Guide to Holidays and Villa Rental in Provence
There is a great selection of guide books and websites available giving full details of tourist attractions in Provence. However we would like to share with you our personal favourite things to visit, see and eat in Provence so here is a brief list:
Markets: Large market, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9am to 12:30, Place de Verdun
Flower market, every day from 9am to 12:30, Place de l'Hôtel de ville, Place des Prêcheurs.
Local producers market, every day from 9am to 12:30, Place Richelme. Antique and Old books market, from 9am to 6pm, first Sunday of each month, Place de l'hôtel de ville .
Shops: There is an endless choice of chic boutiques, but we often find our favourite bargains in Monoprix on the Cours Mirabeau, as well as the markets, of course.
Restaurants: There are many to choose from; these are our favourites:
Délices du Liban, 33 rue Lieutard, tel 04 42 26 79 91
Cy Tam (Vietnamese) 29 rue Verrerie, tel 04 42 27 28 11
Le Cintra 14, Place Jeanne d’Arc, tel 04 42 27 57 01 is good for a basic meal and is open every day until 3am.
For a lunchtime meal al fresco, we enjoy the characterful houses, vibrant atmosphere and choice of restaurants in Forum des Cardeurs.
Festivals: During the week of June 21st, the whole of France celebrates Midsummer Day with music. There were outside concerts for all tastes throughout the town - ask at the tourist office for details for all events - there is always something going on in this lovely lively town!
Museums: The Musée Granet has an excellent collection of 16th - 20th century French paintings as well as works from the Dutch, Flemish and Italian schools.
Walks: Apart from exploring the little streets and squares, Aix has a number of parks which are pleasant for a stroll. For a walk with a theme you could look for the fountains for which the town is famous - there are about forty of them.
Art: The Paul Cezanne trail is a self-guided tour that takes you through the life of Cezanne, from his birthplace to his studio, where you can see his personal belongings, his tools and an unfinished painting sitting on an easel. More details from the tourist office.
Art: La Fondation Angladon 04 90 82 29 03
History: 14th century Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), the Antiquaire quarter, ancient streets and ramparts, and of course the famous Pont de St Benezet, as immortalised in the song.
Public transport: TGV railway station (fast train service) – 2km south of the city centre, near the hospital – regular shuttle service into the city. The SNCF railway station (national train service) and gare routière (bus station) are near the Porte de la République, on the south side of the old city. Local bus information centre – 1 Avenue de Lattre de Tassigny. Tickets may be bought from the drivers and the TCRA kiosks throughout town.
Theatre: The annual theatre festival (July – August) has brought the town alive since 1947 with theatre, music, dance, fringe events in the streets, not forgetting thousands of spectators.
View: A climb of 172 spiraling steps to the top of the Tour Philippe Le Bel will be rewarded with a panoramic view of Avignon and the surrounding area.
Bories: These are the little stone buildings you will see dotted about the countryside here, traditionally used by the local shepherds.
Chapelle Notre Dame de Provence: If you go here late on a Sunday morning, you may hear the carillon being played manually – the only one in Provence.
Cycling: There is a 78km cycle circuit from Forcalquier, taking in the Montagne de Lure – the route is marked with a blue arrow. (Or follow the white arrow for a 236km circuit of the Lubéron!)
Bike hire: Café-bistro de la Tonnelle at Ongles, 04 92 73 19 89 about 10km Forcalquier.
Festivals: Feast of St. Pancreas, the 4th week of May. Bd. de la Tourette Fair, the first week end in July. Provence Art, Crafts, and Food Fair, early August.
Markets: Very good market on Monday mornings, and an even bigger one on the first Monday of the month. Foire à la Brocante every Sunday during July and August.
Music: Every Sunday in July and August there is a carillon and an organ concert.
Restaurants: We ate well at nearby Banon at the Restaurant des Voyageurs, tel 04 92 73 21 02; one of those delightful places where you can choose from a variety of salads as a starter. We followed this with wonderful red mullet and dessert. Very good value for money (fixed price lunchtime menu), and extremely popular. Or try the Bistrot de Niozelles at Forcalquier, authentic Provençale cuisine from a Marseillais chef, lunchtime menus from €10. 04 92 73 10 17
Tourist information office: 13, place du Bourguet 04301 – Forcalquier. 04 92 75 10 02
View: There is a great view of Forcalquier and the surrounding countryside from the Citadel (see above).
Wine cellar: Cave de Régusse, Boulevard des martyrs – mainly regional products 04 92 75 06 51
Famous for its antiques - twice a year, at Easter and over the August 15th holiday, nearly 300 local antique dealers (who open their shops at the weekends) are joined by over 200 dealers from all over France for France’s second major antiques fair.
Other markets: Provençal market on Sunday and Thursday, Bric-a-brac every Sunday, book market the last Sunday of each month, floating market the first Sunday of August.
Festivals: Festival of the Sorgue in July (music, theatre, exhibitions). Parade on the canals at the end of July.
Restaurants: Le Cours d’Eau, 15 Esplanade Robert Vasse, tel 04 90 38 01 18.
Market: Every Friday morning.
Festivals: end of May, Vineyard and Wine feast, even years Lourmarin, odd years Cadenet.
Restaurants: There are 16 restaurants and 3 café-brasseries to choose from. L'Antiquaire
Rue du Grand Pré, tel 04 90 68 17 29 has good reviews.
Walks: Several trails pass through Lourmarin, including the Grand Randonée 97.
Sisteron – situated on the banks of the river Durance, nestling in a gap between two mountain ranges. Appealing little streets. Good selection of shops and restaurants.
History: Visit the Citadel which guards the town, and the 12th century former cathedral, Cathédrale Notre Dame des Pommiers et Saint Thyrse.
Museums: Musée de Terre et Temps (about the earth and the measurement of time); Musée Scout Baden Powell – the history of Scouting.
St Remy de Provence
Markets: Wednesday morning throughout the historical centre streets. Saturday morning - small market - place de la République.
Restaurants: L'Industrie, 21 Boulevard Mirabeau 04 90 90 10 19 - delicious meal accompanied by good wine (Cotes du Ventoux) and very friendly service. We found the Brasserie du Commerce, 22 place de la République, tel 04 90 92 09 95 to be very good value for money. Also recommended: Chez Xa, 24 boulevard Mirabeau, tel 04 90 92 41 23; l'Olivade, 12 rue du Chateau and Le Cigalon, 8 boulevard Marceau (fish and seafood) 4 32 62 03 82 (These have some good reviews on Trip Advisor as well). For a special treat, le Bistrot de l'Eygalières, 04 90 90 60 34 10km east of Saint Remy, has 2 Michelin stars.
Festivals: St Remy Provençal Feria 12th - 15th August - bull running (no animals are killed, in fact the bull takes pride of place at this event) and traditional music.
Art: Walk in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh - starting at the Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum where he stayed from 1889 to 1890 you can follow a walking trail with 21 illustrated signposts taking you through the wonderful landscapes that inspired the great impressionist.
History: Just 1km from St Remy is the archaeological site of Glanum - a beautifully preserved Roman town.
The lovely 19th century gardens at Chateau Val Joanis near Pertuis are planted on three terraces carved out of a slope, surrounded by vineyards. There are guided tours of the winery, wine tasting and a wine shop on site.
View the creation of two well-known French garden designers at the remarkable Alchemists' garden, 10km east of Saint Remy at Eygalieres.
At Graveson, 10km east of Saint Remy de Provence there are two gardens to see. The owner’s passion for aquatic plants and fish is evident at the delightful garden Aux Fleurs de l'Eau, created in 1997. At the organic Aromatic garden with its Musée des Aromes et du Parfum, essential oils are distilled from the plants, and natural horticultural products are on sale in the shop.
The garden at the Prieure de Salagon near Mane is well worth a visit for plant lovers - 2000 species on display. There is a medieval garden full of medicinal herbs, a fascinating contemporary garden displaying a number of interesting plants from all over the world used in various ways in our daily lives, and a scented garden that is being renovated at the moment (autumn 2010). The 12th century priory is also very interesting - you can look through the floor to Roman remains! - and there are various cultural exhibitions depicting, for example lavender harvest and basket making. If there had been a restaurant, I think we would have spent the whole day there - the French visitors all had beautifully organised picnics, naturally.
Golf de Pierrevert, near Manosque.
Sometimes our tenants’ travel arrangements mean that they arrive in France a day or two before the start of their villa rental and we are often asked to suggest or hotels or chambres d’hôte. Here are some of our personal recommendations.
Aix-en-Provence, Hotel Le Manoir 04 42 26 27 20. characterful, quiet location in centre of old town with car park and reasonably priced.
St Rémy de Provence, Hotel du Soleil 04 90 92 00 63. Quiet and comfortable, 200m from town centre.
We love the wonderful bookshop Le Bleuet in Banon, with lots of different rooms packed with books and browsing book lovers!
Wine tasting: opportunities for ‘degustation’and sales direct from the wine producers abound throughout Provence, home of Côtes du Rhone, Côtes de Provence, Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape, amongst others. There are also festivities throughout the year to celebrate wine production - and many other local products - see local tourist offices for details.
Markets: Some are big and bustling, with a wide range of things on sale, like Apt and Forcalquier; some are small gatherings of people selling their own produce in a village square. We have indicated whenever we have details that a market is 'paysan' - a farmers' market, but this is a guideline, not comprehensive, so please check with the local tourist information office for more details.
Apt Saturday (main market) and Tuesday morning (farmer's market).
Arles Wednesday and Saturday morning
Banon Tuesday and Saturday morning (small market).
La Brillanne Friday afternoon
Cadenet Monday morning
Cavaillon Monday/Friday morning
Céreste Thursday morning
Cucuron Tuesday morning
Gordes Tuesday morning
Gréoux-les-Bains Tuesdays and Thursdays
Lauris Monday morning
Manosque Saturday morning
Ménerbes Artists and artisans market on the second Sunday in August
Reillanne Farmers' market on Thursday and Sunday morning
Roussillon Thursday morning
Saint Tulle Wednesday morning
Sisteron Wednesday and Saturday
Uzès Saturday morning
In Aix-en-Provence the Planetarium and observatory, is of interest, Avenue Jean Monnet, tel 04 42 20 43 66.
Water Parks Aquacity is on the RN 543 at Pennes-Mirabeau near Marseille with a crazy collection of rides for all ages, a variety of food outlets and free parking, tel 04 91 96 00 11. La Pyramide at Istres has a tidal wave swimming pool and water chutes, tel 04 42 56 99 99. Aqualand is near Saint Cyr sur Mer, tel 04 94 32 08 32.
The Crocodile Farm 10 minutes from the A7 motorway (Montelimar sud exit) - see the 300 crocodiles roaming in a huge exotic greenhouse - unforgettable!
To see more animals, visit the Tortoise Village at Gonfaron,( about 100km east of Aix-en-Provence) tel 04 94 78 26 41, (a non-commercial conservation project to protect the famous Hermann’s tortoise, once native to the area around the Mediterranean, and home to 2500 tortoises altogether) and the Donkey Reserve (just opposite the Tortoise Village), tel 04 94 78 26 41.
Fort de Buoux - ruins of what was originally a 12th century fort, which has been added to over the years - excellent views over the Aigue Brun valley and great for children to explore - strong shoes and supervision needed. Take the D113 off the D943 between Lourmarin and Apt - the fort is signposted.
The Haribo Museum at Uzès demonstrates the fascinating history of sweet-making - enjoyable for children of all ages. Tel 04 66 22 74 39 for further information.
Evolution 2, Lac de St Cassien. Family adventure park and Via Cordata, also pedalos for rent. Children aged 5 up. 04 94 76 40 63.
Leisure park, Le Village des Automates, Le Cannat – moving models, animals, games and lots more. 04 42 57 30 30
Villages to visit: as recommended by our previous tenants on holiday in Provence:
Aups – attractive little streets interspersed with shady squares, lots of fountains, plenty of cafés and little shops. Famous for olive oil mills and it’s ‘Fougasse d’Aups’ made with olive oil and lemon. Aups market on a Saturday was highly recommended by some of our tenants.
Banon - Known for its distinctive cheese, wrapped in chestnut leaves. Also for Le Bleuet - an incredibly big bookshop for such a tiny village.
A guided walk around the village organised by the Syndicat d’Initiative was recommended by previous tenants as very interesting (some understanding of French needed!) Medieval old village. Picturesque 18th century church. Local shops, bars and restaurants.
Dauphin - Very quiet and unpretentious perched village with tiny cobbled streets, picturesque buildings and spectacular views from the castle walls. Restaurant Le Pie Margot, rue du Barri 04 92 79 51 94, bar serving snacks (Bar du Nord) and small food shop (épicerie) on the Boulevard du Nord. Boulangerie / patisserie rue du Pourcheirieu. Guided visits of the village available during the holiday season - ask at the Syndicat d'Initiative 04 92 79 52 76.
Eygalieres – 10 km St Remy de Provence. Peaceful perched village with lovely stone houses, winding streets and a ruined chateau. Superb views across to the Alpilles and the Durance River. Epicerie and Friday market, 12th century chapel (Saint Sixte) and local history museum in 17th century chapel.
Gordes - Beautiful village in breathtaking position on the cliffs of the Plateau de Vaucluse. At its most stunning in the early morning sun. East of lsle sur la Sorgue. Visit the Abbaye de Senanque and the ancient Village des Bories (little dry stone houses). Choice of restaurants. Tuesday market. Very popular with tourists in the summer.
Moustiers Sainte Marie - picturesque medieval village dramatically situated at the base of cliffs, lovely red-tiled rooftops, waterfalls and river. Famous for Faience pottery. Restaurants and cafés. Visit the 12th century Notre Dame church, or, for fantastic views, take the steep path up to the 8th century Chapelle de Notre Dame de Beauvoir.
Pierrevert - peaceful medieval village sitting on a large rock. 13th century chapel and many interesting features of ancient buildings. Wine produced on village hillside - Coteaux de Pierrevert - awarded Appelation Controlée status in 1998. Sunday market recommended by previous tenants - “a huge variety of local produce!"
Roussillon - between the mountains of the Vaucluse and the Luberon about 11km north west of Apt, perched village remarkable for its buildings of ochre-coloured stone. String quartet festival - concerts in the church between June and September. Walks through the disused ochre quarries. Choice of restaurants. Market on Thursday mornings.
Tourtour - Officially designated one of the most beautiful villages in France. 27km north west of Draguignan. Attractive square, shaded by huge olive and plane trees. 16th century chateau, 17th century olive oil mill and fossil museum. Restaurants and cafés.
Volx – Halfway between Forcalquier and Manoque. Waymarked walks in the Foret dominial de Volx – stout footwear and plenty of water essential. Views across the Durance valley to the mountains. 100 climbing routes on the rocks in the area. Local shops, bars and restaurants. Market on Tuesdays.
The Camargue: marshes, wetlands and the delta plain of the Rhone – a unique landscape, and quite different from the rest of Provence. Home to wild white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos, as well as several hundred other bird species. If you are prone to insect bites, don’t forget your mosquito repellent.
Les Gorges du Verdon – France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. At 250 – 750m deep, this is the deepest gorge in Europe, the river Verdon at the bottom is a very striking bright green, and it is stunning. Opportunities for hiking, canoeing, white water rafting – or just enjoying the spectacular sights.
The Citromuseum, on the N85 Route de Digne, near Castellane - 5 minutes from the Gorges du Verdon - a unique private collection of over 50 post-war vehicles - essential for fans of vintage citroens!