Lavender fields forever
A lazy road trip in Provence.
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:
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.
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.