'Secret Provence'. For detailed itinerary and booking, please contact
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Transfer Bus from Airport to Hotel
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. Lunch will be at leisure with suggestions from Jo Ann and Elias if you want more than the hotel fare. You will have the afternoon to rest but if you have the energy, we recommend taking the Petit Train tour.
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 yards from your hotel entrance. 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 rose 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, visit the famous Pont d'Avignon (Pont St. Benezet) and learn its history and why it does not span all the way across the Rhone
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. After lunch you will be able to visit 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 part of an aqueduct than ran 31 miles but only dropped 56 feet in height over that length. 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.
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 and commemorate special events over the centuries. Orange , which was built for the Roman Legion II, has a beautifully preserved Arc de Triomphe which we will visit on Tuesday morning.
Lunch will be 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.
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 other vendors to come to the town square or some other
designated place, set up their wares, and sell to the public. We will
take a ride up the spectacular Mt. Ventoux through Mazan and enjoy the
breathtaking vistas in order to visit one of the most interesting
markets in France. The Wednesday market in Sault has been running
continuously since 1515.
Time permitting, after the market and before lunch we can take the “Chemin des Lavandes” (Road of Lavender), a 1.5km walk through the Lavender fields and distilleries. There is nothing that compares with the intense colors and scents of lavender in bloom.
We will then travel to Senanque, to see the Abbey, an 18th century structure where more fields of lavender are grown. It is a beautiful, picturesque and relaxing environment where we can appreciate more fields of lavender. No calendar of Provence is ever seen that does not have the iconic picture of this abbey with its lavender fields.
After the museum we will return to Avignon via one of the most beautiful villages in Provence, Gordes, the 'ville perché' (perched village) where we will stop for a photo op and a chance to wander the quaint streets and take in the spectacular view of the valley below.
Take a scenic tour along the Rhone where you can see the Medieval walls of Avignon as you dine on classical Provençal cuisine and wine. If you are up to it, hang around after the boat docks and join the fun for a dance party that will go until 1 AM. The boat is not far from the hotel so there will be no transportation issues.
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, and this drew them to this area. Arles, in particular was the subject of many of Van Gogh’s works. Take a guided 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.
From Arles, Van Gogh went to the sanatorium St Paul de Mausole in St. Remy in 1889 and he produced nearly 150 paintings during his year there. His room is still preserved and reproductions of many of his works decorate the premises.
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.
Le Pressoir (The Press) 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.
This vineyard 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.
Across the river from Avignon sits the town of Villeneuve Les Avignon. The most striking landmark of Villeneuve is Fort St. Andre, built in the 1360s. Originally built by Philip to protect the enclosed abbey, today it boasts breathtaking views of Avignon and the Palace of the Popes across the river, as well as a perfectly preserved medieval fortification. Take a tour of the gardens of the abbey or stroll through the crenelations of the towers and fortified walls of the fort. Lunch will be at leisure in Villeneuve.
Solstice in France is the day of the Feast of Music. Every village, town and city in France has musical events. None is more impressive than Avignon, which has literally scores of scheduled and impromptu musical events, ranging from shows at the Opera House to ad hoc street musicians playing anything from classical quartet music to dixieland jazz, to a capella singing. Wander the streets of Avignon for the afternoon, buy some gelato or crepes from the street vendors, find your favorite musical show and enjoy the solstice in a way you never have before. Remember that Avignon is almost to the 45th parallel so nighttime doesn't fall until after 10 PM.
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. )