With 300 days of sunshine per year, fertile soil, fragrant herbs, a fascinating history and unusual clear light Provence extends an invitation to our senses!
Day 1: 2-3 mile easy walk around Pont du Gard
The tour starts in the early afternoon with a transfer from the TGV station in Avignon to the Pont du Gard for our first afternoon walk. We’ll walk on the north side of this 2000 year old, beautifully preserved aqueduct, one of the wonders of the Ancient World and a “must see” in Provence. We’ll enjoy nice views on the river down below and Chateau de St. Privat on the other side of the river. Then we cross over the Pont du Gard and admire this world wonder from a panoramic viewpoint on the other side. Afterward we’ll spend some time in the brand new “Grande Expo du Pont du Gard”, a very interesting multimedia exposition, before we drive to the spectacular, medieval village of Les Baux. Here we’ll find our intimate, tastefully decorated family-owned hotel with charming bedrooms in Provençal style, all with a small balcony and a view (the best in the area) of the Alpille Mountains. We’ll dine outside on the terrace or in the romantic, inside dining room, an unusual, warmly illuminated cave cut right into the rocky mountain to which the hotel is attached. You also might like to take a dip in the pool before dinner!
Day 2: easy to moderate 5 mile walk from St. Rémy to Les Baux
France offers many special “Grande Randonnée” footpaths for gentle walking and we are fortunate to find some here in Provence. Before we begin however, we’ll visit “Les Antiques” near St. Rémy, where we’ll find two extraordinary Roman monuments, the Triumphal Arch dating from 20 AD and the particularly well preserved funerary monument dating from 30-20 BC. It was constructed by the Julii (descendants of an important Roman family) in honor of their father and grandfather and has magnificently sculpted sides. You’ll have time to return tomorrow afternoon to Glanum for an optional visit of the museum and Roman town ruins but today we’ll start our scenic walk through lush, quiet woods, passing by the lake of St. Rémy. Gradually we’ll climb up into the Alpilles with terrific views on our surroundings and then slowly approach Les Baux. The village of Les Baux, rightly classified as “one of the most beautiful villages in France”, is a bare rock spur with dramatic vertical cliffs and a ruined castle on top. Here in the Middle Ages, the lords of Baux, whose motto was “warriors all – vassals never”, ruled with an iron fist. You’ll learn more about their history after lunch when you visit the chateau on the upper level of the village, from where, on a clear day the Mediterranean Sea is visible! In the village below we’ll find well preserved Renaissance houses, cobble stoned streets, delightful boutiques, shops and café’s. Relax by our hotel pool before dinner tonight in Les Baux.
Day 3: easy to moderate 5 – 6 mile walk around St. Rémy
Today’s adventure commences with a walk starting at the Ancien Monastère de St- Paul-de-Mausole, the 12th century monastery that was converted to a psychiatric hospital. It is here that Vincent van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself for a year and created some of his most famous paintings including “Starry Night”. We’ll follow the monastery’s ancient walls and walk past meadows with knotty “Van Gogh” trees, olive groves and through a forest of cedar trees to a plateau with spectacular views over the rugged Alpilles. At the top we’ll glimpse the highest mountain of Provence, Mont Ventoux. The serenity here is wonderful and if we’re lucky we may spot soaring eagles high above us. Then we continue on to the “Glasses of Van Gogh” or the “Rock with Two Holes” represented in one of his paintings. It is thrilling to actually walk up and sit in the holes with a panoramic view of St. Rémy in the distance. A fabulous photo opportunity! Eventually we’ll return to St-Paul-de- Mausole, still a sanitarium today, to visit the peaceful space where the great artist tried unsuccessfully to rid himself of his demons. After lunch in an outdoor café in St. Rémy you’ll have time to visit the Roman town of Glanum, still being excavated today or roam around in Saint Rémy, rich in culture and history and definitely “chic”. Shopping opportunities abound here or you could visit the well conceived Centre d’Art in the beautiful 18th century mansion Hotel Estrine where an audiovisual display and thematic exhibitions illustrate Van Gogh’s work and the time he spent at St. Rémy. Later we transfer you (and your shopping bags) by van back to our hotel in les Baux for another gourmet dinner in our hotel’s atmospheric restaurant.
Day 4: easy walking, 2-4 miles in Fontaine de Vaucluse and Roussillon
A Provencal open-air market is a must on a tour in Provence and today we’ll stop by the weekly outdoor market in St. Rémy, one of the nicest markets in this area. You’ll have plenty of time to admire the baskets of fruit, vegetables, olives, cheese, local wines and to taste some of the local products! A feast for the senses! Afterward we drive to Fontaine de Vaucluse, the captivating “enclosed valley” with its surging spring water, extolled by the poet Petrach who lived here for 16 years, seeking peace in the tranquil Sorgue River Valley. We’ll have lunch in one of the outdoor cafés and walk the scenic path along the bright green River Sorgue to the hidden spring. You can visit a historic paper mill or walk up to the ruined chateau before we drive to wonderful Roussillon, and its incredibly brilliant Ochre Mines whose vivid red and yellow hues make it a photographer’s paradise. Late in the afternoon is the perfect time to photograph this natural landscape and the colorful ‘red” village, perched high on the mountains. You’ll hate leaving this delightful village but ten kilometers away, we’ll find another one of the “most beautiful villages in France”, charming Gordes and our hotel “home” for the next three nights. Each room in our luxury hotel is wonderfully unique and the food, lovingly prepared by the chef is “délicieux”!
Day 5: moderate 6 – 8 mile walk around Gordes
We’ll start today with a walk from our hotel on an ancient, cobble stoned trail down to the 12th century Sénanque Abbey, a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, harmoniously placed in perfumed lavender fields in the Senancole Canyon. After our peaceful visit we continue our walk along the murmuring brook through the lonely canyon valley to the unusual “Village des Bories”, a fascinating collection of 200 year old stone bories or huts consisting of loose, grey stones piled together. It is hard to believe that these stone pilings were inhabited until the early 19th century. A lovely path will bring us back to Gordes so that you can stroll along the small, sometimes steep, alleyways. You might like to visit the splendid Renaissance Chateau which houses an exhibition of the works by the contemporary Flemish artist Pol Mara. At your own leisure walk back to our hotel. Dinner on your own this evening in one of Gordes’ fine restaurants.
Day 6: moderate 8 mile walk in the Grand Luberon
The Luberon is a wooded mountain range that stretches from Cavaillon to Manosque and it is a walking, hiking and mountain climbing paradise beloved by the French. Here you’ll also find many of the picturesque small villages that Peter Mayle described so well in his popular book on Provence. One of them, Bonnieux, we’ll visit after our morning hike. We’ll begin our walk on a shaded country road and soon we’ll be climbing gently up to a plateau with magnificent views over the Aigue-Brun Valley. We’ll pass by the tiny village of Buoux and the Chateau de Buoux as we walk along the Ubac Brook. Far above we’ll spy the tower of the cloister in St. Symphorien and a pleasant walk along the rustling Aigue-Brun River will bring us back to our starting point. From here we’ll visit Bonnieux, an attractively terraced village situated on a Luberon promontory, still surrounded by vestiges of its ramparts. From the terrace in the upper village we’ll have a lovely view of the valley and on a clear day, a view on Gordes, Roussillon and Mont Ventoux, a perfect way to conclude your Provence vacation.
Day 7: After breakfast we’ll provide a group transfer to the TGV station in Avignon for the train ride back to Paris or the next leg of your European vacation
Tour Begins: at 12:15 PM in the Avignon TGV station. You can easily reach Avignon from Paris by TGV train (about three hours). For last minute train schedules visit the website of the French Railways. You could also consider flying into Nice Airport and then take a TGV train to Avignon. We’ll meet at the “Meeting Point” in the north side of the TGV station, just outside of Avignon. If your schedule allows enough time, we recommend that you spend a day or two before or after our tour exploring this fascinating city. Take a train or bus from the local train station to the TGV station to meet the group there.
Tour Concludes: in the morning of day 7, after breakfast, with group transport back to the TGV train station in Avignon. The ride back to the station takes about 40 minutes.
Tour Dates: May 21-27, June 18-24, September 10-16 and October 1-7
Tour price includes 6 nights lodging in 4 star hotels with private facilities; entrance fees to the “Grande Expo du Pont du Gard”, the St-Paul-de-Mausole Psychiatric Hospital, the “Village des Bories” and the Sénanque Abbey. Also included: 6 breakfasts and 5 dinners, expert French guide service, support van, all transportation during the tour, baggage handling and all taxes and gratuities for the hotel and restaurant portions of the tour.
Not included in the tour price are: airfare, alcoholic and bar beverages, lunches, gratuities for the guide, transportation other than scheduled transfers and other items of a personal nature.
Weather and Climate: this region is known for its mild climate, warm days and cool nights. Average High and Low Temperatures:
April 68/52, May 72/54, June 78/61, September 77/60 and October 68/52
Walking: The average distance is 3-8 miles per day. The terrain is easy to moderate and the walking is mostly on wider, smooth footpaths. Well fitting, supportive, “broken in”, hiking boots are very strongly recommended for this tour, not because it involves dangerous mountain hiking but because they give a better grip on the occasionally loose, rocky surface.