Fly to Nice, Marseille or Montpellier, or you can travel by Eurostar and TGV to Aix-en-Provence. You have a choice of hotels where we stay for seven nights including bed and breakfast, two dinners in your chosen hotel and two dinners in excellent quality restaurants giving you a real taste of the local cuisine, and an authentic insight into French life.
Aix en Provence is a stunningly beautiful place, originally a spa town founded by the Romans. It is a labyrinth of tiny alleyways and squares and is known as the ‘city of a thousand fountains’. This is provincial France at its best. Paul Cézanne was the city’s favourite son and he painted 300 paintings here and in the surrounding area, with his workshop preserved exactly how it was when he died in 1906. This morning, you have tour of the city after which you may explore as you wish.
After breakfast we head to the Camargue, the delta of the great Rhône River and a beguiling landscape of flat saltwater marshland teeming with around 400 species of birds – including remarkable pink flamingos. This designated national park is also home to the region’s iconic black bulls and an ancient breed of white horse, some of which you may spot being ridden by the Camargue’s famous ‘cowboys’. We arrive at the small port town of Saintes Maries de la Mer and take a guided boat trip to explore the natural splendour of this wetland environment, don’t forget to bring your binoculars! We then make the short trip to extraordinary Arles, a prosperous Roman regional capital from the 1st century AD. You’ll marvel at the city’s impressive UNESCO-listed monuments on a fascinating walking tour, taking in the incredibly well-preserved Roman amphitheatre, the theatre built by the Emperor Augustus and the Forum, once the city’s heart. There’s free time to spend in Arles, perhaps to seek out locations associated with Vincent Van Gogh, who spent 14 months here from early 1888. It was his most prolific period and, inspired by Arles and the light and beauty of the Provençal countryside, he produced around 300 works, including The Café Terrace at Night, The Sower and, of course, Sunflowers.
This morning you head inland to the stunning scenery of the Luberon mountains. It was here that Peter Mayle found inspiration for his book, A Year in Provence. First of all, you cross the fertile plains adorned with olive and peach groves which change to rich vineyards on the lower slopes. Then as you climb, there is row upon row of fragrant lavender, together with the mimosa and pine trees, that give the unmistakable aroma which is one of Provence’s hallmarks, it is now a much prized nature reserve.
Today you visit nearby Avignon, one of Europe’s most historic cities. Its destiny changed early in the 14th century with the exile of the Pope’s court from Rome. Vast wealth poured in to build churches, convents and elegant townhouses, but most of all the incredible Papal Palace. You have time to visit this imposing building which from the outside resembles a citadel rising from living rock flanked by turrets more than 150 feet high. Alternatively, there is the Petit Palais museum which houses an excellent collection of more than 1,000 paintings. You also visit the Pont du Gard, an amazing Roman aqueduct, wider than the Thames in London and one of the wonders of the ancient world. You then return to your hotel in Aix.
Today you have a free day to spend as you wish. Probably best though is just to wander through Aix’s maze of ancient streets lined by its 17th and 18th century mansions and admire the graceful charm of its fountains, the choice is yours!
Today we head just south to the rugged Mediterranean Coast to visit, probably Provence’s most alluring port, Cassis. An utterly charming little spot with its myriad of fishing boats riding at anchor, overlooked by a mighty medieval fortress. Explore the sights or taste some delicious local seafood before, for the finest possible vistas, we explore by boat the stunning Massif des Calanques’s dazzling white cliffs and pinnacles erupting from the sea.
Today you return to the airport or railway station at the appropriate time to return home.