Postcards from… The South of France
France’s southern coast is known for its famed beaches and the annual influx of Hollywood luminaries to the Cannes International Film Festival, but tucked away in the region’s hills are remote perfume factories, 10th-century villages, and exquisite farm-fresh produce and dairy products including Camembert cheeses. Stop in Les Baux-de-Provence at the Carrières de Lumières, where famous paintings are projected onto walls of a cave that was once an old quarry. Follow the Rhône River to picturesque Avignon and stroll across the bridge at Pont d’Avignon, and don’t miss the many renowned restaurants hidden between miles of cherry fields, or set above valleys planted with vines in the wine regions. Traveling through Provence and the French Riviera is a pastel colored dream filled with castles, ruins and eye-catching art.
By Mor Weizman
CHÂTEAU DE VARENNE, SAUVETERRE The long drive here leads to a seemingly deserted street behind an old church, but once you step inside the hotel, the structure of an old castle becomes visible. The place was built about 400 years ago, and was only recently turned into a hotel. Explore the gardens and sit out on the large patio for a leisurely breakfast with coffee, tea and local produce from Sauveterre. And the location is actually very close to Avignon and some unexpected and remote Michelin-starred restaurants.
HÔTEL RESTAURANT LE CÉSAR, BONNIEUX This little restaurant is a gem. The dishes tactfully and expertly prepared, and the view of the Vaucluse Valley at sunset is unbeatable. As are the local wines and fresh raspberry tiramisu.
FARINOMAN FOU, AIX-EN-PROVENCE The savory tango à la tanche, a bread baked with cheese and olives, is a must.
LES REMPARTS, VENASQUE The terrace here is breathtaking when viewed from a perch underneath the ethereal green vines. The unique menu includes such offerings as oat cheese pudding, tomato and pesto tiramisu and a tomato tarte. For dessert, order the lavender crème brûlée.
GORGES DU VERDON, ALPES-DE-HAUTE-PROVENCE Set aside a day to explore the canyons by car, and leave time to stop at the Lac de Sainte-Croix at the bottom of the canyon to enjoy the remarkably bright turquoise water. The Gorges du Verdon is essentially France’s Grand Canyon and the river flowing through it is filled with refreshing cool, clear water.
CHÂTEAU DES BAUX, LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE To get to the ruins of the Château des Baux, walk up a hill through an adorable small town that dates back to the 10th century. The Château, from the same era, still retains some original features, and visitors can walk to the top of the fortress and through the ruins that were once homes.
CARRIÈRES DE LUMIÈRES, LES BAUX-DE-PROVENCE A walk through the Carrières caves is at once enchanting and meditative. Day and night, the walls become canvases for projections of paintings by such artists as Monet and Renoir. Guests stroll through the limestone passageways built from leftover stones from the quarry used to build the nearby Château des Baux.
SAINT-PAUL DE MAUSOLE, SAINT-RÉMY-DE-PROVENCE Artist Vincent van Gogh voluntarily admitted himself to this asylum and the space is now a museum filled with reproductions of his most memorable works painted during his stay there, including The Starry Night, The Bedroom, and many of his self-portraits. Detailed descriptions of his family and about his hospitalization and death are posted in the room he occupied while residing there.
MUSÉE D’ART MODERNE ET D’ART CONTEMPORAIN (MAMAC), NICE Works by Yves Klein and Henri Matisse fill the museum and a 360-degree view of the city is visible from the roof. The rooftop is built of several bridges circling the top of the museum, with various spectacular views of Nice at every angle.
LE SENTIER DES OCRES, ROUSSILLON A 30-minute walk through the colored sands at this former ochre quarry filled with shades of vivid reds and oranges feels like an adventure through fairytale lands.
SÉNANQUE ABBEY, VAUCLUSE One of the most photographed spots in the area, the endless fields of dreamy lavender in front of the abbey are not to be missed, especially during the summer months when the lavender is in full bloom.
BOAT TOUR OF THE CALANQUES, CASSIS The calanques of Cassis are large bays formed along the coast of the Mediterranean that can be reached by boat or by foot. Once there, spend the day in an inlet on what is essentially a private beach. The colorful harbor and gorgeous beaches of Cassis make it the perfect place to relax and snack on a Grand Marnier crepe, a delicious specialty of the area.
Pictured: The Château de Varenne in Sauveterre
Photo by Mor Weizman