Friday, 1st day
Marseille – Provence – Departure at 10:30am.
A7 autoroute to Lyon, then A 51 to Aix-en-Provence
11:15am Arrival at Aix-en-Provence
The travel obviously began by a little stroll along the “Cours Mirabeau” street. This is one of the most crowded and lively places of Aix, a place where light and shadow play under the plane trees and where kings used to walk. Built in the 17th century in lieu of a rampart, it is now a natural separation between the two most important parts of the city: the “Quartier Mazarin” district and the old town. It is a place to wander and to hang around the many café terraces situated on the left sidewalk on the way to the king René statue. In a certain way, we take a moment to live…
After that, it was time to leisurely walk on the streets of the old town. It is the oldest part of the city centre. It unites the village of Saint-Sauveur and the Cité Comtale. In place of the roman city, the village of Saint-Sauveur stretches from the cathedral to the clock tower and its bell tower (with an astronomical clock and statues that represent the four seasons) next to the town hall. We also found here many café terraces (which Aix is not short of) that get crowded on the very first day of summer, just like the ones on “Place des Cardeurs”.
Surrounded by boutiques, the pedestrian alley is quite busy. If you keep walking on that street, you will find the old Halle aux grains music venue next to “Place Richelme” and the farmer’s market. A Provence market just like the ones that French singer Gilbert Bécaud sings about. Towards the University square, you will find the Saint-Sauveur cathedral, of Romanesque and gothic architecture on the outside with a Baroque touch inside, a place that is worth visiting.
12.30pm. Lunch on the terrace of the Côté Cour restaurant on the “Cours Mirabeau”, under an opening roof. Ronan Kernen, former Top Chef contestant, welcomes us in a luminous decor with a modern and clean style. A lounge ambiance in a place where people come to be seen, but more importantly to eat well! The chef uses the best local products, cooks traditional meals and doesn’t care about trends. His mushroom risotto is to die for…
Côté Cour – 19 Cours Mirabeau, 13100 Aix-en-Provence – www.restaurantcotecour.fr.
2pm. In the steps of Paul Cézanne: a 3km pedestrian route that allows you to discover the landmarks of the painter. Just like Little Poucet, you need to keep your eyes on the ground to find the studs stamped with a “C” (for Cézanne). The house where he lived, his favourite cafés, the cemetery where he was buried… Special mention for the “Atelier des Lauves” (Cézanne’s studio), in the north of the city, that’s where Paul Cézanne used to paint while looking to his beloved Sainte-Victoire mountain.
3:15pm. We took the D17 (which we often call the “Route Cézanne”) to the Château du Tholonet. The 17thcentury Bastide is a meeting point for walkers. From there, we went to Saint-Antonin-sur-Bayon where we were able to enjoy a beautiful view of the Sainte-Victoire mountain.
4:30pm. Direction Salon-de-Provence by the A8, then A7 (the sun motorway). We stopped to visit the house of Nostradamus, turned into a museum.
6pm. We took the autoroute D17 to the north: Eyguières, Mouriès then Maussane and the Chaîne des Alpilles. The white snow on the mountaintops was glowing under the light at the end of the day.
7pm. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. We drop off our luggage at the Château des Alpilles located outside the village. Surrounded by centuries-old plane trees, the beautiful house is nestled in a vast garden and looks like something out of a Marcel Pagnol book.
We had dinner in the garden and slept in old-fashioned but charming rooms. Upon waking up, we had a good swim in the beautiful outdoor swimming pool.
8:30pm. We had an aperitif and dinner on the patio of the Auberge of Saint-Rémy, it was a great way to enjoy the elegant cuisine of Fanny Rey and the desserts of Jonathan Wahid. Former France champion of desserts when he worked at the Ritz in Paris, the baker also used to work with his brother Sylvestre at the famous Oustau de Beaumanière restaurant at Baux-de-Provence and has managed to open a successful restaurant with his wife. For which they were awarded a Michelin star. After this gastronomically experience, we went for a walk in the evening’s warm weather, along the boulevards that surround the old district of Saint-Rémy.
Saturday, 2nd day
Under the sunlight, the Alpilles look like they’re coming out of an Alphonse Daudet’s tale. We walk in the little streets in the heat haze. Let’s forget Baux and its Mont-Saint-Michel impression, and let’s go to Maussane. A real village of the Alpilles with its massive church. A game of pétanque was being played at the square, which a traveller could have easily joined in. Crowned by the clock’s tower, Eygalières is also a charming place where one can spend some time at the café with the regular customers. After that we went to La Durance in Cavaillon, and then to Luberon with its hillside villages and valleys.
On the farmer’s market of the Petit-Palais, every Saturday, from March to December, some local farmers come to sell their products: fruits and vegetables, olive oil, honey, gingerbread, chicken, herbs… Good-natured ambiance. An initiative that started twenty years ago, which shows that the region didn’t wait for the “eat local” trend to start enhancing its better products…
The Vaucluse is the leading producer of truffles in France, which you can see by the truffle’s market every Sunday of Christmas in Ménerbes. To know more about this precious mushroom, you can go to the Maison de la Truffe et du vin du Luberon in the Clock’s tower square. A meeting place where you can book a table at the Cantine des Gourmets for a little gastronomically trip to enjoy truffles and regional wines.
When he was the mayor for fifteen years, the cinema producer Yves Rousset-Rouard (Emmanuelle, Les Bronzés…) multiplied the initiatives to make his adorable village a known place of culture and art of living in Luberon. From thirty years, at the head of the Domaine de la Citadelle (famous vineyard), the creation of the Maison de la truffe et du vin du Luberon was his doing, as well as the unconventional Corckscrew Museum…
In Ménerbes, if you push open the door of the old cemetery full of vegetation you will find a wall with a view to the Castallet, the big house where painter Nicolas de Stael used to live. Here you can see the landscape of the Luberon up till the snow-capped mountain of Mont Ventoux.
1pm: On the hilltop of Luberon, Gordes represents the simple beauty of exceptional landmarks. Surrounding the castle, the houses are carved into stone and are connected by a complex labyrinth of narrow alleys.
Admirably well preserved, this distinguished member of the “most beautiful villages of France” houses a gorgeous hotel with panoramic terraces in a 16th century building: La Bastide de Gordes.
We gave the keys to the valet, dressed in a linen shirt and embroidered waistcoat, and entered into the coolness of the Provençale house. Sunlight pours through the doors and will guide you to the terrace where the tables are ready for lunch.
The quality of the meals by Jean-François Piège and the stunning panorama of the Luberon will make your eyes go back and forth between your plate and the landscape.
3pm. We drove again for some more kilometres to get to the Sénanque Abbey. The Cistercian building, located in a lavender field, is a sight for sore eyes. Then, pit stop at Bonnieux in front of the Lacoste Château where Pierre Gardin organizes a festival of classical music every summer. Another stop at Roussillon to see the ochre pits and finally Goult. This discreet village is loved by everyone. Its “Café de la Poste” is a famous place.
This bistro-tabac-press house is one of the most important spots of the region. The sunny terrace welcomes construction workers, bakers and plumbers alongside stars during their vacations. It is one of the rare places where, some years ago, John Malkovitch could come as any other neighbour to read his journal without being disturbed.
6pm. In an enchanting valley, at the foot of the Ménerbes, the Bastide de Marie is surrounded by yellow grapevines. One can feel the authenticity of this place, which looks more like a friend’s house than a hotel. Yellow mimosa, purple aster, Nîmes blue… those are the colours of the rooms. A delicate atmosphere where stone matches the linen fabric. In the living room, one can browse the books from the bookcase on the denim clothed sofa in front of the big patina stone chimney.
At the extremity of the property, by following the pathway surrounded by lavenders, one will find an antique farm of the 18th century that houses the Villa Grenache. A beautiful house to rent for a family.
Staircases used by many generations of farmers, decoration with ancient local furniture and objects made by local artisans, everything here invites you to take your time: you can have breakfast under a pergola, then enjoy the private swimming pool sheltered from the mistral by a stone wall, with the last vintage of the Bastide, a delicious rosé produced there…
8pm. We had dinner at L’Estellan. A restaurant alongside the route, at the Hamlet of Imberts, three minutes from Gordes, L’Estellan is one of the renowned restaurants of the region. The mansion is big, welcoming and looks like a bistro with a chic style.
There, you will see an original decoration that matches trendy colours and living materials with patina walls and nice texts of Alphonse Daudet and Frédéric Mistral. A creative cuisine with Mediterranean flavours and the best products that the chef buys at dawn on the regional markets. Nice terrace in the garden… Young and efficient waitresses.
Les Imberts, route de Gordes. (04 90 72 04 90).
Sunday, 3rd day
The first sunrays appeared on the Notre-Dame de Lumières bell tower and we stopped at a bakery. Their sourdough bread is famous across the region and is reserved for the early birds… the smart ones order it days in advance. With our flavorous brioches, we then took off for 15km and arrived on l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the bargain hunters’ paradise. Before that, we stopped at Coustellet to visit the Lavender Museum and to feel the good ambiance of the city’s market. Like the others markets of the Provence de Bécaud, people there talk “avé l’assent” (with the accent, in regional French language) in a cheerful way.
It is a good thing we left early, that way we could park in l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue before the rush. With its river system, l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is nicknamed the “Provençale Venice” (like Martigues and others…).
The city’s charm is due to its chanting river channels, just like its alleys and docks where one can enjoy a drink; but more importantly its reputation has been build thanks to its many antique dealers and brocanteurs. Since 1978, this profession has been growing after the creation of the first village of antique dealers.
Nowadays, there are 500 exhibitors between the Villages and the flea markets on the weekend. L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is the isle of flea markets. There is a kind of nice disorder everywhere you go, even in the alleys of the old town. The stalls are put on the road in front of the stores and the tourists have to slow down because of how dense is the crowd that wanders between light and shadow.
Then, we enjoyed a daily special at the terrace of the Jardin d’Aubanel and we visited some art galleries on the Cours Anatole-France and the Quai Clovis-Hugues. The city of René Char is like a poem dedicated to articles of yesterday and always.
Places to visit
The Atelier des Lauves – 9 avenue Paul Cézanne – Phone: 04 42 21 06 53.
Maison Sainte-Victoire, Saint-Antonin-sur-Bayon – Phone: 04 42 66 84 40
Mas des Barres – Oil mill run by René Quenin. You can buy souvenirs at the shop and book a visit of the manufacture – Phone: 04 90 54 44 32.
Le Village des Antiquaires de la Gare (80 shops) – 2 bis avenue de l’Égalité – Phone: 04 90 38 04 57.
L’île aux Brocantes (40 shops) – 7 avenue des 4 Otages – Phone: 04 90 20 69 93.
Where to eat?
In Eygalières: “Chez Bru” Eygalières bistro. More of a restaurant than a bistro, but with a friendly ambiance.
Rue de la République – Phone: 04 90 90 60 34.
In Maussane: This beautifully decorated restaurant in front of the church was a good surprise. During beautiful days, you need to book a table if you want to eat on the terrace.
City centre, 65 avenue Vallée des Baux – Phone: 04 90 54 23 31.
In Saint-Rémy: Auberge Saint-Rémy. Fanny Rey cooks wonderful meals while her husband Jonathan Wahid (former baker at the Ousteau de Beaumanière restaurant) makes the desserts and welcomes the customers. A place you need to visit!
12 Mirabeau boulevard – Phone: 04 90 92 15 33.
In Coustellet: The family-run grocery has become a restaurant where you can eat a generous regional meal. As for the wine, the customer can choose the bottle in the wine cellar. On evenings, meals cost 31 euros.
Maison Gouin, route nationale – Phone: 04 90 76 90 18.
Le Bouquet de Basilic. Daily specials, light salads, nice place.
Route de Murs – Phone: 04 90 72 06 98
Clover Gordes. The restaurant was inaugurated last year by chef Jean-François Piège in La Bastide, in Gordes. It is the perfect combination of his two universes: Clover Green vegetable cuisine and Clover Grill embers. You can enjoy your meal inside the restaurant (which looks like a country house) or on the terrace with a view on the Luberon.
Phone: 04 90 72 12 12
In Ménerbes: Bistrot Le 5. A cosy room and a vaulted cellar offer an off-season warm atmosphere, but the terrace is what ensures the restaurant’s success… along with its cuisine, of course. On beautiful days, people rush to the terrace to enjoy their meal while admiring the valley and the Mont Ventoux.
Phone: 04 90 72 31 84
In Goult: Le Café de la Poste. A place to visit rather for its terrace’s ambiance than for its cuisine. Generous daily specials and grilled meals… If you go for lunch, you’ll find a busy restaurant, so I advise you to book your table…
Rue de la République – Phone: 04 90 72 23 23
In l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: Cute restaurant which is also a flower shop and a flea market. Refined daily specials, tasty desserts, and smiling waitresses. The terrace is a true wonder.
Au Jardin d’Aubanel – 9 rue Théodore Aubanel – Phone: 04 90 20 66 94
Where to sleep?
La Maison. Domaine de Bournissac. At the end of an avenue of evergreen oaks, in the middle of vineyards overlooking the countryside of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, this 14th century Mediterranean farmhouse (“mas”, in French) opens its blue shutters over the surrounding fields. Twelve luminuous rooms to enjoy simple moments. Mediterranean cuisine. Double rooms from € 145.
Phone: 04 90 90 25 25 – www.lamaison-a-bournissac.com
La Maison du Village. David and Vicki have fallen in love with that charming house that they bought in 2017. An adorable little hotel, beautifully decorated in a provençal chic style by Vicki. You can enjoy your brunch or a tea in the garden. Doube rooms from € 190.
10, rue du 8 mai 1945, St-Rémy-de-Provence – Phone: 04 32 60 68 20 – www.lamaisonduvillage.com
La Bastide de Marie. In an enchanting valley, at the foot of the Ménerbes, the Bastide de Marie is surrounded by yellow grapevines. One can feel the authenticity of this house, that looks more like a friend’s house than a hotel. Double rooms from € 450. The price includes breakfast, dinner (for two) with wines from the propriety, aperitif and tea during the afternoon.
Ménerbes – Phone: 04 90 72 30 20 – www.labastidedemarie.com
La Bastide des Demoiselles. Surrounded by the houses of an adorable and traditional hamlet in the grapevines, this ancient magnanery of the 18th century is composed of five big rooms. Double rooms from € 165.
Roussillon-en-Provence – Phone: 06 14 15 04 72.
Au ralenti du lierre. At the foot of the cliff, in the hamlet of Beaumettes, five minutes in the centre of Gordes, this house of the 18th century has been admirably restored by the owners. Thierry and Serge, both aesthetes, have managed to keep the French ceiling, floor tiles and spiral staircase. Brown patina walls from Roussillon, salon’s chimney, beautiful swimming pool in the closed garden… everything there brings calm and serenity. From the garden’s terrace, you can see the pink roof tiles and blue mountains of the Luberon. Double rooms for two nights: € 240.
Les Beaumettes – RN 100 – Phone: 04 90 72 39 22 – www.auralentidulierre.com
La Bastide de Gordes. At the foot of the cliff, dominating one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Luberon, this magnificient house has forty rooms and suites decorated by the talentuous Christophe Tollemer. Antique panelling, Toile de Jouy, 18th century floor tiles… and many terraces with a restaurant and three swimming pools. One of the most distinguished places of the whole Provence.
61 rue de la Combe – Phone: 04 90 72 12 12 – www.airelles.com