The wonder of Provence

There’s something about Provence that attracts me back, time after time, year after year. Is actually difficult to put my finger upon exactly what it is. Those incredible blue skies, perhaps? That unique, extreme light that so captivated Van Gogh and Cezanne? The fields of lavender and sunflowers…. the particular olive groves…. the vineyards…. the terracotta rooftops…. the pavement coffee shops, bookstores…. that long-anticipated glass of pastis…. the first dish of little black olives….?

Whatever it is, it’s amazing. And very soon, before I know what I’m doing, I’ve booked another holiday in yet another little gite or even apartment or hotel in another charming town or village in the Var or the Vaucluse or the Bouches-du-Rhone….

It’s the hinterland that entices myself. The trendy, glittering, sophisticated hotels along the coast hold little appeal. It’s good to visit them occasionally, but the hype and the superficiality (and the prices!
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) soon begin to pall. Inland, the pace of a lot more slower. The prancers and posers are fewer. Tourists are welcomed, but the locals have no intention associated with sacrificing either their way of life or even their heritage for the dubious joys of accommodating and entertaining them.

If you want to experience the real Provence, here are a few (highly subjective) suggestions:

Take a short break in Avignon, preferably out of the high season. After you’ve fulfilled your touristic duties and taken in the Popes’ Palace and the famous pont, discover the back streets and little pieces off the main tourist trail. Take a coffee or a glass of wine in the place Crillon. Explore the wonderful indoor market. Spend an hour or so or so in the Musée Angladon, which (astonishingly) houses the only original Vehicle Gogh in the whole of Provence. If money is no object, book the table for lunch or dinner at Christian Etienne’s lovely restaurant overlooking the place des Papes….

Visit the charming small market town of St-Rémy-de-Provence (barely half an hour’s drive from Avignon) on a Wednesday or Sunday morning, when the market takes over the whole of the centre of the town and the noises and scents and colours are intoxicating…. Wander through the quaint labyrinthine backstreets…. Take a look at the house where the popular prophet Nostradamus was born…. Then go to see the nearby asylum where the work Vincent spent some time immediately following the particular infamous mutilated ear incident…

Spend half a day (or more) in the great cultural centre of Aix-en-Provence. Visit Cézanne’s studio, do the Cézanne tour, then grab a sidewalk table at the famous literary café Les Deux Garcons and watch lifetime go by along the recently resurfaced Cours Mirabeau…

Drive to the summit associated with Mont Ventoux (pausing to pay your respects at the monument to Uk cycling hero Tommy Simpson) and marvel at the incredibly clear vistas stretching out over the whole of the Vaucluse…

Take in some of those incredible Roman monuments: the majestic amphitheatres with Arles and Orange; the remarkable Pont du Gard; the reconstructed Roman township at Glanum, just outside St-Rémy….

Get to Les Baux-de-Provence early in the morning or late in the evening (to avoid the tourist rush) and meander through the narrow winding roads leading up to the citadel….

Drive towards the town of Lourmarin in the Luberon. Wander through the narrow streets, take a drink at one of the rather stylish cafés and then, if time allows, spend a few contemplative moments at the graveside of Albert Camus, the particular charismatic, Nobel prize-winning writer plus philosopher who died so instantly and so absurdly in a car crash almost fifty years ago….

Visit the Camargue, that will fabulous, untamed area at the Western edge of Provence: a land of wild bulls, white horses, pink flamingos and gardians upon horseback…. Take a quick look round the walled town of Aigues Mortes and the pleasant seaside resort of Saintes Maries de la Mer, famous for its annual gypsy pilgramage and its particular Da Vinci Code connotations….

Ongoing the seaside theme, spend per day in the lovely, bustling little slot of Cassis and enjoy the peaceful, laid-back atmosphere…. Hop aboard one of the pleasure cruisers in the harbour plus take a tour of the calanques, all those incredible little inlets set into the limestone cliffs between Cassis plus Marseille…. Have lunch or dinner at Nino on the quayside and try one of the fragrant, fruity local white wines….

And finally – and perhaps best of all — just turn off the main road, recreation area up in some shady spot, and just stroll au hasard through narrow country lanes, listening to the constant hum of the cicadas, taking in the fragrances of wild herbs or lavender, looking for that perfect sun-dappled spot to stretch out, unwrap the fresh bread, the neighborhood goat’s cheese, the marinated olives, the ratatouille or tomates provencales, uncork the bottle of nearby wine that you picked up direct from your vineyard that very morning, and let the pressures and stresses of everyday lifetime just fade away….

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