Surrounded by fields of flowers, the town of Grasse just north of Nice, became the centre of the French perfume industry in the 16th century after Catherine de Medici requested perfumed gloves to be fashioned using the scent of local flowers. Today, Grasse remains the perfume capital of the world, harvesting the flowers used to create the legendary fragrances of the houses of Chanel and Dior, to name but a few. The Musée Fragonard offers a particularly good tour of the old perfume-manufacturing process, and has a spectacular gift shop.
The Verdon Gorge in northern Provence is a 700m deep limestone valley carved out by the Verdon river over millions of years. The river is so named because of its bright turquoise-green colour – no filter needed on that Instagram snap. Hire a kayak from the northern end of the Sainte-Croix Lake and paddle up through the breathtaking canyon. The gorge is also ideal for rock climbers, hikers and those in search of a scenic drive with jaw-dropping views.
Head to the village of Valensole in north-eastern Provence for the most picture-perfect lavender fields. Rolling expanses of purple stretch for as far as the eye can see, with identical lines of lavender. Make sure to stop and take in the unbelievable scent…
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A Cistercian abbey tucked away in a valley near the charming village of Gordes, the Sénanque Abbey is truly enchanting. The abbey is still a working church and is surrounded by fields of lavender grown by the monks, from which they make organic honey and lavender oil. Those in search of pure tranquillity can even stay with the monks at the abbey for a spiritual retreat – we can’t think of a more magical place for some quiet contemplation. The nearby village of Gordes is perched on top of a rocky cliff with spectacular views across the valley, and has an excellent selection of ice-cream parlours.
On an island in the Sorgue River you will find the cosmopolitan haven of La Maison sur La Sorgue. The boutique hotel occupies a refurbished 17th-century mansion, with six elegant suites decorated with art and antique furniture sourced from all over the world, including a colonial-style bed from Zanzibar, a vintage tuk tuk from Thailand and paintings exhibiting female empowerment in Myanmar. Bedrooms are elegant and spacious with excellent facilities. Breakfast was a splendid array of pastries, homemade jams and local meats and cheeses, served by the pool on the outdoor terrace as the swallows darted above our heads. However, the thing that really sets this hotel apart from its competitors is the impressive modern-art gallery, which is run by the hotel’s charming owners, Frédéric and Marie-Claude, showcasing thought-provoking artworks from around the world. With a strong emphasis on ethnic design combined with timeless luxury, this gallery hotel is a far cry from the lacklustre French B&Bs of old. Well-placed for exploring the famed antique shops of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, as well as nearby Avignon, La Maison sur la Sorgue is the region’s ultimate boutique hotel.
Photo: Courtesy of La Maison sur la Sorgue
The ancient city of Avignon rises from the banks of the Rhone River in western Provence and was once home to seven successive popes in the 14th century, who temporarily relocated from the Vatican. The Palais des Papes is Europe’s largest gothic palace, and today houses an impressive exhibition of papal history. The central courtyard serves as the main stage for the annual Festival d’Avignon, an arts festival held each July in the city.
Tucked away in the sun-drenched valley of Les-Baux-de-Provence lies the five-star sanctuary of the Baumanière Hotel & Spa. Championing classic Provençal elegance since 1945, Baumanière is an oasis of rustic Mediterranean chic. Baumanière even has the royal seal of approval – the Queen Mother stayed there during a visit to Provence in 1972. Sumptuous suites are spread across five historic buildings, including the stunning Manoir, amid enchanting roses gardens, a bountiful vegetable garden and the hotel’s very own goats. Indulge in a massage or facial at the spectacular Sisley spa before relaxing by one of the welcoming outdoor pools with a cold glass of local rosé. The hotel also has two excellent restaurants, La Cabro d’Or and the two-Michelin-star L’Oustau de Baumanière. Just a stone’s throw from some of the Côte d’Azur’s most popular haunts, Baumanière is a haven of peace and elegance – no wonder the famed artist and Bazaar contributor Jean Cocteau moved in for three months in 1958.
Photo: Courtesy of Baumanière, Les Baux-de-Provence
For those in search of a completely unique experience in an idyllic setting, look no further than the Carrières de Lumières in the village of Les Baux-de-Provence. Thanks to Jean Cocteau’s visionary genius in the 1960s, a vast disused limestone quarry was transformed into a cultural space and is now home to the world-famous light show where legendary artworks by Picasso, Michelangelo and Monet are projected onto the colossal walls while rousing music echoes around the cavern. The Carrières are worth visiting in the heat of the day, as the dark quarry is beautifully cold, providing the perfect place to cool down whilst marvelling at the magnificent spectacle.
The chef Jean-André Charial, the grandson of Baumanière’s founder, has been at the helm of this famed Provençal institution for many years. Together with chef Glenn Viel, who joined in 2015, Charial serves up the very best of refined French cuisine. Utilising the highest-quality local ingredients and cooked to perfection with precision and years of expertise, dishes at the two-Michelin-star L’Oustau de Baumanière are truly exceptional. The menu features traditional French dishes including lobster soufflé, slow-roasted leg of lamb with unbelievable dauphinois gratin and the most elaborate cheese trolley imaginable. The star of the show was the famous Baumanière millefeuille that would rival those of the world’s best patisserie chefs.
Photo: Courtesy of Baumanière, Les Baux-de-Provence
The village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence hosts a typical Provençal market every Thursday and Saturday, where stall-holders sell traditional produce under the shade of 100-year-old plain trees that line the main square. Stock up on local Savon de Marseille soaps – my favourites include lavender, rose and olive oil – traditional Provençal patterned fabrics (think table cloths, place mats, napkins and even skirts) or a classic French straw bag that’s perfect both for summer in the city and the beach. Locally produced olive oil, wine and lavender products are of excellent quality, along with unbelievable fresh fruit – don’t miss the enormous figs and melt-in-the-mouth apricots
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Situated near the Camargue region, the city of Arles features some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in Provence. The ancient Roman amphitheatre is remarkably intact, where traditional Provençal bull fighting is still practiced today, along with musical and theatrical performances. The nearby Roman necropolis (known as Alycamps) is well worth a visit, and was recently the location for the latest Gucci Cruise show. Other things to see in Arles include the Van Gogh Foundation and the Frank Gehry tower.
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Villa Baulieu is, quite simply, heaven. The home of Provençal counts since 1576, the Italian-style chateau has remained virtually untouched ever since, apart from the addition of a rooftop Jacuzzi, helipad and five-star facilities. The villa is still a family house – the owners have spent 20 years renovating the chateau and filling it with antiques. The 11 palatial bedrooms are decorated in the traditional 18th-century style, with toile de jouy wallpaper and antique period furniture. The chateau is surrounded by pristine landscape gardens, including a rose-covered walkway, spectacular labyrinth and multiple fountains. The outdoor pool is nestled among the olive-trees, while the tennis court and pétanque terrain can be found behind the main house. The staff are truly exceptional, with an acute attention to detail. Breakfast was a feast of local delicacies, including homemade croissant and jams, with figs and apricots picked from the gardens. Despite being only 15 minutes from busy Aix-en-Provence, Villa Baulieu, a haven of luxury and serenity hidden amid the vineyards, is in a league of its own, and might just be Provence’s best-kept secret.
Photo: Courtesy of Villa Baulieu
Villa Baulieu’s wine estate is situated on the slopes of a dormant volcano just 15 minutes from Aix-en-Provence, providing fertile soil that is perfect for growing the chateau’s famous wine. Head off on a private ‘wine safari’ to explore the estate’s 300 hectares from the comfort of a Range Rover while the chateau’s wine expert explains the estate’s history and wine-making process. Stop off for a glass of cold rosé in the treehouse nestled among the vines, with show-stopping views across the Durance valley. Later, return to the chateau for wine tasting to sample the excellent selection of wines – don’t miss its bestselling Cuvée Bérengère White, named after the owner’s daughter. Keep an eye out for Villa Baulieu wines served in some of France’s best Michelin-starred restaurants. The estate also produces black truffles as well as 20 tonnes of almonds each year – perfect for rustling up some fresh ‘calissons’, an irresistible little Provençal pastry made from ground almonds and candied fruit. Villa Baulieu
Photo: Courtesy of Villa Baulieu
Aix has long been the cultural centre of Provence, attracting artists, intellectuals and authors to its delightful streets. The former playground of Emile Zola and Paul Cézanne, the Cours Mirabeau is the tree-lined main boulevard in Aix-en-Provence, home to Provence’s most famous market and several historic coffee shops. Order an espresso from the renowned Brasserie Les Deux Garçons, where Cézanne would famously sit sketching over a glass of absinthe. Pick up some local fromage de chevre, a baguette and a bottle of wine from the morning market and head to the secluded gardens of the Pavillon Vendôme for a picnic in the sunshine.
Where better to have a perfect summer lunch than in the beautiful gardens of l’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle. A five-star hotel in the Provençal village of Celle, l’Hostellerie is a charming residence adjacent to the Benedictine Celle Abbey. The renowned restauranteur Alain Ducasse took over in 1999 and has since transformed the property into an unmissable destination for visitors to Provence. The hotel’s restaurant gained a Michelin star in 2006, and continues to serve outstanding French dishes crafted with imagination and an astonishing attention to detail under the chef Nicolas Pierantoni. Using only the best seasonal ingredients, the menu includes perfectly cooked red mullet with roasted fennel, delectable mushroom ravioli and beautiful patisserie creations such as handmade strawberry and pistachio tarts and homemade petit fours.
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR UK.
- Abbaye de Sénanque
- Baumanière Hotel & Spa
- Brasserie Les Deux Garçons
- Carrières de Lumières
- Catherine de Medici
- Chanel fragrance
- Christian Dior Parfums
- Emile Zola
- Frédéric and Marie-Claude
- French cuisine
- Glenn Viel
- Gucci Cruise 2019
- Jean-André Charial
- l’Hostellerie de l’Abbaye de la Celle
- l’Oustau de Baumanière
- La Maison sur La Sorgue
- Lavender Fields
- Palais des Papes
- Paul Cézanne
- Provençal market
- South of France
- Verdon Gorge
- Villa Baulieu