Many people envision Provence in their mind’s eye: groves of olive trees and lavender fields, yachts on a glistening sea—not to mention the dry, elegant rosés that have inspired the whole world to rethink pink. This sun-kissed region in Southeastern France—bounded by the Rhône River to the west, Italy to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the south—doesn’t suffer from a lack of pleasures. Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Bandol and Cassis make excellent hubs for a wine and food adventure; budget a week or more if you’re making the trek in search of that Provençal joie de vivre.
Where to Dine
For a taste of Provence’s Michelin-rated restaurants, make reservations in advance. Soak up the charmed setting at the restaurant at Les Bories & Spa in Gordes, situated on 20 acres of cypress trees and aromatic gardens. Regional dishes include trout with olive tapenade. For fine dining with a modern twist, try the artistic plates at L’Esprit de la Violette in Aix-en-Provence. Don’t leave without sampling Marseille’s storied seafood. La Boîte à Sardine is a local hangout with quirky decor, while Chez Fonfon hits the spot for traditional bouillabaisse.
Where to Stay
Spend the night amid centuries-old vineyards at –Domaine de Fontenille in Lauris. Amenities at the 17-room luxury hotel include spa treatments and yoga, and the winery hosts wine tastings and classes in its cellar. There’s also an excellent restaurant, Les Champ des Lunes. In Aix-en-Provence, the sleek and modern Hotel Cezanne is steps from galleries, museums and restaurants. While in Cassis, opt to sleep at the beachside Hotel de la Plage Mahogany with its Côte d’Azur views from 19 terrace rooms.
Biking through the region provides opportunities to take in the stunning scenery and burn off calories. For a splurge, DuVine can customize a private tour. Art fans and outdoorsy types alike will appreciate a stroll near Mont Sainte-Victoire, the majestic peak featured in dozens of paintings by Paul Cézanne.
Head to nearby Roussillon: with its winding streets and ochre facades, the Luberon village was voted one of France’s prettiest. And nearby, the famous Red Rocks, so-named for the red, orange, yellow and pink pigments of the cliffs created by the quarries, offer stunning views from both afar and via the Sentier des Ocres hiking path. Time your visit just before sunset when the cliffs are aflame with glorious color.
When to Go
Unless you have your heart set on seeing lavender in bloom, skip the touristy summer crowds and plan a visit between March and early June.
Biking through the region provides opportunities to take in the stunning scenery and burn off calories.
Where to Taste
From April to September, guests can taste two wines for 12 euros and tour the scenic grounds at Clos Sainte Magdeleine. Set on the slopes of towering Cap Canaille in Cassis, the winery is renowned for its delicate whites and a rosé. Nestled in the foothills of the Alpilles, Château Romanin in St.-Rémy-de-Provence provides a modern contrast, as the biodynamic, dog-friendly winery that allows visitors to hike through the property (reservations required for cellar tours). Established in 1813, Mas de Cadenet is a traditional Provence domaine known for its dry, fruit-forward rosés. With tours frequently led by the owners, visitors learn historical tidbits about the property (fragments of Roman amphorae were discovered onsite). The Maison des Vins de Côtes de Provence in Les Arcs-sur-Agens is an excellent place to stuff your suitcase with bottles to take home. It offers 800 wines, and its friendly staff can also point visitors toward specific wineries.
Three major appellations produce 96 percent of the region’s AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) wines. Though Provence is the heart of the world’s dry rosé production, its ageworthy reds and distinctive whites merit exploration, particularly in Bandol and Cassis, two small resort areas near Marseille. Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvèdre are among the most-planted red grapes throughout the region, while Rolle (Vermentino), Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are commonly planted whites. Near Aix-en-Provence, the Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence AOP allows for 15 red and 16 white grapes, making it the most varied appellation in France.
Local in the Know
“Provence has a strong and old food-market tradition,” says François Millo, author, photographer and Provence native. “While seaside markets like Saint-Tropez are famous, I like more authentic, country markets, such as the food market on Tuesdays in Lorgues. Listening to people speak with that special Provençal accent is a great pleasure.”