Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How to Spend 7 Great Days in Southern France

Can the time have really passed so quickly? 

There are only 3 1/2  months until we leave for our Food and Wine Tour of Provence and the Rhone Valley!

For those of you who are traveling with us, and those who would like to travel to this fabulous part of the world some day, here is our itinerary, and  my recommendation on how to spend 7 great days in Southern France.

Getting There

There are many options for flying to the region. You can fly Marseille, the closest airport to Aix-en-Provence, which is a great location to use as a base for traveling throughout the region. You can also fly to Avignon or Toulouse, and use the wonderful train system to transfer to Aix. Alternatively you can fly to Paris (lots of choices of departure and arrival times, attractive fares, and the chance to spend a few days exploring the City of Light before heading south).

Several of our group will have already traveled to Europe and plan to meet us in Aix, and others will fly from the US to Marseilles, arriving on October 13 (remember that if you depart the US on the 12th, you will  lose a day traveling east).

If you do fly into Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, the high speed TGV station is right at the airport- in Terminal 2- and you can take the train to the AIX TGV station.

 Plan on purchasing your tickets in advance as seats are reserved. (Tickets go on sale 30 days before the date of travel. The earlier you buy your ticket, the cheaper they will be.)  The train trip from Paris to Aix TGV station is 3 hours, and if you have never traveled by the high speed train system in France, you are in for a treat! Navigating the system is dead easy, signage is in French but readily understandable by English speakers, the trains are extremely comfortable and reliable, and the staff are extremely helpful.   

From Marseilles to Aix

 If you are flying into Marseille, there is a shuttle bus that runs from the airport to the Aix City Center every 30 minutes. If you are taking the TGV train from Paris, the shuttle from the Marseille airport stops at the Aix TGV station (which is a ways outside of town) and you can take it on to Aix city center. Tickets can be purchased on line in advance at

Our Itinerary

Sunday, October 13 :Arrive in Aix- en- Provence and check in to the Hotel Negre Coste on Coeur Mirabeau, the most famous street in Aix.

     The Negre Coste has an elevator (many French hotels do not), extra soundproofing in the rooms (important because Coeur Mirabeau is a busy place late into the night), free wi-fi in public areas, mini-bars in rooms, luggage storage, hair dryers, ironing boards on request, complementary toiletries, flat screen TVs, and tour and reservation assistance. Laundry service is available as well.

     Check in, unpack, recover from jet lag, and stroll the cafes and bistros that line the Cours Mirabeau, or the many restaurants in the nearby restaurant district. Les  Deux Garcons is just steps away, famous as a haunt of Cezanne, Zola, and Hemmingway.

 Click Here for a printable (and expandable) map of the city center

Monday, October 14:  

Monday is a day to explore Aix: City of Fountains, University City, Provincial Capitol until the Revolution.
The Tourism Office will provide us with a guide for a walking tour of the high points of the City. There will be plenty of time to explore as well. If you are an early riser, check out the produce market at the Place de Richelme (open 9am-1230 pm) after breakfast at the Hotel.   Aix has a long history as a Roman city (site of the famous Roman baths of  Aquae Sextiae  founded in 123 BC). According to a recent article in Barron’s, a modern rendition of the Roman spa is still in operation. If you feel you need a bit of pampering to recover from your journey, the spa offers a number of packages. Check them out at  What a way to recover!

Tuesday, October 15: Bandol and Cassis

We leave Aix  at 9:00am after breakfast at the hotel, and arrive in Bandol at about  9:30. Bandol is a fishing village on the Mediterranean and one of the oldest vineyard areas in France. It lies on the coast  between Toulon and Marseille, and is the only wine region in France whose red wines are dominated by Mourvedre, a late ripening grape that must account for 50% of the blend. (I am exceedingly fond of Mourvedre and am really looking forward to tasting these wines in the place where they are made!)  We will have the opportunity to view the picturesque harbor, stroll the waterfront and enjoy nibbles at the morning market to stoke up for our tasting of a selection of local red, white, and rose wines at the Maison du Vin.

Then on to Cassis, about twenty minutes away, passing the spectacular Calanques, inlets to the sea between steep limestone cliffs.

One of France’s first AOC’s, Cassis,  unlike most of Provence specializes in white wines, which make up around 75% of its production.
Clos Sainte Magdelaine
 After lunch we will visit Clos Sainte Magdelaine, located on a private cape above the sea, with full tour of winery and guided tasting . This is a Kermit Lynch selections property. Kermit Lynch is an American negotiant (wine merchant) who selects marvelous wines from excellent producers and imports them into the US. Its web site has great information about the property, the winemaker, and the wines.

So, full delicious food and wine, we will return to Aix where we can nap, shop, people watch, or dine at our leisure.

October 16:  Salon-en-Provence and Saint-Remy-en-Provence

After breakfast at our hotel, we depart Aix at 8 am
for to the famous market at Saint-Remy-en-Provence, where we will have plenty of time to browse and shop. There are many markets in the towns and villages of Provence, but the Wednesday market at Saint-Remy is one of the largest and most diverse. Saint Remy is also known as the birthplace of Nostradamus, and the place where van Gogh painted and eventually died.

To get ourselves in the Roman frame of mind, we will stop at the Roman ruins of Glanum  just outside of Saint Remy for pictures at the triumphal arch and mausoleum before enjoying a catered lunch prepared by Marielle Cherubini, whose specialty is in reproducing Roman cuisine, infused wines and beers from an ancient text  De re coquinaria (On the Subject of Cooking), containing around 500 recipes by a Roman named Apicius.

Olive oil has been a mainstay of the region since before the Romans, and we will visit  an olive mill where we can both taste and watch the process of turning olives into liquid gold.

 Before heading back to Aix for our last night in Provence, we will stop at Salon-en-Provence to see how the authentic Savon de Marseilles natural  oil soaps are made in 100 year old factories. These soaps make exceptional gifts and they are easy to pack!

October 17: the Luberon

Check out of our hotel in Aix after breakfast (we will be relocating to Avignon this evening) and depart for the Luberon at 8:30.

We arrive in Menerbes, considered one of the most beautiful villages in France, in time for the market where I will pick up food for a picnic lunch. We will discover this beautifully restored hill top town, and visit the wine and truffle center in the Marie (Town Hall),
Garden at the
Center for Wine and Truffles
Wine Opener Museum
Visit the Domaine de la Citadelle for tasting  with its Wine Opener Museum, and the nearby Abbaye of Sainte Hilaire.
I'Isle Sur la Sorgue
After a picnic lunch, we head to L’Isle-sur-La-Sorgue.  This compact medieval town is built on the islands of five branches of the Sorgue river, which flows through, in and around the town, the reason it is often called “The Venice of Provence”.

Known for picturesque waterwheels, waterside bistros and cafes and more than 300 permanent antique and bric-a-brac shops, there is an outdoor antique market on Sundays and two international antiques fairs; reasons why this little town is considered the third most important antique center in Europe- after London and Paris.As if all that were not enough, there is also a not-to-miss shop selling incredibly delicious  hand made ice cream

Then on to Avignon where we check in to the Kyriad Avignon Palais du Papes- just steps from the Palace of the Popes and the Opera House in the center of the old city.
Palace of the Popes, Avignon
The Kyriad has small refrigerators in the rooms, coffee and tea, hair dryers, free wi-fi and newspapers,  excellent sound proofing, and elevators (I do hate to haul a suitcase up flights of stairs after a long day). Unpack, rest, relax, and explore.  Tomorrow, we explore the world famous hill of Hermitage and Tain in the northern Rhone.

October 18:  Northern Rhone  and it's iconic Syrah based wines from the magnificent granite cliffs of the Massif Central and the Hill of Hermitage.

The drive from Avignon to Tain l’Hermitage takes about 1 ½ hours, so after breakfast at the hotel, we will leave Avignon at 9:30 and arrive at Tain l’Hermitage at about 11, where we have an appointment for a tour and tasting of the wines of M. Chaputier: one of the great producers of the Rhone valley. Chaputier produces wines from a great many of the Rhone appellations, including the great AOCs of the north. Chaputier farms the majority of acreage of the iconic hill of Hermitage as well as vineyards in Crozes Hermitage,Cote Rotie, Condrieu, Saint Joseph, Saint Peray, and Cornas.

We are free to roam Tain and Tournon sur Rhone until about 2 pm. These two villages are on either side of the Passerelle Seguin, a pedestrian bridge across the river. The best wine tasting is on the Tain side, but the old town of Tournon has the best restaurants , a hill side garden, and views across the river to the Hill of Hermitage and its vineyards
Pedestrian bridge across the Rhone

For dessert, we will visit the flagship boutique of Valhrona Chocolate, where almost everything Valrhona sells in the store is offered for tasting - free. The prices of chocolate items are extremely reasonable, and I have to admit, I not only ate myself into a chocolate coma, I filled my suitcase with chocolate treats for the folks back home. Red wine and chocolate. What a day!

Our final stop on Tain will be at the Cave de Tain Cooperative for another Tour and Tasting. Made up of small member growers, the Cooperative is the largest overall producer of wines in the northern Rhone. One of the wines that they produce is the rare white Hermitage Vin de Paille. This ancient type of “straw wine” is made from very ripe white grapes dried on straw for at least 2 months to further concentrate the sugars before pressing. I have never tasted a Vin de Paille, and hope they will have one open when we are there!

Then, return to Avignon, where we can rest and recover for our final full day of the trip and our journey through the Southern Rhone.

October 19: Southern Rhone
We depart from Avignon at 8:30 am for our first stop in the Southern Rhone: Tavel. One of the original AOCs in France, along with Chateauneuf du Pape, Tavel is a rose only appellation.  First, we will visit Domaine de la Mordoree, located in Tavel, but with vineyard parcels in Tavel, Lirac, and Chateauneuf . They produce wines from all three appellations

From Tavel, we will proceed to the Domaine du Banneret, a tiny 3 hectare domaine in the heart of Chateauneuf which dates back to 1405. Owner and winemaker Jean Claude Vidal makes traditional style Chateauneuf . The old vine grapes are strictly organic, and the wine is bottled and labeled by hand. He is one of only 2 remaining producers who uses all of the 13 allowed Chateauneuf du Pape varietals (the other is Beaucastel). The 2010 vintage was just released locally, and it is utterly delicious.
On to Seguret, one of the most famous named villages of Cote du Rhone Village, for a tour of Domaine de la Cabasse, stroll through the grounds and gardens (very picturesque) and enjoy lunch
The Dentelle
Finally, we depart Seguret for Gigondas, and the Domaine de Longue Toque (Gabriel Meffre) at the foot of the Dentelle de Montmarail  for a tour and tasting.

Return to Avignon to rest up for our gala farewell dinner to end a glorious week in Southern France!

If you have any questions, or want to reserve a spot,  email me :at

If you are not already signed up for the trip, I hope you can join us; but if not, we will have another food, wine and spirits adventure in France next year- so stay tuned for details!