Useful tips !
How to get there
Provence is accessible by the highways A7 and A9 , as well as the TGV (Avignon, Aix en Provence, Marseille), and the airports of Marseille (international) and Avignon (for the lucky ones with a private jet!).
Where to stay
Avignon is probably the best base : accessible by the highways, the TGV, and only an hour away from Marseille airport ! The town, in addition to its indeniable charm, offers a large choice of accommodations as well as excellent restaurants and bars.
Arles is a good alternative, with similar assets, minus the TGV access.
L'Isle sur la Sorgue and Saint Rémy de Provence will be a delight for the countryside lovers, and still offer a great choice of accommodations and restaurants.
Transportation on site
The car is the best way to move once in Provence. It is quite rural, regional trains are not developped, and buses offer a service that lacks frequency.
Roads are sometimes very narrow, especially in the Luberon or Alpilles. It's highly recommended to have a good driving experience ! As for towns like Avignon and Arles, driving can be a challenge : the streets are extremely narrow, most of the time one way, and most of them are closed to traffic anyway.
Provence has many festivals throughout the year, mostly from Easter to late October. The very popular theater festival in Avignon takes place in July for most of the month. Finding accommodation can become a nightmare !
When to come
The nicest seasons are the spring and the beginning of fall. The weather is lovely, temperatures are ideal, and it's not overcrowded. May is the perfect balance between all these factors, in addition to the beauty of nature !
For the flowering times, see below !
One day of tour with me !
We can make 3 to 4 stops per day ! It could be 3 villages or remarkable sites and a wine tasting, or the visit of an olive mill or a cheese farm. It is better not to plan too much so you don't spend too much time on the road and make the best of each stop !
Here is a non exhaustive list of wonders to bring for your dear ones: lavender sachets and essential oil, soap, olive oil, nougat and calissons (a candy made of almond paste), table clothes and fabrics, lavender wands, wine, Camargue rice, salt, potteries, paintings, pigments, santons,...
Craftmen all over Provence are proud and happy to make local and high quality products.
The provencal markets are well known all over the world. They're a must for anyone who wants to experience Provence, which explains why they can be very busy, especially in the heart of the summer. Go early morning ! Getting there by 9 am is the guarantee you will enjoy your experience even more, even if it means you'll have to set your alarm clock !
Where to swin
For the sea lovers, Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in Camargue is where you want to go : the sandy beaches and shallow water are ideal for families with young children.
For the hikers, go to the calanques, near Marseille : they offer the right combination between sport and chill. The place is beyong gorgeous ! As their access is limited in the summer make sure you get the right information before you go !
If you like rivers better, then Pont du Gard is made for you ! Here History and water meet for a both educational and leisure visit ! When will you ever swim at the feet of a 2000 year old aqueduct again ?
Lavender, the star of Provence, is a summer flower. It blooms from mid June to mid August. However, depending on the previous winter, it can be either early or late. The first 10 days of July are the certainty (or almost!) to see lavender at its best !
Sunflowers bloom shortly after lavender, but it's very rare to see two fields of these flowers side by side, in spite of what you can see on many pictures.
Poppies, not quite as famous as lavender and sunflowers, aren't less of a spectacular show. May is when you want to come to see them.
In Provence people greet each other by kissing one another 3 times, starting from the right cheek. It's called « la bise ». A hand shake will do it too, especially if you don't know the person. But unfortunately we don't use the friendly hug.
When you walk into a place, make sure you say « bonjour » before starting asking questions. The french are also very fond of « merci » and « s'il vous plaît ». It's a little annoying at first but you will quickly get used to it !
At the restaurant
Whether you booked a table or not, you can't seat yourself : the waiter will direct you to your table.
He will then ask if you want an « apéritif » (see below). It isn't customary to have butter or olive oil on the table for you to eat with your bread. Ice is also not a habit, don't worry if the waiter doesn't bring a bucket along with your drinks. Tap water is drinkable almost everywhere, and has a very neutral taste.
Tips are always included in France, but if you had a great time and you consider your waiter desserves one, feel free to give him a little something ! 5 to 10% is the usual, but you can give more if you feel like it.
Your waiter won't bring the check straight away : ask him when you are ready to leave !
As everywhere in France, we love to seat in the sun and share a drink with friends !
Pastis, a liquorice alcohol you mix with water, is the star of Provence apéritifs !
Rosé is also wildely popular : refreshing, light, easy to drink, it will suit most palets.
For the younger ones, « Pac à l'eau » is a sweet lemon syrup mixed with water. Nice and refreshing !
Along with tapenades (olive spreads), olives and pickled garlic, here's the perfect provencal aperitif !
Food and local specialties
Aïoli is the Friday dish here in Provence : steamed cod and vegetables, served with garlic mayonnaise, yum ! Many restaurants will have it on menus on Fridays.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables grown close by are a big part of the provencal cuisine. Strawberries in September or figs in the spring are most definitely imported, and locals won't buy them.
Garlic is an important part of our food heritage. Chefs will use just the right amount, but in private homes it reigns as the king of condiments !