|a couple enjoying the hilltop scenery from Lacoste (c) 2016 by David Ourisman, all rights reserved|
Provence flew by, one charming town after another, beautiful sights, great meals, and four different hotels over the course of five evenings. That's why I haven't had a chance to post day-by-day reflections about all we've seen and done ... and why I'm putting together this best of Provence post for now. I'll write more detailed articles later!
How do I love thee? Let me count the Waze. We would have been lost (literally) without Waze, the free iPhone app that provides spoken driving directions all over the world. Some tips for using Waze:
1) If you're driving in France and know some French, choose Vanessa, the French language voice, to provide the narration. The English voice totally butchered the pronunciation of the street names, making them totally incomprehensible.
2) Take advantage of WiFi when you have it to lock in your next destination. You don't want to start in the middle of nowhere, without a strong enough cell signal, to get yourself "found." (You can also download a section of Google Maps to your phone for off-line use. We found this to be helpful at times.)
3) Keep your eye on the moving map as you travel. It will help you choose the correct exit off the many roundabouts.
4) Waze will get you there, even if it's on tiny little country roads. You may end up at the back door of your destination, but trust Waze!
5) When traveling in the country, turn off "toll roads" and "freeways" to take advantage of the great scenery. When traveling in more populous areas, turn on these options. We learned the hard way. Traveling through Nice while avoiding freeways at rush hour is not fun!
Thank you to the hotels who provided hospitality during our time in Provence.
1) La Mirande is the Virtuoso option in Avignon. Right next to the Papal Palace, it is the former home of a Cardinal, now a very friendly and authentic small Provençal hotel.
2) La Couillade is a Relais & Chateaux resort well situated to be your base for visiting towns like Gordes and Roussillon. Featuring outstanding food and two great resort pools, this hotel will appeal to visitors who admire its minimalist yet stylish room decor.
3) La Domaine de Manville is a very appealing French resort. Part of Small Luxury Hotels with its own 18 hole golf course, we loved our Junior Suite with terrace. Large, high ceilinged, with tall windows, its decor was stylish and contemporary with French accents that worked together extremely well.
4) Villa Gallici is a Virtuoso property with a spa and beautiful gardens located on the north side of Aix-en-Provence. Our Deluxe room was a bit cozy, but we loved its traditional French decor — extremely elegant without over-doing it.
We enjoyed a superb tasting meal for lunch at La Bastide de Marie. I can't say enough about how good the meal was ... and the wine parings. I don't normally eat beef, but the beef fillet was perhaps the best I've ever had. This property has a lovely setting and rooms decorated in a traditional Provençal style. If authenticity is what you're after, I cannot recommend this hotel strongly enough.
Cooking class with Jean-Marc Villard - Jean-Marc has retired to Maubec and offers cooking classes in his home to small groups. We spend a whole day with him and four other students, visiting a local market and preparing a three course French meal designed with our food preferences in mind. I never imagined how much is involved in creating a beautifully presented meal.
1) Roussillon — a hill town with reddish-colored buildings, reflecting the ochre deposits in the area. Be sure to take the Ochre Trail; 2.50€ admission per adult to this beautiful, shaded walk.
2) Bonnieux — a cute little hill town. It's worth the climb to the ancient church at the top of the town.
3) Lacoste — another cute little hill town. Most of the parking is on the north side of the village.
4) Saint Remy de Provence — Come here if you want great shopping and/or are a fan of Vincent Van Gogh. You can visit the sanitarium where Van Gogh spent some years of his life, learn about his story, and see his bedroom.
5) Gorges du Verdon — Moustiers Saint Marie is a beautiful small town at the western end of this incredible region of France. The drive through the gorge is simply gorgeous. Are the words etymologically related?
Final thought: visit Provence during the shoulder season. We were able to find parking everywhere at the end of September, although sometimes with difficulty. I can't imagine how difficult a visit must be during the summer months when the small roads are crowded with cars and busses ... or how you could possibly find parking.
copyright (c) 2016 by Ourisman Travel LLC. All rights reserved. We provide Virtuoso and other Preferred Partner amenities as an affiliate of Brownell Travel. If you have comments on this column, or questions about booking travel, email me or visit my website.