When I close my eyes and imagine where I want to be and what I want to feel I am in the picturesque villages in the hills
of Provence, France.
After visiting for a very short period of time many years ago, I always knew I would return. I spent the better part of 2020 imaging what it would be like to soak in this magnificent place and after all that dreaming, we made it a reality in 2021.
Why the fall you ask?
Well besides it being our anniversary, it is what the locals call their favourite season!
The tourist crowds are calmer and the weather is glorious, and the colours!!
The colours of the trees, the hills and valleys are remarkable.
When setting out to plan our route we allotted 6 nights, not nearly enough to cover majority of the region but enough to get a taste of what has me planning my next stay!
We decided to book our first 3 nights in Avignon, the perfect spot to start when arriving into Paris. The high speed OUIGO train offers multiple direct routes from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to Gare d’Avignon TGV. In a short 3 hours and 30 min you arrive to the countryside.
At the top of my list was Hôtel La Mirande, located in Avignon, an ancient town center enclosed by its medieval walls.
From the moment I stepped foot inside of La Mirande I felt as though I had stepped back in time, a journey through 200 years of French decorative arts. It felt like a quaint art gallery, eclectic yet perfectly all paired. It was warm, cozy and contrary to your belief about the French, welcoming! It is the kind of place where you can have a drink in the most charming bar with a side of divine pot de crème.
Almost all of the rooms offer a close view of Palais des Papes, a world heritage monument. A place I knew nothing about! That is exactly what I love about travelling, there is always something new to discover. In the 1300’s Avignon was the capital of Christianity for a century. Today the gothic palace can be visited and is definitely a must see.
Avignon is a beautiful walkable town with a mix of old and new. The shops all lined up along cobblestone roads, as you would expect, with museums and small squares tucked inside. I loved my time spent shopping at Parfumerie Fragonard, a Provencal perfumery named after one of my favourite Grasse born painters, Jean-Honoré Fragonard filled with fragrant soaps, candles and colognes inspired by the region. Walking around the town and time spent in galleries like Calvet Museum was inspiring. Being you are in the Côtes du Rhône, Avignon is surrounded by many vineyards. We decided to venture out one afternoon to Châteauneuf du Pape for a wine tasting at Château la Nerthe, the warm autumn sun that day created a beautiful glow among the vines. I recommend either renting a car when leaving the medieval walls or arrange for a driver to take you to and from.
A final highlight from our stay at La Mirande was dining downstairs in the old servants’ quarters. We sat amongst 4 other couples, at one communal table in the old kitchen watching and interacting with two chefs as they wined and dined us a Provencal farm to table experience. It was magnificent! We had the opportunity to learn more about the flavours of Provence, the other guests, some of which were locals and enjoy our combined passion for cooking.
Our next stop was into the Luberon region, in central Provence.
We were headed towards Menerbes, but not before exploring L’isle Sur La Sorgue.
I had read about this town quite literally dedicated to shops filled with antiques and vintage.
To say I was excited would be an understatement. We visited on a Sunday when in conjunction they have a food and flea market, it was busy! Be prepared to arrive early to find parking. The generations of art, furniture and textiles was quite overwhelming. You could spend a week in just this town if you are an avid antique shopper. I did go semi prepared with a list of items I was intrigued to look for and after sampling cheeses and truffle saucisson in the food market I made the move to purchase a 17th century barometer, a piece I had always dreamt of owning. It is beautifully hand carved and gilded. The vendor we purchased from, Paul Azzopardi was professional and experienced with shipping worldwide. The shipment arrived roughly one month after we arrived home. We definitely worked up an appetite and headed over to a lovely restaurant Le Jardin du Quai located in a garden. The chef creates one menu for the day, a meal we still talk about! It was delicate, fresh and local, served with rosé of course.
The Luberon region is famous for its natural beauty. Picture limestone hills, olive groves, green valleys and hilltop villages. On route to Menerbes, we pulled over to the side of road several times to try and capture the beauty.
It was awe-inspiring.
We arrived at La Bastide de Marie, an 18th century farmhouse restored to perfection. The property is reached by driving down a path lined with cypress and olive trees and a view of their winery in the distance. Upon our friendly arrival while waiting for our room, we sat in the back taking in the vineyard landscape with a petit glass of vin and fromage. There is just something about the sun-baked stone, blue shutters and endless groves that captivate me. Truly a romantic hideaway with a lovely in house masseuse, a dining room that overlooks the vineyard as the sunsets, rose gardens galore, a small pool for the hot summer months and the opportunity to enjoy a picnic or two! The food is so thoughtfully curated and executed.
Being the region is large and vast, each town offers their own specialties and driving town to town is the way to do it to take it in. I found this website to be insightful in sharing more about each town as they each host a market on a different day. On a Tuesday we drove to Gordes, with the hope of finding some textiles. Driving up to this hilltop village is something not to be missed, the views are claimed to be some of the best in the Luberon. I shopped linens, beautiful toile ones, dried lavender sachets, jars of preserves like olive tapenade, artichoke with truffle and pesto, OH! And the nougat, the kind I was taught to make in pastry school-a specialty in Provence. We enjoyed lunch at Clover Gordes at La Bastide de Gordes and it did not disappoint. Lunch with a view-yes please!
I could truly go on and on about my love for Provence and I have only scratched the surface.
I am awaiting my next visit to uncover more sleepy hilltop villages, breathtaking vistas of fields of poppies and lavender, craft filled artisans and exquisite cuisine.