Aug 21 - Aug 27, 2023
We had an outstanding tour of Provence and are very pleased with everything involved in the planning, preparation, and execution of our tour. I was a bit skeptical when we first began discussing a tour with KimKim however none of my early concerns developed into anything at all. Amandine and KimKim delivered each and every time.
Some notes for future travellers: a) don't hesitate to be as specific as possible with your coordinator. We were very pleased to receive a ground floor room in one location that did not have an elevator (mattered for us). We enjoyed our accommodations very much however next time we might include a longer wish list when it comes to hotel amenities. For example in one hotel the room was a bit small, however the hotel location was excellent (and we did not expressly request a large room). Think about where you want to be located. We absolutely loved our Avignon location (la damoiselle) - a beautiful guest house in the old town (Lisa was so wonderful).
b) don't hesitate to be clear about your day trips/excursions/etc. We had a few tours with Ala Francaise and they were very professional. Special thanks and kudos go out to Flo (Florine) who took us on our Wine Tour to Chateauneuf du Pape (out of Avignon), and to Lucille (sp?) who came up to Arles to give us a fantastic walking tour of Arles (finished with a great Cheese and Wine tasting too!). There was one, small, bit of confusion around our Gourmet Walking Tour in Arles. We expected it to be a walking tour of multiple local food spots, however our guide's plan was more of a historical walking tour with a main stop at the end for the Cheese Tasting and wine sampling. This was an excellent tour and our guide was super accommodating at every step, however the initial confusion was an unnecessary hiccup.
Massive highlights: Most of our tours were amazing however our Culinary Cooking Class Day was the best. Gilles (from Provence Gourmet) was tremendous. This day exceeded our expectations at every level. Not only did we love the market walk, but we just had to stop at a local winery in order to have the correct pairing(s) for our food production to follow!!! Gilles was a great Teacher/Chef! He was patient and clear with all instructions and we couldn't have imagined a better day. Merci Gilles!
In summary, we were so pleased with KimKim (and Amandine's assistance). To have all of our logistics taken care of (trains, hotels, tours, etc) made our 7 day Provence tour so much easier. We will totally contact KimKim ahead of our next European adventure. Santé!
Lisa was a fantastic host(ess). She greeted us and made us feel like returning family members! LOVED our first floor room and the wonderful breakfast space in the back of her great guest house. Our morning breakfast was fresh and tasted great. The walk into town was easy and only a five minute stroll and you were in the heart of the old town of Avignon. We only wish we stayed another few nights (2 for us) as we were both very comfortable and felt right at home.
The Hotel Escaletto was an excellent place from which to explore Aix-en-Provence. Our room was very clean and while a bit on the small side it was completely satisfactory for our visit to Aix. The proximity to the old town was a highlight. It was a pretty easy walk in to the heart of the old town/restaurants/etc. and it was possible to return home for breaks if so desired. The breakfast offered was very good and the staff were very accommodating if you had any needs. An elevator is always an added bonus and the Escaletto did not disappoint. We didn't really make use of the 4th floor patio, but it was a good size and I'm sure was nice for those who chose to sit out.
This hotel was the fanciest of our stays, offering the most amenities. We don't usually prioritize having a pool, but given the heat, we realized it would have been a nice feature to have. It was a great stay overall.
Flo was an excellent guide. His English skills were excellent and he provided great commentary on our drive through the countryside (the region, History and Architecture of Avignon, etc.) as we made our way to our first winery. We visited two wineries (Chateau Maucoil - in the northwest corner of Chateauneuf du Pape; and Maison Bouachon in the village of Chateauneuf du Pape). The Chateau Maucoil stop was by far the best. We had 6 tastings and the hostess was wonderful taking us through the Chateau's different vintages and discussing the difference in terroir in their various fields. She did a wonderful job sharing information about the appellation of Chateauneuf du Pape and the 13 different grape varietals used in this region of Provence. It was very interesting to learn about the different soil types in CNP as they were much different than in other wine regions we had visited. Highly recommend this stop. Our second stop was a bit disappointing. The hostess at Maison Bouachon was wonderful however this stop was more about 'how to taste wine' and less about the various vintages of this winery. We only had 3 tastings and it was disappointing after the great visit to Chateau Maucoil. It is a great stop for someone who wanted to learn about tasting wine but for anyone who has visited multiple wineries previously it was a bit disappointing in the limited number of tastings. Their winery facility was impeccable but it felt like a showroom visit more than a winery tasting tour. Perhaps if it was our first stop I would not be so critical but it was not nearly as good a stop as CM. Before returning to Avignon Flo (our guide) took us to a wonderful historic monument overlooking of the town and appellation. We had a great view of the Rhone Valley (with Avignon in the distance) and it was fun to stop and take some photos of the Valley and river rolling by.
This was the best!!!! Gilles was an excellent Chef/Host and he made the day a wonderful one. We started with a conversation with Gilles about the kind of Provencal meal we were hoping to make. Gilles provided a few great options and together (with the one other couple) we selected a Sea Bass meal. Gilles then took us to two different markets in Aix, a famous Aix bakery, as well as a quick stop at a local grocer where he picked up a couple of other items for our meal. Prior to arriving at his house (where we were going to cook) we stopped at a local winery so we could taste some wine and choose appropriate wine for our meal!!!! This was both unexpected and fantastic. We had a chance to sample some wines from Chateau Henri Bonnaud and ended up choosing a White and a Rosé to take with us for our meal. Chateau Henri Bonnaud was a great stop. The staff were very clear and provided some great background on the winery, the terroir, and the appellation as a whole. Gilles took us through every aspect of the preparation of our meal. He was patient and a great Chef/Teacher getting us to assist with each and every part of our three course meal. His home was wonderful and provided a spacious place for us to work and learn together. It was a massive success and a true highlight of our week in Provence.
We enjoyed our Cassis half day tour very much. I think it could have been even better if we had a little longer time in Cassis but that is on us and our planning. Our guide Guillaume picked us up and drove us out from Aix to Cassis (about 30 minutes). Guillaume was very nice and answered all of our questions. He wasn't as talkative about the region's history, geography, etc. as we might have liked but he was very pleasant and professional at all times. Our first stop was at Cap Canaille high above Cassis. We were able to jump our and grab some amazing photos with tremendous vistas along the coastline. This stop was between 10 and 15 minutes so don't expect a long hike on the trails but rather a quick stop to enjoy the great views before heading down into Cassis. In Cassis we went directly to the harbour area where we were encouraged to take the 'short boat tour' of the Calanques. This tour was approx. 45 minutes and cost approx. 16 Euros per adult. Thankfully a boat was loading and departing right away so off we went on a small'ish tourist boat (mostly open air with a covered section mid-ship) to exit the harbour. Our time in Cassis would only be approximately 2 hours so it was important (if we wanted to take a boat tour of the Calanques) that we go straight to the ticket office and get on the first possible boat. Our Captain narrated most of the way (in French and in English) telling us that we would visit 3 Calanques along the shoreline. We really like being on the water so it was a great way to see the Calanques without having to exert any excercise whatsoever. After entering and exiting three different Calanques (inlets/skinny harbours surrounded by vertical cliff walls) we worked our way back to the harbour. From there we still had about 60-90 minutes for a walking stroll through Cassis (really just around the harbour and the large square at the harbour). Thankfully there was a great market taking place and so it was fun to compare the market to others we've seen and to browse the many artisan displays. I would say our Half Day in Cassis was really more of a 'Quick Tour of Cassis Harbour and the Calanques'. No doubt you can book a full day and this might be something I'd recommend if you really wanted to check out the small seaside village in more depth. If you're interested in seeing the Calanques from the water (and not hiking them - which may take a number of hours) then this is a great way to accomplish that. Our tour guide was nice and very professional however he was more of a Taxi Driver on this tour. We thought he could have been much more informative during our drive (and he did answer all questions as best he could) and possibly the tour operator could arrange for a more private boat trip as well (cost?) but that might be prohibitive (?). All in all we did have a nice half day. We saw the Calanques and enjoyed a brief visit to Cassis. We were back in Aix by 1:00 pm and were able to have a free afternoon to explore.
While this ended up being a great tour we think it is poorly named. The tour ended up being more of a Historical Tour of Arles (with a Cheese tasting + wine at the end). Our guide - Lucille (?) - was fantastic! When we first met and she outlined the plan for our walking tour we shared our questions (we thought it would be a walking food tour like we had done in other places - tour markets/small shops where we would try local cuisine, etc.) as it seemed we had different ideas about what was expected. Lucille was great - she immediately adjusted her plan and started us off with a short walk to a Patisserie that she really liked. There she gave us a chance to order some local food and she talked about some of her local favourites (including some history of Provencal bread - Fougasse). We proceeded to wander around Arles with the occasional stop along the way (in the Park to finish our coffee and snacks) to see historical monuments/ruins/etc. around the town. Highlights were stopping in to see the Roman Amphitheatre (sadly closed to foot traffic but you got a great look), Coliseum (excellent stop), and a couple of stops at places made famous by Vincent Van Gogh's 2 year stint in Arles (Yellow café and the Hotel Dieu). Throughout our walk we learned about the history and evolution of Arles. We also had a nice stop at a local Nougat shop and tried out a variety of Provencal nougats - they were really good. The culmination of our walk was a stop at Les Fromagères (Women Cheesemakers). There we were treated to a Cheese Tasting of at least six different styles of local Provencal cheese. Naturally we were offered some Provencal wine to accompany this tasting!!! It was fun to try different cheeses from very fresh (soft) options to one that was infused with a Pesto 'sauce'. Yummy!