Pleasures of Provence, a 5 day itinerary in the south of France

Last month, I took a late vacation to go back to my tender France and spend a week re-discovering the beautiful area of Provence. I had been there several time as a kid and remember the villages, the smell of the lavender and the taste of the fresh fruits and tomatoes.
Jump in the car, and start exploring with me the little roads of Provence. I am sharing tops things to see and to do in Provence, along with tips and good addresses as well as a 5 days itinerary between nature, food and history.

First time in Provence?

5 good reasons to good to Provence:
  • The magical sights of cute  villages: Stone houses, blue blinders and a little je-ne-sais-quoi
  • Outdoors activities in the highest canyon of Europe
  • Diving in history with the visit of the 2000 years old roman sites
  • The food! – from inexpensive picnics to great restaurants or markets, Provence is an epicurean destination.
  • The weather is beautiful, almost all year around
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Provencal facades in Moustiers Sainte Marie

 

If you like outdoors, go to the Gorges du Verdon

Gorges du Verdon is considered by many like the most beautiful canyon in Europe. It is more than 25km long and is the perfect playground for outdoors adventurers.  Driving, hiking, paddling… there are many ways to explore the Verdon. To explore the Gorges du Verdon, base yourself in Castellanne or Moustier Sainte Marie.

If you like cute villages, go to…

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It is at the entrance of the village of Gordes that you can enjoy the best the sunset… by looking on the opposite side!

Provence concentrates more of the “most beautiful villages of France” than any other regions in the country. I picked four villages, each of them worth the trip for their own personality.

 

Moustier Sainte Marie: the village, famous for its pottery, is built by the side of the limestone cliffs and protected by a golden star hanging on a 200m chain suspended between 2 cliffs.

 

Gordes:  One of the best renovated village of Provence, the village turns gold at sunset Tip: where to go to have the best view

 

Roussillon: yellow, orange and red is the color of the houses in the small village of Roussillon in the Vaucluse department, just like the ochre ridge it stands on.

 

Fontaine de Vaucluse: famous for its spring. It is the biggest spring in France though I find it difficult to believe: at the time at our visit it was dried! The village is extremely popular, expect to pay 4euros of parking for the day.

 

If you like antique history, go to…

Pont du Gard – not exactly in Provence, but so close :-).  This UNESCo protected site is the most impressive part of what used to be the aqueduct providing the city of Nimes with fresh water.
Count at least 2h30 on site to go to the different points of view and visit the pedagogic museum (1h). If you are short on time, the 15min introduction movie is a great summary.
Tip: it costs 18 euros per car for the day, 10 euros after 7pm.Travelling on a budget? Leave the car at the camping and go there by foot (3km).

 

Orange‘s theatre – the best preserved roman theatre in the world. Visit with audio guide (1h-1h30)

 

Nimes – a bit further from the suggested itinerary but hosts spectacular arenas and the Maison Carree (square house), a roman temple.
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If you like markets

A farandole of colors, with tomatoes, figs, peaches, grapes, pears, apples, zucchini, cheeses, herbs, olive oil, honey, lavender… all of it, fresh and local!
There is always a market to go for each day of the week. They take place around the main square, between 9h-12h. Bring a huge basket!

 

Here are a few suggestions based on the places suggested in the itinerary
  • Bedoin – Monday
  • Gordes – Tuesday
  • Fontaine de Vaucluse – Tuesday
  • Roussillon – Thursday
  • Carpentras – Friday morning. One of the largest and best markets in the area.
  • Uzes – Saturday
  • Avignon – Wednesday, Friday, Sunday

5 days in provence – Itinerary suggestion

You will travel at a reasonable pace with a maximum of 3-4h of drive per day.

 

Day 1: Arrive in Castellane and spend the night there.
Day 3: Start the day with the Route des Cretes (1h30min of driving, stops included) and continue to the Lac de Sainte Croix. Stop at Moustiers Sainte Marie for lunch. Stop by Roussillon on your way to the village of Gordes where you will spend the evening and the night.
Day 4: Leave early for Fontaine de Vaucluse, the place really gets crowded with tourists. After just an hour of drive, you arrive at the splendid Pont du Gard that you can visit during the afternoon.
Day 5: You can start the day by strolling in the streets of the village of Uzes, before heading off for Orange and its antic theatre (50min drive). You can stay in Carpentras or Bedouinfor the night.
Day 6: Carpentras market -if it’s Friday!- and get back home.

 

A couple of suggestions of activities if you want to extend your stay
  • For the epicureans, visit one of the many vineyards
  • Stop in Avignon to visit the famous palace of the Popes, or explore Nimes
  • Take on the mont Ventoux by bike, just like in the Tour de France. The most difficult and famous road leaves from Bedoin and it’s a 1617 m ascent over 21,8 km to reach the top of the Giant of Provence (2h-2h30 for trained amateurs)!

Good adresses in Provence

Where to stay
Where to eat
    • Gorges du Verdon: Auberge du Point Sublime for a meal or  a sandwich
    • Moustier Sainte Marie: Has a good fromagerie  where you can buy provisions for a picnic
    • Gordes: Restaurant Le Loup Blanc (~40-50 euros per person)
    • Bedoin: Restaurant Le Grillon (26 euros per person for the menu)
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Make it happen – A trip to Provence

When to go
In summer, accommodations located directly in the Gorges du the river Verdon are the best option as you will benefit from a fresher climate, especially at night.

Notice that the period July/August is the busiest. Don’t plan to arrive without any booking. Especially for the 4 weeks between mid July and Mi August, you should consider booking several months in advance.

 

How to get there

Renting a car is a must to explore Provence. It will take you 1h45 min from Nice or 2h30 from Marseille to reach Castellanne, where starts this itinerary.

Post based on my Provence trip in September 2015, I stayed or ate in all places mentioned and loved them 🙂

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