P is for Provence. After a week of exploring the region, here are some tips for planning your next trip.
The podcast episode
On this week’s podcast episode, you’ll hear from Suzannah and Hugh Cameron from the antique shop Chez Pluie Provence, and then some close family who joined me on the recent trip. Listen below or wherever you get podcasts.
But first, what is Provence?
Provence is the southeastern part of France, it borders Italy and the Mediterranean Sea. The charm of Provence comes from its ancient villages, old markets and picturesque fields of flowers. Artists throughout history have flocked to Provence praising the region for its incredible light.
When asked what makes Provence so magical, Suzannah from Chez Pluie said it was the light and the flowers. As the seasons change you see a full spectrum of flowers: “it starts with poppies in spring, with rolling hills behind, after that you have lavender in June and then later on you have the sunflowers that turn their heads to look at the sun”.
To get a taste of the magic of Provence we recommend visiting the numerous charming small villages. Below are our top five places to seek out in the region.
Hard to pronounce, easy to enjoy. Many people haven’t heard of l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, so now is the time to add it to your list. l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a delightful colourful town located between two streams, known for its impeccable antique shops and charming markets. On the podcast we called this village “the antique mecca of France” and it’s true, there are many very well established antique shops in the town. You may not necessarily find a bargain, but you’ll certainly find quality and unique pieces that you would not be able to find back at home. There’s really a bit of everything here. What’s more, every Thursday and Sunday there are markets selling fresh produce, antiques, clothing and gifts. This town really hits the spot.
We also went on a little adventure in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and rented canoes. The company we went with was called Kayak Vert. There are, however, many options in the region offering similar services at similar prices. We paid €20 each to join about 10 other “adventurers” just out of town, then we canoed towards the town itself over a leisurely hour or two on pristine and see-through waters. Then a small bus took us back to the meeting point. We would recommend this experience for anybody who doesn’t mind getting a little splashed.
Now, if you’re looking for a quieter town to immerse yourself in village life, then Oppède is the place for you. Oppède is separated into two villages: Oppède-les-Poulivets (meaning “nice view” in Provencal) and Oppède-le-Vieux (meaning “the old” in French). Oppède is a lesser known medieval village in the Luberon valley and my goodness did we love the unique charm of this peaceful village.
Start your visit by checking out Oppède-les-Poulivets, making sure to pay a visit to restored church of Notre-Dame-Dalidon and then take a hike up to the top of the hill to visit Oppède-le-Vieux. Here you’ll see the ruins of the 12th century medieval town paired with an exceptional sprawling view over the provencal farmland below.
We’ve been here several times but there’s a reason why we keep coming back to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. This petite town is incredibly charming. You really can get the feel of it immediately and it has everything you want out of a provencal town in the south of France. There are pleasant winding streets, charming shops selling local produce and goods as well as a buoyant atmosphere brought on by cheerful locals and visitors alike. It is easily a place one can come back to time and time again.
Vincent Van Gogh painted Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and its surrounding area during his stay at the Saint-Paul-de-Mausole asylum from 1889 to 1890. The clinic and its gardens became the subject of his work during this period and he created some of his best known paintings during this time, including “The Starry Night”. You can now visit the asylum he lived in and the surrounding locations he painted. We thought it was great and a terrific insight on a now revered yet once very troubled artist.
Ménerbes has all the classics for a perfect small provencal town. There are adorable cafes, lovely bakeries, gorgeous restaurants as well as a seasonal market every Thursday. What’s more, the walled village of Ménerbes is on a hilltop, so as you explore the village you have a spectacular view of a provencal landscape. The town has long attracted artists, so you may well know of it thanks to Peter Mayle, the writer of the book “A Year in Provence”. Ménerbes is well worth a visit.
Located beside the Rhone river, Avignon is well known for its medieval architecture, charming streets and its annual theatre festival in July. On our visit we explored the town, took in the 14th century walls that surround it and marvelled at the medieval hald bridge: the Pont d’Avignon. Although we didn’t visit it this time, we would love to come back to explore the Palais des Papes, a large and impressive medieval gothic palace. Compared with other towns in Provence, Avignon is much larger, so we’d recommend spending a little more time here than the other places on this list.
That’s it! You now have a beginner’s itinerary to Provence. Enjoy your trip.
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Additional reporting from Charlotte Pleasants.