Provence, France is an unbelievably beautiful province in the south of France. Here you’ll find fields blanketed in red poppies, the air fragrant with lavender and acres of sun flowers; some of the finest wines in the world; and a cuisine ranging from rustic breads, cheese and wines, to an array of rich gourmet delights.
Caromb, Village of the Vaucluse (Our Base)
A few years ago on vacation we stayed in a small villa on the outskirts of Caromb, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. The village itself, is located high in the foothills of the Ventoux and has preserved some interesting monuments within its ramparts; a 14th century Romanesque church (the church of Saint Maurice); a 16th century Belfry with the towns coat of arms and the fountain on the square circa 1749.
Like so many visitors to this region, we started each day with fresh baguettes and croissants followed by a visit to the town market to purchase food for dinner as well as wine from a local winery. A favorite meal is the local specialty, ‘pork and white kidney beans au gratin’, the locals will tell you that ‘cassoulet is a joke, compared to this’ …. And they’re not wrong!
Each day we packed the car and ventured out to explore the surrounding towns and villages. Here are the 5 reasons to explore Provence in the spring time.
1. Historic Hilltop Gordes
We took a day trip to Gordes, a charming hilltop town, built of stone, with excellent restaurants and great views of the surrounding area. In the middle of the village is a castle, which was partially rebuilt Renaissance style in 1525. During WWII, Gordes was an active resistance village, and was later awarded a medal. After a period of reconstruction, the village attracted artists like Marc Chagall, Serge Poliakoff and Vasarely.
2. Roman Ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine
On another excursion we found, nestled between the Alps and the Mediterranean, the town of Vaison la Romaine. It sits at the foot of Mont Ventoux, the “Giant of Provence”. This is a charming town, with a superb outdoor market, stone fountains, medieval churches and Roman Ruins. It dates back to the Bronze Age and was once the capital of a Celtic tribe prior to the Roman conquest. Vaison is composed of 2 sections, built on either side of the river Ouveze. The Roman ruins and modern town on one bank and the medieval town, atop rocky cliff, on the opposite side.
3. Lively Aix-En-Provence
Aix-en-Provence, or simply Aix, is a must-see if you’re in the area. It’s a lively city-commune, about 30km north of Marseille. It’s often referred to as the city of a 1,000 fountains. The old town has narrow, irregular streets and mansions dating back to the 1600’s. Aix is well known for its hot springs, art schools, many universities and research institutes. It’s a modern city steeped in culture, as well as Romanesque architecture.
4. Explore Papal Avignon
On a visit to Avignon, we saw medieval city walls and the remains of a 12th century bridge over the Rhone, as well as the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms. It’s enough to make you dizzy, a virtual showcase of medieval architecture. Avignon is also home to a world-famous arts festival. If you stroll the winding streets, you’ll see many galleries housing small but impressive collections, including a Van Gogh.
5. Wine Tasting in Chateauneuf-du-Pape
A short drive from Avignon you can sip wine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a famous wine village entwined with papal history. Here you will savor wines once favored by Popes, Kings and favorite of Ernest Hemingway. The region makes more wine than the entire Rhone region. The village streets are narrow, curving around the hillside or climbing up and down between the houses. Throughout the village, cellars (caves) and estates offer tasting sessions to understand the fantastic diversity of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.
I wholeheartedly recommend Provence, particularly if your interests lay in the arts and/or history. It’s truly a pictorial paradise.