Provence: The trip that got me hooked

Now I understand why so many people buy or rent property in Provence. Holidaymakers, like migrating birds, flock to this part of France every summer. For sun and wine lovers this is a little piece of paradise. It’s apparently unspoiled, rich with history and it also has some of the most exquisite food around. Even more than this, it allows, or forces, some of us city folk to wind down and relax, and enjoy the simple things in life. That is what a vacation is all about. Provence is perhaps one of the most written about regions of France, thanks to writers like Peter Mayle. As the star of one of my favorite movies, “A Good Year”, the region has risen to the top of traveler’s wish lists, and lives on in the dreams of those that have visited.

We only stayed a week and only scratched the surface of what this region offers. I have so many reasons to go back.

Here are some of our highlights:

Restaurants: Every restaurant we visited had amazing food. Keep in mind that in high season when most people travel to this area (May – Sept) you will need to make reservations. It is not like the US where restaurants want to turn the tables 2-3 times per night. Here, they expect you to stay all evening. The restaurants are small and the best ones are often booked out. We had some fantastic dining experiences, all food is local and delicious.

Our favorite restaurant was La Terrasse in Goult. This small restaurant also features an upstairs terrace with views of the Luberon. We loved the food and local wines and the service was very friendly. I think we dined here three times over the week we loved it so much. Goult is a tiny village on top of a hilltop – just walking around here is fantastic and like going back in time.

Another restaurant that topped our list was Auberge de Lagnes, in the village of Lagnes.

Wine tasting: There are plenty of vineyards everywhere and you will find excellent local wines at the restaurants. My favorite rosé was from Château la Canorgue. The region is called Côtes du Luberon and the main grape varieties for red and rosé are Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault.

Pastis: A local apéritif, it’s part of the culture here and you have to try it!

Market day: I love to see the farmer’s markets when I travel. It’s a great way to experience what it’s like to live in a place. Every Sunday there is a market in Coustellet. We ran around like scavengers before the market closed to pick up ingredients for our picnic. Here you can buy everything from bread, olive oils, honey, cheeses, lavender, soaps, and the most amazing paella. It is also great place to pick up handmade souvenirs.

Hill towns: With a history dating back to Roman times, exploring the hill towns of Provence is fascinating. You can spend hours in each village wandering the little streets and discovering the restaurants and historic sites. We visited Bonnieux, Ménerbes, Lacoste, Gordes and Goult. One of my favorites was Roussillon, a village known for its red and yellow ochre. The best idea is to just explore one at a time and you will find many great little shops, restaurants and local treasures.

Staying in Provence: There are boutique bed and breakfasts everywhere, and of course renting villas here is very popular. We stayed at Le Mas Caché, a French Farmhouse converted to a bed and breakfast with three large guest rooms. We really learned a lot about the area from owners, Tina and Marc and found some amazing places through their recommendations. The rooms are beautiful. It was just like having our own French farmhouse for a week.

Expert tip: • Get a GPS. I cannot stress this enough. It is worth every penny of the €15 a day. Even with this, you will probably get lost, but it’s all part of the fun. If you need to be somewhere at a certain time, plan ahead and leave earlier.

• Plan your days. Provence can involve a lot of driving, so decide which towns you want to visit that are close by and see them in the same day.

• Taste everything: Even if you don’t like things like anchovies (and I normally don’t), everything tastes better here and I actually surprised myself by liking things I don’t like in the US.

• You can’t see Provence in two days. Spend at least a week there. There is just so much to see in the Luberon alone.

If you’re not adventurous enough to drive yourself, another option is to take a tour. I’m not a fan of tours myself, but there is one company, Bliss Travels that I recommend. I spent some time with owner Wendy Jaeger while in Provence and what we experienced with her was incredible. She took us to places that we would never have found on our own. Having an expert guide in a small group setting can be a perfect way to see a region for the first time, and gets you access to restaurants and places most visitors don’t get to see. Check out Wendy’s site to see upcoming dates of her Provence tours. She also specializes in Paris and other parts of France.

Of course, being in Provence, you are not too far from other popular spots like Nice, Saint-Tropez and the Northern Rhone. We stayed in each of these areas during our stay and it was a great way to break up the trip and experience the diversity of Southern France.

It’s easy for me to dream of being in Provence now, even on a rainy day in New York. Reading Peter Mayle’s books take on a new meaning after you’ve visited this region and reviewing my trip photos brings it all back. Now I see why people keep returning, and I have to say…I will be back!