By Annette of Minute by Minute Traveller
I have been doing quite a bit of hiking over the past year as I find it both healing and therapeutic. So when it came to planning a trip in the fall with a group of women, I decided to incorporate hiking into the mix. We chose to visit the beautiful region of Provence in the south of France. This area is a good combination of charming villages, historical towns, delicious food, colourful markets and a variety of hiking terrains.
After a lot of research we booked with a local company, based in Avignon, called Walk Inn Provence. They organized our hotels, gave us the detailed hiking information and arranged transfers for us and our luggage.
Best time of year to travel in Provence
Summer is the most popular time to travel in Provence. The lavender and sunflower fields are in bloom and offer spectacular views. The down side is the towns of Provence are crowded with hoards of tourists – hotels are expensive and restaurants fully booked.
We travelled in mid-October. We were very lucky with the weather – it was sunny and warm. The olive trees and vineyards were filled with fruit. The towns were lovely as they were not crowded and the service we received everywhere was excellent. It was a very pleasant time to be there.
This charming town with twisting alleys, colourful patisseries and interesting shops was our base for the first three nights.
Arrive in Marseille and transfer to St. Remy and our beautiful hotel, Sous les Figuiers. This small renovated hotel is just a few steps from the centre of St. Remy. The rooms are all on one level, with inviting front porches, and they surround a lush garden with fig trees and beautifully arranged plants and lanterns. The hotel provides a hearty breakfast of fresh croissants, bread, homemade jams, eggs, cheese, yogurt and fruit.
After settling into our hotel, we walked to town. We meandered through the narrow streets and alleys of this town, filled with shops and restaurants. We stopped for lunch at Michel Marshall restaurant and patisserie, located in a small and quiet square. Our salads and sandwiches were delicious, fresh and beautifully presented. But the highlight of this restaurant is the desserts which are a feast for the eyes – prepared by the namesake pastry chef.
After lunch we continued walking through the town and headed to St-Paul-de-Mausole, the monastery where Vincent van Gogh spent some of his most productive and creative months. There is a nicely landscaped courtyard and we saw the room that Van Gogh lived in which is depicted in one of his famous paintings.
From there we walked over to the ancient archeological site of Glanum.
On our way back to the hotel we picked up some cheese, baguette, olives, figs, tomatoes and a nice bottle of vin (wine) for our dinner.
We had an early dinner outside, on the quiet porch of our room, facing the hotels garden courtyard.
Day trip to Avignon
This morning we were transferred to Avignon for the day. This beautiful town is surrounded by a midieval ring of towers. We started our day by touring the Papal Palace, and renting an audioguide.
During the 14th century, the French-born pope, Clement V, moved the papacy from Rome to Avignon’s magnificent Papal Palace.
From there we walked over to the Pont St-Benezet (Avignon bridge), made famous by the children’s song Sur le pont d’Avignon. While this bridge currently only spans half way across the river, when it was built in the 12th century it did reach all the way to Villeneuve. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers nice views of the Old Town ramparts.
After the bridge we climbed up to Rocher de Domes (Rock of the Domes) which is a beautiful park set high up, just north of the Popes Palace. Here we stopped for a coffee in a lovely garden cafe. We admired the beautiful views of the palace and Old Town.
We continued to walk around the Old Town, going in and out of shops and stopping for lunch at the lovely Avenio Restaurant. We sat on the street-side patio and ordered the delicious fixed price menu.
After lunch we wandered around Old Town and headed to the Collection Lambert, a wonderful contemporary art gallery. We were lucky to be there during a special Keith Haring exhibit.
After arriving back in St. Remy and having a rest we went for dinner at L’Aile ou la Cuisse, located in the centre of St. Remy.
We walked through town to a local grocery store, picked up some cheese, baguette, pate, vegetables and fruit for our lunch and headed toward the start of our hike.
Todays hike was along the crest of the Alpilles mountains. The hike was very challenging as we climbed the rocky terrain along jagged and uneven paths. This adventurous route rewarded us with stunning views and a picturesque place to have our picnic lunch.
The Alpilles mountain range is a rough-hewn, arid landscape with limestone hills with silvered fields of olive trees below. The word Alpilles means “little Alps” as this mountain range rose in the same geological era as the Alps.
After making our way to the valley below, we were greeted with beautiful vineyards and walked the remainder of our hike along country roads.
After a good rest, we headed into town to Cuisines des Anges for dinner. This Provencal restaurant has a delicious fixed price menu filled with comfort food and of course a good bottle of wine.
Today our hike took us from St. Remy to the town of Maussane.
This hike was along much gentler terraine. Although we climbed some steep tracks of the Alpilles mountains, the paths went through brush and past fragrant wildflowers, with open views to the mountains and flatlands below. The trails were mainly dirt paths and country roads.
At the beginning of our hike we went by a small lake with an aqueduct. A dam was placed on this lake in Roman times to regulate the water flow into Glanum (mentioned above).
Further in the hike we walked by groves of olive trees. This is France’s largest olive growing appellation and the olive oil is made under the protective label of Huile d’Olives des Baux de Provence.
We arrived in the lovely town of Maussaune with its main street and lively square. We checked into our hotel, Hotel Pre des Baux. The rooms at this hotel surround a large swimming pool. They serve a nice and simple breakfast to the room, which we ate outside on our patio.
After a shower and rest, we headed into the main street of Maussane. We were a bit early and most restaurants weren’t open yet. We decided to sit at a bar/restaurant in the main square for a drink and ended up eating there at Cafe de la Fontaine, which had a menu of bistro food.
Les Baux de Provence
Today we hiked to the beautiful, medieval hillside town of Les Baux de Provence.
During this hike we strolled by a golf course and through a hidden path climbing to the majestic town of Les Baux de Provence.
Along the way we passed a tiny chapel perched on the mountain side. This chapel, from the middle of the 19th century, has a bas-relief of three figures, thought to represent the three Mary’s who came to Provence in the 1st century after the crucifixion.
We arrived in Les Baux in the middle of the day and just in time for lunch. This was a welcome part of the hike, as Les Baux is a gem of a town. This ancient town, which was the seat of a powerful feudal lordship in the middle ages, is perched at the top of a hill. It has winding streets going up toward the old castle.
There are plenty of restaurants and quaint, toursity shops in town. We had a lunch at Bautezar Restaurant, which has a large terrace with breathtaking views. After lunch we wandered around town for a little longer and picked up souvenirs.
We then headed back to Maussaune, walking along canals, olive tree groves and passing lovely villas and elegant chateaus.
After a good rest and some wine at the hotel, we headed out to dinner. Although Maussane is a small village, it has its fair share of good restaurants. This evening we chose Le clos St Roch. This Michelin rated restaurant serves delicious contemporary, Mediterranean inspired cuisine. The ingredients are fresh and beautifully presented.
This morning we were transferred to the starting point of our hike, near Les Baux. On this hike we climbed to the summit above the village which had breathtaking views of Les Baux and the valley below. We walked along the western edge of the mountain, descending into the plains. Our walk ended at the stunning Romanesque chapel St. Gabriel.
We were picked up at the chapel St. Gabriel and transferred to our hotel, Le Calendal, in Arles. This hotel is in a perfect location, next to the Roman theatre and ampitheater.
After a short rest we headed out to explore Arles. This town has Roman ruins and museums. Unfortunately we weren’t in Arles long enough to explore the sites in depth but it is a lovely town. I would have liked to have an additional day in Arles.
We sat in one of the squares for some wine and cheese, wandered around a little longer and then headed for dinner. We ate at Les Filles du 16 – a lovely restaurant with a delicious Provencal menu.
This morning we were picked up from our hotel and transferred back to St. Remy for a day of market shopping and a cooking class at our hotel.
We arrived at the beautiful hotel, Mas des Carassins, and were greeted by one of the owners. This old stone building has been gorgeously renovated on the inside and has lush gardens and pools. The chef in their restaurant creates modern Provencal cuisine using local ingredients.
We started the day by going with the hotel owner to purchase the ingredients for our cooking class. We stopped at a goat farm where we learnt how goat cheese is made and purchased two-day old goat cheese.
From there we headed to a produce market where we learnt about the locally grown produce and the varieties. We tasted some fresh fruit and vegetables.
We were then dropped off at the famous Wednesday morning market in St. Remy. This market not only has food and fresh produce, but a large selection of Provencal linens, soaps , herbs and antiques. This lively market is fun and highly recommended.
We returned to our hotel and began our cooking class with the hotel’s animated chef, Yvan. We helped him chop and prep the vegetables and watched as he expertly prepared pesto and tapenade, roast a leg of lamb, cook a stacked vegetable ratatouille, create the creamiest mashed potatoes and bake mini, decadent chocolate cakes.
Once lunch was ready to be served we were taken to the lush garden where a table had been set beautifully and we were served our lunch. The setting was magnificent and each course was paired with wine.
After our leisurely lunch we had a rest and walked back to town to do some final souvenir shopping.
We relaxed in our room with a bottle of wine and some snacks.
We had a leisurely breakfast in the dining room and then headed to the airport for a few days in Venice. See my Venice itinerary in 3 days.
Annette is the creator of Minute by Minute Traveller – a blog of efficient and well-organized travel itineraries to destinations in Europe, Israel and North America. Annette has always planned detailed itineraries for every trip. When she returned from her trips her friends used to ask her for recommendations and for the itineraries. So she decided to put them online. Her kids always used to joke that she plans every minute of every day. That’s how Minute by Minute Traveller was born. Follow her on Facebook and instagram.