I had wanted to visite Provence ever since I was in high school and learnt about impressionism. I needed to see the landscapes and magical light that had inspired those paintings I loved. Shortly afterwards we travelled to Rome on our graduation trip, and I thought that maybe we’d drive through Provence and I’d get to see those fields. I didn’t, and travelling from Spain to Italy by bus was a terrible idea.
Somehow I didn’t visit Provence until last year, 14 years after the idea first went through my head. I don’t have a driver’s license, so I have always chosen travel destinations where driving is not a must. Besides, what’s the point in going to Provence if you’re going to miss the charm of its tiny, tree-lined country roads? As soon as my parents said that they fancied the idea of spending Easter abroad I saw it very clearly: we had to go to Provence.
For all my enthusiasm, I knew next to nothing about Provence, and I can assure you that if I had realised that Arles was less than a 7 hour drive from home I would have travelled there many years before, but oh well. My knowledge of Provence was reduced to the following:
- Home to beautiful landscapes.
- Van Gogh and Cézanne used to live there.
- Marseille soap is very popular.
- Caroline of Monaco lived in Aix-en-Provence when her husband died and she was often photographed walking through markets and wearing flowery dresses. (As a child I was really into gossip magazines, you see.)
- Herbes de Provence.
With this knowledge in mind I started researching for my trip. I knew I had to visit Aix-en-Provence and wherever it is that Van Gogh used to live (Arles, that’s where Van Gogh used to live). So I marked these two places on my map and calculated the distances between them.
After that, I looked for smaller places to visit. After all, this trip was more about rural charm than big city life. I went through lists and lists of the most beautiful villages in France and the best markets in Provence and marked them on my map. I also googled other interesting sounding places to see if they were worth a visit.
As you can see above, the resulting map was a bit of a mess and it would have taken us a long time to see everything, but it helped me to decide on a place to stay; if we wanted to make the most of our time we had to stay between Avignon and Arles and make a little detour to visit Aix-en-Provence and maybe Marseille.
Once this decision had been made, we had to make up our minds about whether we wanted to stay in a village or in a town. At first we were more into the town idea and looked at some flats in Arles, mainly because of the dining out options. However, we realised that we would be travelling by car every single day to visit different places, so staying in a town made no difference to us because we wouldn’t be spending much time in it.
We ended up saying at this airbnb house in Vallabrègues, a little village between Arles and Avignon, and this was the best choice we could have made. The village had a couple of restaurants, a pizzeria and a little supermarket, which was enough for us, the house was charming and comfortable, and the drive the was so beautiful that as soon as we got off the car I knew we had made the right choice.
Next I planned our itinerary. We only had four nights to spend there, so good planning was necessary if we wanted to see as much as possible. With only three full days there, establishing three areas to cover was a good idea. I didn’t plan everything down to the minute, but rather established the main place of that day and then improvised the rest of the day in the surrounding area. This is what my plan looked like.
- Day 1: Aix-en-Provence (market day). Cézanne museum? Marseille?
- Day 2: Antique fair at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This will probably take the whole day. Evening in Avignon?
- Day 3: Arles (market day) and The Camargue (go flamingo watching)
- Day 4: If we have time go somewhere near the house.
The plan was a success and it really helped us to see most of the places we really wanted to visit, which was definitely much more than we expected in four nights. We all fell in love with Provence and we regularly talk about the trip, about how beautiful everywhere was, about how well we ate, about how much fun we had, about how many different landscapes we saw and about how much we want to go back. These are all the places we went to, , but that’s a story for another day.