Arrive at the airport for your flight to Nice, Marseille or Montpellier, or at the station for your Eurostar and TGV journey to Aix-en-Provence. We transfer by coach to stay for seven nights, with breakfast and two dinners, at the four-star Novotel Aix Beaumanoir on the outskirts of the city. Another two dinners are included at local restaurants. Set in its own garden, your hotel features a restaurant, bar, shaded terrace and outdoor swimming pool (open in the summer months).
Beautiful Aix combines Parisian-style chic with village-like gentility. Founded as a spa town by the Romans, it became the capital of Provence during the Middle Ages and evolved into a major educational and artistic hub. Aix is known as the ‘City of a Thousand Fountains’ and the tranquil sound of running water accompanies you down boulevards, through squares and labyrinthine alleyways. During our guided tour this morning, you’ll see what inspired the city’s favourite son, Paul Cézanne, to produce numerous paintings in and around Aix. This afternoon we have our first country walk with a specialist guide, and you have a choice between an easy route and a moderate one. Easy walk Duration:1.5 hours (3.7 miles) Altitude gain: 179 feet Terrain: mainly forest trails and graded tracks We begin at the colossal Bimont dam, which almost blends in with the surrounding limestone hills. The panoramic views extend over the teal lake to the jagged peaks of Mont Sainte-Victoire, immortalised by Cézanne in a series of paintings. As we continue along a ridge overlooking the Cause river, we are treated to more inspiring views. We arrive in the picturesque village of Le Tholonet, home to a grand château, an old stone windmill that doubles as an art gallery, and the remains of an ancient Roman aqueduct. Take a moment to soak up the breathtaking views over the vineyards and wildflower-filled fields criss-crossed by rivers. Moderate walk Duration: 2 hours (4 miles) Altitude gain: 280 feet Terrain: mainly forest trails and graded tracks If you wish to discover more of the area, our moderate walk includes an additional visit to the Zola Dam. Designed by Italian-born engineer François Zola, father of novelist Émile Zola, it is a lovely place to wander and admire the scenery.
This morning we travel to the Camargue, a captivating landscape of saltwater marshland teeming with around 400 bird species, including pink flamingos. It’s home to the region’s iconic black bulls and an ancient breed of white horse, which you may spot being ridden by the Camargue’s ‘cowboys’. We then visit the port town of Saintes Maries de la Mer to see some of the natural splendour of this wetland environment – remember to pack your binoculars! We take a short drive to Arles, a Roman regional capital from the 1st century AD. You’ll marvel at the city’s impressive UNESCO-listed monuments on a fascinating walking tour and see the Forum, once the city’s heart, and the remarkably preserved amphitheatre. There’s free time after in Arles. Perhaps take in the places associated with Vincent van Gogh, who spent 14 months here from early 1888 and produced around 300 works, including Sunflowers.
We head to the stunning Luberon Mountains, where Peter Mayle spent A Year in Provence. The pure light here has long attracted artists, while the hilltops are crowned by enchanting medieval villages. Choose between an easy walk and a moderate one with our specialist guides. Easy walk Duration: 2 hours (3.8 miles) Altitude gain: 386 feet Terrain: mainly forest trails and graded tracks We begin at Sénanque Abbey, with iconic lavender fields that are breathtaking when in bloom. We walk through the wooded Sénancole valley, passing olive groves and the stone huts of the Bories. Dating as far back as the Bronze Age, the huts provide a snapshot of local life from long ago. At the end we are treated to a majestic view of Gordes, one of the loveliest villages in France. White and grey stone houses spiral upwards around the massive plateau on which the village sits. Moderate walk Duration: 3 hours (5.1 miles) Altitude gain: 684 feet Terrain: mainly forest trails and graded tracks Our moderate walk follows a similar to the easy option but in reverse. We walk from Gordes to the abbey at Sénanque, then return to Gordes along a scenic route overlooking the abbey – the views here are simply spectacular. This afternoon we visit the village of Roussillon, renowned for its red-hued cliffs and ochre quarries. The warm shades of earth provide a striking contrast against the pine trees and vibrant sky, all bathed in the coveted Provençal light.
The day is free to spend as you wish in Aix. Wander along Cours Mirabeau, the city’s elegant main street, and peel off into the maze of lanes to discover tiny squares and myriad fountains. Alternatively, head to the Museum of Natural History to view the dinosaur eggs unearthed on the slopes of Mont Sainte-Victoire.
We spend the morning at leisure in Les Baux, a hilltop town built into an ancient limestone outcrop. From the battlements of its crumbling castle, you can admire superb views across the Camargue and as far as the Mediterranean. The narrow streets lined with charming shops are a delight to wander. You may wish to see the Carrières des Lumieres, an art show set in a stone quarry. This afternoon we explore the Alpilles with a local walking guide. Easy walk Duration: 2.5 hours (4.3 miles) Altitude gain: 597 feet Terrain: mainly forest trails and graded tracks We follow a circular route to explore the beautiful area around Les Baux before transferring by coach to the Saint-Paul de Mausole, the monastery turned asylum, where Van Gogh was a patient. He experienced his most productive period within the cloistered walls, creating more than 150 paintings including his most famous, Starry Night, which depicts the view from the east-facing window of his room. Moderate walk Duration: 3 hours (5.1 miles) Altitude gain: 596 feet Terrain: mainly forest trails and graded tracks If you’re feeling energetic you may prefer the moderate walk, which takes us from Les Baux to Saint-Paul de Mausole via a slightly longer and more undulating route. We’ll see the Rock with Two Holes, through which you can enjoy sweeping views over the Alpilles. We’ll pass the archaeological site of Glanum, where excavated baths, temples and more offer a glimpse into everyday life in Gaul.
Today we visit Avignon, whose destiny changed in the 14th century when the Pope’s court was relocated here. Vast wealth poured in to build churches, convents and townhouses, and especially the Palais des Papes. There’s time to explore this incredible palace, which resembles a citadel rising from living rock, flanked by towering turrets. Or you could visit the Petit Palais Museum, which houses a fine collection of paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, while a walk on Avignon’s celebrated 12th-century bridge will have you singing a certain French song for the rest of the day. We return to Aix via the Pont du Gard, a 1st-century AD aqueduct constructed as part of a 30-mile route supplying water to Nîmes. Stand back to absorb the beauty of this engineering masterpiece and you’ll understand why it’s considered a wonder of the ancient world.
Transfer to the airport for your return journey.
Situated on the outskirts of the city, the four-starrated Novotel Aix Beaumanoir is purpose built property with comfortable rooms with air conditioning, satellite TV, safe and private facilities. Set in its own garden the hotel has a pleasant bar and restaurant, outside terrace andswimming pool open all year round and staff are extremely friendly and welcoming.