Discover: Provence with family

Find unique experiences and travel tips for a memorable 4-day family trip to one of France’s most beautiful regions. Discover lavender field photo shoots, violet hot chocolate, 18th century farmhouse-turned-hotel stays, award-winning cheese, chocolate and olive oil tastings, charming local markets, unforgettable sunsets and more.

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Provence is a dream. A beautiful dream, from which you may never want to awaken. Picturesque towns shimmer in golden light, while fields of lavender give way to roads lined with colourful wildflowers, gorgeous vineyards and ancient trees. Days filled with scenic drives, aimless walks and lazy lunches ease into sunsets and starry nights that continue to inspire generations of artists.

Places appear as if conjured from romantic novels: borie (stone)-filled Gordes, view-endowed Bonnieux, ochre-sheathed Roussillon, pretty Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, historic Avignon, artistic Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, rocky Les Baux, wild Camargue, vineyard-rich Bandol, green Gorges du Verdon or glitzy Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez. Yet, it is not merely the beauty of places that differentiates Provence; it is the sheer unpretentious charm that surrounds them.

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To do or not to do, that is the question

When in Provence, the biggest mistake is to try and do it all. The second biggest mistake, is to not do it all. The scenes, flavours and experiences change as the locale changes. To truly experience all that Provence has to offer, it is most important to slow down.

Getting on that tour bus to try and see it in a day will let you do just that: “see” it. Not, experience it. The difference between the two is very simple: drive past a lavender field to admire its beauty, but walk amidst the plants and you will hear the bees buzz as well as inhale the fragrance.

Dream the dream….

Pick the dream you want to live. While the entire region is incredible, we chose to opt for a more simple, country experience with family. Considering there was an infant and two toddlers, we managed to cover quite a bit.

Here are 10 of our favourite experiences:

1. Drive from Gordes to Sault (one of the lavender routes): Scattered lavender fields, wildflowers, vineyards and orchards dot the gorgeous road. Even if you have time only to reach halfway, the scenic views are worth the detour.

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Pretty surprise – wildflowers along the drive from Gordes to Sault

2. Explore local markets: Each market is as unique as its locale. We opted to explore the relatively smaller and more eclectic markets, but for a more complete experience, mix it up with visits to markets in Avignon or Aix. A book by Marjorie Williams, The Markets of Provence, provides detailed coverage for each of the markets. Based on the day(s) of your visit and interest, select the appropriate venue. Do keep in mind though that parking can be problematic in many of the places and plan ahead for painful traffic.

For example:

  • Gordes is a bit touristy, yet musical with a lot of fresh food, fruits, juices, produce, cheese and more free-flowing clothing.
  • St. Remy is more artistic, with paintings and budding artists scattered among artisanal foods and funky apparel/accessories.
  • Lourmarin is very relaxed, with a lot of homemade food and casual clothing. Visit the stall Les arômes méditerraneens for a range of delicious dips such as artichoke white truffle and pimento mustard. Or, walk around and pick up some freshly baked lavender or raspberry cookies.
Travel tip: Halt for fabulous vegetarian bruschetta and refreshments at Le Comptoir after you have browsed to your heart’s content.

3. Pause to pose: Provence, especially its stunning lavender fields, provides the perfect backdrop for a memorable photo shoot. Trust Rosemary Jackson, a very talented local photographer, to find the perfect setting for a beautiful photo shoot. She also provides invaluable tips and suggestions to enhance your trip.

Photo shoot in the lavender field near Joucas, Provence

4. Walk into paintings: St. Remy is like a living painting. Van Gogh’s living painting. As the eccentric genius lived in the monastery there for several years, a large majority of his paintings are inspired by the surrounding scenery. The Van Gogh Art Walk pairs his paintings with the exact location that inspired them – use the map provided for a self-guided tour of the different scenes he painted. Viewing the town from the eyes of one of the world’s greatest artists adds a unique perspective and way to experience the town. Suddenly, you might take a closer look and notice the play of sunlight on olive tree leaves.

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Tip: This is a child-friendly experience as it is outdoors and allows for learning with play amidst nature.

5. Discover culinary treasures: A trip to France is incomplete without some gluttony. Eat away or take back some delicious souvenirs:

  • Chocolate: If there’s only one chocolatier you can visit, make it chocolatier Joël Durand’s creations. With a flavour for every letter of the alphabet, you will be spoilt for choice. Expect perfectly balanced, yet intense, flavours with an element of surprise.
Tip: Try the violet chocolate. The intense and velvety chocolate with the aromatic and flavourful violet is a taste that is not soon forgotten.
  • Cheese: Though fresh cheese abounds in the region and especially at the markets, serious cheese lovers should visit La cave au fromage in St. Remy for award-winning fresh cheese paired with delicious local wines and fresh bread. Pick up some fresh fruits and dessert from the market for a complete meal. Note: Communication in English is a challenge, but manageable.
  • Olive oil: No better way to strengthen your relationship with this cooking essential than by engaging in some olive oil tasting at a plantation or mill. The taste of fresh cold-pressed olive oil will forever change how you see this staple. Truffle lovers should use the opportunity to stock up on some delicious truffle oil. Visit Moulin du Calanquet in St. Remy, a mill that has been with Brun family for five generations. Or, head to Les Baux for a taste of award-winning oils at Les Castelas.
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Offer an olive branch…or a bunch of olives!

6. Visit a lavender field, distillery or museum: The Musée du Lavande in Coustellet provides an overview of lavender and lavandin as well as the entire distillation process, along with a selection of products from Le Château du Dubois. Skip the lavender tea that has a rather soapy aftertaste, but snag the gel refrâichent, which is a God-send for aches or pains of all kinds.

 

7. Go town or city-hopping: Provence lures the explorer with its postcard-perfect villages, towns and cities. Be it the villages of the Luberon, the sights and cities of the Alpilles, the magic of the Camargue or the glamour of the French Riviera. Each, unique. Each, incredible. If you want to build in some rest and relaxation however, prioritise and know that you simply cannot do it all at once.

Travel tip: Most of the large cities have tourist train rides that are perfect to get a quick lay of the land and some brief local history. However, do note that these close by 6pm, so plan ahead to reach on time.

8. Stay in a classic French countryside retreat: One of the highlights of our trip to Provence was a stay at Le Mas de Fauchon, a member of the Château Hôtels Collection. A quintessential Provençal experience, the property is an 18th century farmhouse that has been converted into a quaint hotel. Surrounded by scores of pine trees, yet within a 30-min drive of Aix-en-Provence, the hotel is a lovely country getaway.

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A piece of Provençal countryside – Mas de Fauchon

9. Catch a sunset: Look around or simply ask around and you will find some lovely spots to enjoy gorgeous sunset views:

  • Taste one of the best artisanal ice creams of the region at Les Glaces du Tinel in Bonnieux. One mouthful of their Pistachio ice cream and it is clear why. Grab a seat outside or take it to go and seat yourself near the wall opposite to watch one of the most beautiful sunsets of the region.

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  • While in Bonnieux, head for dinner to La Flambée for some delicious pizza and soup pistou (minestrone with pesto). Book a table on their terrace for one of the best views of the Luberon.
  • Visit the Ochre Trail, Sentiers des ochres, in Roussillon and enjoy a multi-hued sunset. However, do note that the trail closes at 6pm. During summertime, catch the sunset from the viewpoint just before the trail starts.

10. Dine at a Provençal table: The quintessential image of Provence is one of eating elaborate meals at a beautiful table overlooking fields or farms. To make the vision a reality, dine at Mas de Fauchon in Saint-Cannat (near Aix-en-Provence).

If planned ahead, they rustle up some fabulous vegetarian regional specialties such as Ratatouille and Provençal potatoes along with delicious fresh pasta or mushroom risotto. The dessert is delightful and wines wonderful, but the view is fabulous. The tables overlook the family’s stud farm, so at any given time, there are a number of horses in the coral below. Surrounded by trees all around and atop a slight hill, the hotel reflects the image that appears when Provence comes to mind.

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Dinner amidst the Provençal countryside

Beyond the Yellow Brick Road…

Some journeys go beyond a destination, to a place within. Long after the trip ends, thoughts collide and emotions flow: flashes of beautiful scenes, memories of slow days, joy over places seen, regret over experiences missed and nostalgia over a fun family trip. Sometimes, travel is not as much about the place as what the place becomes because of the people with whom you experience it.

The missing piece…

Provence is special not just because it is beautiful or because it has fabulous food, but because it touches the heart…a feeling of finding something that has been missing. Maybe a reminder of times when life was simple. Or maybe, finding that life still can be. Much like the beautiful traditional carousels that are at the heart of virtually every large town.

…The beauty of travel is that sometimes it helps you find something that you never knew you were seeking…

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Travel tips:
  1. Those traveling with kids may want to visit Parc zoologique de la Barben, a wonderful zoo in the area near Saint-Cannat. However, do note that there is a lot of walking involved.
  2. Those travelling in the month of June should note that summer solstice is celebrated with several musical fêtes. Think: Live bands, dancing, drinks and fresh food.

 

Author: Mansi Kamdar

Experiential travel enthusiast and blogger. I love vegetarian food, fine wine, fine chocolates and Chunky Chips Ahoy. I am not racist, but I refuse to call "white chocolate" chocolate. My dream is to eat at each of the World's 50 best restaurants. It certainly helps that the husband loves to travel and dreams of watching a cricket match in every stadium in the world. We are currently on track to achieve our goals, but indulge in more "wholesome" holidaying as we are now accompanied by two adorable little imps.

58 thoughts on “Discover: Provence with family”

  1. This is a fantabulous post on so many levels! Thanks so much for sharing your Provence visit with us. I didn’t have the luxury of a relaxing visit (mine was all biz, and very little play.) But would love to go back and do the art walk, and investigate more chocolate made in Provence. I definitely found some, but wasn’t aware of Joel Durand. But then maybe he wasn’t making chocolate in 2009 when I was there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You might want to visit during the sunflower season instead! Regardless, food in Provence is fantastic year round. Peter Mayle, author of “A Year in Provence,” was once asked to state the difference between the French and English in one word. He famously replied: “lunch”. I have to agree!

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  2. Love this article! It’s so informational completed with a lovely inspiring quote at the end. As a Van Gogh fan myself I would love to visit this place where he lived, must be amazing to see his paintings and live vicariously (during the city visit) through it

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    1. Thank you. It was definitely a unique experience. Each site that inspired a painting had a brief mention of the painting as well as a quote or excerpt from Van Gogh’s writings about it. It makes you look more closely at everything and see beauty in things that you may never have noticed otherwise. Having said that, most of these are in the countryside around the monastery and not in the main town itself. Still, very beautiful.

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  3. This area looks so inspiring, plus local markets and street markets are my favourite activity of all when I travel. I find it is a great way to mingle with people from the place and taste local flavours. I really adore your pictures. And those odd chocolate combinations sound so teasing.

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  4. Provence does look indeed like a dream! I have only visited Normandy in France and I simply loved the architecture, with those villages made entirely out of stone houses with flowers on their windows. I would love to go to Provence and see at least one lavender farm, the aromas there must be fantastic. The town’s farmer market’s also sound like something I wouldn’t miss. I’m a big foodie.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a beautiful blog post!! I am definitely going to use this guide for my well desired trip to Provence. I just love the way you ended it by saying that ” it touches the heart…a feeling of finding something that has been missing. Maybe a reminder of times when life was simple. Or maybe, finding that life still can be. ” How can I not go there after that? 🙂
    Alessandra

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  6. Great post and love this sentence: When in Provence, the biggest mistake is to try and do it all. The second biggest mistake, is to not do it all… it’s hard to find a balance! Hoping to see Provence next year. We love markets, food, scenery and wine, so it might be the perfect place for us 🙂

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  7. I wish that we had more time last summer to explore Provence. It is an area that drips romance and dreams. To see a lavender field and to indulge in the foods, the chocolates and the cheeses, is a perfect day. You can’t help but swoon over your photos!

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  8. Omg!! What a place! I want to get lost in those fields. I’m a sucker for landscape. This is the first time I’m hearing about Provence. Thank you Mansi for introducing the world to this place. I’m gonna write this down to my bucket-list. Loved how you put it: Pick the dream you want to live. Simply beautiful! 🙂

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  9. Some really great photos to compliment an already information-packed guide. Provence certainly appears like a very romantic region (aren’t they all?) but kudos for bringing the little ones along. Children can often add so much to a trip (and not just headaches) and while they might be too young to remember anything, I’m sure they’ll be very appreciative of it later in life. Really liked the phrase “When in Provence, the biggest mistake is to try and do it all. The second biggest mistake, is to not do it all.” The eternal problem for the traveler!

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    1. Thank you Gareth. It is amazing how much kids do remember. They have certainly changed the way we travel and see the world. Most importantly, they have taught me to slow down. That’s where the traveler in me has to balance with the parent in me…definitely not an easy task! 🙂

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  10. Very interesting article, I like the tips you wrote and the pictures! Lavender’s fields are a must see and smell, it must be reinvigorating to be there! I’d really like to visit Grasse, I saw it first in a movie and I’m looking forward to going there!

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  11. The beauty of Provence borders on the surreal. It is no surprise that Van Gogh lived here. I am sure when in Provence one may start believing that you are actually in a painting.

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  12. Provence looks like a really beautiful place. I really loved the lavender flowers, cheese making and the rustic hotel you stayed in. Quick question: Doesn’t so many photographs on the blog slow you down??

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  13. This was such a detailed and awesome post! I have always had the urge to pack up and move to France, just hasn’t come to fruition just yet. Your photography is awesome, looking to read much more ! :d

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  14. What a great post. We have always wanted to go to Provence, and you’ve just made it feel like I was there. I especially enjoyed when you walked into the painting in St. Remy. Spectacular scenery. I also didn’t know that their was a Van Gogh art walk. How cool!

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  15. Nice article! This really suits to family I must say. Provence seems to be a happy place and very light. You have there beautiful photos of the place especially the lavender’s field.

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  16. Sounds like the summer solstice is the perfect time to visit. Music and festivals make for a great visit. I would love to get some photographs of those lavender fields and taste the violet chocolate!

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  17. The lavender farms seem so dreamy and lovely. And the local market does seem so vibrant and interesting. Definitely something that I would love exploring. Bonus…the Van Gogh walk

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  18. Wow, what a thorough review of Provence! The markets definitely seem like something I would enjoy, and the architecture is just beautiful.

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  19. Really admire the hardwork that has gone to compile this post. It must have taken a lot of work to put up such a comprehensve post. I have always fantasized about the Lavender fields of France and would use ths post as a guide someday to explore them.

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  20. Oh Provence! One of my childhood’s dreams. When I was 11 I got seriously interested in painting. When you say Provence, I can see hundreds of Impressionist paintings in front of my eyes. I still haven’t been there though.

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  21. These pictures are amazing, so I can only imagine what it’s like being there in real life! The last one with the dog jumping over the rock wall is too cute! Also, obsessed with this sentence..”When in Provence, the biggest mistake is to try and do it all. The second biggest mistake, is to not do it all.” That is applicable in so many places!

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  22. Glad we had saved your blog- heading to Provence in few weeks and your tips are certainly useful. Do you have any additional recommendations besides Mas de Fauchon for an elaborate Provencal dining experience? Regards- Bharat 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. We’re planning our five day journey by splitting stay near Gordes (3) and then L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (2). Aix- en-Provence would be a bit of detour for the dine experience. Something near Gordes would be ideal. Any recs?

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  23. Thank you- digging into this list now! We had also reached out to our B&B hosts for recs.

    Looking forward to share our experience when we are back!

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