After much searching, I have found a home exchange partner in Provence to exchange homes with. The exchange will take place next summer (prob. last week in July to mid August) for a minimum of three weeks. The home is located in Pelissanne which is 10 minutes from Salon de Provence (in Bouches du Rhone). I have Rick Steves Provence Book, and I've read it cover to cover; and it seems there's plenty to keep us busy, even for three weeks. I'm looking for personal tips from Rick Steve's community (you guys out there). I've never been to Provence, the closest was Lanquedoc. Favorite villages, markets, beaches, restaurants, lavendar fields, etc....Also, specifically, has anyone visited the Camargue in the summer, or kayaked to the calanques in Cassis, Gorge du Verdon (sp)? We will have a car the entire time. I'm traveling with my husband, my mother, and two kids (10 & 15).
I love Provence and have been several times. I think the market in Aix-en-Provence is a must, le Pont du Gard is very impressive, the calanques are beautiful( we stayed at the Hotel le Golfe that's in Rick's book and it didn't disappoint, clean rooms with a balcony over the small port and right outside the hotel there was a boat tour to see the calanques). Marseilles is big so not sure if you're looking for that. I still love Avignon as it is quaint and charming. There are day tours out of Avignon and Aix that you could take if you want someone else to drive you around. We went to Gordes, Roussillon, Orange and visited a winery in Chateauneuf du Pape. I also would recommend visiting Arles if you have time. I can't tell you about the lavendar since I always go in the fall and it isn't in bloom...Provence is amazing!
Vence was my favorite hill town. Antibes has a wonderful old town and Picasso Museum. Arles had great Roman ruins. Ilse sur la Sorgue (spelling?) was very charming. Abbey Senanque had a beautiful lavender field , check season. Avignon very historic. Some of my highlights, you will have plenty to do and see.
I traveled without a car, and so I didn't see rural Provence. Of the places I did see (Marseille, Arles, Avignon, Aix, Orange, Nimes), my favorite was Nimes. The Roman arena audio tour was fascinating, and I really liked the town itself. The Roman theatre in Orange was amazing, with the intact Roman theater wall, but the town of Orange was meh. I liked Arles (would definitely go back), was not as enthusiastic about Avignon (fine to see, but no need to go back), and didn't see the appeal of Aix. I liked Marseille, but it certainly isn't what many people think of for "vacation." One man's opinion.
I haven't kayaked the calenques, but I've visited them via boat and stayed in Cassis twice. I love it.
I second Harold--I think Nimes was my favorite. I also enjoyed St. Remy, especially the market and the chocolates at Joel Durand. If I were you, I'd try to hit as many markets as you can. Plan your visits to different towns based on when their market days are.
thanks! I appreciate your opinions! I'm taking it all under advisement.
Wow, 3 weeks! A trip like that lets you go beyond the guidebooks, but I would stock up. Rick's guide is a fine starting place but is not written for the 3-weeks-in-one-place traveler. Grab the Michelin and Cadogan and maybe Lonely Planet and a few others. Ask the kids to pick 4 or 5 of their priorities too.
I agree with Becca on market days. My favorite is the Lourmarin Friday market. Don't miss Vaison la Romaine, Cassis, Pont du Gard, Gordes.
Friday is the best market day in Cassis. The other day, it's smaller.
Kerry, Guidebook to the Luberon Region of Provence by Sue Winn is a great book about the Luberon region of Provence. Great for spots not covered in RS Provence and others. Gorges du Verdon is excellent. Will send more info if you'd like in a p.m. for dining and visiting in the area.
I know what you mean about the heat; we did a home exchange in the summer of 2009 in a casa with pool but no air conditioning. We adjusted our schedules to take advantage of the cooler mornings & evenings, and then hung out by the pool in the middle of the day. We'll try to do the same in Provence. We did get to visit the south of France in 2009 also, and the day we went to Arles was almost unbearable (in the afternoon in July). Fortunately, this home exchange has both a pool and AIR CONDITIONING!!! I'm sure my home exchange partner will have lot's of good information waiting for me, as I will for her. Thanks for all you recommendations - I will add them to my trip file! We'll definitely try out those restaurants!
I value all your responses. Any information you want to provide on the region is most welcomed! It's true, 3 weeks allows me to see what is in and not in Rick's guidebook. I will look into the other recommended guidebooks. I DO love an outdoor market; but I was wondering if visiting a place (for a daytrip-not waking up there) on a market day is a good or BAD idea; what about parking, is that a big problem on these days? I'd welcome restaurant suggestions in the area; keep in mind we are a family of five, and paying for five - soooo inexpensive to, at most, moderately expensive is key! We do however appreciate really good food (not necessarily easy in Europe when on a budget!). We do look forward to shopping at the outdoor markets and cooking up delicious meals in our home exchange kitchen
Kerry, my experience with market days in Italy (probably also true of France) is that parking can be a problem, but if you park near a train or bus station, you can take the local bus to a stop reasonably close to the market area. Or get there really early in the morning to park closer in (be careful of limited traffic zones).
If you do go to the villages on market days just try to arrive early for parking. I love the St. Remy Market and it has great food for a nice french picnic lunch. Although the markets are fun I would not miss a lot of the villages when they are a little more quiet. Also, as far as the Carmague... it is a bit of a drive, but I loved the little beach town there and one time we did see a lot of flamingos and the white horses. Found a lovely field of lavendar on the drive back. Also in Gordes at the Abbey de Senague there is a field right in front of the abbey. Some of the best days in Provence are simply taking off on a little road trip adventure and just exploring. I prefer the smaller villages so not as fond of Avignon or Aix. Love St. Maxime's on the sea, as well as Eze and St. Paul de Vence (not sure if they are in Provence) You will have plenty to keep you busy for more than three weeks. Also, for your cooking be sure to purchase some herbes de provence from one of the markets and your sea salt from the Carmague.
Yes, I'll even bring some provencal recipes with me! I agree that we'll want to drive around and just explore. The village we are staying in, Pelissanne, is not a tourist destination, which is nice, and also a lot cheaper! I will definitely visit a lot of markets, but also want to visit villages when they are quiet!
We did a 4 week house/car exchange in a town about 4km south of Aix 4 years ago. We had a wonderful time and never ran out of things to do. We will probably go back to this same are in a year or two to see more. We found the driving to be easy, the lunchtime 3 course prix fixed meals to be a real bargain, the markets (especially Aix) to be stunning, the villages fun to explore and the pace of life to be relaxing. We took one trip away from our home to Nice to see the city and some art museums. We found the heat to be stiffening in the middle of the day so it was good to plan around that. We were fortunate that our house had a pool. There was no air conditioning but we did have shutters that we were to close during the heat of the day but that made the house dark. Most days we were out and about so this was not too much of an issue. If your exchange partners are experienced home exchangers they'll probably leave a wealth of maps, notes and brochures for you about many nearby local favorite things to do. This is one of our favorite things about exchanging. If you have questions for me, just send me a private message. Have a great adventure with your family.
Lucky! We found a great cafe in Avignon called Gennette and Marcel - wonderful tartins and appertifs. There is a bakery nearby with the best pastry and baquettes we had in France. The cafe is listed in trip advisor.
Restaurant Le Bonaparte, 14 rue General Bonaparte in Cassis. It is not on the port, but was recommended to us by a local. Caters to locals and we've eaten there about 15 times. Only 24 seats in winter, but opens into the street in summer. Price is right too. During the 6 months we were in Cassis we ate on the port once or twice when visitors wanted to go there, but much preferred Le Bonaparte. Good place for kids, too.