Provence in the Spring and Fall are magical times because this timeless region of France, before the tourists arrive in full force, is still moving at its own pace. I have been visiting Provence for years and am always charmed to see how little it changes. Why is this? Possibly it is a reflection of the rather conservative nature of its people. I think its timelessness is also due to the fact that, so beloved are the villages and vistas of the south, the government has carefully regulated development. And yet, in preserving the cultural heritage, the authorities have still managed to keep life moving forward and so you will find charming new hotels and restaurants, contemporary art installations, new museum venues and more.
Enjoy yourself not only with the cultural offerings we share below, but get out and bike or hike in this landscape that can only make your heart beat faster.
Thursday, Day 1
You will arrive Nice on a direct flight from the US. Eric, the concierge of Villa La Coste, will be at arrivals to meet you and drive you two hours to the lovely Chateau La Coste. The property was recently purchased by Paddy McKillen, an Irish businessman with a number of other classic hotels. Villa La Coste was built to exacting standards and detail, offering a limited number of gorgeous, exquisitely furnished rooms, that look out towards the landscapes of the Luberon. Settle in, lunch in one of three restaurants, and enjoy a therapy in the beautiful spa. After an aperitif – perhaps a glass of the iconic Chateau La Coste rose – dine in Francis Mallmann’s Provencal outpost.
Overnight Villa La Coste
Friday, Day 2
Before moving on this morning, take a leisurely guided walk through wooded hilltops and valleys and alongside vineyards and olive groves to discover the extensive outdoor art installation which includes buildings and pieces by Tadao Ando, Jean Nouvel, Louise Bourgeous, Calder, Andy Goldsworthy and others.
Your destination today is Gordes, but don’t take the highway. Meander on back roads where you will encounter fields of poppies, vines young and green, almond trees and lavender for which the region is so famous. Stop in Lourmarin for a walk around the village and a look at its castle, and then lunch on the back terrace of l’Insolite, Place de la Fontaine. A glass of wine is not out of order even if you are self-driving; just relax and don’t rush. After lunch, continue on to Bonnieux, a lovely hilltop village, and then on to the villages of Lacoste and Oppede le Vieux with its Roman ruins. If you prefer to do a bit of shopping, head up to Apt from Bonnieux on D94 to see the faience for which it is justly known. Visit Atelier Savalli on 20 Rue Eugene Brunel.
Arrive late afternoon in Gordes, among the most beautiful of the Luberon’s hilltop villages, and check in to La Bastide de Gordes. The room I have chosen for you features a terrace with a gorgeous view over the valley. Dine on property at the Michelin starred restaurant, Peir of Pierre Gagniere, or the less formal La Citadelle
Overnight La Bastide de Gordes
Saturday, Day 3
No need to rush today, but after a delicious breakfast on the hotel’s terrace which hangs over the two pools and the valley below, ask Elio, the Bastide’s marvelous two-key concierge, to have the car brought around. Your destination this morning is L’Isle-sur-la- Sorgue, the location of France’s second most important antique market after Paris. The market is a 3-day affair with food joining the parade on Sunday. My favorite time to visit, if you are interested in trawling through the stalls, is Saturday, when there are less people and the goods have not yet been picked over. You can always head back tomorrow for the food market if you wish. Your route this morning is best navigated along the highway. Spend the morning and then, if you have had enough, head to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and visit the village and the Musee Petrarque in Chateau Vieux. The village was beloved by the 14th century poet and became a place of pilgrimage thereafter for all those who loved his poetry.
Return to Gordes and, if you are interested, visit Le Clos des Jeannons olive oil factory in the village.
Overnight at La Bastide de Gordes
Sunday, Day 4
You have one last day in this rich region of Provence and, if you are interested, you may wish to head up to attend Mass in the beautiful 12th century Cistercian Monastery of Senanque nestled in a valley just north of Gordes. If Mass is not of interest, do go in the afternoon and join a guided tour (45 minutes and in French) of parts of the Abbey. You can coincide your visit with Vespers at 6PM.
There is much else to see in the region: The ochre village of Roussillon; Venasque, with its lovely Eglise Notre Dame (one of the oldest structures in France); the rather chic village of Menerbes. If you have not yet been to an outdoor market – and there is a market every day in a different village – today head early in the morning to Coustellet for its Sunday market.
Overnight La Bastide de Gordes
Monday, Day 5
On the road again today, heading west to Les Alpilles, a region of Provence that looks, and is, utterly different from the valleys and hills of the Luberon and the Vaucluse. Les Alpilles’ dominating feature is the small range of mountains that rises abruptly from the valley and the flat alluvial plane, and the limestone tumble of rock and dry scrub and pine that cloak the slopes. The capital of Les Alpilles is Saint Remy and you must spend time in this lovely city with its ring road and pedestrian heart. Full of shops selling Provencal products, perhaps the gem here is Joel Durand, the famous chocolate maker who specializes in nuggets of goodness scented and flavored by the current herb or blossom or mineral – lavender, jasmine, sea salt among them.
Take time out from the shops and visit Saint-Paul Monastery where Van Gogh was admitted during his periods of illness and where he painted many of his most recognizable works. Outside of Saint Remy are the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Glanum, well worth a visit. Continue on towards Maussane, stopping at the limestone quarries of Les Baux to experience the current art, sound and light show, an impressive (and often crowded) experience. If the lines are long, save the visit for tomorrow early morning.
End your day at your hotel, the charming La Prieure a Maussane
Tuesday, Day 6
We have bikes at your disposal today and hope that you will feel like following our backroad biking route to explore the countryside. You might head to Paradou, the village made famous by Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence, and lunch at the Bistro du Paradou, which he so loved.
This evening, dine at Chez Laurent in the charming village of Eygalieres. Make sure to go earlier than your reservation so that you can climb to the top of the village from where you have stunning views over the Alpilles.
Overnight at La Prieure a Maussane
Wednesday, Day 7
Your guide will meet you this morning at your hotel and together you will go to Arles, the city made so famous by Van Gogh. Arles is the capital of the Camargue, yet another completely distinct region of Provence. There is much to do in Arles. You can follow the circuit of Van Gogh, visit the Musee de la Camargue, the ethnographic Museon Arlatan, the Roman amphitheatre, and the thermal baths of Constantine among many other offerings.
If you get a good early start today, you can have a late lunch (1:30 last reservation) at the Michelin starred restaurant on Route du Sambuc, La Chassagnette. Set amidst the rice fields that make this region so famous, La Chassagnette offers delicious food, much of which comes from its own organic gardens.
Return to La Prieure a Maussane
Thursday, Day 8
Today is departure day. Drive just under an hour to Marseille’s Marignane airport for your flight out.