A week in Provence, Camargue and the French Riviera: all the places not to be missed

Who I am
Aina Prat Blasi
@ainapratblasi
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

How to reach Provence and how to get around

If you leave from the north of Italy you can easily do this itinerary with your car (Nice is located just over 3h from Milan), alternatively you can fly to Nice or Marseille and rent a car directly at the airport. To save some money, I usually book my car rental a little in advance through the Rentalcars website.

 

When to go to Provence to see lavender

The optimal time to go to Provence and see the lavender bloom is between the end of June and the middle of July. I went the first week of July and it was amazing! There were so many flowers and the smell of lavender could be heard for miles even with the windows closed, a dream.



Health insurance is recommended

Being in Europe, as Spanish citizens we have the right to health care, but there are specific conditions and ceilings. My advice is to still take a classic medical-luggage insurance that can cover you during the trip, even for Covid-19. I am very happy with many insurance companies, a site that compares the policies of different companies and proposes the most convenient policy for that particular trip. To do this you will have to enter the data relating to your trip and they will send you an email with the best proposal that you can then buy directly online (!!!). All travel insurances also cover medical assistance in the event of a coronavirus infection, including testing if necessary. There is also coverage for the extension of the stay in the hotel due to the quarantine. Likewise, the trip cancellation guarantee includes coverage for illness or death of the traveler or a family member due to COVID-19.



Where to sleep in Provence

  • Her relay (Forcalquier) is a beautiful country house a few kilometers from Forcalquier. It is a magical place! It has a swimming pool and offers a super breakfast with jams and homemade products by the very kind hostess. The place I liked the most !!!
  • The Hotel Mignon (Avignon) is a very small hotel in the center of Avignon. Nothing fancy but super convenient for exploring the city on foot. Good quality / price ratio
  • Hotel Le Belvedere  (Arles). A very nice modern hotel overlooking a nice little square in the center of Arles. Good quality / price ratio
  • Hotel Mama Shelter (Marseille). A very nice 4 star design hotel designed by Philip Stark and part of the Mama Shelter chain. By booking online a little in advance you will find very advantageous rates. The hotel is very nice, not in the center..but in a nice area. From here you can still move on foot to go almost anywhere. They also organize aperitifs and evenings.

How much is spent

This trip is not particularly expensive. You sleep in nice places for about 30/35 euros per person / night and you eat well for 20 euros (France is the home of the cheap fixed menu).

The itinerary: 7 days on the road between Provence, Camargue and the French Riviera

  • Day 1- travel from Milan + Grasse (overnight in Castellane)
  • Day 2- Verdon gorges and lavender fields in Valensole (night in Forcalquier)
  • Day 3- Forcalquier, Colorado Provencal and Senanque Abbey (night in Avignon)
  • Day 4- Avignon and Fontaine de Vauclause (night in Avignon)
  • Day 5- St. Remy e Beaux-de-Provence (notte ad Arles)
  • Day 6- Arles and Camargue trip (night in Marseille)
  • Day 7- Marseille (night in Marseille)
  • Day 8- Calanques and return to Italy

Provence: the must-see places

I will not tell you about these places because they are super famous, they must necessarily be part of the itinerary, and are described abundantly in all the guides: Avignone, Arles, l'Abbazia di Senanque, St. Marie de la Mer and the Camargue, Aix en Provence and the Calanques. If you have more days, let's say 2 weeks, than one I strongly recommend that you also include in the itinerary Cannes, Nice, Monaco and Saint Paul de Vence. They are magnificent places that I have visited several times on other trips to the area. 



 

Provence: the beautiful places not to be missed

The gole del Verdon and Moustiers-Ste-Marie

Le Verdon Gorge they are the deepest gorges in Europe. This spectacular Grand Canyon is long 21 km tra Castellane e Moustiers-Ste-Marie and the panoramic road that you take to get from one side to the other is full of panoramic points overlooking the gorges and the incredibly crystalline river. Here you can do various activities (rafting, canoeing, etc.) or, more simply, bathe in the magnificent waters of the lake that opens at the end of the gorge. Near the lake there is the perched village of Moustiers-Ste-Marie, quite touristy, but really very beautiful! It seems to be trapped in the movie "Chocolat". Don't forget to stop there!

Valensole and the lavender fields

Lavender fields are located around the small village of Valensole, long the road from Riez to Manosque. We understand that we are arriving in the right area with the smell that pervades everything and even passes through the windows of cars. When these super tidy fields of lavender finally appear, the feeling is amazing. These landscapes of Provence are postcard-worthy, and absolutely do not disappoint expectations ... indeed. The only flaw: the bees! The lavender rows are full of buzzing bees and walking through them is stressful enough. In any case, I recommend that you go there in the afternoon, when the light is at its best, and it is perfect for taking spectacular photos. The fields are many and extend for several kilometers so don't stop at the first ones you meet, go and look for the most beautiful ones. 


Forcalquier and the Colorado Provencal

Forcalquier it's a really nice little place in the regione del Luberon; it dominates the surrounding countryside and its profile is visible for several kilometers around. If you can, plan to visit on Monday, which is market day, when the town comes alive and becomes very lively. Climb the citadel on foot to get a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside and lose yourself in the squares of the old city, among bacarelle, boulangeries and open-air bars. Forcalquier is also the perfect base for visiting the Colorado Provencal, a former ocher and iron quarry that recalls the American landscapes of the far west. We venture inside this quarry through three walking paths in the woods. The quarry has taken on suggestive shapes and the colors, ranging from ocher yellow to intense red, really recall the great American parks of Arizona or Utah. 


Vauclause fountain

That is the famous "clear fresh and sweet waters" of Valchiusa del Petrarch. There is some tender between me and Vauclause fountain, I was there for the first time more than 20 years ago and I went back every time I was crossing Provence. It is one of the most beautiful trips you can take from Avignon and is absolutely worth a visit. The village is very nice and really out of time. Starting from the town center, a short walk takes you to the beautiful source of the river Sorgue, the source with the greatest water flow in Europe. The path runs along the river and there are several places to stop for a relaxing break. If you want to see the source also from above, you can then decide to climb up to the abandoned castle that overlooks the village. On your way back to Avignon, make a stop also in the pretty town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue crossed by several rivers. 

St. Remy

St.Remy represents the typical village of Provence, a tangle of alleys full of shops and small inns that has remained practically unchanged. If you are lucky and you happen to be there on market day then, the atmosphere is truly wonderful! Immediately outside the town there is theformer monastery of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, the psychiatric hospital where Van Gogh he was hospitalized and painted many important works. It is still a hospital (tourists are kept away from patients of course) and visiting it is an exciting experience. Entering the room (which has remained unchanged) where Van Gogh was staying is creepy. Absolutely not to be missed! 

The Beaux-de-Provence 

This place was truly a beautiful surprise. I had never even heard of it and, when I was there, it left me speechless. The Beaux-de-Provence it is a fortified citadel located on a rocky spur and still retains an ancient and huge abandoned castle. It is a surreal place, but definitely beautiful and little known. From the castle you have a magnificent view over the entire surrounding valley.

Marseille

Marseille it alone is worth a trip and you should dedicate at least a weekend to it. I had been there many years ago and I didn't have a wonderful memory of it, it seemed dirty and dangerous like many other port cities. After this trip I had to change my mind !! I found it very different, it has become a beautiful and fascinating city, alive and in constant turmoil. At times it seems to be in a Moroccan souk, at times in a corner of northern Europe. It is an incredible mix of old and new, the old popular district Le Panier it is amazing, as is the whole modern area of ​​the docks, which they built immediately below. It has undergone a great process of revival and modernization and it shows. 

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