May & September, 2018 Provence, France Tour Itinerary
- Sunday, Day 1: Arrival day in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
- Monday, Day 2: Luberon Villages, part 1
- Tuesday, Day 3: Aix-en-Provence and Cassis
- Wednesday, Day 4: Vaison la Romaine
- Thursday, Day 5: Luberon Villages, part 2
- Friday, Day 6: Les Alpilles
- Saturday, Day 7: The Pont du Gard and Avignon
- Sunday, Day 8: Market Day, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
- Monday, Day 9: Gorge du Verdon
- Tuesday, Day 10: Marseille and transfer to Airport Hotel
All the tours are from Sunday thru Tuesday; 10 nights, 10 days.
Note: One of the advantages of taking a small group tour is that the itinerary can be flexible. Changes can be made to suit the interests of the group or unscheduled special opportunities that may come up. We have great alternatives should weather cause us to make changes.
Pickups will be designated at specific times at the Avignon TGV train station and/or Marseille Provence Airport (MRS). You will be met by a transfer vehicle, details will arrive with your information package upon making your reservation. You will arrive at our specially chosen hotel in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and after checking in, you will have the remainder of the afternoon to explore the village. Maybe walk up to see where the river Sorgue emerges from a spring deep underground. Jacque Cousteau attempted to find the bottom of the spring with a submersible device but failed. Since then, a sandy shelf has been found at a depth of 1,010 ft, but the spring bottom is apparently even deeper. As the Sorgue approaches the village it is a crystal-clear river of startling emerald green water that dominates the town. Several water wheels that powered industries in the past reimain. There is an excellent 15th century working paper mill museum open to the public. In fact, there are several unique museums in town for you to visit.
Or perhaps you will just want to relax by the pool in the hotel’s garden or unwind in the outdoor hot tub situated over a small waterfall on one of the streams of the Sorgue that runs through the property. We will gather together in the early evening to take a short walk to a specially chosen restaurant to enjoy what will be the first of a week of incredibly sumptuous Provençial meals.
Tuesday, Day 2, Luberon Villages, part 1
Each morning starts with a full breakfast buffet at our hotel. In good weather, you can choose to eat al fresco on the garden patio. Today we will be visiting some of the perched villages of the Luberon area. Our first stop will be at Oppѐde la Vieux, high up on the side of the forested, rocky Petite Luberon. A stiff five-minute walk uphill from the parking lot will take us to the old village. It used to be abandoned, but artists and craftpersons have taken up residence there and are restoring the buildings. A bit further up and we reach the ruin of a fortified castle that is still impressive even in its present state. From this vantage point are incredible views of the Luberon valley.From Oppѐde we will return to the center of the valley to visit the Lavender Museum. This excellent museum shows how lavender is grown, harvested, and processed into its essence oils. The museum is owned by of one of the largest lavender farms in Provence and the products in their showroom are of the finest quality and available for purchase. We will then drive by Gordes stopping at strategic overviews for pictures. Although Gordes is one of the most picturesque perched villages in Provence, it has been largely taken over by wealthy English and German expatriates and vacationers. Gordes is best appreciated from viewing sites just outside the town. We will spend our time at the village of beautiful Roussillon, which is our next destination. Roussillon, the previous capital of ochre mining is a village that literally glows from the many shades of ochre that make up the buildings. The reds and oranges of the artist’s palette are the only colors needed to paint this town! You will have time to explore the many fine galleries and shops in Roussillon. At the base of the town is an open quarry that we will visit. The area has been compared to the Grand Canyon at sunset. Today we will enjoy a three-course lunch before returning to the hotel. The rest of the day will be free for you to enjoy as you like in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.
Wednesday, Day 3, Aix-en-Provence and Cassis
Today we will leave directly after breakfast and travel to Aix-en-Provence, home of the artist Paul Cézanne. We will begin our visit at the glorious Rotunde fountain which sits at the beginning of the Cours Mirabeau, one of France’s premier boulevards. Built on the ancient ramparts of the town, it was originally a place for the aristocracy to take their promenades. Three more fountains are located along the boulevard. As we stroll down the Cours Mirabeau we will pass historic and fine facades of apartment houses (hotels) and many cafes and brasseries; the most famous of which is Le Deux Garçons. Paul Cézanne, Emile Zola, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso are among the many writers and artists who were known to frequent this cafe. Our target is the Granet Museum. Cézanne, although now revered in Aix, was not so well treated while he lived and painted there. As a Post-Impressionist, his new style of painting was not appreciated by most of the establishment artists. In 1901, Musée Granet curator Henri Pontier said of painter Paul Cézanne, “Never in my lifetime will one of his works enter here.” Today, Aix and the Granet Museum are working hard to forgive themselves for their treatment of Cézanne while he was alive. You will find several Cézanne paintings in the museum. Today, Cézanne is honored with an award in his memory, called the Cézanne medal, granted by the city of Aix-en-Provence for special achievement in the arts. The Granet has recently opened a new annex which could very well be the highlight of the day. After the museum, free time will be available to explore the Quarter Marizan and the Cours Mirabeau. You will have the opportunity to choose among the many street-side cafes for lunch on your own. After lunch we will drive on to Cassis.
Cassis is a small fishing village on the Mediterranean Sea. It is drop-dead gorgeous and is also very crowded in the summer. Be thankful you will be visiting in September or May as the crowds will have thinned down to a sane level. Cassis is famous for its calanques. The calanques are fiord-like inlets that cut through steep limestone cliffs. They are difficult to get to by land and best seen by sea. We will take a 45 minute boat tour to three of the most beautiful of the calanques. After the calanques, there will be time to explore the beach, docks and shops of Cassis before we have our dinner at one of Cassis’ best restaurants. This is a great time to try the fresh Mediterranean seafood and possibly their soup de poisson.
Thursday, Day 4, The Pont du Gard and Avignon
After such a long day on Wednesday, we will have a chance to sleep in a bit today. You will want to as we will be out late again tonight. After breakfast, we will drive to the Pont du Gard. This 2000 year old aqueduct bridge which crosses the gorge of the River Gardon, was built by Agrippa, son-in-law of Augustus Caesar, and was part of the aqueduct that brought fresh water to the Roman city of Nimes. It has been restored and in 1985 was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Pont du Gard is one of the best preserved Roman engineering structures in the world and is simply breathtaking.
We will enjoy a group lunch together and then proceed to the city of Avignon. Avignon jumped into fame and history in 1309 when the newly elected Pope Clement V, from Bordeaux, refused to go to Rome for his consecration. The consecration took place in Lyon. His successor, John XXII, chose Avignon as the new seat of the Catholic Church. Seven Popes ruled the Christian world from Avignon and built for themselves a massive papal palace. It became one of the largest feudal castles in the world. Our tour in Avignon includes the Calvet Museum. This museum is an often overlooked jewel with a Dutch/Flemish wing that is superb, and important Greek sculpture and Egyptian section along with its French paintings. It is well worth an hour or so to see. The rest of the afternoon is open for your own exploration. You have many options on how to spend your time. Avignon is a commercial center and has many boutiques and shops. Touring the Papal Palace might draw your interest. There are several other museums that are worthy to see. If you climb up the hill past the Papal Palace, you will come to a popular garden called the Rocher des Doms. You are now high on the bluffs above the Rhone River and there are impressive views of the Rhone and the famous bridge, Pont St-Bénézet, better known as the Pont d’Avignon from the French children’s song “Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse tout en rond…” (“On the bridge of Avignon we all dance there in a ring”). All roads in Avignon lead to the Place de l’Horloge, a vast town square lined with plane trees and outdoor cafes. It is the perfect place for you to take a light dinner, snack, glass of wine or a coffee and watch the people going by. This will be our meeting place for our evening entertainment, the Illuminations, inside the courtyard of the Papal Palace. This will be an evening you will not forget!
Friday, Day 5, Luberon Villages, part 2
On Friday we will continue our touring to some other Luberon perched villages. Lacoste is a tiny hilltop village famous for its 42-room château which belonged to the Marquis de Sade (yes, that one!). Don’t look for designer alligators on shirts in Lacoste, but high fashion is very much there; Marquis de Sade’s castle was purchased by Pierre Cardin who is restoring it and has established a fashion school there. Not far from Lacoste is the village of Bonnieux, a very pretty hilltop town with a distinctive church built at the very top shaded by an enormous cedar tree. Bonnieux has an authentic feel to it and rightly so, it is very much an active town. The road crossing the Luberon mountain runs through Bonnieux. We will take this road to the top of the mountain and drive along the crest of the Luberon towards a unique forest of cedar trees. The road is reminiscent of Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park as it has overlooks where you can see for miles. On a very clear day, you can see the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps. Additional surprises await you after lunch before we head back to our hotel.
Saturday, Day 6, Apt Market, Wine Tastings, Olive Oil and Les Beaux
We need an early start this morning because it is market day in Apt and that is our first destination. The Apt market is one of the best food markets in France. And today, it will be your job to help buy provisions for our picnic lunch! That means wandering through the stalls, tasting and deciding what looks best and then choosing the items we will share later for lunch. Don’t worry, I’ll be there for guidance if you need it, but this is your market experience. After we have had our fill at the market, it’s off to Ménerbes where we will visit the Domaine de la Citadelle a winery with a great reputation for wines of the appellation d’origine controlée (AOC) of Côtes du Luberon . We will have the opportunity to sample several of their wines. The Domaine is home to a very special museum which we will also get to visit. Afterwards, we will picnic on the property with our selections from the market. A visit to Ménerbes is next on our agenda, including a stop at one of the region’s best shops for wines of the Luberon region at bargain prices, including the wines we just tasted at Domaine de la Citadelle.
Then it is on to Saint-Remy de Provence and a visit to a local olive 0il mill. Olive oil from Provence is not as well known as from Italy or Spain. The pure, natural, extra virgin and cold pressed olive oils are unsurpassed; but let’s keep that our secret! A private tour of the groves and the modern mill, will allow us to see how five single variety olive oils, as well as a blended oil, are produced. We will then have an opportunity to sample all of the oils along with a wide range of other products such as tapanades and pestos.
Our tour continues with the spectacular village and ancient fortress of Les Beaux. The Michelin Travel Guide gives Les Beaux one of its rare 3 stars rating for being a highly recommended site to see. Later that evening, we will dine together in a small restaurant in a village a few miles from our hotel. Their kitchen produces amazing dishes you will enjoy.
Sunday, Day 7, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Sunday is market day in Isle-sur-la Sorgue, a town just 5 miles from our hotel. The town is sometimes called the Venice of France due to its many branches and canals of the Sorgue River. It was once an important mill town and fresh water fishing village but today it has become a center for antiques. The Sunday market is a mix of crafts, antiques, and foods. Those who want to visit the market will be dropped off and picked up later at a designated time and place. You also have the option of spending your day at your leisure. Activities such as utilizing the hotel’s spa, canoeing on the Sorgue or golfing on a nearby course are available (costs for these activities are not part of the tour). The afternoon is free time. That evening we will reconvene for a special wine tasting at the hotel and then proceed to our departure dinner in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Monday, Day 8, Departure Day
After breakfast, the tour will conclude with transfers back to the airport or Avignon TGV station. You will be leaving Provence but taking home memories that you will cherish forever- memories of the Joie de Provence!