Spend a wonderful week in the land of Van Gogh and Cézanne, where the quality of the light has been renowned for centuries. You'll come to appreciate the bounties of regional cuisine and wine while discovering the area's many delights. Restaurants and sites, many of which are not found in guidebooks, are carefully chosen for their character and ambiance to create an unforgettable experience. This week also includes some time to explore and discover Provence on your own, in an unhurried way -- l'art de vivre -- the "art of living"!
Day 1: Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
If you land in Paris you may wish to take the TGV (train à grande vitesse - fast train) to Avignon, a 2-½ hour train ride. Otherwise we strongly suggest a day in Avignon the day before the tour where we meet you at the train station and transfer to the charming Provençal town of Fontaine-de-Vaulcluse on day one of your tour. Along the way we first stop in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to partake in the weekly Sunday market. It is here that over 300 Antique dealers call home, but on Sunday this may be one of the best in Europe. The market fills the center of town until 1:30 and we send you out on a mission for picnic goods and then walk along the banks of the river to enjoy our discoveries. Later that afternoon we walk off our lunch with a journey to the rivers source. We should have enough time to relax with an aperitif within the peaceful ambience of our hotel situated along the banks of the river. Or you may first wish to further explore this town built around a spring in a valley at the foot of the Vaucluse Mountains before the first of many delicious meals together.
Hotel: 3* in Fontaine-de-Vaulcluse Dinner: At the hotel
Day 2: Ochre and Roussillon
Before lunch we take part in a 2 hour walk within the "Provençal Colorado", by far the most spectacular of the ochre sites. It is here, not far from Rustrel, that a small stream flows from Gignac to Apt, and when the rains swell up it sweeps the yellow waters rich in ochre into the earth. Over the centuries it worked away at the earth's layers, exposing the white limestone, green clays and banks of ochre sands which here take on a tormented form rarely seen elsewhere. Now these former ochre quarries of the Vaucluse surge from the past, as hiking trails have been blazed to offer panoramic viewpoints that opened up & expose a surreal enviornment from a bygone mining era.
In the afternoon we vist one of the "must-see" villages in the Luberon, Roussillon. Situated in the heart of one of the biggest ochre deposits in the world, Roussillon is famous for its magnificent red cliffs. After lunch here we take the time to stroll around the picturesque maze of streets and squares. The ochre façades of the houses are magnificent as the shades vary subtly from light yellow to dark red, enhanced by the brightly painted shutters and doors.
Hotel: Same as previous night. Dinner: by the banks of the Sorgue River.
Day 3: Abbaye de Senanque and Gordes
We leave the Luberon today, but first we take time to explore the spectacular village of Gordes; where several artists have made their home over the centuries, including Marc Chagal. Built on the face of a cliff, the town has a fascinating histoy we delve into starting with the cellars of Saint-Firmin Palace. This underground world provides evidence of life in Gordes from the Middle Ages onwards, and offer us a wonderful opportunity to immerse ourselves into the history of this mysterious, semi-troglodyte world. Moving from room to room, we learn about its history as well as the know-how associated with the olive oil production process.
Our walk first passes by the grazing sheep near the Village de Bories, an ancient hamlet of conical shaped houses that reflect the painstaking work of countless generations of farmers seeking new land. The earliest evidince of Borie dates back to the Bronze Age, but the oldest domicile here dates from the sixteenth century to the latest of the nineteenth century. This Bories village, was classified "Monument Historique" in 1977, and are the largest group of dry stone habitat characteristic of Borges in Provence.
We continue through the beautiful Senancole Valley before arriving at the picturesque lavendar-laden Cistercian Abbaye de Senanque. The Sénanque Abbey was founded in 1148 and in the 13th and 14th centuries it reached its greatest height, operating four mills, seven granges. During the Wars of Religion, the Abbey was ransacked by Huguenots. At the French Revolution, the Abbey's lands were nationalized and sold to a private individual. It was repurchased in 1854 for a new community of Cistercian monks who were expelled in 1903. A small community returned in 1988 and today is an active community with a handful of elderly monks who grow the lavender and tend to honey bees to earn income for living and upkeep of the Abbey.
The Abbey grounds are the ideal spot to picnic before we tour the facilities and then make our way to Chateauneuf du Pape for a wonderful wine tasting.
Hotel: 3-star in Chateauneuf de Pape Dinner: on own in town
Day 4: Van Gogh & Ancient Rome
From our hotel in St. Rémy-de-Provence, we walk a short distance to the fascinating Roman ruins of Glanum. Orgins date to the 7th century BC, and began around a spring within the narrow gap in the mountains. From the pre-Roman (and pre-Celtic) Glanics, this has been a spiritual-religious site. The local source at Glanum held a spiritual and healing reputation since the 4th century BC up to the Roman town with its temples we examine during our walk. We learn how in the more-recent Medieval times, Christian pilgrims came to invoke Valetuda, the godesses of health, and in the 11th century a Romenesqe-Provencal priory was built here. It's no wonder Van Gogh came to this area to heal.
Which brings us to the rest of our walk; we amble to nearby St. Paul de Mausole, a monastery since Medieval times, with its hospital building built later. The main point of interest here for most of us is that this was the home of Vincent Van Gogh voluntarily committed himself for treatment. He arrived from Arles on 8 May 1889 and remained there just over a year until 16 May 1890.
During this time, at the peak of his powers, he completed over 150 drawings and 143 paintings of these surroundings over all four seasons of the year. They include some of his best known works such as Irises, Wheat Field with Cypresses, The Siesta and The Starry Night.
After lunch we make our way for a chocolate tasting and then have enough time for some afternoon shopping in St Rémy.
Hotel: 3 nights at 4-star in St-Remy-en-Provence Dinner: At Hotel
Day 5: Pont Du Gard
If among the many Roman treasures of southern France you had to pick the single most impressive, it would surely be the aqueduct Pont du Gard. Along our walk to this marvelous feat of Roman engineering and UNESCO world heritage site, we delve into a mosaic of color, combining the natural wonders of soft leaved brush bordered by dry stone walls and holm oak forests. Along the trail we take time to admire the remains of a lesser known bridge Pont du Rou. It is simply fascinating how these structutres survive the tests of time.
Hotel: Same as previous Night - Dinner: on your own
Day 6: Les Baux
From St Remy the Alpilles Mountains are always in sight. This famous mountain chain is an extension of the Luberon Mountains which we left days earlier. This particular chain is rich in limestone and is where bauxite was first discovered, named after the village of Baux-de-Provence, which is our day’s destination.
Although from St Remy the ridge along the top of the Alpilles appears white and barren, these mountains have been rich in almonds, apricot, olives and grain since the middle ages. The steep slopes were terraced in antiquity, and the trees and grains were planted because of their adaptability to the arid conditions. During our walk we take time to enjoy this nature up close.
Just before we arrive in Les Baux we stop at the Carrières du Val d’Enfer quarry, which was created for extracting the bauxite and white limestone used in the construction of the Chateau and Les Baux that we will see once in town. Today this quarry has been transformed into an extraordinary show of lights known as “Carrières de Lumières.” Spectators are totally immersed in the audio visual journey as images projected onto the entire rock surfaces of the quarry are made possible using 70 projectors & 3D audio. A show you will mention many times after your time here.
We take our time to explore Les Baux, which was officially classified as "one of the most beautiful villages in France". Its cultural heritage is exceptionally rich, with 22 architectural treasures classified as "Historic Monuments". One of the “don’t miss” sites is the "Citadelle des Baux" where brilliant vista opens up as far south as Arles and coastal Camargue. If time allows we stop at the Marius Fabre soap factory and museum on the way home.
Hotel: Same as previous Night - Dinner in Town
Day 7: Arles
After fresh fruit, croissants and coffee, we'll drive to Arles for a full morning city tour. you then have the afternoon free to explore Arles and delve further into the details your private tour guide has given to you. Maybe lunch on the square.
Hotel : 3-star in Arles city center - Farewell dinner in town
Day 8: - Departures
Depart after breakfast from Arles train station.