around the eastern end of the Luberon hills.

Today's total driving is about 130 miles/210 km

Sunday, 30 September
Abbaye Valsaintes
Day 6 | Monday, 1 October

Avignon

We spend the day in Avignon, where, with the services of a private guide, we will enjoy an unhurried private tour of the Palais des Papes, visit the Pont Saint-Bénézet and, independently, explore the town.

The Palais des Papes is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once a fortress and palace, it is actually two buildings, the old palace of Benedict XII, which sits on the impregnable rock of Doms, and the new palace of Clement VI, the most extravagant of the Avignon popes, which, together, form the largest Gothic building of the Middle Ages, the papal residence and the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Despite it serving as the seat of two anti-popes and many cardinals, the palace became obsolete when the papacy returned to Rome, and it lost much of its former glory, becoming a barracks and a prison in Napoleonic France. Finally vacated in 1906, it has been under constant restoration ever since, and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.

After morning coffee and visiting Pont Saint-Bénézet, the famous medieval bridge, built between 1177 and 1185, and spanning, or almost spanning, the Rhône between Villeneuve-lès-Avignon and Avignon, we will have the rest of the day at leisure, exploring this wonderful historic city and, as we did in Aix, we will purchase an Avignon Pass for everyone.

Dinner will be either en route home to Lourmarin, or at one of Lourmarin's many excellent restaurants.

Today's total driving is about 100 miles/160 km

Monday, 1 October
Mairie d'Avignon
Day 7 | Tuesday, 2 October

A second quiet day, close to home

Today is our second planned day, close to home, exploring the villages and sights of the Luberon and it starts with a drive north, over the Luberon hills to Bonnieux, stopping first, to visit an unusual cluster of stone-built enclosures and primitive buildings, known as l'Enclos des Bories.

Our morning continues in Bonnieux, where we visit Le Jardin de la Louve, another 'Jardin Remarquable', for a private guided tour of this beautiful garden, created in 1986 by Nicole de Vésian, a textile designer for Hermès. The garden is laid out on a series of terraces designed to harmonise with the surrounding landscape and, remarkably, on approaching the age of eighty, Nicole sold the garden in 1996 to art collector Judith Pillsbury and began a new garden above the village! Judith preserved the original design until she sold it to the present owner, Sylvie Verger-Lanel, in 2014.

We will stay in Bonnieux for lunch and to visit Cave de Bonnieux, the oldest cooperative in Vaucluse, and for a stroll around, before setting off, as we did on the south side, on a tour of the northern villages, notably Lacoste, one time home of the Marquis de Sade, Ménerbes, Gordes, for the photographs, and, if time allows, the ochre village of Roussillon.

We return to Lourmarin for a special end-of-tour dinner.

Today's total driving is about 60 miles/100 km

Tuesday, 2 October
Cave de Bonnieux
Day 8 | Wednesday, 3 October

One last morning in paradise...

There is no great plan for today, as we expect to be taking you to Aix-en-Provence TGV railway station, or Marseille Provence Airport, or other destination for your onward or homeward journey.

Meanwhile, those of you who have the morning in Lourmarin, should visit Villa Medicis de Provence and find those corners of the village that you didn't get to during the week, to say nothing of those last-minute purchases, because there is still room in your bag!

As with the first day, our plans we become clearer, once we know all your travel arrangements. If you are staying on, in France, and don't need to return to Marseilles Provence Airport or Aix-en-Provence TGV railway station, then please let us know your onward travel plans, so that we may assist you in getting to your next destination.

Today's total driving is about 50 miles/80 km

NB. It may be worth noting that I shall need to depart the Marseille Provence Airport area by no later than noon.

Wednesday, 3 October
Lourmarin streets
General Notes

Accuracy 
During our tours, we endeavour to be as faithful to our itineraries as possible, but sometimes changes do occur, either necessarily or unavoidably.

Need some help?
We have prepared some helpful information - under 'Essential Information', and this information is designed to enhance your holiday. The pages are, 'An Introduction', 'Additional Information', 'Booking and Paying' and 'Travel Information'.

The tour area map
Click on the Google map of the tour area, and it will open in a new window. The various tour locations are marked GREEN (for gardens), ORANGE (for other attractions), RED (for pubs, hotels and restaurants) and BLUE (for transport) - and click on these markers for more information.

Tour Information
26 Sep - 03 Oct
2018
8 days
Prices:
2,590.00
3,600.00
3,100.00
31 000,00
GBP
USD
EUR
SEK
Single person suplement:
480.00
670.00
580.00
5 800,00
GBP
USD
EUR
SEK

Upgrade
We have booked 'Charming' rooms, but if you would like to upgrade to either a 'Superior' room or a 'Suite', then please tell us.

Available - Provence
We will meet you in the morning of Wednesday, 26 September at an agreed central meeting point at Marseilles Provence Airport or off any early arriving trains into Aix-en-Provence TGV railway station (pre-10:30) or in Aix-en-Provence itself.

Once we know the travel arrangements of each member of the group, we will be able to refine our plans accordingly.
Whilst there are no specific notes, per se, I would kindly remind potential customers that there will be a decent amount of guided walking in both Avignon and Aix-en-Provence.
Click to see where we visit