Arles, the gateway to the Camargue, the imperial city, with its deep historical roots and its incomparable architecture, city of photogenic encounters and fougasse — the local ancestor of focaccia — seasoned with orange flower. One night at L’Hôtel Particulier, built by the Baron de Chartrouse in 1824, with its little Andalusian garden, its swimming pool, and its massage room beneath the arches, and you can feel winter turning overnight to spring.
Les Baux-de-Provence, the Alpilles’ most beautiful village, brings in a million and a half visitors per year to mingle with its twenty-two permanent residents. To see it at its best, while dodging most of the crowd, there’s always the Hameau des Baux, located in Paradou, ten minutes away. Twenty intimate rooms and suites, surrounded by vines and fig trees, where time flows slowly, accompanied only by the sounds of pétanque and apéritifs. The joy of napping, rediscovered….
If you know Van Gogh’s paintings, then you already know Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. The Dutch master painted over 150 canvases depicting this first-class wine city. Housed within the walls of a 17th-century palace, the Hotel de Tourrel is a boutique hotel nested among the art galleries and bistros of the historic city center — and it’s also got its own excellent restaurant and wine bar, to help you learn the region’s 34 appellations.
40 kilometers away, a village perched on the foothills of Mount Ventoux, whose steep climb is well known to the riders of the Tour de France: Crillon-le-Brave. Listen to the cicadas, hunt for truffles, drink reds from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas — it’s an attractive proposition, staying at this inn which was once dear to Paul Cézanne, ideal for exploring the markets, the medieval villages, the antique shops, the lavender fields, and the artists’ workshops.
Avignon, city of the Popes, is an obligatory stop for all lovers of live performance and Greco-Roman mythology. It’s in an old cardinal’s palace from the 14th century, redesigned during the Enlightenment, that La Mirande houses its bedrooms, equal parts refinement and authenticity: hand-embroidered tapestries, silk-lined curtains, Toile de Jouy and televisions concealed within mirrors. Don’t miss the excellent traditional cuisine of chef Jean-Claude Aubertin.
Welcome to the Luberon! All for you, the most beautiful villages in France, the ochre cliffs of a Technicolor Provence, and all the organic chèvre you can eat. Five minutes from the citadel of Ménerbes and its famous castle, we find this sophisticated and contemporary country house, located between vineyards and scrubland on an estate where you’ll taste all three divine nectars — red, white, and rosé — as the sun slowly sets. The garden or the pool, the choice is agonizing….
The village claims (in its name) to have cornered the market on beauty. But it’s the Domaine de Capelongue, in fact, that’s the local visual highlight, a country house worthy of a painting by Cézanne, with its lavender gardens, its pool lined with chaises longues, and its kitchens, overseen by Édouard Loubet, with his two Michelin stars and his incomprehensibly good lobster à la marjolaine. Save room for dessert, as the pastry is no less extraordinary.
Another one of those impossibly picturesque medieval villages with high-perched citadels, complete with a 12th-century church priory and a castle, called the “Petit Trianon of Provence,” surrounded by acres of perfumed gardens. Founded in 1613, the Couvent des Minimes is all about wellness, with a L’Occitane spa installed in the walls of the cloister and a range of products made with the local resources: lavender, lemon, honey and verbena.
The regional park of Verdon, with its artificial lake and its beautiful gorge, at the bottom of which is a river of an unreal blue, is the top destination in France for rafting and canyoning. The village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, known for its pottery and lavender honey, marks the gateway to this unique natural site. And the 17th-century Bastide, the former holiday home of a certain Alain Ducasse, remains a must for lovers of geology and gastronomy alike.
Last stop: this 18th-century country house, former home of painter Bernard Buffet, placed in the high-perched village of Tourtour, known (not without reason) as “the village in the sky of Provence.” At Domaine de la Baume, the main event of your day is a dinner in the dining room of François Martin, or a relaxing session in the Pure Altitude Spa. Return home with a full stomach and a peaceful mind….