Chuck and I love Provence; the villages, food, wine, smells (lavender, herbs, olives…) and the friendly people. This was our second, and certainly not the last, trip to this wonderful place and wanted to share some of our favorite things with everyone.
We landed in Nice, rented a car (so easy in this small airport), and headed directly to St. Paul de Vence, a lovely but quite touristy town in the hills above Nice. Chagall lived here among the ancient city walls, and you can understand the inspiration for his works by walking the small cobblestone streets and seeing the great views of the valley. Unfortunately, most streets are lined with restaurants and shops. Nice to see the town once but would skip it next trip.
Drove the next morning to Aix-en-Provence for three days and would stay even longer when I return. It is a beautiful small college city, that is quite sophisticated and relaxed at the same time. Cezanne was born here and did a great deal of his painting from his studio, Atelier Cezanne. It is a must see, as well as the surrounding countryside, with the white limestone mountains overlooking the city that appears in his paintings. If you can, plan to be there on Saturday as it is the best day of the week for food and flower markets, situated in front of the Palace of Justice and the Place Richelme. Here is where you can enjoy all the sites, smells, tastes, and colors of Provence. Also visit the amazing cheese shop on Rue Marseillais, and the Coffee Roastery on the Place Richelme.
Off to Gordes for the next three days using it as our base for day trips to the town of Gordes, the vineyards, and Roman ruins. We stayed in the countryside right below the town and can see it rise up in the sky like some ancient majestic city. The movie, “A Good Year” was filmed in the town and a quick watch will make it an even more interesting visit. Tuesday is market day and one you shouldn’t miss; streets filled with farm stands selling cheese, breads, olives, fruits & vegetables. Our day trips included the Chateaunefu-du-Pape vineyard of Domaine de la Janasse (a small, out of the way vineyard, that was warm, welcoming, with amazing wines and tasting) but stay out of the town of Chateaunefu-du-Pape – no charm whatsoever.
Stayed a day in Avignon, to tour the Palaise des Papes and walk around Clock Square. But you don’t need more than one day and then drive to Pont du Gard. Situated in the middle of a large, untamed park, this 2000 year old Roman aqueduct is still elegant and majestic. In Roman times it brought water from Uzes to Nimes and spans the Gardon, which flows along the bottom of a valley deeply carved in the surrounding plateau. Bring a picnic lunch (from one of your market stops) and enjoy the lovely surroundings for a few hours.
The next two nights was spent near the beautiful hilltop town of Baux de Provence. Climb up to the chateau and walk around the ruins (some very well preserved), it has a great history and magnificent views from the top. The village that spills out under the chateau is charming with small alleyways (a bit touristy but charming enough that you don’t care, though best to visit early in the day or late afternoon when less tourists abound). And ended our trip with two glorious days in Nice right on the Mediterranean.
- Hotel Le Saint Paul, St. Paul de Vence. Lovely hotel, but the restaurant was mediocre at best. Would expect more from a Relais & Chateaux hotel. Skip the hotel, dinner, and just do a short tour through the town.
- Hotel Le Pigonnet, Aix-en-Provence. One of our favorite hotels, an elegant country house with the most magnificent gardens. Meals are served outside in the lovely warm weather of Spring. They opened a new bar/club in the center of the gardens where we spent a wonderful afternoon sipping cocktails and lounging on the sofas. Don’t miss this.
- La Ferme de la Huppe, Gordes. Family owned and run, this ancient stone farmhouse / restaurant is a true gem. We are trying to figure out how to stay there a week or two next visit. The gardens are lovely, the family and staff friendly, and the food delicious.
- Hotel d’Europe, Avignon. Magnificent 16th century residence in the heart of Avignon. Our “classic” room had a large outdoor patio with sofa, lounge chairs, and patio table where we sipped wine in the late afternoon.
- Oustau de Bauminere, Les Baux de Provence. It is situated in a small valley looking up at the magnificent cliffs of Baux de Provence. Pure paradise, with glorious gardens, wonderful rooms, and top notch service. And the restaurant, with 2 Michelin stars, served us one of the best meals we have ever had.
- Le Meridien, Nice. A nice hotel, with beautiful, modern rooms. Used points for a top floor suite overlooking the Mediterranean with a terrace almost the same size as the room. Amazing sitting out there on our lounge chair, sipping rose, and watching the sunset!
- Hotel Le Saint Paul, St Paul de Vence – Lovely outdoor setting, but disappointed with the quality of the food. I cannot remember anything I ate at dinner, which says it all.
- La Table du Pigonnet, Aix-en-Provence – we truly love this hotel and the restaurant is elegant inside or in the garden. Food was better last visit as I assume they changed chefs, but still good by most standards. Would only eat there one night next visit and venture out to some local spots on the other ones.
- La Ferme de la Huppe, Gordes – the photographs don’t do the restaurant justice. Wonderful, home cooked (and lovely) food. We would eat there every night if we could but very happy they were closed on Sunday or we would have never tried La Bartavelle (which they recommended).
- La Bartavelle, Goult – On an unassuming street, this quiet, cozy restaurant was for people in the know. It is a bit hard to find this place, it’s off the tourist section of this not very touristy town. The husband is the chef and his wife runs the front of the house. She is quite busy running all the tables but handles it deftly and with a great, friendly attitude. Very reasonable with a fixed price menu at €42. The food was upmarket classic Provencal, perfectly prepared and delicious.
- Fourchettes, Cairanne – Domaine de la Janasse recommended this wonderful hidden gem and made lunch reservations for us. It was a 15 minute drive through only vineyards and then this house/restaurant, in the middle of nowhere, popped up. The food was beautiful to look at, and tasted even better! The setting was casual and picturesque, with flowers and vineyards surrounding this outdoor setting, and warm, friendly service.
- L’Essentiel, Avignon – This restaurant is a must for any any visit to Avignon. Run by a husband and wife team (he the chef, she running the front) where you have two Prix Fix menus to chose from, with great choices on both. The food was beautiful and scrumptious. The service gracious, professional, and friendly.
- La Cabro d’Or, Baux de Provence – One of the Ousteau de Bauminere Michelin started restaurants, this was the less formal / less expensive of the two. A very special dining experience that we rank as our favorite restaurant of the trip. We ate on the outside patio, overlooking the beautiful gardens, and chose the Menu Gourmandise (85 Euros) that had multiple amuse bouches and post dessert sweets. A five course gastronomic delight of fresh and local produce, delicious fish and meats, and amazing local wines. Our Sommelier (there were around six) was quite wonderful and was spot on with his excellent parings.
- Oustau de Bauminere, Baux de Provence – The main Michelin-starred restaurant that we chose to skip due to cost (around 3X the price of La Cabro d’Or) – big mistake, and wouldn’t make that one next trip. So instead we dined at their casual restaurant, La Place, in a nearby quaint town. Maybe coming off of the dinner at La Cabro was the reason this dinner was so disappointing, but we were so unsatisfied that we headed back to Ostau de Bauminere restaurant for cheese and dessert (which cost more than the dinner at La Cabro but worth every cent). I have never seen such a large and wonderfully chosen cheese selection and the desserts were true heaven (eating the Millefeuille was almost a religious experience!). The staff was so warm and accommodating, serving us additional small tastes and recommending amazing wines to accompany the two courses, that we never wanted to leave – and actually were there till it closed!
- La Place, Baux de Provence – think I said it all in the review above. Skip this restauarant.
- Le Bistro Gourmand, Nice – Michelin recommended and we were not disappointed. Lovely small restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. Decided against the prix-fix menu and ordered the Bouillabaisse – excellent and a must in Nice!
- Les Pecheurs, Nice – a casual indoor / outdoor (mostly outdoors in the lovely spring season) harbor side restaurant specializing in, as the name implies, seafood. It is situated right on the harbor with great views of the town and ocean. All the dishes were wonderful with good service.