My Best of Provence itinerary
I’ve chosen the end of May/beginning of June, and early September for my inaugural tours. The days are long and usually warm. Rain is rare. For me the oppressive heat of the summer sun makes touring in July and August undesirable. Early Spring can be chilly, as can late Autumn.
Saturday – Day 1
Pick up at an agreed time from either Avignon TGV or Marseille Marignane airport.
Guests can arrive any time after 4pm at Chateau Constantin, located 1km outside the Luberon village of Lourmarin (earlier check-in may be available on request).
At 7pm we will enjoy a Champagne reception gathered around the swimming pool overlooking the vines. This will be followed by a gala welcome dinner provided by our in-house chef.
Sunday – Day 2
Departing Lourmarin at 9.30 am we will drive into the heart of the Luberon nature park where vultures and even eagles ride the thermals. We will visit the village of Roussillon, famed for its red soil. Local legend has it that a jilted lover threw herself from a cliff and her blood stained the soil for miles around. The real reason for the red soil is of course the village’s ochre mining past.
Guests can choose either to explore the picturesque village and/or take the Sentier des Ocres walk. The walk takes 30 minutes or 1 hour depending on the route chosen and takes in scenery reminiscent of depictions of Mars in sci-fi movies.
The next stop will be the renowned hill-top village of Gordes. For decades it’s been an ultra-chic retreat for wealthy Parisian families and French celebrities. Gorgeous villas dot the hillside, cypress trees spear the sky, and village houses blend imperiously and almost imperceptibly with the cliff face. We’ll enjoy the view that has enchanted countless artists and then split up to explore the village and have lunch.
First stop in the afternoon will be the lavender museum in the nearby village of Coustellet. Provencal lavender will just be breaking into colour during the May/June tour. The plant is harvested at the end of July during peak flowering. The visit to the museum will enable us to discover the history of lavender production in Provence, and the many uses of the plant.
Heading back towards the villa we will stop at the Roman Pont Julien Bridge (3BC). Dipping our feet into the cool waters of the Calavon river we will delve into the history of the Roman occupation of Provence.
Our last stop on the way back to the Chateau will be at a viewpoint overlooking the Calavon valley. From high in the hills there’s an unforgettable panorama of the hill villages of the Luberon looking north towards Mont Ventoux.
We’ll aim to be back at the villa at around 4.30pm.
At 7pm I’ll lead a tasting of Provence’s finest rosés and explain the reasons behind the continuing popularity of pale pink wine. Afterwards we will have a three course supper together.
Monday – Day 3
We will head-off at around 9.30 am for L’Isle sur La Sorgue, the so called the Venice of Provence. This charming Provencal town is built on the branching waters of the Sorgue river. It’s one of the most famous centers for antiques shopping in France and there’s an eclectic range of items on sale, all of which can be shipped.
L’Isle sur La Sorgue boasts plentiful picturesque restaurants for lunch.
The next stop is Avignon. The most famous sight is the Palais des Papes, but Avignon also offers world class art galleries and museums, as well as excellent shopping. The group will split-up to enjoy the city as they please. I will of course be on hand with plentiful local knowledge to point people in the right direction.
We will arrive back at the Chateau at 6pm.
Ahead of our visit to Aix and Arles, the cities of Cezanne and Van Gogh respectively, a local artist will join the group at 7.30pm for a “drink and draw” class. With sketch pads in hand we will try and appreciate how Cezanne and Van Gogh revolutionised painting. To loosen our drawing fingers we will enjoy a range of Rhone wines, including Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas, and Vacqueyras. Supper will be served during a break in the class.
Tuesday – Day 4
Morning, lunch and afternoon
Departing the Chateau around 9.30am we will head to the beautiful city of Aix en Provence. Thanks to its wide streets and imposing buildings it’s also known as the Paris of the south of France. We will spend an hour together as a group, during which I will give a walking tour, orientating the group, and introducing the history of the city. Afterwards the group will split up for the day to enjoy the city. Top sights include, Cezanne’s atelier and the viewpoint from which he painted Mont Sainte Victoire, and the Musee Granet, a world-class painting and sculpture museum. The city also offers some of the best shopping in Provence.
We will arrive back in Lourmarin around 5pm. Those with the energy for some more sightseeing can head to the village’s night market. In the space of 5 years the night market has quickly become a village institution. It’s a farmer’s market selling local produce. Shoppers buy from the traders and then take a seat in the nearby café and enjoy an aperitif.
We will then have supper together back at the Chateau.
Wednesday – day 5
Departing Lourmarin around 9.30am we will head for Arles. The city boasts the best collection of Roman sights in Provence – a Roman Arena, a Roman Theatre, Roman baths, and even a Roman Graveyard. It’s also where Van Gogh completed many of his most famous paintings, as well as being the home to an exciting new modern art foundation – Luma Arles. Once again I will give a brief orientation and historical tour to the group, before we split up to pursue our own interests. As always I will be on hand to help with recommendations throughout the day.
On the way back to Lourmarin we will stop at Domaine Vallongue. This wine and olive oil producing estate is one of the region’s best. We will tour the olive mill and enjoy a wine and olive oil tasting.
Back at the Chateau we will have supper together.
Thursday – Day 6
Departing Lourmarin around 9.30am we will head for the Mediterranean and the port of Cassis.
We will split up to explore the port and enjoy lunch. Regrouping in the afternoon we will take a private boat tour out into Les Calanques. The thirteen or so rocky coves that punctuate the coast between Cassis and Marseille are renowned as one of the most beautiful and remarkable stretches of the Mediterranean. Access is either on foot or by boat. The waters are crystal clear and our group will have the opportunity to swim in secluded sections of the coast.
Returning to the villa we will enjoy a special gourmet truffle evening, with delicacies such as truffle pizza, and cheese laced with truffles. Based on my book about training our dog to find truffles I will share the secrets of truffle hunting in Provence with the group.
Friday – Day 7
Friday morning is market morning in Lourmarin. The village is home to one of the largest and best Provencal markets. I’ll conduct a brief tour of the market before setting everyone free to shop to their heart’s content.
The afternoon is free. Guests can choose to relax by the pool or from the stay at home options (see below) or take part in a Provencal cookery course.
The last evening will begin with Provencal aperitifs such as pastis, rinquinquin and of course rosé. For those feeling sporty there will be a boule competition. Afterwards we will enjoy a BBQ.
Stay at home options:
Tennis class (€36 per hour book in advance) – Lourmarin has an excellent tennis coach who has worked with top tour professionals. If you would like lessons during your stay please let me know.
E-bike village tour. Lourmarin is surrounded by picturesque villages. The best way to see them is to hire an electric bike. A 10km round circuit will take you through Vaugines, Cucuron and Ansouis. It’s a great way of spending half a day, with perhaps a stop for lunch at one of the many restaurants I can recommend. (€26 for half a day)
Exploring Lourmarin – Lourmarin has a 12th century chateau, countless artist studios, plentiful boutiques and numerous cafes and restaurants. It’s a delightful place to wander around and is always full of Provencal ambiance.