Happy Wednesday, friends! Last month in Europe, I spent two weeks road-tripping through France with my friend Marcia. She had never been to Europe before, which is secretly so fun for me (I equate the reaction to taking a kid to Disneyland and watching them stare at everything in great wonder). We started in Toulouse + Montpellier (which I'll share more about in a future post) and then slowly worked our way through Provence.
Provence is arguably one of the most beautiful regions in France (which is probably why Rénoir, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and other great impressionist artists frequented the area to inspire their work). Whether you're nestled in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail, by the sparkling waters of Côte d'Azur or discovering endless fields of lavender or sunflowers, Provence is a stunning variety of landscapes.
There's so much to do here that you could easily spend months in the area and never get bored. So from the moment I planned my trip, I began researching the "must-see" stops to hit in a limited amount of time. While I obviously couldn't see everything, after scouring my favorite travel publications and fellow travelers for the best destinations, I prioritized seeing these villages in our few short days.
But before I dive into those, let me first suggest renting a car. Lots of these quaint villages are super remote and I'm not quite sure how you'd get to them otherwise to be honest. It may seem intimidating to drive in a foreign country, but I assure you that if I can do it, so can you! Just be sure to always have plenty of Euros handy because the tolls in France are a pretty penny (I'd guess we spent ~€120 driving from Toulouse to Paris over the course of the week). Now... onto the top villages to see in Provence:
Seeing the lavender fields in all their glory was the highest "to-do" on my list whilst in Provence. Generally speaking, fields are in bloom from June to August, so you have to be be rather strategic while planning to avoid missing them. Since my trip to Europe started with a one-way ticket, I didn't originally know that I'd be in Provence this time of year. Once my plans came to fruition, I began searching high and low for any traces of lavender in bloom (we went in mid-June, which can often be too early depending on the year).
We were pointed to Valensole, where lavender covered the grounds as far as the eye can see.
While the lavender fields are obviously the main draw, it's certainly worth going into the town. It doesn't take long to see (it's tiny!) but it couldn't be more charming + picturesque. Be sure to stop at the Patisserie behind me (Le Palais D'Or) for a delicious lavender eclair!
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence was hands town my favorite town we visited (full disclosure: I didn't snap as many photos as I would have liked because I was too busy taking it all in myself!) I loved it because it was small enough to maintain its charm but large enough to stay interesting and have plenty to do. This quaint village is home to where Van Gogh painted Starry Night and is built on one of the oldest archeological sites in Europe. We spent our time getting lost in the streets + shopping for Provencal goods. I bought a beautiful woven basket from a vendor on the street, and then tons of delicious food (tapenade, wine, cheese etc.) from the store pictured below.
We loved staying at Le Vallon de Valrugues: a 5-star hotel in the historical district and only 600 meters from the town centre.
They offer a full-service spa, an upscale gastronomic restaurant where you can dine for any meal (we had breakfast there and it was one of the most impressive buffets I've ever seen!) and my favorite part of the property was hands down the beautiful outdoor pool.
We spent the afternoon relaxing by the pool with a glass of champagne, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Staying here was the perfect blend of convenience to the town and a tranquil oasis to retreat to. I definitely recommend it when you come to the area!
We started with lavender massages at their spa- which was a state of the art facility. I loved sitting in their relaxation lounge before and after the treatment- it was one of the most beautiful rooms I've been to at any spa!
After our treatments, we went back to our (GORGEOUS) room. Every single detail was intentional and well-thought-out (my favorite bit was the luxuriously plush bed). No photos that I have even do it close to justice, but I couldn't have been more impressed. After changing and enjoying some time in our room, we went to the pool to enjoy yet another fantastic facility of this property.
After relaxing all day, we went to the main portion of the property to have dinner at the restaurant (which was one of the most magical nights). We dined al fresco amongst candle light and the cyprus trees while watching the sunset. Top it all off with the fact that the food served was comprised of the highest-quality, most delicious Provencal ingredients (we even went back to the kitchen to see them making everything from scratch).
While my Hôtel B Design experience was of course wonderful because of how high-quality every tiny detail was, what really made it so unforgettable to me was the staff. This family-owned and operated property welcomes you in and makes you feel like you're one of them (we may have started calling them Mom and Dad). They went above and beyond to make sure we had everything we needed, and then went even further to greatly surpass any expectations. All in all, I truly can't say enough wonderful things about Hôtel B Design & Spa + highly recommend that you stay here while visiting Provence.
Arguably the most well known town in the region, Aix-en-Provence is famous for its outdoor markets, café lined avenues and its established art + culinary scene. It's also the birthplace of Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne (you can visit his former studio here). But aside from that, I would argue that Aix-en-Provence isn't someplace that's brimming with sights you have to see. Instead, it's a town to simply get lost in: admire the gorgeous architecture or browse through Provencal finds at the markets that line the street. Whatever you fill your time with, you're bound to fall in love with this charming town.
Also worth noting: Aix-en-Provence is a University town so this area has a much more youthful energy than some of the tiny surrounding towns. So if you're wanting just a littleee taste of a city vibe to liven up your tranquil journey through this region, this is the spot to get your fix.
Ahh, Ménerbes. You charmed my socks off. This walled village on a hilltop in the Luberon mountains is tiny and won't take too long to see, but nevertheless, I can't recommend it enough. Even just walking through it for an hour allows you to feel like you've transformed to the quiet Provencal town Belle speaks of in Beauty & the Beast where everyday is like the one before. Aromas from the local boulangerie fill the streets as locals pop in to gather their baguette for the day (while I don't think you'll have trouble finding it, the name is "Boulangerie Pâtisserie Epicerie Roche & Fils.") It couldn't have been even a sliver more charming. If you are interested in sticking around for a bit, this is a good resource with some more information on what to see + do.
For our last stop in Provence, we went to Gordes: a beautiful + historic village that's perched on the edge of the Plateau de Vaucluse. Unlike so much of the colorful architecture in these tiny villages, Gordes is predominantly comprised of neutral colored stone resembling castles. But even without buildings that adorn cute colors, this village has been known as one of the most beautiful in France and it's not hard to see why. Go for a stroll around the town (seemingly a bit bigger than Valensole or Ménerbes but much smaller than Saint-Remy-de-Provence or Aix-en-Provence) and be sure to take in the sweeping panoramic views.
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There is so much more that I could speak to and even more that I didn't get to see this trip (which means I'll just have to go back!) Have you been to any other villages worth visiting in Provence? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks for reading (as always!) and I'll be sharing more adventures with you soon.