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Six Days in Provence- itinerary help

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After 5 days in Paris, my husband and I will take the train to Avignon, rent a car and then head to Hotel Crillon le Brave. We will be staying there the first week in August. We have 6 full days and would like to spend our time leisurely: Visit several towns, a couple of vineyards, eat, drink, relax. We are of the "less is more" mentality and don't feel the need to pack it all in. We definitely want to spend a day in Avignon (although not the day we arrive) and would like to see Aix and Isle -sur-la Sourge as well. What other towns would you recommend we visit taking into consideration our base-camp and desire to relax? Are there any "not to be missed" towns/villages? We would also love some recommendations for dinners close to our hotel (have heard there are some good choices in Bedoin). Just an added note, we will end our trip by driving to Nice (returning our car) and then spend our last two days there. Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

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    You have certainly chosen a lovely place to stay.

    We did not get to many places, so others have more experience, but Les Beaux is pretty with nice views.

    Don't know how much driving you want to do, but Arles, though a bit on the gritty side, was very interesting with a beautiful, still in use, Roman arena and all the stuff about Van Gogh. If is so different from Avignon.

    Aix is really beautiful, with narrow crooked streets, like a painting, many squares filled with cafes and shops, and also a wide avenue lined with plane trees. You could, if you left early, stop there on the way to Nice, I think.

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    Our favorite restaurant in Provence is l'Oustalet in Gigondas. That isn't too far from Crillon le Brave.

    Last year we booked a winery tour at Chateau de Beaucastel and found that the same family owns the restaurant. The chef at l'Oustalet prepared a tasting menu around the Perrin family wines for lunch before our tour.

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    I actually like the end of Provence towards Nimes and Pont du Gard, specifically Uzes in terms of villages. It is really more officially Languedoc-Roussillon but only 25 miles from Avignon TGV station. Provence has little areas that kind of make little circle tours like this, so as people give you village ideas, it is easy to map them and see which ones kind of naturally go together. Be aware that August is busy and hot, so you might want to explore some of the higher altitude off the beaten path places depedning on weather

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    We've spent 20 weeks vacationing in Provence - 8 of those in Bedoin. IMO, there are zero good restaurants in Bedoin - but many cheapie/casual places for pizza and other basic stuff. There was a nice one there about 5 years ago - but it closed. Les Pins just outside on Bedoin is quite nice - one of our "go to" places on arrival day. Our three favorites are l'Oustalet (mentioned above), Ch Mazan in Mazan, and the Michelin 1 star Le Grand Pre in Roaix. Les Florets has a restaurant with a great setting - but the food is only OK.

    I had an "interesting" birthday dinner at Crillon la Brave several years ago. Here is a write-up I did.

    I had my 60th birthday dinner at Crillon la Brave. We had visited the hotel on previous occasions and the setting is fabulous. We had never stayed there, however. Like you said, it’s terraced and the views east in the evening (with the sun at your back) are spectacular. Also, we were staying at a Gite (for the second time) for the entire month of June, that was just 15 mins away. We arrived in Provence on June 2 & my birthday is June 6 so we reserved ahead from the US. I was hoping to dine outside

    Early June of ’07 was quite cold – we didn’t dine outside for the first 2 weeks. However, the inside restaurant at Crillon la Brave was quite cozy & romantic. We were seated at a table next to the fireplace at one end of the vaulted dining room. We noticed that two legs of lamb were suspended from a wire and were slowly roasting in the wood burning fireplace. The aromas were tantalizing.

    We received the menus and there was no fixed price menu – which didn’t bother us because we were going to splurge here & order anything we wanted. I am a very adventuresome eater, and I always gravitate to something on the menu that I’ve never tried before. The main course menu at the restaurant did not have anything that looked interesting to me:
    Leg of lamb (which was roasting in front of us)
    Camargue Bull
    Veal
    Chicken
    Bar
    Rougets – you see these on many, many menus in the South
    Sandre – not one of my favorite fishes
    Risotto with morels – I don’t want risotto in France

    I almost never order beef in France, because I think our beef in the US is much better (I’ve heard Paul Bocuse make this statement also). Anyway, I ordered:
    - Foie Gras in a glass terrine – normally I would not order this at a “high end” restaurant because it’s available everywhere in France and I often purchase it at markets & have it at our gites – but it was the only thing on the appetizer menu that seemed interesting
    - Gambas with spring olives, fava beans, in a light tomato sauce – which was OK
    - Caramgue Bull with French fries and Bernaise sauce. You can get fries anywhere in France and Bernaise sauce is a standard at most good beef restaurants in the US – and this offering of it wasn’t anything special. The plate came with only these 3 things. No art-on-the-plate, no tiny halved asparagus spears, no other vegetables or purees – just the 3 “steaks frites” type items. The Camargue Bull was cooked perfectly, but had very little taste. This was to be my last beef in France for as long as I live. I’ll stick to US prime or US Kobe beef. The price of this entree was 35E. It was not the restaurant’s fault that the beef was tasteless – but they could have done a much better job of presentation and adorned the plate with other things for $50.
    - Pomme Tarte with caramel sauce & vanilla ice cream – with a chocolate “Happy Birthday” spelled out on top (in English). This dessert was very good.

    My wife had the diced tuna tartar , the Rugets, and strawberries tossed with sugar-crystal covered lavender. She said the dishes were OK, but all pretty ordinarily prepared & presented.

    Also, this restaurant was perhaps the only mid to upper-end restaurant in France that we’ve dined at, that did NOT serve and Amuse Bouche. They either don’t serve it, or they forgot ours.

    The most amusing part of the dinner was the leg of lamb. There were two legs roasting in the fireplace. Each time lamb was served; a young waitress carried a dish up to the leg, grabbed a carving knife, and proceeded to slice a serving from the leg. When I carve a leg of lamb at home, I cut vertical to the bone so each piece is crisp on the outside and pink in the middle. She carved horizontal to the bone, so the first piece was all crisp & medium-well to well done, and the last piece was all pink. I also only plan on serving 6 “cuts” from each leg – usually the “end” pieces near the foot are not that good of a cut and are usually cooked medium-well. What was amusing, and an “attention getter” for us and the other diners in the restaurant, was the number of servings they obtained from each leg. Perhaps because the weather was cold, a roast seemed like a popular choice for too many diners. As the evening proceeded, the waitress cut more & more servings from each leg and the carcass soon looked like it had been picked over by vultures. But the waitress continued to slice tendons, fat, & gristle from the carcass. People at other tables were finding this an interesting thing to watch. As she approached the carcass, heads would turn and people would start chuckling. A table of 6 next to us was finding this amusing. Finally their entrees arrived and one person ordered the lamb. When the waitress set the plate in front of him, the other diners howled in laughter. If I had been at the other end of the room and had not watched the waitress serve tendons & gristle to others – and a plate of such was set in front of me, I would have refused the entrée. A Relais et Chateau establishment charging pretty steep prices, should know how many “good” servings can be obtained from a leg. When that limit was ordered, they should tell customers that the item was no longer available. The Leg was 27E.

    End of story

    Bedoin has an excellent Monday morning market - it's my wife's favorite - don't miss. There is also a nice grocery in town.

    We just returned from 2 weeks in Nice & two weeks in the Luberon/Provence. I'm in the process of updating my 27 page Cote d'Azur/Provence itinerary that I've sent to over 3,000 people on Fodors. If you would like a copy of my "current" edition, e-mail me at StuDudley@aol.com - or wait until I announce on Fodors that my new addition is ready.

    Stu Dudley

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    Just back. My fav village was Roussillon. The colors of the clay (ochre) which is used to make the structures is beyond belief. We also found great whimsical ceramics in a shop in town.

    2nd fav was Gordes. If you are foodies check this place out - le Loup Blanc, on TripAdvisor. We had the best Charlevoix steak and grilled crispy duck breast.

    The Thursday market in Menerbes was good. Found a watercolor artist w reasonably priced prints of various locales. We liked lacoste. A great climb up to the village center and interesting sculpture finds.

    We could have done without Saint Remy. Touristy klotschkes.

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    Based on your suggestions and other research I've done, we've come up with a loose itinerary for our week:

    Thursday- arrive in Avignon, drive to Hotel Crillon le Brave and relax, dinner at hotel

    Friday- L'isle sur la Sorgue

    Saturday- Avignon/Pont du Guard/Uzes

    Sunday- Aix

    Monday- Bedoin market and Luberon villages

    Tuesday- Wine tour at Chateaneuf du Pape or other winery near Gigondas or Seguret

    Wednesday- Arles & Les Baux

    I will begin to book some lunches and dinners once I am confident that we have a good game plan and are not doing too much or missing anything.

    Thanks again!

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    Aix is my wife's favorite "shopping" city in Provence - but on Sunday all/most shops will be closed. Below is a "survey" that I have in my 27 page Provence itinerary (e-mail me at StuDudley@aol.com if you would like a copy).

    Also - Saturday is not a good day to go to Uzes because that's their market day, it is hard to find a place to park, and IMO the market obscures this lovely town with an arcaded Place aux Herbs. If you go - get there after 3pm when the city is cleaned up from the market and the shops re-open for the afternoon. I bet, however, that you won't have time to visit Uzes after Avignon & the Pont.

    Why Friday in l'Isle sur la Sorgue?? It certainly won't take a full day to explore the city - especially considering you plan to visit Avignon, Pont, and Uzes in one day.

    I don't think you'll do justice to the Luberon & it's villages if you do them after Bedoin. Perhaps visit some of them in Sunday (Gordes & Roussillon will have shops open) instead of Aix. Also consider visiting the fabulous market in l'Isle sur la Sorgue very early Sunday morning and then visit some Luberon villages after the market. Visit Aix in Friday.

    While in Aix in mid June ’10, I did a “survey” of about 30 shops that had opening & closing days & times posted on their storefronts. Of these 30 shops, 5 were open all day Monday (including a Gap and Monoprix – chain-type stores), 10 were closed all day Monday, and 15 were open Monday afternoon only. Only 1 shop was open on Sunday.

    http://about-france.com/holidays-sundays.htm

    Stu Dudley

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    Thanks for the feedback. Very helpful and I am definitely re-working our itinerary. A couple of things: we are not big shoppers on vacation. We like to poke into small interesting shops, but overall we do very little shopping. Secondly, while I love markets and could spend all day strolling through them, my husband does not. He enjoys them but is content seeing one or two and moving on. I have a couple of questions. The one day I was unsure about was Arles/Les Baux. Would you consider that a MUST and if so, how would you spend that day. Is it worth driving there just to experience the Camargue? Secondly, since we will be in Paris for 5 days previous to this and we prefer to see smaller villages and such, could we spend 1/2 day in Aix or perhaps even stop there on our way to Nice for lunch? Or would you recommend stopping in Grasse/St. Paul de Vence/Mougins on our way to our hotel in Nice. Finally, I am thinking about taking Uzes off of the list since I'd rather dedicate 1/2 day to Avignon and the other 1/2 to the Pont du Guard. So much to see, not enough time! Thanks again….

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    When shops close for lunch or on Sundays & Mondays, the shop owners will turn off the lights, and often pull metal bars or aluminum shutters over their beautiful shop windows - making "window shopping" not fun at all. Many times the aluminum shutters are covered with graffiti. Don't visit Aix or Avignon on a Sunday - unless you are purely interested in visiting museums.

    We were driving around the Grasse/Mougins region about 4 weeks ago - and I hate that area. Driving in, around, or near Grasse is a pain. This was at least our third "outing" in that area. I didn't think much of Mougins - compared to other villages we've visited in France (hundreds & hundreds over our 150 weeks in France).

    St Paul, Vence, and Tourrettes sur Loup are much more interesting, IMO.

    Here is something from my "new" Provence itinerary. I've sent my Provence itineraries to over 3,000 people on Fodors.

    Explore the perched medieval village of St Paul**. It’s probably the most popular small village on the Cote. Shops are always open (although we’ve never been there on a Monday). I advise people to get there by 9:00 and leave by 11:30 to avoid the crowds. It is especially crowded on Sunday in the summer season. We’ve stayed just outside of St Paul at Hotel Le Hameau several times & it’s quite nice – nothing fancy.

    Head north of St Paul on the D2 toward Vence. The “old section” of Vence* is quaint. Look at the map in the Green Guide under VENCE to locate the old section at the east end of town. There is a walking tour described in the Green Guide. There’s an underground parking garage under the large open space on your right, just before you get to the old section. There are several stores in Vence where you can buy Provence fabric (see write up about Provence Fabric)

    After Vence, follow the signs to Tourrettes-sur-Loup (D2210), which is west of Vence.

    Explore Tourrettes-sur-Loup– there’s a parking lot on your left, just off the road - except on market day Wed) when the market uses this lot. If it's market day, park east of town and take the shuttle to the old section of Tourrettes (available on non-market days also) The shuttle departs every 10 mins.. Tourrettes is a real cute town. It is much more "spruced up" than it was 20 years ago when we first visited it. Many may prefer Tourrettes over St Paul. There is an excellent view of Tourrettes from the D2210 west of town.

    Continue on the D2210 west & do the Gorge du Loup**. Go in the clockwise direction – D2210 through le Bar, then D3 to Gourdon. Explore Gourdon*. Like St Paul de Vence, it will be crowded & shops will be open on a Sunday & Monday. It is quite touristy. Continue north on the D3. From Gourdon clockwise to Pont du Loup the terrain is very interesting - more so than the southern section of this loop. When you hit the D6, take it south back to Pont-du-Loup (this section is very scenic) & then retrace your route through le Bar and return to St Paul or Nice.

    Stu Dudley

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