France: Provence: Through The Senses, The Fragrant Way
The sights, scents and flavors of Provence provide a wealth of inspiration for artists in every genre.
Arriving in Aix-en-Provence this morning by high-speed train, you will be met by your English-speaking driver/ guide and will set out to explore Aix-en-Provence. Visit the town and its surroundings, following in the footsteps of Paul Cézanne.*
As lunchtime approaches, walk the Cours Mirabeau, a wide boulevard at the heart of Aix-en-Provence. This tree-lined street is home to a number of lively cafes, including spots once frequented by Cézanne, Emile Zola and Albert Camus.
Cézanne’s spirit is alive along the streets of his former home. Visit the painter’s studio, a space frozen in time with its tall easel and clear bright windows. Continue on to Saint-Victoire, the limestone mountain ridge that fascinated Cézanne and graced many of his famous canvases. The ridge is on the road to your hotel. If time permits, take a short walk and enjoy the view.
In the late afternoon transfer by private car to Mane-en-Provence, a drive of approximately one hour.
Arriving at approximately 4:00pm, you will check into Le Couvent des Minimes, a beautiful five-star property nestled on a hillside and drenched in Provençal sunshine. This former convent, housed in a building dating to the early 17th century, is a successful fusion of medieval architecture and contemporary design protected from the Mistral wind by the Volx Rock. Period facades, terraced gardens with hundreds of botanical species, and contemporary interior decor are combined with a perfect alchemy. The rooms, decorated with great attention to detail, have a gentle Mediterranean feel, as does the peaceful Couvent des Minimes Spa by L’Occitane.
You have the option of scheduling a spa treatment before dinner.
This evening dinner is included at Restaurant Le Cloitre. Chef Philippe Guérin has designed a range of dishes reflecting the colors, scents and flavors of Provence and the Mediterranean, with spices and vegetables grown in the gardens adjacent to Le Couvent des Minimes.
* Alternative arrival options include: Avignon Train Station (1hr 40mins), Marseille Train Station or Airport (1hr 20mins) or Nice Airport (2hrs 40mins). Additional transfer fees may apply. The availability and timing of today’s activities will depend on your arrival time in Aix-en-Provence.
Following breakfast at your hotel this morning, you will set out for a full day exploring the beautiful Provençal landscape with your private driver/guide. (Approximately 9:00am to 6:00pm)
Begin with the small town of Valensole, built in the shape of an amphitheatre and clinging like a swallow’s nest to the edge of the hill which protects it from the cold Mistral wind from the north. The Plateau of Valensole is a gorgeous palette of durum wheat and hybrid lavender, its colors changing with the seasons: lavender blue and gold in early summer, russet and gray in the midst of winter. Almond trees accentuate the geometric shapes of traditional French gardens as far as the eye can see.
Continue on to Moustiers Sainte‐Marie, considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. Moustiers has a rich history of ceramic craftsmanship and is widely recognized for its fine tin-glazed earthenware pottery, referred to as faience in the tradition of Faenza, Northern Italy.
You have the option of taking part in a ceramics class where each participant will be able to create his own plate. The course takes place in the workshop where all of the tableware for the Bastide de Moustiers Restaurant is crafted.
Lunch at La Bastide de Moustiers, where the daily-changing menu celebrates Provençal cuisine and local seasonal ingredients.
This afternoon you will enjoy a drive along the famous Gorge of Verdon, The scenery here is astonishing. Largely untouched before the beginning of twentieth century, the Gorge is now considered one of the most beautiful canyons in Europe. Formed by the Verdon River and named for its striking turquoise-green color, the canyon attracts hikers, climbers and kayakers, with over 1500 routes through the terrain.
Here there is the option of a guided canyoning excursion in the midst of a nature reserve rich in flora and fauna.*
Return to your hotel by the end of the day (A 1.5 hour drive from the Verdon to the Couvent).
Dine this evening at the Bonne Etape, a Michelin one-star restaurant. You will be collected by private car and driver at the appointed time for the 30 minute transfer to the town of Château-Arnoux-Saint-Auban. The chef here prepares high quality ingredients in the pure tradition of French gastronomy, paired with an excellent wine list (Dinner jacket required).
*A doctor’s Personal Health Assurance form is required for participation in the canyoning excursion.
This morning we offer you an optional balloon flight, high above the countryside. Please note that balloons take off before sunrise, which means that you may have to depart by 5:00am. After the flight you will be returned to your hotel for breakfast.
Enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your hotel this morning, after which you will visit L’Occitane Factory. Depart at 9:00am.
The story of L’Occitane natural body care begins in Provence in 1976, when Olivier Baussan created the first unique products to carry the label. The company’s philosophy draws on the cultures of the Mediterranean to create natural and effective products dedicated to personal well-being.
Combining nature and research, L’Occitane follows the principles of herbal medicine, using over 200 carefully selected botanical ingredients and essential oils from organic sources whenever possible. Their complex natural formulas are created with limited or no use of parabens, chemical sun filters, phthalates and silicones. The company is widely regarded as a responsible corporate citizen with a goal toward limiting the impact of its actions and products on the environment.
Next enjoy a visit to the Distillery Bardouin in Forcalquier, at the heart of Haute Provence. The distillery is classified as an “Outstanding Site of Taste” and included among the collection of the Distilleries et Domaines de Provence, a company which has been developing aperitifs and liqueurs for more than one hundred years.
Break for lunch at a local Provençal restaurant.
Return to your hotel this afternoon, arriving in time for a two-hour cooking lesson with Chef Guérin. Learn to create gorgeously presented plates with a focus on the use of flowers, garnishing and finishing touches. The chef’s demonstration will be followed by a gourmet meal served in Restaurant Le Cloitre.
Alternatively, choose an optional introductory course in Floral Creation with Laure Primard, an artist who teaches this hands-on course at Hotel de Crillon in Paris. Create your own unique arrangement from a large selection of fragrant regional flowers.
After breakfast depart with your driver/guide for a visit to The European University of Flavors & Fragrances where you will have an opportunity to design your own unique perfume. Located in Forcalquier, this training center at the Convent of the Cordeliers is steeped in a sense of history. A wealth of information is on hand, with a focus on local flavors and fragrances and training materials to suit all ages and levels.
Depart for a visit to the Lubéron region. Between the Alpes de Haute Provence and the Vaucluse Plain, the bold outline of the Lubéron Mountain rises up: This is the symbol of the area, a mountain which brings the region together rather than divides. From the valleys of Calavon in the north, to the Durance in the south, the mountain is the natural link for these “pays du Lubéron,” which sway gently around its foot.
This is the real Provence, full of character. A sweet climate of dolce vita and pure clean air, where there is time to absorb the rich and variable natural environment: The blue strides of lavender, the subtle nuances of green in the forests, the flamboyant and blinding colors of the cliffs of ochre, and the austere white of the limestone hills.
In the Lubéron way of life, everything is relates to man’s relationship with the earth, the most basic element. Drive among the dry stone walls and bories, the imposing bastides, villages perched on the sides of hills between church and château. Some of these châteaux are quite famous, including Lourmarin, Gordes, Manosque, Roussillon, while others are less well known but equally attractive – Vaugines, for example, or Mirabeau, where “Jean de Florette” and “Manon des Sources” were filmed.
Enjoy lunch today at the Wine & Truffle House.
Return to your hotel in the late afternoon, with time to freshen up before your final dinner at Restaurant Le Cloitre.
Following breakfast at your hotel this morning, your day will be at leisure. Transfer to the train station or airport by private car in time to meet your return connection or continue on to your next Willing Foot destination.
This is just the beginning.
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