Provence Part 2: Aix-en-Provence

After an incredible three days in Cassis we left our seaside flat and headed inland for time in the rolling hills of Provence. We visited vineyards, walked around some of France’s most beautiful medieval towns and saw the incredible blue waters of the Verdon Gorge.

Day One- Mont Sainte-Victoire

The next day we said bye to our little flat in Cassis and packed up the car. In the morning we were heading it Mont Sainte-Victoire, one of the main mountains in these part of Provence with one of the most famous summits ( La Croix de Provence). It is also the subject of a very famous Cezanne painting.  There are a couple different options for the hike, we took the Sentier des Venturiers trail which starts from Les Cabassols parking lot on the north side. The hike here is not long but very steep, not sure what was harder: going up or coming back down!

At the base of the mountain is a town called Vauvenargues, which looks absolutely frozen in time. It’s is also home to a beautiful chateau which was Picasso’s final resting place. 

We spent the night at a very cute BnB in the country just outside of Pertuis (mostly due to a mistake in bookings but was nice to have a quiet night!) The Airbnb had an amazing pool overlooking the surrounding hills and the most gorgeous cats.

Day Two-Verdon Gorge, Lac Sainte Croixe and Les Moustiers Sainte Marie 

Today was a big day: we left Pertuis pretty early to drive into the national park. The drive to the gorge is pretty spectacular, we were here just after lavender season but you could still some in the fields so I can only imagine how magical it would be when they are full bloom. 

If you haven’t heard of the Verdon Gorge it is the most impossibly blue river set between two cliffs you see all over Pinterest, with pictures that give off very Slim Aarons vibes. It was truly as beautiful in person as it is online, it is pretty crazy to see a lake with water that blue. We rented a paddle boat and went up the river for about two hours, next time I think it would be fun to bring food for a picnic and stop halfway in your boat. 

After our boat ride we grabbed some snacks and a picnic alongside the lake and ended up swimming as it was such gorgeous  day. 

In the afternoon we headed to the nearby town Moustiers-Sainte-Marie which is often called one of the prettiest towns in all of France. It is built right into the mountain and filled with cute shops. While a lot of the stores are pretty touristy there is also a big artist community here and we ended up finding the most amazing painter’s studio and buying a print. 

That night we headed to our last Airbnb in Aix-en-Provence where we ended up having possibly our favorite dinner of the trip! We went to Restaurant Le Gambetta who snuck us into the last available table, the restaurant serves modern, beautifully presented French food. 

Day Six- Aix-en-Provence 

Today we stayed close to home and explored Aix-en-Provence, also known as the city of fountains. This town is more Paris than Marseille in its architecture and a pretty significant old Roman settlement, which means its almost full of history. 

Another thing Aix is known for is its amazing shopping, both with your classic French brands ( Longchamp, Sezanne etc) but also with its plethora of outdoor markets. We went to the textiles, food and flowers market all in one day as they are all very central to town. 

The best way to spend a day here is by wondering all the streets and seeing how they go from old Roman cobblestones, to Parisian balconies and picking up pastries and snacks along the way. If you are interested there are a couple museums and art galleries as well as guided walking tours available.  

We had what might have been my second favorite dinner tonight at Le bouche à Oreille, which served impeccably done French food in a outdoor courtyard. Aix is known as a foodie town and I can confirm it lived up to this reputation.

Day Seven- Towns of Provence 

One can’t be this close to the hills of Provence and not go searching for beautiful medieval towns so that is exactly what we did today. We ended up changing plans very last minute as my boyfriend was reading a book about France during this trip and read about Avignon- it was a little further than we had wanted to drive today but we decided to go for it anyways. Avignon is a stunning medieval city that was the seat of the Catholic popes for quite awhile. Famous for the walled “old town” that houses the Palais des Papes and other examples of medieval architecture, there is also a great market, beautiful views of the surrounding hills and the Rhone river. 

We got to Avignon pretty early and it was really nice being able to walk around all the windy side streets before it got busy. We also walk along the walls overlooking the Palais des Papes which had incredible views over the surrounding landscape and the city. I can imagine this area gets crowded as it is pretty well known so I would recommend going in the morning like we did.

In the afternoon we drove to Gordes, a town I had wanted to visit for ages. This tiny hilltop town set right in the heart of Provence looks like an absolute dream. Surrounded by beautiful estates and very fancy hotels, this is typically known as quite an expensive village to stay in. The town is built in almost a honeycomb shape around the hill and is the perfect size to enjoy an ice cream whilst you explore all the backstreets. From certain parts of Gordes you can also have a great view of Mount Ventoux. 

After Gordes we stopped by Roussillon where we went on Le Sentier de Orce to see the insanely red ochre cliffs in the region. These were used as the basis of many building materials in the area, leading Roussillon to have an overall red/peachy glow to it. 

Day Eight- Wineries 

On our last day in France we headed out on a half day wine tour run by a local company. They picked us up in the centre of Aix and we went to two local wineries with our group of eight. The first winery was tiny and built right into the shadow of Mont St Victoire, the second winery was bigger and many generations old. We were able to try lots of amazing wine- a definite must do while in Provence. We tried the classic provencal rosé, some minerally whites and even a couple great reds!

After our tour we had some lunch to and then were off to Marseille to drop off our car and enjoy the last night of our trip. Well you often hear pretty negative things about Marseille I must say I was pleasantly surprised! Well there are rougher parts of the city ( it is a city and this can be said about all cities- plus it is one of the oldest cities in France and has recently fallen on hard economic times with changes to the port) there are also some exceptionally beautiful parts of the city. There are quite a few stunning churches in the city and they have recently spent a lot of money on the waterfront. We had a nice leisurely walk along the water, walking past the main cathedral, the old fort, the very modern new museum and then stopping for a drink along the harbour. You could quite easily spend more time in this area if you so chose. I think it is important to question people when they try to write off a city like Marseille, there is a lot of smoke to the idea that Marseille is a city to avoid and I was very happy we were able to debunk that myth for ourselves.

And that was it for our time in the South of France. It was truly the most magical vacation I could have imagined. There was incredible food, ancient towns, amazing hiking, peaceful beaches and lots of wine! Already scheming on when I can come back!

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