Five Fantastic Reasons to go to Provence

Provence, in the South of France, is perfect in so many ways. Its perched hilltop villages, fields of lavender, stone farmhouses, great local markets and vineyards make it one of the most picturesque parts of France. The food and wine are delicious, there are Roman ruins and castles to explore and life is that little bit more laid-back so everyone is more relaxed.

We spent a week exploring the Vaucluse area in the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains in the north west of Provence. Here are some of the things that made us fall in love with the area.

THE WALKS

In an area this gorgeous you’d be mad not to want to explore as much as you can on foot. We found some lovely walks through pretty hilltop villages, like tiny Séguret, with its picturesque old houses, narrow streets and 12th-century church. If you follow the path further up the hill, through the cypress and pine trees, you get to the ruined castle at the top. Our two boys are used to walking but it’s always easier to entice them with the promise of a castle at the end – or an ice-cream.

In these hillside villages we spent most of our time clambering up paths to get to the top of the hill, past olive groves and vineyards. The view from the top was always breathtaking – terracotta-coloured houses, other towns clinging to the hillsides and Mont Ventoux in the distance. We usually set off in the morning when it was cooler and worked up an appetite for lunch.

THE FOOD

It has been said that if the French love to eat, the people of Provence live to eat and Provence certainly has some of the best food in France. Families here don’t rush their meals. They linger over the food, chatting and enjoying the meal and the wine.

Eating out in France is an event for the whole family. When the French have lunch they have a proper lunch. On our first couple of days we kept looking for cafés where we could get a quick sandwich but the only places we could find served un menu du jour, a main course and pudding.

It worked out more expensive than we’d planned – the four of us couldn’t eat for less than €50 – but it was a delicious treat. We had steak one day, fresh cod or a big Chicken Caesar Salad the next, followed by Crème Caramel, Raspberry Cream or Tiramisù.

The boys ate brilliantly: they polished off fish cooked delicately with a bit of oil and lemon and that classic on French menus for children: steak hâché, which is basically minced steak in a burger patty, usually served with chips. They finished everything that was put in front of them, licked their lips and wondered what was for pudding.

The 11-year-old was determined to try steak in all its variations, from rare to well-done. He was particularly keen to try it bleu, even after I’d explained that rare steak in France means that the cook has just placed the meat on the frying pan for an instant before putting it on the plate. He enjoyed it and we were delighted that he wanted to try everything.

Our long lunches worked well for all of us. The weather was sunny so we ate outside and enjoyed the experience of sitting together as a family, chatting about what we’d seen and tasting each other’s food. If the boys got restless they were able to wander around the courtyard – or wherever we happened  to be – in-between courses.

THE ROMAN RUINS

Our most memorable day in Provence was visiting the Roman ruins at Vaison-la-Romaine. The ruins here are amazing. There was an important Roman city here and it’s the biggest Gallo-Roman site in France. Archaeologists have uncovered entire villas, shops and an amphitheatre and visitors can walk around the whole site.

There is a good museum with statues, mosaics and domestic objects found in and around Vaison, with a helpful audio guide and an excellent film which shows you what the site would have looked like in Roman times so that when you walk around afterwards, you can tell whether you’re in the kitchen, dining room or study.

The ruins are divided into two separate sites, the Quartier de Puymin, containing the museum and amphitheatre and, across the road, the Quartier de la Villasse, with its colonnaded main street, shops and large villas. Tickets for the site are valid for 24 hours so it’s a good idea to do as we did and explore the site in two visits, one in the afternoon and one the following morning.

We were particularly impressed with the Quartier de la Villasse. When we visited in the morning there was hardly anyone there so it felt like we had the whole site to ourselves. The boys clambered over the ruins, found a secret tunnel, sat on the Roman loos and pretended to be Romans in their own house.

It was one of those brilliant trips as a family where every single one of us was completely engaged and interested. We weren’t doing it for the sake of the children and they weren’t trailing after their parents. We all loved it.

THE WINE

Most of the restaurants throw in a quarter litre of wine as part of their menu. Here in Provence, it’s not just a treat to have a glass of wine with your meal, it’s expected. Our waiters asked us not what we wanted to drink but whether we wanted white or red wine. One lunchtime, when I said I didn’t want wine, I was asked what I’d like as my apéritif instead.

Here, in the heart of the Côtes du Rhône, the wine is fantastic. In the evenings us adults shared a half litre of the local red for €7, knowing that it would be delicious. It’s a good job the wine was so reasonably priced, given that we were struggling to pay less than €12 for a main course anywhere.

We went wine tasting in Gigondas, a charming village near where we were staying. Gigondas, a full-bodied, Grenache-based red wine is every bit as delicious as the more famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape but it’s not as much on the tourist circuit so it tends to be less expensive and the village is certainly not as busy to visit as the touristy Châteauneuf.

We visited the wineries of Gabriel Meffre and tasted at least seven different bottles. They were more than happy to open lots of different vintages for us despite the fact that we’d told them we could only buy two or three bottles (rather than the crates that other customers were going away with).

The boys found an adjacent room with comfy chairs where they curled up with their books. We were there for just over half an hour so I was mortified to hear my youngest telling a friend of mine that he’d just been on “a wine holiday”!

THE INDEPENDENCE

Five Fantastic Reasons to go to Provence

Our boys are at that age, 9 and 11, where they’re both desperate for some independence. It’s something I really struggle with as a parent because much as I want to give it to them, I find it difficult because of worrying about strangers accosting children and busy roads etc. It’s all too easy to want to keep them safe all the time, to keep them inside the house or in a fenced-off garden.

But in Provence it felt as if we all took a big step. We allowed them to go alone to the pâtisserie every morning to buy our pastries for breakfast. We went together the first few mornings and tried to impress on the boys the importance of looking left and right when they crossed the road. But it felt safe enough. We were staying in a quiet village called Sablet – they only had to walk down the road and cross from one side to the other. The trouble is our two, like a lot of children, don’t believe in walking when they can run and they seem remarkably incapable of looking before they cross a road.

Nevertheless we sent them off with a pile of Euros in their pocket and stayed in bed, sipping tea. It felt like a real treat. The boys relished their new-found freedom and took great delight in presenting us with their horde of pastries: almond croissants, pain au chocolat, apple turnovers, pastry twists with almonds, apple and chocolate.

I don’t know what the reaction was at the pâtisserie every morning when our two turned up and tried out their basic French. Harry admitted later that one morning, a queue formed out of the door and onto the pavement while Edward insisted on asking the baker eight times (Harry counted!) if she was sure she didn’t have any pain au raisins. Apparently he didn’t believe her as she’d produced some just out of the oven only the day before! I bet there were a fair few comments about the little English boys that morning.

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49 thoughts on “Five Fantastic Reasons to go to Provence

    • Thank you so much. We just loved our trip to Provence. It was one of those trips that appealed as much to the children as to the adults and a great place to start learning how to ‘let go’ of those apron strings!

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  3. You’re preaching to the converted here as I live in Provence/Côte d’Azur and call it living in “summer holiday land”. You write about my adopted land beautifully even though I don’t really know the area you’re describing, you were further north and west than me, I completely recognise the long lunches, the wine, the exploration of hill villages and letting the kids go for croissants in the morning. I remember as a kid that was one of the things I did as a first taste of independence….go for croissants at the boulangerie when on holiday in the South of France! Great to have you link up to #AllAboutFrance

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    • Thank you so much. I’m so pleased to have discovered #AllAboutFrance. It’s sheer delight to read a lot of posts about France from fellow Francophiles! I know France well but that week we spent in a new area of Provence was really special. We all learned to slow down and enjoy life at the Provencal pace. We’re all so keen to go back.

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  4. Applause for both your sons, who relish sampling foods (in this case, steak) prepared in a multiplicity of ways. And insist on getting their share of pain aux raisins! Excellent advice on how to see the ruins at Vaison-la-Romaine as well. Smiled a lot reading this wonderful post, Clare.

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  5. I think you convinced me with your first banner of photos. I like everything you have described in here. Provence seems like my kind of place (and those little towns are so gorgeous).

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  6. I love that photo of the vineyard – it is just gorgeous! And I agree, the wine is a fantastic reason to visit Provence. I enjoyed lots of wonderful roses last May there 🙂 And I love that this area was a safe place to be able to give your kids some independence. Good for them for venturing out and speaking French – that is such a valuable lesson to get out of one’s comfort zone at a young age!

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    • Thanks so much for your lovely comments. There’s nothing quite like a glass of rose in the sunshine! The boys thought that it was the best thing ever being able to go to the boulangerie on their own.

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    • The Roman ruins were incredible. I thought it was wonderful that we virtually had the place to ourselves on one of our visits and that we could wander around freely and really pretend we were Romans.

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  7. It literally sounds the perfect holiday for us – and I love the idea of having a very long lunch! Another great reason being the wine! Yes, I think we’d love Provence very much! Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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  8. This little city looks so so adorable and picturesque! I would love to explore some smaller towns in France one day. Walking to get a good view is right up my alley, and if these people live to eat, well they’re my time of people! Thanks for sharing! Looks like a lovely trip 😀

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    • I’m sure you’d love it, Lauren. I do really enjoy exploring some of the smaller towns when I travel, particularly outside of the main season when you can feel a bit more like a local.

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  9. I love that your son was interesting in trying steak cooked in various ways! What an adventurous eater. I feel like that is something the French would be very fond of as they don’t both much with catering to children’s diets, everyone just eats the same food. I think it’s lovely that they got a little taste of freedom fetching the breakfast as well. One of my fondest memories is visiting rural Southern France when I was 13 and falling head over heels for it!

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    • My son is now absolutely determined to live in Provence when he’s older. He’s been taking his French lessons very seriously! I think you can have such strong and wonderful memories of places you visited as a child.

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  10. I love your picture of the sunflowers!! And the roman ruins seem really interesting! I visited a roman amphitheatre and an old bridge in Lyon many years ago and was completely surprised to find them in France. For some reason, I just didn’t expect Roman ruins there 😀

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  11. Such a cool post! I’ve been interested in Provence for awhile but was a little intimidated because a) I wouldn’t know exactly which town to go to and b) I speak only a few words of French and outside Paris, I was a bit concerned on getting by! Looks just lovely.

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