Ben and I spent three wine, olive oil, and garlic-soaked days in the Provencal countryside. The entire trip, I felt as though I had fallen into the pages of a storybook, and—provided the four bottles of wine I shoved into my suitcase survive our train ride to Paris—I could not have asked for a happier tale.
We are officially THIS ridiculous. Amazing what gorgeous scenery and a handy portable tripod will inspire.
Provence is a region in the south of France known for (among many things) its lavender, herbs, olive oil, and generous application of garlic. It’s also home to one of France’s largest and most affordable wine regions, the Cotes du Rhone, as well as a smattering of hill-top villages that seem too picturesque to be true.
The town of Roussillon. At this moment, I asked myself: “Is this my real life?”
Because the area is fairly spread out and remote, it’s not accessible by public transportation. We opted for our own set of wheels, and Ben connected with his inner Formula One driver on the miles kilometers of windy mountain roads. (FYI for anyone looking to do something similar: I booked directly through Hertz and it was a breeze.) Here’s our noble steed:
We spent our first two days in the Luberon mountains, an area of Provence that stole my heart when I ready Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence years ago. We spent a day and half cruising from village to village, breaking for wineries, two-hour lunches, and to snap photos of the breathtaking views.
Just after leaving Fontvert Vineyard, where we received an impromptu tour (and picked up a little souvenir.)
Jumping for joy outside of Gordes.
We spent a night in Roussillon, a pink-hued village that was positively peaceful, in the home of the sweet Madame Cherel (highly recumbent, so feel free to email me if you’re heading to the area and would like her info.)
Along the streets of Roussillon + How I plan to paint the garage doors of Ben and my future home.
From the Luberon, it was on to Vaison-la-Romain and the Cotes du Rhone for a wine safari. The Hotel Burrhas in Vaison-la-Romaine made a fantastic home base for exploring, and at each winery we visited, the enthusiasm and sincerity of the attendants was tangible.
Both of the above pictures were captured at Domaine de Mourchon Winery, a vineyard that blends old-school practices with new-age technology.
Maison de la Truffle et du Vin in Menerbes (where A Year in Provence takes place.) This treasure of a shop stocked wines from all over the Luberon, at vineyard prices. We loved the wines from Tara and picked up a white to bring back to Paris.
At one point in our journey, Ben was called from above to drive to the top of one of the highest peaks in the region, Mount Venoux. This mountain is actually a part of the Tour de France. Driving it was relatively exhausting, so I can’t even imagine biking to the summit!
At the summit of Mount Ventoux. I totally biked this, Lance Armstrong style…in a cardigan.
Arles was our final stop. This is the city where Van Gogh fled to escape a lonely life in Paris, and—like Ben and I—he was overwhelmed by the vibrancy of the region and its people. Unlike Ben and I, Van Gogh churned out a slew of masterpieces. We retraced his steps, visiting the scenes of many of his most famous works.
At the site of Les Arenes D’Arles
Sipping a glass of wine at the actual cafe that inspired this familiar piece:
Cafe Terrace at Night, by Vincent Van Gogh
La Cafe La Nuit (the modern cafe that sits in building Vincent actually painted) might be a tourist-trap (ahem, an absolute must-visit for a cheesy Impressonist art-nerd like myself), but it taught me a very valuable lesson: even the French are not above putting ice cubes in their white wine to cool it down. Our over-priced, room temperature white was served a glass of ice. We all may be classier than we dare suspect.
I loved the vibe of Arles itself—a little rough around the edges, sparkling with history, and ice cream every two feet (we’ve been eating it after every lunch and dinner, so Ben’s French ice cream vocab is now fantastique). We stayed at the Hotel Regence, which was nicely kept and within reasonable walking distance of the train station and major sites.
Throughout our entire trip, we have also been making a point to choose local restaurants with authentic regional cuisine. Here are a few of the highlights:
Omelettes and fries with a vineyard view at Les Coquelicots in the tiny town of Suzette.
A simple Provencal dinner at Le Castrum, a Roussilon restaurant situated in what must be the most charming town square in all of Provence.
A gorgeous marinated veggie salad with a view to match at Bar/Restaurant de France in Lacoste.
Muscat, a sweet and shockingly delectable white wine at La Bartavelle in Vaison-la-Romaine. I am NOT a sweet wine girl, and I could not sip enough of this apricot-flavored nectar.
My favorite meal in Provence: the Aioli Plate at the Hosterllerie de la Reine Jeanne in Les Baux. Freshest of fish, lightly sautéed vegetables, soft-boiled eggs, and a fabulously monstrous serving of garlic-celebrating aioli to smear over the whole shebang + a refreshing glass of local rosé. This photo does not come close to justice. I adored every colorful bite!
The only meal we didn’t particularly care for was on the main square in Vaison-la-Romaine at Le Festival. It was located directly next to our hotel, and we selected it for convenience, but the food was overpriced and lacked flavor. I much would have preferred another round with this guy:
The catch of the day, a.k.a. French food gets real at Au Brin du Thyme in Arles. In case you were wondering, I was not expecting the fish to be so…whole. C’est la vie. It was almost as good as the escargots I had as an appetizer. When in France!
Thanks for joining me on the latest leg of my French adventures! As this post goes to print, we are heading to Angers, where I first studied abroad and fell for this country. I cannot wait to be reunited with my host parents! From Angers, we are off to Burgundy, another of France’s most celebrated wine regions. Since I squeezed four bottles of wine into my suitcase in Provence, I’m sure I can handle five in Burgundy, right?
A la prochaine!
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