Monday, March 5, 2012

Happy Trails

Summer travel-planning season is in full swing and if you're thinking of coming to Provence, 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 and could use some help sorting out the details, click 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 the Cote d'Azur. It's all part of a new program called the Routes du Bonheur (Roads of Happiness) and you'll find some great ideas for Tuscany and Napa Valley 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...

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 calisson 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 Grasse, and his itinerary is here. It includes gorgeous scenery, history, perfume (make your own scent!) and one of my favorite places in Provence, the Gorges du Verdon, known as the Grand Canyon of France. I love this itinerary!

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 Provence region. His son Gérald has been at the stove since 1990.

Another well-known chef, Stephane Raimbault (who runs the marvelous L'Oasis in La Napoule, near Cannes, with his brothers Antoine and François) created a delicious three-night itinerary for the Cote d'Azur 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 Matisee Museum, the Forville Market in Cannes, the pottery village of Vallauris, St. Tropez, the Cap d'Antibes Beach Hotel and a winery he loves in Bormes-les-Mimosas. And that's just for starters!

And for bikers, we have an itinerary created by none other than Cadel Evans. He suggests staying at Crillon le BraveLa 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 hereAnd you can see the full list of the Relais & Chateaux properties in Provence here.

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.


  1. Julie,

    I just LOVE your site. All the info avail, your personal tips, links to local biz, and it's GREAT to know when move to France I can engage you for help at that end. Makes it less intimidating. Always so fun and informative. Just 'saying.

    Meanwhile, it's practically like summer here in Carmel-by-the-Sea. Frankly, we deserve it. Our June is often fogged over, freezing, and like winter.

    To the good life in both out beautiful, bountiful locales! And as in Provence, we LOVE visitors in Carmel where we have a surprising number of French biz! But perhaps not so surprising as Carmel started as the result of a French entrepreneur purchasing a Spanish land grant!

    All best, -S

  2. What an inspiring invitation to savor all that Southern France has to offer! Absolutely delightful.

    We are so excited to be returning to France in June for a wedding. We also plan to relocate to S. France for six months after many years of planning. Hopefully we will be able to stay on with my husband's company. A dream come true for us!

    May I inquire Julie as to which type of visa you obtained initially? I think we will pursue the six month carte de looking in to the various types.

    Merci beaucoup. Would be so helpful to be in touch with you.

  3. Hi Sandy,
    You left me no way to reach you, unfortunately. If you'd like to, drop me a note at:
    Best Wishes!