Provence stirs the imagination with its many highlights – the smell of lavender, medieval cathedrals, daily produce markets with mouthwatering French cheeses, pastries, breads and more, world famous cities like Avignon and Aix en Provence, gorgeous villages, Roman ruins – the list could go on and on. It has always been one of our favorite destinations and very popular with Quivertree families for many good reasons! But it does take some planning as it can be overwhelming in its sheer volume of wonders. Therefore, based on our personal experiences, we have compiled our very own ‘Perfect Week in Provence’, a guide where you won’t go wrong!
First some important details! It is very easy to get to Provence. The fast train fromParis to Marseille takes 3.5 hours; from Paris to Aix is about 4.5 hours. Marseille has a good sized airport with flights from all over Europe. Although not completely essential, we HIGHLY recommend renting a car for your trip. Although Provence is well serviced by busses and trains, and of course Quivertree organizes amazing driver guided trips, Provence is perfect for exploring on your own. Especially in summer when the region is packed with tourists you’ll want to get off the beaten track and escape to places less well known but still oozing with charm.
Provence offers a myriad of accommodation options. All the major cities and midsized towns have numerous hotels ranging from chateaus to the more conventional and there are many country style hotels that are lovely. B&B’s, guesthouses, farmhouse style accommodations – these are all great options. But we feel the best way to spend your week in Provence is to rent a typical French villa, either in the countryside or a small town where all your basic needs will be a short walk away. Villas usually rent for a week from Saturday to Saturday or Sunday to Sunday so it is easy to plan around that. Villas come in all sizes and budgets and the choice can be overwhelming but we can help you with that!
We prefer not to stay in one of the bigger cities. They can get very crowded and traffic can be grindingly slow – medieval city centers were not made for cars! – so getting in and out of town can be pretty irksome. Staying in the country is lovely but we recommend a small village with all the amenities you’ll need for your stay. St Remy is a great example of this. It is wonderfully well situated in the center of the region, has a fantastic weekly market that spreads through most of town, has enough local restaurants to keep you happy and of course has patisseries, cheese shops and more which will most likely make up your breakfasts and picnics. Far more than a hotel breakfast, there is nothing quite like walking a few minutes to the local Provencal shops and picking up a baguette, cheeses, pastries and wherever else you desire for your breakfast. You’ll feel like an actor in your own travel movie as you choose your daily fare. It is fabulous!
Now that we have some of the basics out of the way, let’s look at our top ideas for how to spend your time in this incredible region. We could spend months in Provence and never cover everything so we have to be very choosy but we’ll give it our best try! The order of days is not necessarily important but certain activities – mostly daily markets – are day specific.
Day 1 AVIGNON
We suggest visiting only one of Provence’s bigger cities and our choice is Avignon. Avignon is a classic medieval French city, with its ramparts and bridges. Once inside its imposing city walls, you’ll find a place bursting with life. Expect to find street performers touting their shows if you’re there in July during the famous theater festival. One could spend hours exploring the narrow alleyways of the medieval center but Avignon also has its fair share of sights! Avignon’s classic bridge, made even more famous by the well known song Sur Le Pont D’Avignon, no longer stretches all the way across the Rhone River but it is still a very imposing sight. Nothing better than learning some of the song and singing a little while strolling half way across the river (and back).
Avignon’s other great attraction is the 14th century Palais de Papes – the Pope’s Palace – which was the seat of the Papacy in the 14th century. The city also has many beautiful squares and while walking around it’s a real treat to stop at one of many ice cream vendors dotting the town or stopping for a coffee and pastry between the sights. You could spend a few hours or a few days here!
SURPRISING FIND: Just 20 minutes from Avignon and as far from the bustle as possible you’ll find Chateauneuf du Pape, a lovely historic village perfect for walking around and today a big wine center for the surrounding region. With over 300 wine producers in the surrounding area, Chateauneuf is a great place to walk around and do some wine tasting away from the crowds.