What do you do in Provence?


Feb 23rd, 2008, 04:01 PM
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What do you do in Provence?

Going to Europe in September with wife. Start in Paris, drive to Beaune, Montreux, Zermatt, Portofino, Provence? and end up in Barcelona. Beaune has wine, Montreux the lake, Zermatt hiking in the mountains, Portofino the Med Sea, Barcelona beaches. What does one do in Provence? I love the mountains and love the sea, but am kind of at a loss when researching where to stop between Portofino and Barcelona. I know Provence is supposed to be great, but when reading up on it, I'm not sure what the fasination is. What am I missing? Any ideas or comments? Thanks in advance!!
Masterphil is offline  
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Feb 23rd, 2008, 04:35 PM
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In Provence you enjoy the small towns, you visit the Palais des Papes in Avignon, you delight in the markets held everywhere just about every day (Sundays in Isle Sur la Sorgue are particularly delightful...check out the waterwheels), you explore the Chateauneuf de Pape wine region, you drive (or cycle if you wish to prove you can hang in there with the Tour de France folks) up Mount Ventoux and enjoy the view and the candy sellers at the top, you head for the coast at Cassis, try the fine white wine, and take a boat ride to visit the calanques up the coast toward Marseilles, you see the Roman ruins in Vaison-le-Romaine, the fine acqueduct (Pont du Gard), and the marvelous amphitheater at Arles. Do these things and you've just scratched the surface. Our preference is to base ourselves in a hill town (such as Venasque) in the Vaucluse, but there are many other options.
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Feb 23rd, 2008, 05:43 PM
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Go to the link 'Our Brochures' and read on Provence.
Like you, I made it there without being convinced there was much to do or see. I have fallen in love and I now have a long list of the many things I plan to visit on a future trip. I love Provence almost as much as I love Rome, some days even more.
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Feb 23rd, 2008, 07:44 PM
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Since markets bore me ,and 'exploring" small , however charming, towns is not my thing I am probably in a very small minority here who prefers other places in Europe.
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Feb 23rd, 2008, 08:22 PM
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It is important to know just exactly how much time you have.

You are planning to cover one heckuva big piece of geography. Anything less than two full weeks (and even that's cramming a bit) would be uncomfortable IMO.

Stu T.
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Feb 23rd, 2008, 08:47 PM
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Your right danon, Provence is not for you who will not enjoy the markets food and flea,but for me, the Provençal skies, sunny and crystal clear, the perfume of the garrigue, they never fail to stir me. Listening to the chant of the cigales, seeing the knarled twisted olive trees twisted by the Mistral, the spectacular colors, makes you realize why all the great painters chose this setting.
Van Goth wrote: "Nature here is so extroadinaryly beautiful everywhere and over all the vault of the sky is marvelous blue, th sun shines and is a radience of pale sulfer that is soft and lovely."
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Feb 23rd, 2008, 08:51 PM
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I have to admit that for me Provence is always connected with lavender fields in summer (not in September anymore, though). During other times, it is a very nice area to visit but lacks that certain uniqueness (for me, not in general!).

On the other hand, I would have chosen another destination in Switzerland if I wanted to hike, and probably not think first of beaches when thinking of Barcelona.

If you are more focused on nature than cities and markets, you will also find impressive canyons to hike or raft in Provence, for example.

If you are still somewhat underwhelmed (which I think, is perfectly okay), other option between Portofino and Barcelona could be to stay on the Cote d'Azur (e.g. between Nice and Marseille), and just do a day trip or two to get a first taste of Provence.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 04:39 AM
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What do you plan to do in Portofino? It is quite small. I stayed in Santa Margherita Ligure and day tripped to Portofino and stayed a few hours. Is it worth the effort to go there between Zermatt and Barcelona? Do you have plans to day trip from Portofino to the neighboring towns? How long is your trip? Perhaps there is better use of your time than Portofino.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 06:52 AM
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For this itinerary, you need at least six weeks.

Here some comments:

- For beaches, there is no reason to drive as far as Barcelona. In fact, Barcelona has mediocre beaches. You find the prettiest beaches right in Provence, at the Cote d'Azur. Cavalaire has a fantastic beach and so is Pampelonne near St. Tropez.

- The same is true for Portofino. Why driving thus far east, when you have the Mediterranean sea including dramatic coastline, beaches, harbors, fishers villages etc. between Marseille and Menton?

- There is also no need to go to Zermatt for hiking. You can go hiking everywhere in the Alps.

- My suggestion would be: Paris, Beaune, maybe Montreux (but instead you can go to Lac d'Annecy in France which is at least as equally scenic). Then drive southwards on the fantastic Route des Grandes Alpes (you know the road from the Tour de France, some passes reach almost 3000 meters) to the Cote d'Azur. From there to Provence.

What has Provence to offer?

- Landscape. Expect arid, mediterranean landscape with rivers, canyons, lakes, limestone cliffs, mountains, olive trees, vineyards etc.

- Roman ruins. The Roman ruins here are even better conserved than in Rome. There is everything: Amphitheaters, Greek theaters, temples, aquaeducts, necropolices, triumphal arches, mausoleums, whole towns etc.

- The Pope's Palace in Avignon.

- Walled Medieval cities like Aigues Mortes, abbeys etc.

- The Camargue: marshes, wild horses, wild flamingos.

- Picturesque villages.

- Modern art museums.

- Food & wine.

- A relaxing lifestyle.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 07:29 AM
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First I want to say thank you for your wonderful responses.

I've driven through Europe before, so the "your squeezing too much into too short a time" really doesn't apply here. The trip length is 3 weeks. 1 nt. in Beaune, 2 in Montreux, 4 in Zermatt, 3 in Portofino, then 3 nights to get over to Barcelona area. My sister "won" a week in a Spanish villa 1 hr south of Barcelona (Creixell) (that's why I need to go there, else I wouldn't). So far, my feelings are somewhat like danon's. I love the mountains, love the Med. sea, not sure about charming little towns and ruins. I love to eat so Provence certainly offers great food. I love wines from Chateauneuf-de-pape so wine tasting in that area appeals to me. The Pont du Gard looks like a good stop. I've been to Monte Carlo, Nice and Cannes before (and loved them!). I like the idea of staying on Cote d'Azur between Marseilles and Nice. Any recommendations there? Thanks again! Like I folks are wonderful!
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Feb 24th, 2008, 07:49 AM
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we loved watching an afternoon game of petanque in the boulodrome of a small town. Those guys were having so much fun and loved showing off for us.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 12:41 PM
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happy that you're planning on 3 weeks..if that's the case, you can comfortably cover the planned itinerary.
Have a great time of it...
stu t.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 12:47 PM
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Masterphil, it doesn't sound like your really want to go to Provence, so maybe you should give yourself permission to skip it. Most posters here love it, including myself, but hey, we're all different and the world is certainly big enough for you to see places you will love.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 01:46 PM
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Masterphil, What exactly are your interests while on vacation? Phisical activity? Photography? Wildlife? Have you read any of Peter Mayle's books: A year in Provence; Toujours Provence? I think those give a really good impression of that area. My interests in going to Provence are:
Olive mills, lavender, sunflowers, wonderful food, Cezanne, Van Gogh, and antique little hilltop vilages. However, there is horseback riding, river rafting, tons of hiking, amazing wildlife. Aix en Provence is a university town/city with loads to see and do. It is the "city of fountains." It's your choice. You will have a beautiful vacation no matter.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 02:31 PM
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Avoid Provence if you don't want a slow pace, incredible light and wonderful food. Watching a French couple spend 30 minutes waiting for their bottle of wine to open up opened my eyes that my go-go, don't stop to smell the roses, life style was less than optimal. Open wine, wait, pour some in a glass, wait, swirl and sniff, wait, then drink. What a wonderful life! But if like my father-in-law, you answer "how was your vacation" with "drove 8,000 miles in five days", don't go.

The Roman ruins in Orange, Arles, the Pont du Gard, etc. are more impressive than the Popes' other palace in Avignon. Gigondas has better wine tastings than Chateauneuf dP, in fact that's about the only thing you can buy in Gigondas. Sit in a cafe in St Remy and watch market day unfold.

Detour slightly on the way to Barcelona and visit Carcassonne, a walled city destroyed during a Crusade in 1209 (yes, the northern French invaded and slaughtered the southern French at the Pope's urging), World Heritage Site and worth a visit if you are headed that way.

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Feb 24th, 2008, 04:49 PM
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Sightsee, shop, and eat.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 05:22 PM
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Hahaha! As long as shopping is part of the equation, my wife will be happy.

I appreciate all of the responses.

I think I am going to give Provence a shot!

Les Baux en Provence looks like a beautiful little place, so we may stay there. Pont du Gard, the amphitheatre in Arles, wine tasting, the markets, and yes ddena, the olive mills, the lavender and Cezanne! I'm going to take travel buoy's advice and slow down and enjoy the sights, the smells, the tastes and the people of Provence!
Definitely want to see Carcassonne.

Thanks to you all!
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Feb 24th, 2008, 05:47 PM
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Personally, I wouldn't stay IN Les Baux. It's packed with tourists during the day, dead at night. Stay someplace like St-Rémy or Uzès from which you can easily tour the main sites, but which are good places to stroll around at night and have café and restaurant and event options.
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Feb 24th, 2008, 06:12 PM
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St. Remy or Uzes it it!!

Definitely need some night strolling!
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Feb 24th, 2008, 06:50 PM
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renember Uzés is not Provence but in the Gard but still the place to go. If you like horses there is a National stud farm. The Saturday Market s one of the best it spills beyond the square and pottery is much more here than other markets.
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