'Secret Provence'. For detailed itinerary and booking, please contact
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Arrive Marignane Airport where you will be met by your hosts, Elias and Jo Ann Safdie; a mini-bus will be waiting to take you through the French countryside to your hotel in Avignon Centre Ville
This 40 minute tour with individual headphones will give you a great feel for the city and its highlights. The headphones provide the information in various languages. You can catch the train in front of the Papal Palace, just a few minutes from your hotel. This is a great way to see what you might wish to view with more attention later in the week.
Get acquainted at La Vache à Carreaux (The Checkered Cow), a charming restaurant just a short walk from the hotel. The walk to the restaurant affords you a great view of the Palace of the Popes as well as the old dormitories of the Cardinals. We will have a separate dining room and a typical prix fixe French menu consisting of an aperitif (before dinner drink), an appetizer (known in France as the Entrée), a main plate (called Le Plat), dessert and coffee, along with your choice of red, white or rosé wines. By the way, if you are not a Rosé afficionado, as we were not before we discovered Provence, you have to at least try a French Rosé. If you are like us, you will marvel at the difference between the US and French Rosés. You will understand why the Rosés are the 'obligatoire' libations for the summer months.
Monday morning we start with a visit to a truly unique historical site. The Pont du Gard is a vestige of a Roman aqueduct that carried fresh water to Nimes in the late 1st century BCE. It is over 750 feet long and over 150 feet tall and spans the River Gardon . It is a stunning example of Roman engineering. The bridge is open to visitors and if the weather is nice, you can go down to the river and wade in the fresh water and watch the kayakers move downstream under the bridge. Lunch will be at Le Moulin des Artistes, a restaurant on the River Gardon that affords you a magnificent view of the Pont du Gard as you enjoy your Provençal lunch and wines.
The Palace of the Popes stands as the mighty symbol of the church’s influence throughout the western Christian world in the 14th century. Construction was started in 1335 and completed in less than twenty years under the leadership of two builder popes, Benedict XII and his successor Clement VI. The Popes’ Palace is the biggest Gothic palace in all of Europe (15,000 m2 of floor space, which is the equivalent of 4 Gothic cathedrals). During the guided tour in English, you will see over 20 rooms, scenes of historic events, in particular the pope’s private chambers and the frescoes painted by the Italian artist Matteo Giovannetti. After the tour, you will spend the rest of the afternoon and evening at leisure, visiting the papal gardens, the magnificent Cathedral with its stunning display of papal history, including the sarcophagi of several popes, shopping or visiting some of the museums you saw on your tour, or just lounging at the Place de L’Horloge in front of the hotel by the functioning 19th century double-decker carousel.
One of the hallmarks of Provence is the outdoor market. Each village and town has one day every week (sometimes two) set aside for local farmers, cheesemakers and othervendors to come to the town square or some other designated place, set up their wares, and sell to the public. The Wednesday market at Sault has been going on uninterrupted since the 1500’s!!. We will be visiting one of the larger markets in the area at Vaison la Romaine, where there are a multitude of Roman ruins and a scenic 1st century bridge. This will be a great opportunity for you to buy gifts for friends and loved ones back home as you will be able to find everything from Provençal tablecloths to scented soaps, lavender, cheeses, sausages, olives..you name it. The French word for negotiating is marchandise. Any of you who speak French can practice your negotiating skills.
Lunch will combined with a wine tasting in the lovely village of Gigondas. As with many things in France, there are strictly defined hierarchies in wines. Within the Cotes du Rhone family, we start with the Vin de Table or Vin du Pays and then graduate to Cotes du Rhone, Cotes du Rhone Village and then to some more exclusive labels:Vacqueyras, Gigondas and the King of the Rhones, Chateauneuf du Pape. We will do tastings in Gigondas and Chateauneuf de Pape where you will learn about the 13 different varietals that make up a Chateauneuf as well as how the different soils and temperatures impact the characteristics of the wines. Activity Dinner at Moulin de la Roque Dinner will be at a charming Hostellerie just outside Avignon where you will be treated to a three course dinner including wines.
Did you know that the famous Paris landmark, the Arc de Triomphe, is not the only such monument in France? In fact, the Romans built many of them to celebrate victories over the centuries. Orange has a beautifully preserved Arc de Triomphe, built as a tribute to the Roman Second Legion which we will visit on Wednesday morning.
This guided tour will give you an amazing insight into the grandeur and majesty of this theater during the days of the Roman occupation. The stage is nearly intact, including a statue of Augustus Caesar dating back almost two thousand years. It is still used for plays and concerts and there are some amazing displays of plays that were put on almost 100 years ago on this stage
Le Pressoir sits in the main square of a sleepy little village called Sarrians about 20 km northeast of Avignon. It is so called because in its back room sits an old olive press, which Jean Pierre will be happy to let you see. Here you will have a typical Provencal lunch, punctuated of course with the obligatory glass of Provence Rose wine. Sarrians may be sleepy but it boasts over 20 vineyards within its town borders.
This vineyard is one of the twenty inside Sarrians and it was selected because they not only make wines from their own grapes, they actually produce grape stock for vintners in the area. They produce over 30 of the Provencal grape varietals, including the ubiquitous Grenache grape found in almost all Cotes du Rhone wines, as well as the Cinsault, Mouvédre, Syrah, and Carignane which are used in different proportions to blend the different wines. We will have two visits at the Cave: 1. Introduction to Tasting will ‘enhance your senses and develop your ability to enjoy the art of the sensory analysis’. You will receive an official tasting glass as a souvenir of your visit. 2. Matching Wines and Macaroons will include a visit and tour of how wines are made followed a tasting session which includes some delicious macaroons, along with a recipe for you to take home with you.
The Romans built many Arenas, very similar to the Coliseum in Rome. The name arena comes from the spanish/latin word for sand which was spread on the floor. They were designed as places of combat to provide enterntainment for the populace, and are the places where gladiators did combat and spectacles of men fighting beasts were common. Arles has a beautifully preserved Arena which is still used today for bullfights and other events. As well, Arles has the vestiges of a Roman Amphitheater. Not as well preserved as the one in Orange, it is nonetheless worth a visit. There is a wonderful film there that superimposes what the theater must have looked like in Roman days over the existing vestiges that we see today.
Vincent Van Gogh, along with numerous other famous painters such as Cezanne, did much of their work in Provence. The light in Provence is special, so the artists say, and the colors intense, which is what drew them to this area. Arles, in particular was the subject of many of Van Gogh’s works. Take a guided walking tour of the sites where Van Gogh did his paintings, and see what the artist saw then and what exists now. His famous Café de la Nuit, with the large yellow awning still exists. Have a coffee or a mid afternoon wine or beer at this landmark made famous by the incomparable artist.
Carpentras is a lovely medieval walled town that today hosts the largest outdoor market in the area every Friday morning. We have found over the years that our visitors are overwhelmed by their first visit to a market and so we are providing a second visit to enable you to finish your shopping and just enjoy the smells, sights and sounds of the market one more time.
From the Market we will take a short ride to La Lavande, the vacation Villa that Jo Ann and Elias own, and we will have a typical French ‘grillade’ (cookout). Weather permitting, bring a bathing suit and enjoy the 4 meter by 8 meter pool. Feast on typical Provencal sausages, delicately spiced meats, wonderful cheeses, and complement them with a cornucopia of condiments: Cornichons, olives, Dijon mustard, tapenades, grilled vegetables and of course the famous wines of the area
These are two of the most beautiful villages in Provence. Fontaine de Vaucluse is literally the Fountain of the Vaucluse as it is the source of the Sorgues River. You can climb up to the actual source, a gaping hole in the side of the mountain from which, in the springtime, water comes roaring out over picturesque boulders to feed the Sorgues as it flows through the Vaucluse valley to the Rhone. There is also a working antique paper mill which sells very nice souvenirs. Gordes (pictured) is a ‘ville perche’, a perched village built into the side of a mountain, commanding phenomenal views of the valleys below.
Cassis is the westernmost point in the French Riviera. It has gorgeous beaches and crystal clear Mediterranean waters and is a jewel to behold. One of the best places to get a majestic view of Cassis is from a neighboring mountain, Cap Canaille. Our trip will take you up Cap Canaille and stop at some of the most beautiful vantage points to let you take in the breathtaking beauty of the view. Then we will go down to Cassis for a lunch on the waterfront at one of the many local restaurants specializing in ‘coquillage’ (shellfish).
The Rhone is split in two by an island, Ile de la Barthelasse, where we find a wonderful restaurant called Le Bercail. We will have one last Provencal meal, again Prix Fixe including an aperitif, an entrée, a plat and a dessert, and again accompanied by the famous Cotes du Rhone wines. From Le Bercail you will see a wonderful view of the walls of Avignon and the huge boulder upon which Avignon was founded known as the Rocher des Doms (If we are lucky we will see a spectacular sight as the sun sets and bathes the walls with a wonderfully golden light.)
Transfer Bus to Airport