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The Provence blossom – 6 days

“One must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with.” —Vincent van Gogh

 

“When I was in Aix, it seemed to me that I would be better elsewhere, but now that I am here, I miss Aix.
When one is born there, he is ruined, nothing else means anything to you “.         Paul Cezanne

There is no more sunny and celebrity-rich part of France than the south. It is a heart and soul seduction. Traveling here means sauntering through scented lavender fields and vineyards, around vibrant morning markets groaning with fresh produce and along exceptional shores lapped by clear turquoise waters. Roughly speaking, this region splits into three: east is iconic French Riviera with star-spangled Cannes and megalomaniacal Monte Carlo in the millionaire principality of Monaco. In the middle is the Provence, with wildly contrasting fishing ports of St.Tropez and Marseille, lots of Roman vestiges, hilltop villages and outstanding natural landscapes.

Provence is famous for all sorts of things: It’s amazing landscapes, the special light which invited many artists such as Van Gogh and Cézanne to paint them: The fields of flowers and lavender that are grown to make expensive French perfumes; the wonderful food and the delicious fruit that grown there; the wild horses in the Camargue; the huge gypsy annual pilgrimage to Saints Marie-de- la Mer; the delicate hand-painted china made in Moustiers; the traditional Christmas cribs including hundreds of different figurines called Santons, the flower carnival in Nice; the Cannes film festival; the opera at the Roman theatre in Orange; and the fact that Popes resided there at Avignon instead of Rome at one time, to name just a few.

1.day: MARSEILLE- CASSIS ( BOAT TOUR OF THE CALANQUES )

Marseille grows on you with its history, fusion of cultures, souk-like markets, millennia old-port and corniches (coastal roads) along rockyinlets and sun-baked beaches. The heart of the city is the Vieux Port where ships have docked for more than 26 centuries.

City abuts the wild and spectacular Parc National dec Calanques, a 20 km stretch of high, rocky promontories, rising from brilliant-tourquise Mediterranean waters. The sheer cliffs are occasionally interrupted by small idyllic beaches, some impossible to reach without a kayak.

Sights: city tour and boat trip to see the amazing cliffs.

2.day: AIX EN PROVENCE, ST.REMY DE PROVENCE

Aix-en-Provence is an enclave of bourgeois-bohemian chic just 25 km from chaotic, exotic Marseille, rich in culture (two of Aix’s most famous sons are Paul Cezanne and Emile Zola) and so respectable with tree-shaded boulevards and fashionable boutiques.

Aix (Aquae Sextiae) was founded in 123 BC by the Roman consul Sextius Calvinus, who gave his name to its springs, The Cours Mirabeau is a wide thoroughfare, planted with double rows of plane-trees, bordered by fine houses and decorated by fountains. It follows the line of the old city wall and divides the town into two sections. The new town extends to the south and west; the old town, with its narrow, irregular streets and its old mansions dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, lies to the north. Along with this avenue, which is lined on one side with banks and on the other with cafés, is the Deux Garçons, the most famous brasserie in Aix. Built in 1792, it has been frequented by the likes of Paul Cézanne, Émile Zola, and Ernest Hemingway.

  • Sights: Quartier Mazarin –the residential district with the most notable the 17th-century Fontaine des Quatre Dauphins (Fountain of the Four Dolphins), The Cours Mirabeau, a wide thoroughfare, planted with double rows of plane-trees, The Cathedral of the Holy Saviour (Aix Cathedral), L’atelier Cézanne, the former studio of Paul Cézanne, now a museum, located on the northern outskirts of Aix. It has been preserved as it was at the time of the painter’s death and contains many of his personal items and props used in his paintings.
The life of local lad Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) is treasured in Aix. To see where he ate, drank, studied and painted, you should follow the Circuit de Cezanne– Cezanne Trail, which encompasses Atelier Paul Cezanne– his last studio, 1,5 km north of the tourist office which is preserved as it was at the time of his death. Though his studio is inspiring, none of his works hang here.

Cezanne’s father bought le Jas de Bouffan, a country manor, where Paul painted 36 oils and 17 watercolors. In 1895 Paul rented a cabin at Les Carrieres de Bibernus, where he did most of his Montagne Ste-Victoire paintings

Afternoon stroll among the Roman Remains of the prosperous Roman city of Glanum just to the south of the town St.Remy de Provence. The Mausoleum of the 1 BC is the best preserved of its kind in the Roman world; it was erected in memory of the Emperor Augustus’s grandsons Gaius and Lucius, whose early death deprived them of their Imperial inheritance. The Glanum excavations have revealed the city’s history. The original settlement here was founded by the Celts because of the existence of a spring. Later, in the 6th century BC, it was extended by Greek merchants, then destroyed by the Teutons and later restored by Caesar, only to be waste again in 3rd century AD. From this time on the city was more or less abandoned, and its streets and canals slowly filled up with material washed down from the Alpilles.

Late local delicacy’s dinner in a lavish scenery of inner Provence

3.day: FONTAINE VAUCLUSE, VAISON LA ROMAINE

The success of the village Fontaine de Vaucluse is essentially due to the impressive spring which flows out of the 230 m high cliff. This gigantic source is the most powerful on France and fifth in the world. 630 million cubic meters of water flow out every year. The emerald green calm summer waters become spectacular in the wet seasons, (automn and spring). 90 m³ of water per second spill into the bed of the River Sorgue.
In all seasons secondary sources flow into the river to create an extremely beautiful shady pool, under the immense plane trees.

Sights:

  • The principal point of interest is the source of the Sorgue at the foot of a cliff 240 metres high
  • Ruins of the castle of the Bishop of Cavaillon
  • Ancient paper mill
  • Museum of the Resistance
  • Petrarch museum (on the site of his former house)

One of the most interesting aspects of the town Vaison la Romaine is its geography, and its Roman ruins. The Roman ruins and the modern town are in the valley on the banks of the river Ouvèze which is crossed by an ancient bridge from the 1st century AD.The medieval town is high on the rocky cliff. The valley floor was safe from attack in Roman and modern times. In the Middle Ages attacks were frequent, and the town retreated up-hill to a more defensible position.The apse of the Church of St. Quenin, dedicated to Saint Quinidius, seems to date from the eighth century; it is one of the oldest in France. As a whole the cathedral dates from the 11th century, but the apse and the apsidal chapels are from the Merovingian period.

Afternoon walk among the antique ruins and a light dinner in the city’s restaurant.

4.day: ORANGE, PONT DU GARD

Orange flourished in the days of Pax Romana as an important staging-post on the great highway between Arles and Lyons. In the 16C, it came into the possession of Willian the silent, ruler of the German principality of Nassau. He took the title of Prince of Orange and founded Orange –Nassau line. Orange is still proud of its association with the royal house of the Netherlands, whose preferred title is Prince (or Princess) of Orange.

Morning hike among the antique ruins of Roman Theatre, which is the best-preserved structure of its type in the whole of the Roman world and Triumphal Arch. The arch, theater, and surroundings were listed in 1981 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Lunch time.

Another Unesco World Heritage Site-listed Pont du Gard is a fabulous three-tiered aqueduct, which was once part of a 50 km-long system of water channels, to transport water from Uzes to Nimes. Each block was carved by hand and transported from nearby quarries. Amazingly, the height of the bridge descends by just 2,5cm across its length, providing just enough gradient to keep the water flowing. Early evening is a good time to visit, as the bridge is stunningly illuminated after dark. It is possible to walk across the tiers for panoramic views and exceptional photo memories over the River Gard.

5.day: AVIGNON, LES BAUX DE PROVENCE

Avignon invites you for a stay beyond all imagination.The historic city center, the Popes’ Palace, all the episcopal buildings and the Saint Bénézet Bridge are listed as world heritage sites by UNESCO.
Here, you find the City Hall built between 1845 and 1851 over a former cardinal’s palace of which it has kept the old fortified tower, transformed into a belfry in the 15th century with clock and Jacquemart. Next to it, the municipal theater, also from the 19th century, houses the Avignon opera and, all the way at the top, the delightful Belle Époque style carrousel still turns.
Originally the forum of Avenio, the city’s name under the Romans in the 1st century BC, the Place de l’Horloge is still “the center” of Avignon. A meeting place, bordered by cafés and restaurants, the square is always bustling. Just like the Place du Palais higher up, a vast esplanade where you could spend the day just watching all the street performers in summer.
And as its name implies, here stands the formidable Popes’ Palace, emblem of the city and awe-inspiring monument to the importance of Avignon in the Christian world of the Middle Ages.
Built in the 1300s, mainly by two popes , the palace would become the biggest gothic edifice in all of Europe. A tour of the palace, which includes the popes’ private apartments with their fabulous frescoes, is one one of the musts of Avignon.

Lunch break in …

With its ruined castle and deserted houses capping an arid rocky spur pplunging to steep ravines on either side, the old village of Baux has the most spectacular of sites. Les Baux is now given over entirely to the tourist trade, relying on a reputation as one of the most picturesque villages in France. Its population of 22 in the old village is a fraction of its peak population of over 4,000, and many of its buildings (in particular the castle) are picturesque ruins. In the Château des Baux demonstrations of huge catapults (a Trebuchet, a Couillard also called a biffa, and a Mangonel). A afternoon walk through the village and a short pause for a glass of wine with a magnificent view.

A lavish dinner in the restaurant…

6.day: CAMARGUE – AIGUES MORTES, MARSEILLE

Just south of Arles, Provence’s rolling landscapes yield to the flat, marshly wilds of the Camargue, famous for its teemingbird life, roughly 500 species. King of all is the pink flamingo, which enjoys the expansive wetlands’ mild winters. Equally famous are the Camargue’s small white horses; their mellow disposition makes horse riding the ideal way to explore the region’s patchwork of salt pans and rice fields, and meadows dotted with grazing bulls. Bring binoculars- and mosquito repellent.
The Camargue’s two largest towns are the seaside pilgrim’s outpost Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer and, to the northwest, the walled town of Aigues-Mortes. Built at the peak of Gothic architecture, the fortifications of Aigues-Mortes is a remarkably well preserved military structure. The ribbed vaults on the carved capitals, the gargoyles, the refined decor of the Tower of Constance, in contrast to the power of the defensive system of the curtain walls. From the ramparts or from the dungeons’ terrace, you will discover a breath taking sight on the Camargue and the salt marshes whose colours alternate between blue and purple.
Afternoon 3.5 hours of exploration with electric bicycles, making a number of stops as the region’s many enchanting landscapes unfold around you. Hear the chirping of the birds and cicadas, feel the breath of the wind and experience the unmistakeable aromas of the local countryside. Chat with your fellow cyclists as you discover the intimate pathways, quiet country roads and cycle paths, as well as taking the time to taste local specialties.
Evening transfer to Marseille, sleepover or catch the international flight…

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