Bonjour from Provence!
We’ve left Paris and headed south the begin our Provence tour. Starting in Aix-en-Provence, this is a cut above other tours, with great food, very nice lodgings, and a schedule of fabulous activities.
We’ve gone for a walk with my friend (and The Guide Collective colleague) Nina Seffusatti and had a lovely French dinner to kick off. Our first full day included a tour of Aix and a visit to a historic art studio. Pull up a chair, pour a glass of rosé, and follow along for the next 10 days with our adventures in southern France.
These may look more like paintings than photos, but that’s because they are from the atelier of painter Paul Cezanne. Aix-en-Provence was one of the homes of the famous Impressionist master, and he had a workshop built to his specifications about 20 minutes walk from town.
We enjoyed a visit to the studio which looks as if the artist has just popped out for a coffee and might return at any minute. After, we walked up to see the spot he often painted, looking at Montagne Saint Victoire, a favorite subject in his work.
Another excellent day in Provence.
Our bus arrived bright and early today to take us for an excursion to Marseille. I think of Marseille as the Naples of France. It’s a little gritty and complicated, but the landscape is gorgeous and there is more charm than you’d expect.
We drove along the coast and out to the Calanques, to the sweet village of Cassis. This is another favorite place I’ve visited in the past, and it did not disappoint. We ate a seaside lunch and then took a boat out to see the French fjords—rocky inlets that can only be seen by boat. Back in Aix, the kids and I did laundry and had a picnic dinner of bread, Camembert, quiche and apricots, with a good quality Bordeaux that cost just €7. Not bad!
More adventures in Provence tomorrow, when we head to our chateau.
Provence Tour, Day 4
A blockbuster day yesterday, June 24, and not just because it was my birthday. The marvelous Nina Seffusatti planned a glorious day of exploring in the Luberon. This area is well know as the region of Peter Mayle’s books on Provence, and is a favorite for a good reason.
We visited Loumarin, which had a sweet weekend market, then Roussilon, which is where ochre is made in its colorful cliffs. We dropped by gorgeous Gordes for a coffee, and finished our day at the tour highlight—the fantastic Château de Varenne where we will sleep for 6 nights.
My birthday party was magnificent. The best duck confit I’ve ever had, a bottle of champagne from someone special, a cake with fireworks in it, and a lively game of Pétanque. This is a magnificent tour with my very favorite guests. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a birthday, I am truly blessed.
Thank you all for the kind birthday messages, it warmed my heart all day to see them. Big hugs from Provence!
Provence Tour, Days 5 and 6
Our wander through Provence continues. We spent Saturday in Arles, the home of Vincent Van Gogh, finding corners of the town where he painted local scenes. After a fantastic tour, we spread out at the Saturday market to buy a potluck picnic for dinner. In the afternoon, we had a Van Gogh painting class where we all got to learn by doing.
Today we visited Nina’s hometown of Avignon and learned about the papacy of the 14th century, then visited Pont du Garde, a Roman aqueduct that never fails to impress. Our final stop was Uzes, an adorable town with a castle.
Our hosts at the Chateau de Varenne made us a French barbecue which we enjoyed while the cicadas sang. It doesn’t get more Provençal than this!
Is it Venice? No, it’s still Provence. I’m an old quarry near the cute village of Les Baux, a projection multimedia program takes place every year. This year is a celebration of Venice through art and sound. Venice is like another home to me and I found this experience to be a beautiful distillation of the things I love best about it.
Provence tour day 7
Mondays in Provence are quiet and closed, so we took the day to do some things outside of the cities. We started our day at an olive oil tasting, learning about why Provençal oil is different (and possibly better) than competitors. We stopped in St Remy for lunch, the village where Van Gogh spent time in an asylum where he painted Starry Night.
After lunch, we drove to an ancient stone quarry that’s been transformed into a multimedia art space, Carriers des Lumieres, where we experienced a show about Venice (see pictures above from June 27th). We stopped for a quick visit to the city above the quarry, the pretty village of Les Beaux, before returning to our chateau and enjoying quiche and salad for dinner.
Another beautiful day in Provence.
Provence Tour, Day 8
Our adventures took us to Vaison-La-Romaine today, which combines so many things to love: a hilltop medieval village, Roman ruins, and a sprawling market day. We explored, shopped, ate. I bought a couple of new tablecloths (yippee!)
On the way back to the chateau, we stopped at a nearby winery in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a very famous wine region. The tasting was good fun and the wines excellent. And yes, there actually is a Chateauneuf, which was the summer palace of the 14th century French popes.
Dinner tonight was in our tiny village of Sauveterre. Not so many restaurants in this micro village, so once a week they bring in food trucks, and we ate with the locals. Another dreamy day in the South of France.