This summer we went on an incredible three-week-long trip to Provence and the French Riviera. Provence is filled with incredible views and spectacular aesthetic. Lavender fields stretch as far as the eyes can see, hillside towns and villages boast an uninterrupted charm, rocky beaches bring feelings of tranquility, and quaint farmhouses offer simple, yet stunning beauty. As much as I love visiting a city, it’s the countryside where I feel most at home and at ease with life. The French Riviera is another beautiful and special place to experience as well. From the pastels of St. Tropez and bougainvillea of Grimaud, to the blue shades of Nice and the rainbow town of Villefrance-sur-Mer, there’s something around every corner waiting to be discovered. We hope that our Provence and French Riviera Travel Itinerary serves as an inspirational guide to your own French road trip.
We set out to see and experience as much as we possibly could during our time in Provence. We explored the most stunning villages, tasted the recipes of some of the finest restaurants, including ones topping the Michelin star list, perused the local markets for goods to bring back home, and took countless pictures of the brightly colored surroundings that inspired us. Below you will find highlights from our trip (aka what we found to be the can’t-miss moments), including essential travel tips and links to all the wonderful places we stayed to assist you with turning our special trip into your own.
- We loved exploring markets on market days. Our favorite market was in Apt, the largest town in the Luberon region.
- Visiting hilltop towns in the Luberon area is something not to be missed. Gordes is probably the most striking and most famous, but these other towns were some of our favorites as well: Oppede, Menerbes, and Lacoste.
- At the end of the day after exploring the Saturday market in Apt, Provence, we made reservations and had dinner at Auberge la Feniere, a wonderful Michelin star restaurant located near Lourmarin. All I can say is ‘truffle risotto!’ Amazing! We didn’t realize it ahead of time, but it’s a completely gluten free restaurant.
- Our first week in Provence was spent exploring the areas around the house we rented in Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt. One early evening we decided to have a sunset picnic. We grabbed a basket from the house, filled it with cheeses, bread and wine, and found a scenic spot to watch the sunset.
- There are an abundance of poppy fields in Provence. We kept driving by these beautiful fields, and we eventually decided we couldn’t pass up the incredible photo opportunity.
- After exploring the towns of Oppede, Menerbes, & Bonnieux, we went to Bastide de Capelongue in Bonnieux. We had previously made reservations at their gourmet restaurant, Edouard Loubet, and we enjoyed an incredible lunch there. Be prepared to give yourself a few hours here – it’s a wonderful experience. First, small aperitifs were served outside in the garden with a view over the town. My favorite was a thin crusted truffle pizza. Next, they escorted us inside, where we began with an amuse-bouche and a salad course. Both of us ordered the fish for our main dish and loved every bite. Though, I have to say, our favorite part of the experience was the cheese cart (that is rolled out right before dessert), which had just about every kind of cheese (over 30 varieties!) you could ever want.
- We loved antique shopping in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and after working up an appetite walking through all the shops, we went to Le Jardin du Quai for lunch. We had heard many people rave about it, and the restaurant lived up to all the incredible reviews. We highly suggest making reservations ahead of time, as this is a popular destination. Also, before heading home, we stopped in Gordes for drinks at La Bastide de Gordes. It’s definitely one of my favorite and probably one of the most scenic spots in all of Provence.
- Our last full day in the countryside of Provence, we visited the charming village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie was another town that Thomas had found on the ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages’ list and one of the towns we were most excited to visit. We bought china from the most adorable shop and had it shipped home. It just arrived and it’s even more beautiful than we remember, a special collection that we can cherish and reflect back on.
- On our way back from Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, we visited the lavender fields in Valensole. The Valensole Plateau is the world’s premier location for growing lavender. Despite our early arrival (we were probably 3 weeks early from peak bloom and vibrancy), some of the fields we found were already impressive spectacles and the scents of lavender and buzzing of bees were just as impressive. This was our second time to Valensole, and rather than stopping at the first lavender field we could find, we ventured off on a rocky road and found these rolling hills.
Provence Essential Tips:
- Best way to combat jet-lag: Unlike in the past when we just flew to Paris, flying from Charleston to Marseille was an all day affair. We were exhausted when we arrived, but it was 9am and we were not about to go to bed. What we like to do when we first arrive to a new destination is get acclimated to the new time zone right away. Instead of sleeping when we arrived (which is what our bodies wanted to do since it was the middle of the night back home), we kept ourselves awake until that evening. It wasn’t hard *in the beginning* because we were so excited to be there!
- When to travel to Provence: The wonderful thing about coming to Provence in June is that it isn’t unbearably hot just yet (a nice mix of 75-90 degree weather) and the days are long. The sun doesn’t set until well after 9pm, so we didn’t feel rushed on how much we could fit in before sunset. We also timed the blooming of roses and hydrangeas especially well, and though the lavender wasn’t quite at peak bloom, it was definitely worth seeing.
- Planning day trips: We typically find and save on the map way more than we can possibly visit in a single trip. That way when planning out our day, we can take a slightly modified route to add an extra spot we wouldn’t normally have seen. Before we left the States, we did a lot of research to find small towns to visit during our stay, which we added to our Google Maps. That way we could reference them while traveling. Most of the time when we take day trips while traveling, we’ll decide on our final destination and then fill our day with things that are along the way.
- When to go to the markets: Towns will host markets on different days, so if you know you want to go to a market or a particular town, make sure to do some research first. The information is easily discoverable. It is best to arrive at the markets early when they first open to beat the crowds. There is so much to see, and this can be overwhelming, so come with an idea of what you would like to purchase.
- Where to stay: Consider having a “home base” rental home on your trip instead of spending time checking in and out of hotels. Our first time visiting Provence we made this mistake, staying only one or two nights at four different hotels. We had a wonderful time calling Villa St Saturnin via Haven In home during this visit.
- How to antique shop: When we were antique shopping, we wondered how we would manage to transport our newly-found treasures to the states. Luckily, many of the vendors have shippers ready on-hand to give a quote based on size and weight. And if buying larger items, it’s much more cost-effective to buy a few pieces to fill a crate, that way you’re making it worthwhile. Something to consider when negotiating prices is that summertime is the height of tourist season, therefore it is the most expensive time to buy antiques in places like L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. If you’re looking for a guide to antique shops around Provence, our friend Vicky has a wonderful guide here.
Where We Stayed:
- Bastide de Marie – You know those hotels that look nice online but really blow you away in person? Well, Bastide de Marie is one of those places. I knew it was going to be pretty, but what we arrived to was a complete dream! It’s quintessential Provence, made from stone, with French blue shutters and roses climbing everywhere. It sits on 23 acres of vineyards, with everything from olive trees to lavender to rose gardens. Also, The gastronomic restaurant at Bastide de Marie is wonderful! If you get a chance and are in the area (even if you’re not staying at the hotel), head there for dinner or have lunch and set-up a wine tasting at their winery next door. They serve aperitifs and appetizers on the back patio, whiles candles and bistro lights flicker all around. Once your table is ready, they bring you inside, where the all-glass dining room looks out at the vineyard with the sun setting right behind. It’s the most picturesque spot!
- Provence House – We were so happy to have a “home base” during our time in Provence. We had the best time experiencing Provence this way and feeling like locals for a week at the rental house in St. Saturnin Les Apt. The house has a lovely pool and courtyard area, and as you will find in this post, we took full advantage of it. Going back and forth to markets, preparing our own french al fresco spreads, and exploring different villages with a home to come back to truly made the trip a special one.
- St. Tropez has incredible shopping. Had we been there longer, I would have stopped in more shops. In this post, I’m wearing a dress I bought at one of the lovely boutiques there.
- We loved our time at the Plage Beau Rivage Beach Club. The seemingly endless sea of blue and white umbrellas was quite a sight to see.
- We visited the incredible Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a gorgeous pink villa from the early 1900s. Long before we even mapped out where we would be staying, I had this on my list of must-do activities.
- While not as popular as nearby St. Tropez or Port Grimaud, the town of Grimaud is a wonderful stop for a few hours. We had never witnessed such incredible hydrangeas and bougainvillea.
- Our day in Villefranche-sur-Mer was one of our favorite from the entire trip. We spent the morning at the beach, explored the colorful town and then had a wonderful lunch on the shores of the water.
- Wearing a lemon print dress, while sipping a fresh frozen lemonade in Menton, a city famous for it’s lemons.
- We had a wonderful dinner at Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc, one of the most famous luxury hotels on the French Riviera. The food was fantastic, but the sunset we witnessed was one of the most incredible sunsets we’ve ever seen, with the sky and calm blue waters turning a cotton candy pink hue.
- Tips for day trips: In the French Riviera, all of the towns and roads are built on cliffs and peninsulas, so if you are driving somewhere it’s rarely a quick trip. We learned this on our way to Villa Ephrussi during our time in Nice, it took so much longer in fact, that we arrived after they allowed the last visitors to enter.
- How to make the most out of your beach trip: Get a head start to the beach so you can claim your spot, as the beaches get crowded quickly. Our longest beach day was in Villefranche-sur-Mer. There, the beach is long but narrow, so we tried to get there before 10am. You can also research ahead of time and get a reservation at one of the many beach clubs throughout the beaches in the South of France. We had a great time in St. Tropez at Le Club 55.
- What to wear: Make sure your outfit is suitable for walking around towns for hours – this means comfortable shoes, such as flats and sandals with soft leather, and linen dresses to stay cool. Also, wear closed-toed shoes when exploring hilltops. Another tip we wish we were aware of before traveling, is to bring along swimsuits, cover ups, and towels in your travel bag. When you visit a beautiful coastal town, you may want to jump right in the water.
- If driving, have plenty of change ready: Compared to the countryside of Provence where we spent most of our time on country roads, there are numerous toll roads along the French Riviera, and they are pretty much unavoidable; therefore, make sure you have plenty of Euro coins in your car.
Where we stayed:
- Our hotel, Chateau le Cagnard, was near Nice (about a 30 min. drive), in a medieval village called Cagnes-sur-Mer. This was a smaller boutique hotel that sat in the middle of a beautiful town with views of Nice and the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. While we enjoyed our room, hotel and town, access to the hotel was difficult as only very compact cars can drive all the way to the hotel. Parking is at the bottom of the village and a good 15 minute walk.
- The first few days in the French Riviera, we stayed at a friend’s house near Grimaud.
- After our week along the French Riviera, we ended our France trip with a peaceful two days at L’Escale du Ciel, a small bed and breakfast in the Alpes-Maritimes. We made great use of the pool and all of the lounging areas, eating breakfast on the patio and sipping wine in the evening.