Ah, Provence…. Warm and welcoming , with beaches, history, rolling vineyards, gastronomic experiences, sensational chocolate and healing lavender. Provence is a beautiful region in South Eastern France known for its diverse landscapes.Think Alps, plains, the French Riviera and calanques (rocky inlets perfect for swimming). A three hour fast train ride from Paris or an approximately five to six hours drive to this region is a must if you want to discover so much more than the city of Paris when you visit France.
I first visited this region with my family for the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and instantly fell in love. So much so that we visited again a few years later. There are so many different cities and such beautiful countryside to explore that you will want to return to this region again and again.
I loved it so much that it is the setting for my short story – ‘Escape to D’Amour’ which has been published as a part of the ‘Destination Romance’ Anthology. I am also immersed in researching more about this gorgeous part of the world as I write my novel ‘ Chateau D’Amour’ set in, you guessed it- Provence. Here are some of the reasons why it is my number one romantic destination and why you should visit the magnificent Provence region.
Majestic chateaus are dotted throughout the region and many are now hotels where you can have a spectacular stay. The difficulty is in choosing which one is just right for you. We experienced the beautiful gastronomic hotel called Mas d’ Entremont in Aix – en – Provence on our first visit and the fairytale castle- like Chateau de Fins Roche situated in the quaint village of Chateauneuf- du – Pape on our second visit.
One was in summertime and the second in winter, so we had a wonderful feel for all of the riches of the changing seasons. Both boasted gastronomic restaurants, gorgeous gardens and friendly staff who couldn’t help us enough.
The rooms were spacious and authentic and I honestly did not want to ever leave. For a change of pace tourists can also rent villas on olive farms, vineyards or by the water. These are a popular option for special occasion group celebrations.
Food and Wine
This region is a foodies paradise. Lyon is known as the gastronomic capital of France, but each distinct area has their signature dishes made with the freshest of local produce. In Marseilles, try the bouillabaisse. You can see the catch of the day coming in as you sit at one of the many waterfront cafes. Try the crepes at one of the bistros in Orange. The Dutch influence in the region ensures these are some of the best crepes you’ll ever taste. Visit Chateauneuf -du- Pape home to some of the world’s best wines or visit the chocolatier on the outskirts of this special town. Love rose? Provence is always pretty in pink. Sixty percent of the wine from this region is of the rose variety. In Marseille enjoy a pastis- the anise flavoured spirit. Truffles, tapenade and goat’s cheese are also delicacies of the region.
Lavender is the lifeblood of many Southern French towns and is used in everything from soaps, perfumes and hand-creams, or try the tasty lavender flavoured honey, ice cream, macarons or chocolate. Buy a lavender scented candle or aromatherapy oil to take home as a souvenir. The ‘blue- gold’ as it is called locally has been used for centuries as a cure all and you can time your visit to coincide with one of the famous lavender festivals. There is even a lavender museum in Coustellet. In the summertime you’ll find gorgeous fields of lavender blooming everywhere delighting photographers and artists alike.
This region was a Roman base and the well preserved sites are some of the best you’ll ever see. We visited the Amphitheatre in Arles where children were learning bullfighting.
The gorgeous theatre in Orange is a delight and was perhaps my favourite Roman site. The magnificent Papal Palace in Avignon will leave you feeling awed or visit the highest and one of the best preserved aqueducts in the world- The Pont du Gard. In Nimes visit the Maison Carree, a beautifully preserved Corinthian temple and the amphitheatre. Present day Vaison – la – Romaine has the most Roman feel of any city in Provence. So much history!
The light and colours of Provence have been seducing artists and writers for centuries. Think Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse or Chagall. Do a tour in the footsteps of Mayle, which follows the adventures of Peter Mayle whose book ‘ A Year in Provence’ still delights modern day readers. It tells the story of a fifty – something British couple and their two dogs who move to the Luberon in the South of France. The writer and poet Frederic Mistral who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1904 is buried in Maillane, a colourful village where you can also find a museum dedicated to the poet. Marcel Pagnol is a must read for lovers of Marseilles. His books are easy to read and are studied in French primary schools.
Pack your togs, bathers or swimmers and swim in some of the most crystal clear waters you’ll ever find. In Nice someone came up to us and said, “ You’re Australian!” How did they know? We were all dressed in Billabong beachwear. The beaches can be rocky around here so make sure you have some thongs or beach shoes. We rented some sun lounges for the day and were amazed that although it is sunny we did not burn like we would in Australia.
Swim in Nice, Cannes, St Tropez or Cap Ferrat. You can explore the Cassis region and swim at one of the inviting calanques near the quaint fishing villages.
Beautiful Provence has so much to offer. Visit the village markets for flowers, fish, bread, cheese, pastries, nougat, fruit, olive oil and wine. You’ll find antiques, soaps and art as well. Why not meet some French Cowboys or visit the pink salt marshes in the Camargue region. The hardest part is deciding which of the many things to do. You will want to come back again and again. I might just have to go back soon to do some research for my novel and of course sample a few more glasses of delicious Chateauneuf -du- Pape wine.