- Walk the ancient streets of Marseille, France's oldest city
- Cruise the waterways of Calanques National Park on a private boat tour
- Visit a historic religious palace in the medieval city of Avignon
- Experience the Provence way of life through its cuisine
- Sample the varietals of the Bandol and Cassis wine regions
|Day 1||Arrival in Provence||Aix en Provence|
|Day 2||Cultural Aix-en-Provence||Aix en Provence|
|Day 3||Aix Cooking Class: From Market to Table||Aix en Provence|
|Day 4||Avignon, the Luberon, and Villages||Aix en Provence|
|Day 5||Explore Marseille, France's Oldest City (free day)||Marseille|
|Day 6||Half-Day Cruise to Calanques National Park||Marseille|
|Day 7||Cassis and Bandol Rosé Wine Tour||Marseille|
Day 1: Arrival in Provence
Welcome to France! The adventure begins with your arrival in Paris, from where you'll catch a direct TGV (high-speed train) for a three-hour journey to the famous Provence region, located in the southeast of the country, or you'll fly direct from Paris to Marseille. If you do fly into Marseille, you'll then transfer 19 miles (30 km) north to Aix-en-Provence, a university city and the former capital of Provence.
"Aix," as it's commonly known, is a city set in an exceptional geographic location, amid the picturesque charm of the surrounding villages. The rural landscapes here, famous for their vineyards, lavender-blanketed fields, and limestone cliffs of Sainte Victoire Mountain, have been immortalized in the works of painters such as Cezanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky. Over four days you'll be able to immerse yourself in this city, enjoying all the culture and beauty for which it is deservedly famous.
You'll be lodging in the historic city center. Even though you might be tired from your journey, tonight you'll dine out at one of the fine restaurants that we recommend in this neighborhood. In the center, you have everything from intimate bistros and chic gastropubs to fine-dining eateries serving contemporary French and fusion cuisine.
Day 2: Cultural Aix-en-Provence
This morning you'll uncover the rich heritage, art, and culture that defines Aix-en-Provence. On a two-hour walking tour, you'll stroll a labyrinth of narrow streets, passing historic fountains as your expert guide points out both famous and hidden gems.
You’ll visit the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral, a Romanesque/Gothic church built on the site of an Ancient Greek temple to Apollo. You'll also see the town hall (also known as the Hotel de Ville), which dates to the 14th century and sits on a charming old plaza. The tour includes a walk along the Cours Mirabeau, a busy thoroughfare lined with plane trees and abounding with markets and cafés—perfect for people watching. You'll even see some ruins dating back to the days of the Roman Empire.
After the walking tour, you'll have the rest of the day to enjoy the city however you see fit.
Day 3: Aix Cooking Class: From Market to Table
Today you'll experience Provence's culture and rich way of life on a foodie tour of one of the most beautiful cities in all of France, Aix-en-Provence.
On this day-long cooking adventure, you'll browse the myriad food markets of Aix's Old Town, meet local purveyors, and pick up some of the fresh regional produce that the area is famous for, like herbes de Provence, olive oil, truffles, figs, honey, and more. You'll bring these ingredients to the country home of your host and then work on recipes and prepare the feast. On the way to the country home, which follows a route that passes through the scenic Montaiguet Forest, you'll stop at a local chateau to select some great Provençal wine to pair with your meal.
Upon arriving at the country home, you can take a stroll around the property and search for wild aromatic herbs. Then it will be time to start the cooking class, and you and a group of culinary enthusiasts will actively participate in the preparation of various recipes. After approximately two hours of cooking, it will be time for everyone to sit down at the long convivial table and share in all the gastronomic creations.
Later in the afternoon, you'll return to your hotel in Aix en Provence.
Day 4: Avignon, the Luberon, and Villages
After breakfast, you'll travel about an hour northwest to the medieval city of Avignon. There's quite a bit of history here, as this is where Pope Clemente V moved his court in the 14th century, and for several decades thereafter it was the seat of the Catholic popes. On a guided walking tour of the city, you'll visit the Unesco World Heritage Sites of Le Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the Pont Saint-Bénézet medieval bridge, which is the subject of the famous song Sur le Pont d’Avignon, composed back in the 15th century. You'll also visit Avignon Cathedral, Doms Garden, Saint Pierre Basilica, and the Place de l'Horloge, Avignon's main square.
You will then embark for the surrounding Luberon region, an area known for its countryside vineyards, orchards, and charming hill-top villages. You'll travel at a leisurely pace as your guide takes you to the village of l'Isle sur la Sorgue, famous for its outdoor weekend markets, antique stores, and old wooden waterwheels churning over the Sorgue River, which bisects the town. There are few better spots to enjoy a relaxing lunch than here in town, which is exactly what you'll do.
After eating you'll head to Gordes. This is arguably the most beautiful of all the hilltop villages in the Luberon. The skyline of Gordes is dominated by its fortified castle, and from its winding cobbled streets you can look out to wide views over the valley and surrounding hills. From Gordes, it's just a few kilometers to the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Sénanque, a Cistercian abbey founded in the 12th century.
This caps the day's eight-hour tour, and once finished you'll return to your hotel.
Day 5: Explore Marseille, France's Oldest City (free day)
In the morning you'll leave your hotel in Aix and make the half-hour drive south to Marseille. After checking into your new hotel in the Vieux Port (Old Port) neighborhood, you can then head out and explore this historic Mediterranean city. "Historic" might even be an understatement—with 2600 years of history, this is France’s oldest city. It's so old that it was founded on the site of the Ancient Greek colony of Massalia around 600 BCE.
We recommend exploring Marseille's most impressive and historic neighborhoods, like the colorful district of Le Panier. This is the "old Marseille," where the city was founded. It's a working-class enclave on the central port and is the picture of Mediterranean beauty, what with its old plazas, ancient churches, and brightly colored facades of the tenement buildings. You'll also find street art on the walls in the form of colorful frescoes.
Other must-visit areas of Marseille include the city center, the waterfront, the hilltop basilica Notre-Dame de la Garde, and the roman monastic foundation of Saint-Victor Abbey. You can also follow a walkway to Fort Saint-Jean, a fortification dominating the port that was built in 1660 by Louis XIV. Be sure to pay a visit to the fascinating Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM), a modern museum featuring permanent exhibits devoted to the history of these regional societies from ancient times to the present day. You'll want to end the excursion in Vieux-Port, in the heart of the city, where you can finish the day by enjoying a good pastis or beer as the sun goes down.
Day 6: Half-Day Cruise to Calanques National Park
Located just outside of the city of Marseille lies Calanques National Park. This is one of the European continent's newer protected areas, as it was established in 2012. It's also unique in that it comprises 520 square kilometers between Marseilles and the seaside town of La Ciotat, protecting both land and ocean. This is a true natural treasure of France's Mediterranean coast, and the best way to experience it is on a private cruise.
This half-day tour leaves from Marseille on a private vessel skippered by our local expert, Laurence. It only takes a few minutes to enter the park and glimpse its stunning limestone sea cliffs and hidden coves. The waters in these famous inlets are an irresistible kaleidoscope of blues that become milky turquoise and crystalline the further you get to shore. You'll have ample time for swimming in these hidden coves, which are only accessible by boat.
After this experience, you will get back to your hotel in Marseille.
Day 7: Cassis and Bandol Rosé Wine Tour
On the coast of France's southeastern Provence region lies two charming Mediterranean villages: Cassis and Bandol. Besides old-world charm, these villages are known for many things, one of which is breathtaking natural beauty. Cassis sits on the edge of Calanques National Park, which is famous for its hidden coves and large limestone sea cliffs. Bandol is known for its crescent white-sand beach, which appeals to sunseekers of all stripes. Both areas, however, are known for their hundreds of acres of vineyards that produce stellar wine. On a full-day wine tour of these two villages, you'll get to sample some of the best.
Provence, in general, is renowned for its fine rosé wines, but Cassis is more famous for whites while Bandol is known for reds and rosés. You'll visit some of the most famous wineries in this region and enjoy tastings overlooking beautiful terraced vineyards and the Mediterranean Sea. The tastings also include tours of the facilities, which offers insight into the production process. Plus there's a stop at Cape Canaille, which overlooks Cassis from the east, for even more jaw-dropping views. The excursion ends with a leisurely lunch back in the postcard-worthy fishing village of Cassis.
Day 8: Departure
In the morning you'll join the Marseille Provence airport, where you'll drop off your rental car and meet your scheduled flight home, thus concluding your grand Provençal adventure. Au revoir!