Day 1 - Arrive at Aix-en-Provence TGV - Cucuron
Arrive at Aix-en-Provence TGV Station where you will be met and transported to the exquisite French Villa we will call home for the next 12 nights.
Sitting just outside the beautiful village of Cucuron, near the road to Lourmarin our wonderful Villa benefits from a perfect location in the ‘golden triangle’ of the Luberon and offers luxury accommodation, a heated pool, spacious grounds and beautifully appointed guest bedrooms.
Enjoying recent fame as being the site of the cafe scene bought to life by Russell Crowe’s character in the big screen adaptation of Peter Mayle’s book ‘A Good Year’, Cucuron has long been a favourite of those who know and love the real Provence.
Arriving at the Villa you will be swept away by the beauty of the surrounding landscape which you will be able to enjoy over a delightful lunch followed by an afternoon of settling in, relaxing and getting to know one another before heading to Lourmarin for our formal welcome dinner.
Day 2 - Rousillon - Gordes - Abbey de Senanque
Today we start our day with a visit to the exquisite Abbey de Senanque. This 12th Century Cistercian abbey nestled between hills and surrounded by brilliant fields of lavender is one of the purest examples of Cistercian architecture. Following our visit to the abbey we head to the nearby tiered village of Gordes. Gordes sits spectacularly on the white rock face of the Vaucluse plateau where in the early evenings the village is theatrically lit by the setting sun, turning the stone buildings a shimmering gold. Today is market day in Gordes so here you will take your time meandering through the village discovering the myriad of stalls offering everything from delicious cheeses and produce to handmade pottery, silk scarves and so much more. After dining in one of the lovely restaurants we take the winding road south towards Roussillon. As much as Gordes is known for its white rock, Roussillon is famed for its distinctive red-ochre coloured hills, beautifully offset by the vegetation tumbling down its promontory. This hilltop village is a mesmerising red showstopper. After a walk through the picturesque hills we explore the lovely village and its many boutiques and galleries before heading home to relax with a glass of wine before a delicious Provençal dinner this evening.
Day 3 - Avignon
Today we head to Avignon, colourful, culturally rich, full of artistic, architectural and gourmet pleasures hooped by 4.3km of superbly preserved stone ramparts, this graceful city is the belle of Provence’s ball.
Avignon is regarded as the gateway to Provence and is worth idling in for longer than you would anticipate. Inside the ancient city walls are broad tree-lined streets and intriguing passageways leading to picturesque squares, shops, galleries, churches and museum’s. It is a town full of historical buildings and its turn as the papal seat of power has bestowed Avignon with a treasure trove of magnificent art and architecture, none grander than the Palais des Papes. It was the seat of papal power for some 70 odd years. The enormous scale, cavernous stone halls and vast courtyards all testify to the papacy’s wealth, whilst the 3m thick walls, portcullises and watch towers attest to their insecurity. Avignon is also known for its fabled bridge named Point Saint-Benezet after the local shepherd boy who was told by an angel to construct a bridge here and is rather famous, not only in Avignon but around the world. The 12th century bridge was an important strategic crossing between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea however frequently collapsed and had to be reconstructed multiple times. Today only a few of the bridges original 22 arches remain. The body of Saint-Benezet was interred in the small chapel standing on one of the bridges surviving piers after his death as a tribute to the boy who started it all.
A train ride around the city ensures we see many of these magnificent historical sites prior to partaking in a delightful lunch in the very bustling Place de l’Horloge, the town’s main square.
Day 4 - Menerbes - Lacoste
After our wonderful day of sightseeing yesterday it’s time for a morning relaxing and enjoying our beautiful villa. Stay in bed for a sleep in, relax by the pool with a book or take time to write home. If relaxing by the pool, reading or just sitting chatting is not for you, we are more than happy to drop you to one of the nearby towns for you to wander freely and discover delights of your own.
After our morning off we will travel to the beautiful walled village of Menerbes. You may not have heard of the tiny remote village but you have probably heard of the man who made it famous – British writer Peter Mayle. Mayle’s books about living in Provence as an expat leveraged the town to the top of many a travellers’ ‘must see’ list.
Unfortunately neither Mayle nor Menerbes had any idea of the onslaught of visitors that would ensue such that Mayle packed up and moved to the Hamptons for a few years before returning back to Provence. Fortunately the village coped and as a result took advantage of its new found fame and influx of tourist money opening new boutiques and restaurants and remains a mecca for disillusioned souls seeking a new existence. The village itself is a lovely jumble of ancient medieval towers, churches and stone streets. At one end is the Citadelle, a miniature fortress dating from the 16th century and at the other end is the cemetery along with Chateau du Castellet where the painter Nicolas de Stael once lived. There are photo opportunities everywhere however one of the best is through an arch at the top square beside the ancient mairie (town hall) where you can see the distant villages including Gordes. It is here that we dine partaking in another sumptuous lunch before heading on to the cobbled village of Lacoste, famous for being home to the Marquis de Sade, the founder of modern day Sadism. The chateau once owned by the Marquis is now owned by none other than Pierre Cardin as is much of the village itself. If we are very lucky we will get a private tour of the Savannah School of Art and Design Studios and Library with the wonderful Sean who regales us with tales of the village and amazes us with views across the valley from behind closed doors in this ancient village. Tonight whilst you relax with a glass of wine, participate in a cooking class at the Villa with one of our lovely local guest chefs.
Day 5 - Lourmarin
Today we visit the nearby village of Lourmarin, officially classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France, known as the village of belfries. Lourmarin is known as a village to lose yourself in for hours, amidst old squares, stone walls, gorgeous stores and clouds of bougainvillea and jasmine. Much of the village is set around the central bell tower built on the remnants of the medieval moated castle that once defined Lourmarin.
Whilst wandering around the markets take the time to walk the short distance to the Chateau de Lourmarin, a handsome 16th century castle, part of which is open to the public. It’s well worth a visit to see the furnished apartments, magnificent stairway and library of 28,000 books.
After a morning of meandering around the famous Lourmarin markets and discovering all this exquisite village has to offer we dine on the terrace at one of the villages lovely cafe's before returning to the Villa for an afternoon siesta prior to our very special event for the evening..... our Michelin star cooking class with the famous Eric Sapet at La Petite Maison in Cucuron. This is a once in a lifetime experience and never fails to exceed all expectations.
Day 6 - Les Baux - Carrieres de Lumiere
After another relaxing start to the morning we set off to Les Baux-de-Provence, a village set atop a rocky outcrop crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the South also referred to as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
The village was named after its location, a bauc being a rocky spur and to the aluminium ore (bauxite) that was first discovered there by geologist Pierre Berthier in 1821. The steep cobbled laneways lead off in all directions offering a myriad of wonderful boutiques, galleries, architecture and views to be discovered and then of course there is the ruined castle itself sitting atop of the village waiting for you. We dine in one of Les Baux's lovely restaurants with a view out over the plains looking towards our next adventure ... the famous Carrieres de Lumieres.
Words alone can not describe this spectacular vision of images and sound displayed on cave walls inside the huge cavernous quarry. Stepping inside the doors finds you transported to another time and place as the music takes over and your senses are mesmerised by this wondrous hypnotic light and sound show.
Day 7 - L'Isle-sur-la Sorgue - Fontaine de Vaucluse
A moat of flowing water encircles the ancient and prosperous town of L’Isle-sur-la Sorgue famous for its antique markets. Known simply as ‘L’Isle by the locals, this pretty Provence village is often dubbed the ‘Venice of the South’. L’Isle is a truly lovely place with curious canals that run through the town – five mini tributaries of the river Sorgue – making it a watery oasis. Look out for the lovely waterwheels scattered around town, some of which still turn.
Every week, regardless of the weather, there are stallholders here on Thursdays and Sundays attracting buyers from all over the world. Stretching from Place Gambetta all the way along Avenue des Quatre Otages there are stalls selling everything from local produce to typical style Provence wares – bright tablecloths, candles, soaps and so on. You are sure to make a purchase in this delightful village. We will dine at one of the fine restaurants located next to the flowing river in the heart of this exquisite village.
Leaving L’Isle behind we travel the short distance to beautiful Fontaine de Vaucluse, a medieval village tucked in a ‘closed valley’ at the south-western corner of the mountainous Plateau de Vaucluse. This ancient town at the base of high rocky cliffs features a deep pool of seemingly still water that is actually a fully-fledged river gushing up out of the depths. The source of the pool is fed by collective rainfall in the Plateau de Vaucluse where in wet season the spring produces water at an astonishing 200 cubic meters a second, making it one of the most powerful resurgent springs in the world. As late as 1985, a small robot submarine went down 315m and still could not locate the bottom, a mystery still to be uncovered and a truly amazing sight to behold.
Tonight we are once again spoilt with the delights of true Provencal dishes prepared by our local guest cook.
Day 8 - Cassis - Mediterranean
Today we head to Cassis, a very ancient fishing port famous for its cliffs and the sheltered inlets called Calanques, formed 120 million years ago. Cassis offers a concentrated version of Provence and the Mediterranean.
The magic begins to work on the little road that leads to the village, winding between vineyards and pine trees as it meanders down to the port, a bustling hive of activity. We hop on board one of the many boats ready to take us on an inspiring journey of discovery visiting these natural wonders which I'm sure will leave you breathless with their sheer beauty. On our return we dine at one of the best restaurants in town, overlooking the waters edge watching the sun sparkle on the Mediterranean whilst sipping on a glass of rosé. Oh! It doesn't get much better than this for a day out. After lunch we meander around the old village discovering streets that reveal lovely old buildings dating back to the 16th century, some restored with the colourful pastels of Provence. There are old fountains, shops and an open air artists market where you can purchase paintings of Provence.
Day 9 - Ansouis - Cabriere d'Aigues
We plan to keep our activities local today, not travelling more than 15 minutes from our villa yet still experiencing some unique Provinçal delights.
First up we will visit the quietly beautiful village of Ansouis where the narrow, cobbled streets weave their way up to a delightful little church set overlooking the valley below, and a bit further on, at the to of the hill is the Chateau de Ansouis where occasional community events and exhibitions are held in the newly renovated wings of this privately owned chateau.
Another treasured stop in Ansouis is a visit to the gallery Juliet S. where Australian born artist Juliet Schlunke exhibits her beautiful pottery and other works.
Just because Ansouis is a small, quiet village doesn't mean we have to forego the finer things, and it is here we will indulge ourselves in a Michelin Star restaurant experience for a leisurely lunch.
Following lunch we will make the short journey to Cabriere d'Aigues to partake in a 2 hour wine tasting experience like none other with our very own Claude. I don't wish to give too much away about this wonderful experience other than to say that this private tour is only for our guests alone and is something not to be missed. We also visit a centuries old olive oil mill a short walk up the hill where we are delighted with views out over the valley between stone walls. A simply divine afternoon spent wine tasting, learning about the history of the Luberon and the milling of olive oil before travelling home to our Villa to relax before a light supper to round off the day.
Day 10 - Saint-Remy-de-Provence
This morning we travel to Saint-Remy-de-Provence. Every Wednesday morning the town comes alive with one of the most delightful markets in Provence.
You will be dazzled by the colours and tantalised by the fragrances of fruits, olive oils, cheeses and soaps not to mention the wonderful Provencal fabrics and other local artisanal products on offer. Although the birthplace of Nostradamus who was born here in 1503, most people associate St-Remy with Vincent van Gogh who found great inspiration here after admitting himself to the Saint-Paul asylum from May 1889-1890 where he produced close to 150 of his superb works inspired by the light, hills, buildings and flowers he saw. St-Remy is also a shopper’s delight with charming lanes and delightful squares encircled by elegant boulevards with stores that are both interesting and upscale. Once you have strolled through the market stalls, go for a wander through the myriad of lanes of the Old Town, most lined with modern boutiques. Make your own discoveries or visit Rue Hoche where you can still see the remains of Nostradamus birthplace.
We dine in one of St Remy's lovely restaurants before we take a visit to this ‘mad house’ to see what inspired van Gogh.
Upon arrival home you will once again be treated to the delights of another guest cook as they prepare exquisite Provencal fare for you.
Day 11 - Perfume Class - Châteauneuf-du-Pape
After our feast of history, markets, galleries and boutiques yesterday, we will begin today with a drive to participate in another very special event ... our very own private perfume creation class where we learn what our personalities are based on the fragrances and essences we choose.
A two hour class provides in-depth knowledge on the creation behind the world's most famous perfumes and allows you to create your own 'signature' perfume with the assistance of our 'Maitre Parfumeur' to take home in your own individually labelled 100ml bottles. Just imagine exclaiming 'I made it in Provence!' when asked the name of the beautiful perfume you are wearing.
Smelling sweet and unique, we set off to discover a 'nose' of a different kind. Lying beside the Rhone north of Avignon is the famous AOC wine region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, regarded as the most important wine region of the southern Rhone and recognised by its bright red soil covered by stones scattered across the surface that help to regulate the temperature for the vines. The reputation of the region dates back to the 14th century when the Pope granted the wine from the village the rank of 'Vin du Pape'. Since then winemakers in the region have striven to live up to this honour, producing great wines and jealously guarding their name. In fact to protect their reputation, producers from Châteauneuf-du-Pape were among the first to ship wine in bottles rather than barrels and even produced their own unique bottle with an imprinted insignia to mark their brand.
The village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is built on a hill, with the remnants of the château overlooking the entire region. It exhibits typical steep, narrow cobbled streets lined with picturesque old stone buildings, some of which have been converted into galleries and small private schools specializing in degustation.
Before exploring the village we will have lunch at a fabulous restaurant with panoramic views over the valley and a wine cave (cellar) with some magnificent local vintages.
After a leisurely tour of the village, we drive back to Cucuron where there will be time to relax and enjoy the villa before tonight's guest cook arrives to prepare the evening meal.
Day 12 - Special Farewell Long Lunch
On our last full day together we relax a little in the morning or if you desire a last bit of shopping a visit once again to Lourmarin's famous markets is definitely an option for you before we set out for a very special afternoon enjoying an extended lunch amongst friends in a Provence home where food and wine go hand in hand with good conversation and new discoveries. This is indeed a special treat!
Following our long afternoon lunch, we return to the villa to pack or relax and enjoy a final evening together, sharing a simple meal and a few drinks with some of the special friends we've met during the tour. Then a good night's sleep before departure tomorrow.
Day 13 - Depart
After a leisurely breakfast together we will transport you to the Aix-en-Provence TGV Station where you will catch your train back to Paris or perhaps you have plans to visit other destinations in the South ... Either way it is a sad farewell but we are sure you will have wonderful memories to share with loved ones and new found friends to keep in touch with ... Perhaps you can plan your next L’Amitié adventure together.