It has been a challenging year. We may have booked our holidays and then seen our hopes scuppered thanks to the closing of borders and travel restrictions. The recent resurgence in virus outbreaks and the possibility that advice could change in an instance all but destroyed most people’s hopes of time abroad.
Of course, this is hard. However, what an excellent opportunity to dream of a better tomorrow! While 2020 will always be remembered as the year we stayed home, 2021 could be the time when you discovered places of stunning beauty, culture, and culinary delights. 2021 should be the year when you find your Provence.
Let us put some flesh to this skeleton of an idea. Our only hope here is to help you envision your getaway and to help you travel in your imagination. Then, when the perfect holiday is designed, you can go book and begin to anticipate a better tomorrow.
Go hiking in Calanques
Settle back in your chair and imagine beginning your holiday surrounded by narrow inlets and the towering cliff-side rock formations. The sea is crisp around your toes but as clear as crystal. You will then ascend through narrow rocky pathways to overlook the vista of the bays. If one day hiking exhausts you, day two could be a boat tour and day three a gentle kayak up the coast. You could spend a day in some of the seaside resorts among the other tourists before hiring some bikes to get away from the crowds – seeking a private inlet of your own.
This holiday would be a perfect spring trip. If you wait to go in the summer, you might be thwarted by bans due to the risk of fire. It is also too hot in this area of Southern France to properly hike the many trails available to you.
Provence is awash with some of the prettiest towns in the world. There are so many places where you could go and stay or visit for a moment before moving on. Take Eze, near Nice, as an example. This small town is perched on the side of a hill that overlooks the stunning coastline. The medieval streets are narrow, and there are nooks and crannies to explore over many weeks. You can stay still and soak up the slow pace of Provence life in this stunning spot.
Alternatively, you might want to hop from town to town. Take in the seaside village of Cassis and tour the inlets by boat, take in the incredible ancient architecture of Oppede Le Vieux, spend a day in peace by the fountains of Pernes Les Fountaines or enjoy a glass of wine in Pernes at sunset or a wander around the stunning architecture in Avigon.
If you are keen to take in the lavender fields of Provence then beginning in Siamiane-La-Rotonde and moving on to Sault and Aurel, you will enjoy the best of experiences of the area. Not only can you bask in the beauty of the fields but visit some gorgeous little cafes too.
Finding your gem
Provence may be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, but there are still pleasures to be had in finding your hidden gem. There are many small villages, towns and nooks off the well-worn paths to excite the possibility of so many adventures. So, today, you could begin your dreams of finding a spot of your own in a quiet corner of Provence where other tourists choose never to venture.
We always love to visit Le Panier, near Marseille, for instance. This area is a hub for arts and artisans alike, and because people think it is a place that is overrun with trippers, it is often tranquil. It is a place where you could take a walk through the many galleries and shops of the local creatives by day and spend an intimate dinner by candlelight in one of the small, local restaurants.
A unique area of Provence, usually only visited by boaters travelling through, is Camargue. It is like nothing you will find elsewhere in the area. You will fall in love with the wildlife, especially the flamingos and the startlingly beautiful white horses. You might also want to be careful to spot the black bulls that are frequent inhabiters of local fields.
Alternatively, seek out Les Alpilles, which is said to be one of Van Gogh’s favourite spots. It is about 15 miles from Avignon, and mountains and small villages will spoil you. There is much to explore, and it is a place where you will feel most at home renting a small villa and going native for a while.
Eat your way around Provence
You don’t need any help imagining the possibilities of a wine tour around Southern France. We drop it in here as a reminder of long evenings in courtyards by candlelight tasting the most delicious wines. Yet, you may need more help envisioning a tour of some of the best food. The cuisine of Provence is more than Salad Niçoise – there is much more to discover than this.
If a tour of food outlets sounds like your dream, then we suggest heading to the Avignon region, where the diet of fresh produce, fish, and Sisteron lamb, with the pates and pasta and the drenching of olive oil with delight.
Go to Avignon and begin your journey, not at the restaurants, but the covered markets. You might be entering a shed, but inside you will be overwhelmed with the smells, colours and textures of foods of every variety. Everything will tempt, with the abundance of the local delicacies – from hanging hams to roasting chickens, huge ripe melons to the leaves of every herb for seasoning. And don’t forget the olives! And, the goat’s cheese. And, tapenade or aiolade. Oh my, your mouth will water, and your belts will bulge, but you will have lost yourself in paradise!
If you don’t want to cook on this dream holiday of yours, then visit the Restaurant Christian Etienne, L’Agape, La Mirande, Christian Etienne and La Fourchette. A tour of these restaurants will change your view of eating for the rest of your life.
Travel in your mind
2020 doesn’t have to be a time of Netflix and gardening. You may not make the physical journey abroad, but we invite you to dream of your perfect trip. Provence offers a million adventures, and today you can travel them in your mind ready to enjoy in person just as soon as you can.
Su Stephens is Owner of Olives & Vines. Olives & Vines is a luxury holiday company based in the South of France offering stays at their beautifully designed holiday house and boutique hotel in Le Castellet.