Laven­der fields for­ever

A lazy road trip in Provence.

Elle (Canada) - - Escape - By Sarah Laing

I’ve been to Provence a hand­ful of times, and mostly I re­mem­ber noth­ing—do­ing noth­ing, that is. The stand­out mem­ory of one trip two years ago was a sleepy af­ter­noon in the court­yard of La Chas­sag­nette, a farm-to-ta­ble gourmet restau­rant just out­side Ar­les. Long af­ter my (scraped-clean) plate was cleared, I just sat, lis­ten­ing to the buzz of bees in the trel­lis over­head and the snores of the three-legged cat curled up nearby. On an­other oc­ca­sion, I vis­ited the fa­mous red-walled city of Rous­sil­lon, where I re­cov­ered from climb­ing its steep streets by perch­ing on a wall and eat­ing calis­sons, the lo­cal al­mond sweets... for two hours. I’d like to think it’s a thor­oughly French ap­proach to Provence. Stretch­ing from the Mediter­ranean to the Alps in the south of France, this re­gion is ideally suited for the world’s lazi­est road trip. Noth­ing is re­ally that far apart (the area is only 235 kilo­me­tres long and 160 kilo­me­tres wide), so it’s easy to spend a day ex­plor­ing each tiny vil­lage you drive through and still ar­rive at your next stop on sched­ule—and that’s fac­tor­ing in time for long, lazy lunches and laven­der-field photo shoots. As I day­dream about my next visit, here are a few more stops I’d rec­om­mend for a chilled­out hol­i­day in Provence:

WAN­DER

Spend a lazy af­ter­noon me­an­der­ing through the me­dieval streets of Le Panier, the candy-coloured, cob­ble­stoned heart of Old Mar­seille and home to art gal­leries, in­de­pen­dent stores and, of course, the land­mark Vieille Char­ité, an an­cient poor­house fa­mous for its domed chapel. If you’re feel­ing en­er­getic, stop by the new Musée de la Boule and try your hand at the lo­cal Sun­day pas­time, pé­tanque, the French an­swer to bocce.

SIP

Provence is France’s old­est grape­grow­ing re­gion, so you’d be re­miss not to sam­ple the re­sults of over 2,600 years of oeno­log­i­cal ex­per­tise while you’re in the neigh­bour­hood. If you’re near Ra­mat­uelle, con­sider tak­ing a tour of one of the area’s best vine­yards from the com­fort of a 4x4 at Do­maine la Tour­raque, owned by the same fam­ily since 1805. Af­ter you have taken in breath­tak­ing views straight out to the Mediter­ranean, head back to the win­ery’s HQ for a les­son in wine­mak­ing... and an oblig­a­tory glass of the re­gion’s spe­cialty—rosé, na­turelle­ment.

DRIFT Sure, you could hike in, but wouldn’t you rather see the leg­endary calan­ques from the (ef­fort­less) van­tage point of a boat deck? Ex­plor­ing th­ese nat­u­ral won­ders—lime­stone-walled in­lets on the coast best de­scribed as the Med’s an­swer to fjords—is the per­fect way to spend a day. Top it off with moules-frites eaten har­bour­side in nearby Cas­sis.

REST Make your base a serene one. If you can’t find peace and quiet within the walls of Le Cou­vent des Min­imes, a for­mer monastery in Luberon, try a stroll through the ho­tel’s six hectares of rose, ver­bena and laven­der gar­dens. And if that fails, a visit to the on-site L’Oc­c­i­tane spa should do the trick.

DE­VOUR A day spent learn­ing how to make tra­di­tional Provençal cui­sine with Reine Sam­mut of Auberge La Fenière is the epi­curean equiv­a­lent of a deep-tis­sue mas­sage. How­ever, if a cook­ing les­son with one of France’s renowned chefs is too stren­u­ous, the Aix-en-Provence ho­tel also has a resto

( that show­cases the area’s fa­mous chest­nuts and Ca­mar­gue rice.

GAZE Dante knew the area of Les Baux-de-Provence, perched high in the north­ern Alpilles moun­tains, as the “Val­ley of Hell,” but th­ese days the for­mer baux­ite quar­ries are home to heav­enly vi­sions of fa­mous paint­ings pro­jected onto the stone walls and ceil­ings and set to mu­sic. Un­til Jan­uary 2017, the ever-pop­u­lar “cathe­dral of images” is fo­cus­ing on French mod­ernist artist Marc Cha­gall’s colour­ful oeu­vre.

One of Provence’s fa­mous laven­der fields

Un­der the trel­lis at La Chas­sag­nette (above); Rous­sil­lon’s iconic red walls

La Vieille Char­ité; the view from Do­maine la Tour­raque (right)

The calan­ques (top); the har­bour at Cas­sis (above right); the grounds of Le Cou­vent des Min­imes (right)

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