2103 – Provence
AT A GLANCE
Welcome to the Luberon, the beating heart of Provence.
Like a number of our tours, our first tour to Provence, in May 2017, was born of a family camping holiday, when the six of us spent two glorious weeks in summer 2015 exploring Provence. We were very soon smitten with the Luberon, and it wasn't long before we were looking in estate agents' windows! Our holiday romance had become a love affair, and it was the Luberon which we fell in love with – and it is the Luberon which we want to show-off to you.
An enchanting landscape of hill-top villages perched upon impossibly steep hillsides, with an early-evening light that's hard to describe. Warm and welcoming people, serving wonderful food and fabulous local wines. History, heritage, art and culture at every turn, and who can forget the sights and the smells, the noise and the hustle and bustle, and the sheer abundance of a Provençal market?
Some of Europe's earliest known peoples made this coastal strip their home. The Celts did, by around 900 BC, followed by Greek colonists, by 600 BC, followed by the Romans at the end of the 2nd-century BC, it becoming their first overseas province and hence the name '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... More of Provence and its history is here, in an extensive Wikipedia article.
Today, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA) is one of 18 administrative regions of France, roughly coterminous with the historic province of Provence, comprising six departments: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hautes-Alpes, Var and Vaucluse.
Provence is far too large to see – or even attempt to see – in just one week, 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 (itself, the foundation of the 2006 film A Good Year).
This tour is unashamedly a self-indulgent exploration of all that Provence has to offer, and especially that which excites the senses. 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 too, 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 attempt a great deal and accomplish much, though unhurriedly and sedately.
The average May temperature for Aix is 18°C/64°F, with a range of 13-22℃/55-72℉.
Getting to Provence
Whether by train or plane, getting to Provence is remarkably easy. There are frequent high-speed trains from Paris to Aix-en-Provence, some of which take as little as just over 3 hours, and the Paris railway stations are, themselves, connected by rail to Paris' principal airports. Likewise, not only are there numerous direct flights into Marseilles Provence Airport, but connecting flights from Europe's major cities are equally numerous.
Sleeping & Eating
We spend the entire week at the charming Le Moulin de Lourmarin, a well-appointed and superbly located former olive oil mill in the centre of Lourmarin, itself one of the most beautiful villages in the Luberon. We 'discovered' Le Moulin on our family holiday, in 2015, and have used it successfully each year since, and our customers love it!
We dine in, at our hotel, on four evenings and dine out on the remaining three evenings, at Auberge des Carrières, in the village of Taillades, at Restaurant Les Saveurs Gourmandes, in the centre of Mènerbes, and at Le P'tit Resto, in neighbouring Vaugines.
Eating out in France
It is worth noting that, all three of the restaurants we dine out at are excellent, but they are small and – by custom and necessity – only offer a single menu, typically with a choice of two dishes for each of the three courses. We can work around allergies and dietary requirements, but please don't expect extensive 'à la carte' menus.
Finally, we live, for now at least, with the constant threat of a resurgence of Covid-19 and everything we say or do, or offer you we do so with caution. We will be governed by guidance as to the current risk of Covid-19 (at any one time) and any restrictions placed upon us.
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11 – 18 May 2021 | 8 days
DAY 1 – 11 MAY
Our plan is to meet you in the morning at either Marseilles Provence Airport or Aix-en-Provence TGV railway station, or collect you from your hotel in Aix-en-Provence itself and, once we are all together, enjoy a light lunch.
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 for the past three years, who, the night before we first 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 at the hotel.
Today's driving is about 50 miles/80 km
DAY 2 – 12 MAY
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 – a former quarry dating to at least Roman times.
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 flour mills.
We dine at Auberge des Carrières, Taillades, en route home.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 3 – 13 MAY
We spend the day in Avignon, where, with the services the services of Frédéric Paul as our guide, we will enjoy an unhurried 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. The palace became obsolete when the papacy returned to Rome, becoming a barracks and a prison in Napoleonic France. Finally vacated in 1906, it has been under constant restoration ever since, gaining UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1995.
After 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.
We will return to Lourmarin for dinner.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 4 – 14 MAY
We start the day outside our front door, amid the hustle and bustle of Lourmarin's Friday market, buying fresh ingredients for our riverside, lunchtime picnic, later in the day, at Pont du Gard, some 30-minutes north of Nîmes. We spend much of the mid-part of the day at this iconic Roman aqueduct and its fascinating museum, which tells the story of both aqueduct and the water it carried to the people of Nîmes.
Later in the afternoon, after our riverside picnic below the aqueduct, we drive to Fontaine de Vaucluse, the fountain, or spring, of Vaucluse, at the foot of a limestone cliff some 230 metres high. It is France's largest spring, and the fifth largest in the world. The village was called Vaucluse, literally Vallis Clausa, or closed valley, giving its name to the French department of Vaucluse.
We end the day in Ménerbes, for drinks overlooking the Luberon, to the north, and dinner at the precious, but tiny, Restaurant Les Saveurs Gourmandes.
Today's driving is about 100 miles/160 km
DAY 5 – 15 MAY
Our day starts with a drive north, over the Luberon hills to Bonnieux, to visit Le Jardin de la Louve, a '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. 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 coffee and a stroll around, and then set off to explore other nearby villages – notably Roussillon, where we will have lunch, Lacoste, the one time home of the Marquis de Sade, and Gordes, for the photographs – returning to Lourmarin for dinner.
Today's driving is about 60 miles/100 km
DAY 6 – 16 MAY
We spend today in the peaceful, quieter and more rural eastern part of the Luberon, starting with a visit to the gardens at Abbaye de Valsaintes, formerly the Cistercian Abbey of Valsaintes. The abbey, 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) and, between 1996 and 2000, they planted some 600 roses, selecting the most resistant of them, leaving the 400, or so, hardy roses we see today.
From Banon we take the scenic road, high above la Durance as it flows south from the Alps, stopping for photos, before descending the southern side of the Luberon hills, returning via Cucuron for dinner at Le P'tit Resto, in neighbouring Vaugines.
Today's driving is about 130 miles/210 km
DAY 7 – 17 MAY
Today is all about exploring the local area, starting with two local wineries, Chateau Constantin, which has recently changed hands and produces some superb wine, and Chateau Val Joanis, a winery just west of the town of Pertuis, where we will enjoy both their gardens and a tutored tasting. Its wines are classified AOC Côtes du Luberon and its gardens are listed as a 'Jardin Remarquable'.
We will drive into Pertuis, to buy some provisions for another picnic, and cross the river to visit l'Abbaye de Silvacane, a former Cistercian monastery founded around 1144 as a daughter house of Morimond Abbey. It was dissolved in 1443 and ceased to be ecclesiastical property in the French Revolution, the state acquiring it in 1846. Like all Cistercian monasteries of the time, Silvacane was sited in a remote location next to a river or stream, in this case the Durance River.
We return to Lourmarin for our end-of-tour dinner.
Today's driving is about 30 miles/50 km
DAY 8 – 18 MAY
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, if there is still room in your bag!
As with the first day, our plans will become clearer, once we know everyone's 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 driving is about 50 miles/80 km
Accuracy & Faithfulness
We endeavour to be as accurate as possible, in describing our itineraries, and as faithful to the itinerary as possible, when undertaking the tour, but changes can occur, either necessarily or unavoidably.