The Daily Telegraph - Travel
Ancient history and celebrity villages
Take the Eurostar from St Pancras direct to Avignon (see panel, right) in just under six hours and hire a car for the drive to Le Thor.
Base yourself for the first three nights at La Bastide Rose (telegraph.co.uk/ bastiderose) a couple of miles outside Le Thor. A former watermill surrounded by greenery, it is now a cracking little Provençal hotel overseen by Poppy Salinger, French widow of JFK’s former press spokesman. Son Emmanuel cooks brilliantly.
Out early to Les Baux – an hour away – to beat the crowds. This eagle’s nest of a place, with ist steep stone strets, appears to grow organically from the craggy chaos of the Alpilles. Buildings are semi-troglodyte and the view from the castle takes in all the Provençal clichés – olives, vines, scrub, rock – in one eyeful. Continue to the Pont du Gard: the greatest of the Roman aqueducts as it soars above the Gardon valley.
Spend the afternoon in Avignon. The great Gothic Papal Palace rises still with monumental authority. Don’t bother with the interior; it’s empty. Go, instead, to the Petit Palais across the square, which has an outstanding assembly of Italian art. Once you’ve seen Botticelli’s Virgin and Child, you’ll wonder why anyone else ever bothered. Later walk up to the Rocher-desDoms, Avignon’s foundation stone. The views over the Rhône and the world’s most famous fifth-of-a-bridge are arresting. Nothing is gained by paying to walk on the bridge. Instead, take a terrace table on the Place-de-l’Horloge and watch the city spectacle flow past. fan, you’ll be euphoric: the place has 300 outlets. Move on to Gordes, the classic Luberon hill village, brightened by the intangible sheen of outside money. Now roll around the region: Ménerbes, Bonnieux, Lacoste and Rousillon, where ochremining has sculpted canyons of red and gold. These are all chatteringclass villages. Celebrities, too, but discreet ones.
Cézanne, Lorgues and the unspoilt coast
Time to move east via Aix-en-Provence. You need to see Cézanne’s studio (preserved as if the old boy had just nipped out for tobacco), Cours Mirabeau (the stateliest avenue in southern France) and Nicolas Froment’s Burning Bush triptych in the St Sauveur cathedral.
Then drive on, around the Mont Sainte Victoire, the slab of mountain painted into submission by Cézanne, to St Maximin. The basilica here holds the skull of Mary Magdalene. In Correns is the château where Brad and Angelina hole up, resented by the villagers they avoid. And just outside Lorgues is your base for the next three nights: the Château de Berne (telegraph. co.uk/chateaudeberne).
It’s not so much a wine estate as a wine realm, with a five-star auberge, acclaimed eating and more than a thousand acres in which to roam.
If it’s Tuesday or Friday, start in Lorgues market, where all Provence’s edible abundance is gathered. Then whirl around the redoubtable upland villages of the Haut-Var: Villecroze with its cave-studded cliffs; hilltop Tourtour for coffee on the Place des Ormeaux, and Châteaudouble where the restaurant La Tour (latour-chateaudouble. eresto.net) provides a fair lunch and a gorge view. Afterwards, track down to Thoronet Abbey, the finest of Provence’s three austere