and put them in place, he realized that a little of
So he gathered the bits together to make a
paradise and so was born Provence
After our 2 week trip to Provence, I find it hard to argue with the anonymous quotation above. Here's a description of our trip which took place in October, 2000.
|Provence is a large area with many different attractions and a variety of landscapes. As you can see from the map to the right, Provence itself is divided into 6 areas, ranging from the Riviera in the southeast, to the alps in the north, and the Rhone valley in the west. The climate also varies considerably with mediterranean weather on the Riviera and skiing 150 KM north in the "Hautes Alps".|
We flew into and out of Nice and our itinerary went something like this ---
2 nights in Tourtour
(near the Gorge de Verdon)
1 night in Bonnieux (in the Luberon)
2 nights in Avignon
2 nights in Orange
3 nights in Aix en Provence
3 nights in Vence (in the hills above Nice)
We covered the Provence from A to Z, from east to west, and from west to east. We had 5 days of rain, and it was colder than we expected, but we loved every minute of it. Before I go into details, here are some tips on traveling in Provence.
THE DAILY ROUTINE
Visit the cities and towns in the morning because most of the stores close around 12:15 or 12:30. Even the open-air markets open only for 2-3 hours in the morning. The stores reopen later in the afternoon, but the market vendors close up shop and go home.
WHEN TO VISIT
The lavander is in bloom in the spring, and that's when they say that Provence is at its most beautiful. On the other hand, we were there in October and the autumn weather is beautiful as well. Provence is a heavily wooded area and the colors of the leaves on the trees is as beautiful as any area I know from the states where I grew up. As I note below, we had no parking problems, so that may be another advantage of travleing in the fall.
You can get a quick meal for lunch if you know where to eat and what to order. At lunch time every normal restaurant has at least one fixed menu for anywhere from 50-100 francs, which includes a first course, a main course and dessert which is either cheese or a sweet dessert. Even at lunch, a meal like this will take about an hour and a half except in a "brasserie", or the most simple restaurants. For a quick lunch, the brasserie is the best bet. A brasserie is usually a combination bar and restaurant with reasonably fast service. At many, the food is very good. At lunchtime, many restaurants also offer the option of an "express menu", and some even offer the dish of the day (plats de jour) which is just that. It doesn't take long to eat. On the other hand, if you want to enjoy a good French "gastronomique" meal in the evening, don't eat lunch at all. Buy a baguette, a piece of cheese, a bottle of wine and have a picnic for lunch. Just remember to shop at the supermarket before 12...that's right, they close too!
There are two kinds of good restaurants in Provence for the evening meal, the "gastronomique" restaurant, and all the rest. Usually, a restaurant in the "all the rest" category is referred to as "provencal". The food is on the same lines, but the gastronomique restaurant means exceptional food, elegant service, all kinds of little extras, and all kinds of creative artistry on the part of the chef. Also, the meal should take between 2 and 2.5 hours. If you're in a hurry don't eat here. Do your homework and find the best restaurants. It's worth the effort. A meal at a gastronomique restaurant will cost anywhere from 50 to 100 Euros, without wine.
DRIVING & PARKING
Despite the warnings I heard before we went, I found the drivers to be just fine. As for parking, we found parking without too much trouble everywhere we went. We even parked in Cannes on the street right near the center. Of course, this was October.
There's so much to say about wine. The western part of the area is famous for its wine - Chateauneuf de Pape, Cotes de Rhone, but there's good wine to be had from all areas of the Provence. Here's a site describing the major wines of Provence.
Gorge du Verdun
This is the deepest canyon in Europe. If the weather's good, go see it - it's incredible. There is a southern rim road and a northern rim road. Both have their attractions and together they total about 80 kilometers. On the northern route is the "route de cretes" road which is partly one way and should be entered just to the east of the town of Aiguines. We stayed at the "Bastide de Tourtour" in the village of Tourtour, which is about 30 minutes south of the canyon. (Last time I checked the English link for this hotel wouldn't work, but the pictures are nice even in French.) This Bastide is 4 stars and had an excellent restaurant. Also, we ate at another good restaurant in Tourtour - the Amandier.
This is the area that Philip Mayle wrote about in his book "A Year in Provence". We found a pleasant little B&B in Bonnieux and stayed there for one night. In Bonnieux, we found a wonderful gallery with artwork by 2 artists, Anne-Marie Ruggeri and Phillippe Janin. We loved their work which reflects the Provencal countryside. We bought several small prints and today we're sorry we didn't get more. The background of this page is adapted from one of Ruggeri's pictures. You can visit their home page and see some of their work. Or better still, visit them in Bonnieux and you can pick up a few pieces of their work for us. They have a beautiful calendar. We visited Lourmarin, Bonnieux, Gordes, and the "red town" called Roussillon. Roussillon is absolutely incredible. It's located in the middle of an area of red stone mountains and the entire village is...simply...red. Here's the best picture of the whole trip! This village is a must! Also Gordes is a beautiful village, and we wanted to see Menerbes, but the weather and a flat tire I got prevented that. Actually, the tire was ruined and we had to replace it. We wasted an entire morning looking for a suitable tire. I was reminded of the stories in Mayer's book, when the mechanic in Bonnieux said that if we wanted the right tire, we should come back at 2 PM. This was at 8 AM. We drove to the biggest town in the area, Cavillon and found a tire.
There are two spots we didn't get to see which i think are well worth a visit. One is the village of Menerbes, and the other is the "Fountain of Vauclouse". If any of my readers does visit, please let me know if it was worth it.
Loved Avignon. Great shopping and the Pope's Palace is a major attraction. Here is a picture of the indoor market in Avignon. There is a wide selection of great restaurants. We ate at the restaurant of Christian Etiane, undoubtedly the best restaurant in the entire area. It is located in a building which was a part of the Pope's palace compound and the restaurant is really incredible. It's so elegant (even in the men's room), that I thought the urinal was a shower!
While staying in Avignon, we visited the famous Pont de Gard, one of the best known landmarks of Provence. It was built by the Romans about 2000 years ago and is very impressive. Pont de Gard is located about halfway between Avignon and Nimes. Another place nearby to visit is Uzes. We didn't make it to Uzes, but we were told by many people that is worth a visit. Actually, there are many other places to visit within an hour's drive from Avignon, but we were limited by the rain. We did get to Nimes, and visited the arena there, which is one of the best preserved arenas anywhere and is still in use. On the other hand, it was raining hard while we were there and even the lions refused to perform. Nimes is a very pleasant town and I'm sure we would have enjoyed it a lot more if it hadn't been raining so hard. Here you can see the "gladiators" who were with us in the rainy arena.
Other places we visited within an hour of Avignon and well worth visiting are Salon de Provence, St. Remy de Provence, and les Baux de Provence. Les Baux, as the name implies is beautiful and very impressive, built on an outcropping of mountain with incredible views and lots of shops. Also, there is a museum which includes access to the ramparts of the old castle. Also, not to be missed is the village of L'Isle sur-la-Sorgue which should be visited on Sunday morning when the entire town turns into a giant market.
In Avignon, we stayed in a B&B which we would like to forget, so we left after 2 days and moved to Orange, where we found a delightful hotel right in the center of town called "Arene". Orange is a pleasant little town very close to the wine growing area around Chateauneuf de Pape. More about Orange later.
In Orange we ate at a very good restaurant called Parvis. The highlight of this meal was the salmon baked in pastry dough. We also at a restaurant which specializes in dishes with truffles called la Beaugravier in Gravier. The food and service were excellent, but I can't say that we understand the obsession of truffle lovers.
While staying in Orange, we also visited Carpentras and Vaison La Romaine and drove north as far as Montellimar. We drove to Montelimar mainly to escape from the rain. Montelimar is the home of the nougat candy and every other store is a candy store selling a wide variety of nougat.
Chateauneuf and the surrounding villages
For wine lovers, this is one of the meccas of wine growing. For those who don't understand the significance of the area, when the Popes lived in Avignon, they decreed that all the wine grown in the jurisdiction of Chateauneuf was reserved for the Pope and his court. For this reason, very good and very sophisticated wine was developed here and wine produced in the area is considered among the best produced in France. The wine called Chateauneuf de Pape is made of thirteen (!) different types of grape. We enjoyed visiting the wineries and tasting wines.
A village not far from Chateauneuf which also has very good wine is Gigondas. I had never heard of Gigondas wine before I visited here, but now, I won't forget it soon. I enjoyed it more that the Chateauneuf wines. Also, Gigondas has a very slick system of wine tasting. In the center of town there is a "village wine center" where you can taste wines from most of the Gigondas wineries and select the ones you want to buy. It's for free and you aren't obligated to buy anything. On the other hand, it is expected that you leave a tip for the girl behind the counter.
In this area is also the "Montmirail laces", a series of mountain marked by jagged peaks and a panoramic view of the entire area. We saw it from afar 2 or 3 times because every day we were there, it was raining.
On to Aix de Provence
On the way to Aix it continued to rain, but it did stop while we were in Aix. We stayed at a wonderful 4 star Bastide called Mas d'Entremont. It is perched on a hill overlooking Aix, has a wonderful restaurant and provided great service in every way. Aix is a beautiful city with the very impressive main street, the Cours Mirabou, and a beautiful cathedral. We enjoyed Aix, although we somehow missed out in picking restaurants. The only really good one was at the hotel. The most interesting one was the "two garcons", which is a huge, casual bar and restaurant specializing in seafood.
Aix is famous for its connection to Cezanne who lived here, painted here, and became obsessed with the St. Victoire Mountain which is just to the east. There are Cezanne museums, Cezanne workshops, the house where Cezanne lived, the house where Cezanne painted, the house where Cezanne.........you get the idea. In any case, it's understandable why Cezanne stayed here. The colors of the sky here are indeed very unusual and very beautiful.
It's worth driving to the east and around St. Victoire. There are several picturesque villages where Cezanne painted or slept.
While we were staying in Aix, we drove to Cassis. Cassis is a classic Meditteranean seaport and the day we were there was the first sunny day we had seen in days. Cassis was a delight and is famous for its boulliabaise. We ate at a wonderful restaurant called Romano's right in the port. We of course, had the Boulliabaise. It was very good, but reminded us of truffles, that is, we enjoyed it but we wouldn't go out of our way to find it again. Here's a picture of the cassis "fish market". On the way out of Cassis, drive to the east to La Ciotat on the cliff road (something de cretes). It is a fabulous ride. Click here for a great example of the view.
The Riviera is roughly the stretch of coast from Toulon east to the Italian border. The major towns are St. Tropez, Ste. Maxim, St. Raphael, Cannes, Antibes, and Nice. East of Nice is Monte Carlo. The Riviera is actually part of a wider region known as Cote d"Azur which included the hills to the north of the coast. In these hills are many beautiful villages. Here's a summary of what we saw on the Riviera.
St. Tropez is not very attractive and we didn't stay there very long. On the pther hand, right near St. Tropez is a beautiful little port town called Port Grimaud. It's absolutely beautiful, and you can click here to see a beautiful pic! For another view of Grimaud (where it looks like a clean Venice), click here.
Cannes, on the other hand was a pleasant visit. We enjoyed strolling through Cannes and watching the petanque "tournements" played under the trees of "La Croisette", the main street. We enjoyed Cannes.
Antibes - Antibes was a delight. We loved strolling on the ramparts. Here's a picture of Alisa posing on the ramparts.
Nice is a truly beautiful
city. It's buildings are scrubbed clean and all very stylish.
It's beach is long and attractive. Its old city is great. Here, we
found one of best restaurants of our trip - "Auberge
des Artes". This is a restaurant in the old city with a chef
who is obviously an artist. You have to see his creations to believe
them. Each one is an architectural monument. Nice is a town
we would like to revisit.
|Here's a postscript
to our visit to Nice.
We enjoyed Nice so much during our short visit, we went back and spent a long weekend there in March to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We weren't disappointed, and enjoyed it very much. We stayed at the Hotel Park, which is located right in the center of town near the Ruhl casino. The Hotel Park is a good 4 star hotel with a perfect location. We also ate at 2 excellent restaurants - the "Restaurant L'univers Christian Plumail", with a very French menu and one star from Michelin, and the "Les Viviers" which specializes in fish and seafood. (They have 3 forks, but no star.) Both were excellent. Here's a site to check out for a long list of good restaurants in France, including all the details about "Christian Plumail".
In the hills above Nice
In the hills north of
Nice are quite a few interesting towns. Grasse
is France's center of perfume making. Torrettes sur Loop, Vence
and St. Paul de Vence
are three beautiful towns well worth visiting. All these four towns
are in a small area and none is more than 10 minutes from the next.
Torrettes is the smallest and is very picturesque. St. Paul is the
most commercialized and is filled with artists, galleries and shops.
It's also just about impossible to park there, except in the 10 story underground
parking building! Vence is the most normal of the three. It's the
most "normal" town of the three, with a very modern commercial center as
well as a very pleasant old walled center. We ate at a very good
restauarant in Torrettes called "Auberge des Torrettes", and we stayed
at a delightful B&B called "La Bastide des Olivier". Claude
and Laurance have a beautiful home with a beautiful view and they are the
most delightful hosts. Their B&B is between Vence and Tourettes
and here is the view
we had from our window.
|PROVENCE-BEYOND||-||this is about the best site I found for Provence|
|PROVENCEWEB||-||another good general site about Provence|
|AVIGNON-et-PROVENCE||-||the intellectual's guide to Avignon|
|WEBSCAPADES||-||descriptions of all regions of Provence|
|PROVENCEGUIDE||-||official tourist site the Vauclouse|
|FRANCEKEYS||-||general guide to france|
|GUIDEWEB||-||descriptions of most of the towns of provence|
|PROVENCEWEB||-||lots of good information of all sorts|
|FLEURS-SOLEIL||-||general information including lodging|
|PROVENCE-des-PAPE||-||tourist site for the upper Vauclouse|
|NONAME||-||good list of B&B's|
|RGMJAPAN||-||long list of good restaurants in France|
This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa". It describes one of the many trips we have made together. We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can. Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.
Enjoy your next trip!! ~Steve & Alisa~