In the southeast corner of France you’ll find lavender fields and gourmet goods. We’ll tell you what else to expect in your Provence itinerary.
Provence may be small, but she is mighty. She’s about the same same size as Maryland, and the perfect vacation spot for Europeans who get an enviable two months off in the summer months. If you don’t have that kind of vacation time, don’t worry — you can still cover a lot of ground in a week. Only have a long weekend to spare? That’s fine, too. It’s all about creating a Provence itinerary ahead of time that maps out your must-sees, must-dos, and must-eats.
Spend any time in Aix-en-Provence and it becomes abundantly clear how renowned artist Paul Cézanne found inspiration from his birthplace. This laidback town is effortlessly elegant with sparkling fountains, plane tree-lined streets (planted under Napoleon’s orders to shade his troops), and seventeenth-century townhouses.
Pamper yourself at Thermes Sextius, located on the site where the Romans built their thermal baths using waters from underground springs over 2,000 years ago. The current spa is modern, but you can still see the original baths through glass panels in the lobby.
Make a reservation at Le 18 for dinner, where the tiny menu in this even tinier restuarant (25 seats) changes every day according to the fresh ingredients of choice that day. Le 18 is run by a husband and wife team — she cooks, he serves — and you’ll feel as if you’re a guest in their home at an intimate dinner party.
You can’t visit Avignon without taking a tour of the Palais des Papes — the 700-year-old palace where Pope Clement V took up residency in the early 1300s. After the Pope set up shop in Avignon, the population exploded, quickly growing from 6,000 to 30,000. The plague took care of the population issue, though, and eliminated half the city in 1348.
Popes lived in this Gothic palace for about 100 years, and when that came to an end, the building also served as a military barracks and a prison. Avignon is an ideal day trip, mostly famous for its former life as the center of Roman Catholic world. It has that small, medieval town vibe, and it’s a history-lover’s dream.
Dine at La Cuisine du Dimanche, but don’t go if you’re on a strict schedule — chef Marie Ohanessian’s motto is that in order to eat well, you have to take your time. Every day, Marie goes to the local market to buy the freshest ingredients and cooks each meal from scratch. The menu changes depending on what is available and in season, but don’t worry…you’ll eat well.
Arles is a cultural mecca — a perfect combo of art, architecture, and gastro-delights. Originally part of the Greek settlement “Gaul,” founded by Julius Caesar in 46 BC, Arles is a treasure trove of preserved Roman ruins including an amphitheater, burial place, and thermal baths.
A major claim to fame for Arles? It’s where Vincent Van Gogh lived for 15 months and found enough inspiration to create about 200 paintings during that time. It’s also where, as the famous story goes, a stroke of madness caused Van Gogh to cut off his own ear. Today, you can explore Van Gogh’s legacy in Arles in a few different ways (like traipsing through lavender fields), but try the Van Gogh Walking Tour first. The Visitors Centre in the train station offers a Van Gogh Walking Tour map that guides you to iconic sites that Van Gogh painted — each location has the original painting displayed so you can have fun comparing the views.
Enjoy dinner at La Fee Gourmande, situated on a quiet street with both indoor and al fresco dining. Michelin-starred chef Jean-Luc Rabanel told The Wall Street Journal he’s a fan of the small bistro because chef Virginie Roth “uses the best natural products and puts her heart and soul into her very feminine version of Provencal dishes.” Her husband, who will probably be your waiter, shares the same passion as his wife and will spend the time to explain – in detail – each dish to you.
WHERE TO STAY
One of the most important things to consider when planning your Provence itinerary is where your home base will be. Many travelers love staying in villas because they help create a truly authentic, immersive experience when visiting Provence.
Just think about the sites you’d like to see and the towns you want to visit — in addition to the ones listed above, you may want to consider St. Rémy, Les Baux, and Nice — and your WIMCO Villa Specialist will recommend a selection of Provence villas that you’re sure to find tres magnifique.