Summer travel-planning season is in full swing and if you're thinking of coming to
, you better get crackin' because the best places (and many of the crummy ones) are filling up fast. From the number of calls and emails I'm getting from people looking for travel-planning help--and from my conversations with hoteliers and the owners of villas, gites and B&Bs--this season is looking to be one of the best in years. (If you're coming to Provence lick here.) In the meantime, I wanted to share something that could be very useful if you're planning a trip or you're already here. Relais & Chateaux has asked some famous foodies and other travelers to create itineraries for some of the most-popular tourist regions in the world, which of course include Provence and could use some help sorting out the details, c and the Provence . It's all part of a new program called the Routes du Bonheur (Roads of Happiness) and you'll find some great ideas for Cote d'Azur and Tuscany as well as the South of France. Most of the folks featured are members of Relais & Chateaux, meaning they run restaurants or hotels that belong to the prestigious group, and most of their suggested hotels are members too. But these travel experts also propose lots of fantastic things to do, see and eat along the way. So without further ado... Napa Valley
First we have a five-day itinerary created by Jean-Andre Charial, chef/owner of the Oustau de Baumaniere in Les Baux. Charial suggests a tour and tasting at a local olive oil mill, a visit to the gorgeous Italianate Villa Gallici (Aix), a tasting at the famous Confiserie Léonard Parli (Aix) and much more. Take Jean-Andre's route and you'll take in Tarascon, Boulbon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape for wine tasting (of course), a hilltop village in the Luberon, a gorgeous hotel in a historic abbey, Cezanne's studio in Aix and much more.
The sommelier at Oustau de Baumaniere, Gilles Ozello, also proposes an itinerary. His, called My Wine & Vineyards Tour Through Provence, takes you through some of the prettiest villages of the Côtes du Rhône region and into some of his favorite wine domaines.
Jacques Chibois is the well-known, much-loved chef/owner of the five-star Bastide Saint Antoine in
, and his itinerary is here. It includes gorgeous scenery, history, perfume (make your own scent!) and one of my favorite places in Grasse , the Gorges du Verdon, known as the Grand Canyon of France. I love this itinerary! Provence
Jean-Paul Passedat's suggested trip--rich in history, gorgeous scenery and of course, great food--is here. Jean-Paul represents the second generation of the famous restaurant Le Petit Nice in Marseille, now one of just three Michelin three-star restaurants in the
region. His son Gérald has been at the stove since 1990. Provence
Another well-known chef, Stephane Raimbault (who runs the marvelous L'Oasis in La Napoule, near
, with his brothers Antoine and François) created a delicious three-night itinerary for the Cannes here. His route starts you at the celebrated Chateau de la Chevre d'Or then sends you down the coast, dipping up into the hills and back down to the sea. Suggested stops include the Cote d'Azur , the Forville Market in Matisee Museum , the pottery Cannes , St. Tropez, the Cap d'Antibes Beach Hotel and a winery he loves in Bormes-les-Mimosas. And that's just for starters! village of Vallauris
And for bikers, we have an itinerary created by none other than Cadel Evans. He suggests staying at Crillon le Brave, La Coquillade and Le Couvent des Minimes (with its L'Occitane spa), while visiting Mont Ventoux, the Nesque Gorges and some of our favorite Luberon villages such as
Roussillon, Gordes, Ménerbes and Bonnieux.
All the details on the Routes du Bonheur are here. And you can see the full list of the Relais & Chateaux properties in
Photos from Top: L'Oustau de Baumaniere, at the foot of the hilltop village Les Baux. Vendor in the Forville Market in Cannes. The stunning Gorges du Verdon, where you can canoe, kayak, raft, swim, fish and more. Roussillon's lovely color comes from ochre, which is mined to make pigments for paint. Grasse's favorite chef Jacques Chibois. Truffles in the Forville Market, priced at 800€ for 2.2 pounds; they're known in the region as "black gold." The hotel Villa Gallici sits on a leafy hilltop overlooking Aix. The Abbaye de Senanque near Gordes. Picasso made pottery in Vallauris from 1946 to 1973. Click any photo to enlarge.