Looking back on what has been a fantastic summer, it is only fitting that I highlight my best travel experience of the season — a trip to and through Provence, France. Early this summer my mom, sister and I ventured to Provence for an epic “ladies only” vacation. Sharing essential facts, tips and photographs of my personalized Provence experience, I hope to prepare and inspire you for future travels to this spectacular region of the world.
Oh Provence, what and where are you exactly? Stretching from the marshy Camargue to the Alpine foothills, Provence is a magical, light-infused world, where the scent of pine and lavender hangs under an azure-blue sky. Provence has a history as rich as its soil: the monuments of the Roman Empire still stand proudly in Orange, Arles and Nîmes. But the most important pleasure of Provence is not the sightseeing but the leisurely pace of life, the passionate Provençal people, the sun-soaked landscape, the wonderful cuisine and a bottomless pot of cultural activity. Is it close to hustle and bustle of Paris? No, not quite. Check-out the map below where I have highlighted this region for you, as it’s located closer to Italy than to Paris!
To get there, you must obviously first make it to France. I always enjoy flying AirFrance – the flight attendants dress and act like super models while serving pretty decent plane wine. Now that you have made it to France, you have a variety of options. Many travelers prefer flying direct into Paris and taking the train down to the Provence region by way of Marseille (only 3 hours and 20 minutes on the speed train). However, for a much more convenient (and faster) experience, just connect to one of the local airports of this region. Provence has two major airports: Marseille-Provence and Nice-Côte d’Azur. The much smaller regional airports in Avignon, Nîmes and Toulon offer seasonal flights (during the summer season). A connecting flight from Paris will be no more than a brief 40 minute ride to most of these regional airports.
- Avignon-Provence, 8km southeast of Avignon
- Marseille-Provence, 25km northeast of Marseille. Year-round flights around France, Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Canada.
- Nice-Côte d’Azur, 6km west of Nice. Year-round flights to most European cities, plus North Africa, the Middle East, New York and Quebec.
- Nîmes 15km south of Nîmes,
- Toulon-Hyères, 25km east of Toulon.
A REST STOP IN AIX-EN PROVENCE
Once you are within the Provence region, renting a car is essential for overall convenience and seeing as much as possible during your stay. However, if you do not wish to rent a car, you can easily find alternative options involving a private driver, shared group tour or shuttle bus. Every airport listed above offers car rental options. With that said, I would highly recommend choosing a “home base” hotel and using your rental car to explore the various sites, villages and plethora of pleasures that Provence has to offer.
We flew into Nice and rented a car from there, driving an easy 2.5 hours up into the Provence region from the southern part of the country. There are fabulous little villages to stop at for lunch along the way. I highly recommend Aix-en-Provence for an awesome rest stop experience. If you can correspond your stop in Aix-en-Provence with the daily market (held between 8am and 1pm daily), then you hit the jackpot because this is one of the most famous markets in the country, and possibly the world! Mingle with locals and tourists while browsing delicious regional produce in an exquisite historical setting. For lunch in Aix-en-Provence, we went to the touristy but well-known Les Deux Garçons because of the central location – perfect for people watching and taking in the city. The food here was your standard brasserie fare, but a bit pricey because of the notoriety and central location which makes it very popular.
A WEEK STAY AT CRILLON LE BRAVE
After you continue your scenic drive through the countryside, you will notice the arrow pointing you upwards toward a tiny little town of Crillon le Brave, where the hotel is located. Walk, drive or bike up the steep hill and make your way past the local church, where you will find this majestic 5-star luxury oasis awaiting you. Arriving to this enchanted space is an experience itself.
As I noted above, it is important to pick a centrally located home base hotel or accommodation if you desire the convenience and flexibility to explore the million things that this expansive region has to offer. As for our home base, we chose one of my mother’s favorite hotels in the world – a Relais & Chateaux called Crillon Le Brave. The hotel could not have been more perfect or hospitable. We stayed here for a week and enjoyed every single ounce of the luxury, impeccable service and spectacular scenery this hotel had to offer – thank you again, Crillon Le Brave!
At the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail and Mont Ventoux is a charming and historic place in a location close to the heart of Paul Cézanne. Former meeting places – a presbytery, stables and a school – have been renovated, restored and converted into beautiful lodgings with wonderful views of “the Giant of Provence”, Mont Ventoux. This is an ideal Provencal base from which to explore the local markets, medieval villages, antique shops, lavender fields and artists’ studios. Other attractions: the abundant and fragrant cuisine of our restaurant Jérôme Blanchet as well as unforgettable Rhône wine tastings, featuring Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Take a look at my personal photographs capturing the scenic views offered at this hotel. Can you say, WOW? The variety in colors and the expansive sprawl of precious countryside is nothing short of picturesque. There is obviously a reason why some of the greatest artists in history came from this part of the world, don’t you agree? As soon as we walked beyond the lobby area, my jaw nearly dropped as I saw the scenic backdrop and for a moment, it was so beautiful that it did not even appear to be real, but rather a life-size painting before my eyes. This is truly the perfect destination for a special trip – honeymoon, anniversary, or simply a spectacular vacation with family & friends. I love everything about this hotel and although I offer a variety of activity suggestions below, you could stay at the hotel for an entire week and be completely satisfied doing nothing! Just staying at the hotel and taking in these immaculate views is a vacation in itself!
The hotel occupies much of the old historic centre of Crillon le Brave with the rooms and suites located in eight old village houses that are connected by bridges, alleyways and hidden courtyards. Each of the renovated houses has its own charm and character that reflect the rich history of the village. The furnishings and the decor of the rooms are exactly what I imaged for a stay in Provence – simple, fresh and elegant. We enjoyed a very cozy relaxation room on the first floor of our village house, equipped with endless magazines and even an ancient wood burning fireplace. Up the stairs from the relaxation room, our suite had farmhouse windows that overlooked the greenery and beauty of the region from every angle. All amenities, such as the showers and soaking tubs were modernized but still maintained old world charm.
The heating swimming pool was one of the highlights of my stay. What a gorgeous body of water built into the side of the hilltop. I could float in this pool for hours taking in the scenic views, lavender smells and relaxing pleasures of Provence (and yes, you know that I did). Each day I took different photographs of the pool, which constantly looked different based on the time of day and the particular status of the weather when I snapped the photograph.
There are three different restaurants within the hotel premises at Crillon Le Brave. The first and the most fancy, goes to Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, the hotel’s premiere dining experience. Inside a stone vaulted space, guests can indulge in a four-course Menu de Saison or the seven-course Menu du Chef tasting menu. Each month, Jérôme creates a menu dedicated specifically to the produce most perfectly in season at that time. Weather permitting, the restaurant has private spaces on the terrace overlooking vineyards and olive groves of Provence. The most notable course of my dining experience here was the variety of the dessert cheese platter. I tried nearly every cheese offered with honey, figs and jams oh my! Mr. Blanchet is a culinary genius and I feel honored to have dined with him here at the hotel’s premier restaurant.
Here is the man behind the magic, picking up locally grown produce for dinner prepared that evening.
For a more casual dining experience, daily breakfast and lunch is served upstairs (above the pool area) at La Grange. This massive terrace overlooks scenic natural beauty, where the light is constantly changing the colors of the space and views. As you can see in my personal photographs, the green and blue colors are constantly evolving because of the fluctuation in clouds and sunlight exposure. Here at La Grange, I enjoyed my fair share of freshly made croissants and delicious salads produced with all local ingredients from nearby farms. For a lunch time treat, pair your meal with a glass of house Rose – produced within a few miles of the hotel. I also should note, if you are American and find yourself a bit homesick then you may enjoy the house burger — a juicy classic burger served with a slice of goat cheese on top.
The relaxed and casual ambiance at Bistro 40K made it the ideal place to enjoy our first meal at the hotel. What intriqued me the most, was that literally every item on the menu was from the “local garden” or the “local butcher” or the “local bread maker” — bottom line, everything served is just that – local! The area of Provence within 40 kilometres of Crillon le Brave is a heartland of agricultural production … asparagus from nearby Mormoiron, pork from the Ventoux, épeautre (spelt) from Sault, and of course, vineyards and olive groves everywhere you gaze. This small bistro style restaurant brings together all the fresh flavors of the region into simple but savory meals. I loved the cozy feel of the space and look forward to coming back during the winter months where I can enjoy the warmth from the giant fireplace.
If these three restaurants are not able to satisfy your hunger, well then something is wrong with you. No only kidding, lady. But have no fear, if the restaurants inside the hotel premises are a bit to pricey for your budget or foi gras is not your thing, Le Petit Crillon is a casual cafe located just a few steps away from the hotel. With a menu boasting everything from salads, sandwiches to even a good old-fashioned American style hamburger, you can’t go wrong. Plus the owner, and waiter, is a nice older French guy who will take the time to smoke cigarettes and share a drink with you while discussing the history of the tiny village. After a long afternoon of biking, my sister and I popped in here to have a classic ham sandwich and Heineken beer. It was simple and satisfying, especially after a 30 km bike ride.
Activities and Excursions in Provence
What is a lady to do when she is visiting Provence? The possibilities are endless. But before we go through the various activities and excursions that await you, I would first like to remind my readers that you could be completely content staying put and doing absolutely nothing here. Yes, I said it – nothing! Grab a good book and sit by the pool, enjoy a glass of wine and don’t move an inch – Provence is a place that exudes relaxation and tranquility because of the beauty all around you. However, if you are like me and get a bit ansy sitting around a pool all day (even if it is absolutely gorgeous), then follow my tips for the best activities the region has to offer.
First, let us start with the obvious activity of Provence – biking. Frequently home to the legendary Tour de France, Provence is the perfect place for leisurely or intense biking. The hotel provided us with several biking paths mapped out based on how far you were willing to bike. My sister and I were up for a challenge and spent a day biking the lengthy route of 37 km – talk about a workout, ladies! We didn’t race, though, and made sure to stop and smell the lavender fields – yes, literally (see below photographic proof). When hungry, we simply pulled over to the side of the road where cherry trees surrounded us and grabbed a piece of fruit for a quick snack. And when thirsty, isn’t the answer obvious with acres of vineyards surrounding the roads we biked? Yes, of course we made sure to stop at a few vineyards along the way to taste wine and make new friends. Several groups of bikers were taking “wine breaks” at these locations as well, so even the more formal vineyards were very hospitable to bikers stopping in their workout clothes for a quick taste.
Aside from the “doing nothing activity” (i.e. reading a book by the pool), biking various paths through the countryside, my last and final favorite activity in Provence was what I like to call village hopping.
My mom, sister and I would make a list of places we wanted to explore that particular day based on the market schedule and recommendations from various locals we met along the way. From there, we would map out a well crafted plan for the day based on the proximity to each village, get in the car and go! It was the most exhilarating and entertaining part of the trip.
We sped around windy and narrow roads, often times going up or down a giant mountain, and would frequently experience the rush of seeing nothing but land for 20 minutes and then suddenly discover a sleepy village perched on the top of a scenic mountain. Most of these villages that we explored would only be within 30 or so minutes of each other, so venturing from one place to the next is definitely doable in a single day. Because we had multiple days in Provence, we would visit about 2-3 villages per day to give ourselves plenty of time to enjoy local restaurants, historic sites and of course, some shopping! Take a glimpse of my photographs below as I take you through the various sites we saw in this village hopping experience. My “must see” villages will be listed below the photographs, so make sure to take note of where to go for your next trip!
As mentioned before, for a very active day of traveling and exploring, with roughly 1-2 hours spent in each location you can likely visit about 3 to maybe even 4 villages in just one day. If you want to take your time enjoying your village stopover with a lengthy meal and some aggressive tourist activities (site seeing and shopping), I suggest sticking to no more than 2 villages per day.
LADYHATTAN APPROVED VILLAGES:
- Gordes (the most beautiful village in Provence on the Ladyhattan list)
- Ménerbes (featured in Peter Mayle’s bestseller book “A Year in Provence”)
- Grasse (city of Perfume – yes, they produce all the famous fragrances here in this small town)
- Venasque (known for abundant vineyards, lush orchards, plentiful markets)
- Les Baux-de-Provence (stellar views from the mountaintop village – make sure to see both the “live city” and the “dead city”)
- Roussillon (rich deposits of ochre pigments found in the clay that make this town vibrant with incredible colors)
- Lacoste (10th century chateau located here is most famous for being the home of the infamous Marquis de Sade)
- Gigondas (with only 700 habitats, this is renown vintage at its best)
- Brantes (picturesque mountain village)
Being one of the top travel experiences of my life, I would like to thank my traveling partners in crime – my mother and sister! We had a blast cruising through the mountains as we hopped from village to village; even during a few of the “oh no” moments of the trip (i.e. when we became terribly lost in the middle of nowhere), we still managed to laugh and find fun in speaking french with locals. If I could sum up what I loved so much about Provence in just one word, it would have to be the word “culture” — this place exudes everything about French culture! From the farm to table food, natural scenery, wines, perfume production, boutique shopping and mountainous biking — this region of France is the mecca of it all!
A big thank you to all the wonderful members of the team at Crillon Le Brave for making our stay super special – we appreciate your kindness and hospitality, as we look forward to returning soon.
If you are interested in learning more about the Provence region or you are considering making a trip to Crillon Le Brave, please feel free to contact me with any specific questions about the hotel or a particular village that we visited on this trip. For all other inquiries, including hotels and/or restaurants interested in being featured by Ladyhattan, please email Ladyhattan@gmail.com for more information. Until the next sweet escape.