If you’ve been following our epic French adventure, you’ll know this is part four of five in an overdue yet epic series. We began in Paris then headed north to Normandy & Honfluer, after we explored the Loire Valley we rounded it out with Provence + The French Riviera.
Part IV: Provence
We’ve all seen the National Geographic’esque photographs of sweeping purple fields of lavender, right? That’s Provence. Although, during our visit, we had just missed lavender season, but it didn’t matter a bit. There were enough chunky blocks of purple soap that distilled the lavender perfume from the area’s fields to remind us of where we were.
We picked up a rental car in Avignon, which if you’re traveling from Paris, is about 2.5 hours on the high-speed rail. From here we drove to what would be my favorite hotel of the entire trip: La Villa Gallici.
In the heart of the Provence region in the city of Aix-en-Provence, or just “Aix” pronounced “X,” is where we would call home for the next few days. La Villa Gallici is just five minutes from the city center created by three friends who, tired of lamenting Aix-en-Provence’s lack of a traditional country house hotel, took it upon themselves to create one. The hotel has just 22 room with a maximum capacity of 30 people, so you get the personal touches from staying at someone’s super fancy home. The decor is at the tipping point of excessive yet delightful. And as the two Francophiles that we are, we were in absolute heaven and lapped the French kitsch up. I still outline the layout of the hotel in my mind, hoping to build its replica as my own one day. A girl can daydream, can’t she?
Provence was exactly how I dreamt France might look and feel. It’s the whole “European countryside” wrapped in one package: former homes of famous artists, lavender fields, cobblestone streets, and quaint French bakeries to sustain you along the way.
Here are the highlights….
In Aix, eat here: Hue Cocotte. After a day of wandering the streets and markets with intermittent rain, we wanted something warm and comforting. Hue Cocotte hit the spot where the chef prepares all of his dishes in cast iron casseroles and serves them tableside. Paired with the local wine, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven. I thought about taking pictures, but I literally inhaled my food – my apologies.
On the recommendation of my Grandmother, we mapped out a day-drive to the art and celebrity magnet village of Saint-Paul de Vence which was less than a two-hour drive from where our hotel was in Aix-en-Provence. The drive was worth every roundabout we took and one of the highlights of our trip.
Museum visit: The Maeght Foundation where you can see all the greats under one roof –Picasso, Miró, Braque, Chagall, and Calder. A sandy courtyard made for the perfect location for the locals to play a game of bocce making the entire scene rather French.
We just found ourselves walking in and out of the old medieval and baroque facades while wandering from cafe to art gallery. Saint-Paul de Vence is known for their art galleries. You can find original pieces from some of the greats you just saw at the Maeght.
Must see/eat: Do not leave Saint Paul de Vence until you’ve eaten something at La Colombe d’Or (“The Golden Door.”) You can even stay if you wish as it doubles as a hotel, but I believe a day in Saint Paul de Vence is more than enough time to explore. La Colombe d’Or was founded in 1920 by a husband and wife who instead of accepting cash from artist guests for their stay/food, they accepted canvases, sculptures and art as payment. Today, the walls of La Colombe d’Or are covered in Picassos, Chagalls and the most beautiful Calder (below) near the pool that I’ve ever seen.
Editor’s note: I did not plan this trip on my own!
Sure, I did some research on where to eat but I was too busy getting married! Last on my list was arranging planes, trains + automobiles (all three modes of transportation were used!) I would be remiss if I did not thank our travel agent, Lynn Coleman, from TLC Travel who meticulously planned our entire trip. Never having used a travel agent before I was reluctant, but I wanted this trip seamless and stress-free. Lynn understood our interests in culture, the arts and budget, then buttoned up the rest. I can’t recommend her enough if you have an upcoming trip and want someone who has been to every corner of the earth while taking the reins, talk to Lynn. You can e-mail her directly at email@example.com