The South of France ~ Provence Itinerary

10 Days in The South of France ~ Provence

October  5 – 15, 2016  (Full)
May 6 – 16, 2017 (Private)
September 23 – October 3, 2017  (Full)
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Daily Itinerary Description

Day 1:  Welcome to the Mediterranean Sea and “Provincia Romana.”   Preceded by the Greeks, the area known today as Provence was conquered by Rome at the end of the 2nd century BC and became the first Roman province beyond the Alps, its name derived from Provincia Romana. Whether you arrive in Marseille by train or plane, you will be greeted personally upon arrival. Head into the département of the Var nestled between vineyards and the Mediterranean Sea for a 3-night’s stay in seaside Cassis at a beautiful bed & breakfast, located just a 10-minute walk from the town center, port, and beach.  Hostess Francesca will show you to your room in her contemporary villa, offering impressive views of the Cap Canaille and promising poolside and/or garden relaxation.  Wind down this evening, and partake in a casual French “chat” lesson with linguist Elise, our niece who is native to Nice, as we prepare a tasting meal of traditional Provencal foods for a casual dinner at the villa.  Overnight Cassis (D)

Day 2: Calanques & Cassis. Discover the breathtaking Calanques, the series of wild fjords and rocky limestone cliffs following the coastline, during a 1.5-hour private boat excursion along the coast of Cassis. Savor a light lunch on board while anchored in one of the magnificent coves. Upon return to the port of Cassis, you have the option to take the 45-minute ‘petit train’ tour for a breathtaking tour around the village and out to the Port Miou peninsula with English commentary on the historical vestiges; includes a 10-minute stop to witness the Calanque de Port Miou from above, truly magnificent vista, and the quaint Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Voyage. Spend the remainder of the afternoon as you wish ~ hike the trails above the Calanques, explore the village, shop in the boutiques, swim in the sea, relax poolside at the villa, or savor a nap. This evening, take the picturesque drive along the Route de la Gineste to Marseille to hit the high points before dinner. Witness a spectacular bird’s eye view of the city and sea from the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica, followed by a scenic drive around the Old Port and coastal route. Delight in an in-home dinner with a French family in the garden of their beautiful villa in Marseille.  Overnight Cassis. (B, L, D)

Day 3: Vineyards & villages of the Var. Explore the picturesque villages of the Var; visit hilltop La Cadière d’Azur en route to lunch at a restaurant overlooking vineyards, located on the ramparts of medieval Le Castellet, a lovely little village perched above the plains of the Var. Relish a privately guided visit at a breathtakingly beautiful winery, owned and operated by friends, within the Côtes de Provence AOC and Bandol appellations. Stroll amid the vines, and then delight in a tour of the cellars, followed by a tasting of “Trois Couleurs,” a taste of each color ~ white, rosé, and red. Dine at one of the best restaurants in Cassis, overlooking the port.  Overnight Cassis (B, L, D)

Day 4: Olive Orchards & Mill, Les Baux de Provence, “In the Footsteps of Van Gogh”. Savor one last homemade breakfast before saying “Au Revoir” to Cassis and the Mediterranean Sea, as we head inland to the Alpilles, the small mountain range near Les Baux de Provence.  Delight in a private tour at an award winning olive oil orchard & mill, to learn how olive oil is produced “from the tree to the bottle” as the owner explains the process of growing, producing & pressing olive oil; complete the visit with a tasting of different oils, olives, and tapenade. Enjoy a 1.5-hour privately guided walking tour of the village and medieval citadel of Les Baux, followed by lunch on the terrace of an authentic restaurant with our guide.  Before heading north to the Haute-Vaucluse, we will stop inSt. Rémy de Provence to walk “In the Footsteps of Van Gogh” at the St. Paul de Mausole, the asylum in  where Van Gogh lived after he famously cut off his ear lobe. Witness the surrounding grounds that reflect the beautiful places painted by Vincent van Gogh a century ago (he painted The Starry Night while here) as our guide explains the life and struggles of the artist.  Tuck in for a 7-night’s stay in the medieval-Roman town of Vaison-La-Romaine ~ the largest archaeological site in France with Gallo-Roman vestiges spread over several sites. Stay at the foot of the medieval “haute village” in a traditional Provençal rental house. Nestling at the base of the majestic rock, upon which sits the medieval high town, crowned with the impressive 13th-century castle of the Counts of Toulouse, are two Provençal houses, each with their own swimming pool, surrounded by vineyards, and offering a lovely countryside setting while being just 200 meters from the medieval town and 1-kilometer from the town center, Roman vestiges, and the outdoor market.  Enjoy a casual meal together this evening in the medieval town.  Overnight Vaison-la-Romaine (B, D)

Day 5: Roman Vaison & Game of Pétanque. After a traditional breakfast on our picturesque terrace, explore the rich history of Vaison at your own pace with an interesting and informative new VisioGuide (visual audio-guide), including the intriguing Archaeological Museum, the Roman sites of Puymin and Villasse, the Roman theatre, as well as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth with its magnificent cloister and St. Quentin’s chapel. Although the VisioGuide must be returned by 6pm, it is valid for two days, providing ample time to bear witness to 2,000 years of an extraordinary way of life and how it all came to be. Late afternoon, enjoy a game of pétanque in the Boulodrome of Vaison ~ learn the history of the game with a lesson in how to play. To complete the picture, sip a pastis from the bar next door while playing. Though not Provençal, we have the option to dine at an authentic and delicious crêperie in the heart of Vaison near the town square. Note: Photo I.D. is required to obtain a VisioGuide.  Overnight Vaison-la-Romaine (B)

Day 6: Vineyard Walk, Medieval Vaison ~ Free day. This morning, you have the option to join me for a 4-mile power walk along the crest of Serre Long, a paved country road coddled by rolling vineyards, sweeping views of the Ventoux valley, and the wooded hills of Serre Long; this scenic paved loop is accessible from our houses and should take about 1-hour 40-minutes. Enjoy the day and evening at your leisure ~ have a swim in your pool, walk, nap, read or visit local boutiques. Continue your VisioGuide tour, if desired, wandering at your own pace. Delight in a 1.5-hour privately guided tour of the medieval high town, a nice compliment to the VisioGuide, to discover the history & hidden corners of the “Haute Ville”. Free late afternoon & evening.  Overnight Vaison-la-Romaine

Day 7: Outdoor Market Tour, Terrace Picnic, Hands-On Cooking Dinner. Meet down in the new town to take a tour of one of the most comprehensive outdoor markets in Provence; become immersed in the colors & smells of a vibrant, bustling market. Together we’ll witness ~ and occasionally taste ~ the abundance of fruits and vegetables, meats, poultry, fish, cheese, olives, charcuterie, as well as French pottery, linens, kitchen items, and more. After the tour, you may explore the market and shop on your own before meeting back at House #1 at 11:30am to prep the produce for dinner, followed by a picnic lunch on the terrace with delicacies from market. Delight in a cooking party in the main house tonight as we prepare a traditional Provençal three-course meal. Free afternoon.  Overnight Vaison-la-Romaine (L, D)

Day 8: Villages of the Mount Ventoux, Herb & Lavender Distillery. Take a scenic drive to visit the postcard villages of the Vaucluse and Mount Ventoux region. Crestet with its ruined medieval castle and charming 11th-century St. Saveur church; Entrechaux with its beautiful surrounding countryside and unique rocky outcrop topped with a feudal castle; Pierrelongue is one of the oddest and most striking villages with its rocky spur where there once stood a fortress, having been demolished during the French revolution and replaced with a 19th-century church; and Faucon, a charming hilltop town with unrivaled views of the Mount Ventoux and the pre-Alps. Savor lunch in Nyons, famous for its olives, followed by a 1-hour privately guided tour, “Secrets de Terroir ~ Drôme Provençale,” at a family-owned distillery specializing in aromatic herbs (thyme, rosemary, mint, lavender) and plants (rose, orange blossom). Discover the secret of these ancestral plants, the stages of distillation, and the essential oils that have been extracted. Free time to visit the boutique of locally made items, as well as those produced on-site; you will find lovely gift ideas. Conclude the visit with a gourmet sweet at the on-site tea salon specializing in artisanal treats infused with herbs and lavender. Remainder of afternoon and evening are at your leisure. Overnight Vaison-la-Romaine

Day 9: Châteauneuf du Pape, Pont du Gard, Avignon and the Popes’ Palace. Visit the village of Châteauneuf du Pape this morning and delight in a tasting these famous wines at a reputable cellar on the square. Relish a lovely terrace lunch at a restaurant perched on the ramparts, offering a picturesque view of the Rhone valley below. Pay tribute to the astonishing Pont du Gard, the Roman Aqueduct that is the 2nd tallest Roman structure standing today ~ Rome’s Colosseum is just 6 feet taller. Enjoy a 2-hour privately guided tour of historic Avignon, along with anecdotes about the legendary 800-yr-old St. Bénezet Bridge, followed by the Palace of the Popes. Once the tour concludes, enter the 19th-century kitchen of a hotel which was originally a 14th-century Cardinal’s mansion, for a personal and animated dining experience at the private “Guest Table” of the chef. A traditional Provençal meal will be prepared in front of you, utilizing the antique wood-fired stove, and stories about life in Provence and his love of authentic cuisine will be shared. Overnight Vaison-la-Romaine (D)

Day 10: Villages & Vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône. Set out on a lovely drive to experience the most beautiful Côtes du Rhône villages. Mosey through small stone villages, such as Séguret, classified as “One of the Most Beautiful Villages of France” and Gigondas, home to the wine appellation Gigondas AOC, offering primarily red wines with some rosé. Take a scenic drive up the majestic Dentelles de Montmirail, the rocky mountain range above Gigondas, to view the spectacularly terraced vineyards of the Gigondas appellation. Savor a gourmet terrace lunch on the charming square of Gigondas with a menu prepared especially for us by the chef. Relish a 2-hour privately guided outing, “A Stroll from the Vine to the Bottle,” with a wine expert and trained sommelier. Understand the concept of terroir and how it determines the character of a wine, and learn to detect the different notes and aromas in various wines.  Conclude your stay in Vaison-la-Romaine with an in-home private dinner at the home of our hosts.   Overnight Vaison-la-Romaine (L)

Day 11: Nougat & Provençal confections. Bid adieu to Vaison-la-Romaine.  En route to the Avignon train station, we’ll take a short detour to discover a workshop and boutique specializing in artisanal nougats and other Provençal confections. Delight in a tasting of the house specialties, including both kinds of nougat, pâtes de fruits of various fruits (cherry, apricot, strawberry, fig, peach, plum and quince), Polissons ~ “Calissons du Terroir”, the almond-paste candy of Provence originally made in Aix-en-Provence.  You will be personally accompanied to the Avignon TGV train station to catch your late afternoon train bound for Paris. “Bon retour & MERCI!” Safe return, and many thanks!

10 Days in The South of France ~ Provence