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By Iris Law | August 10th, 2016
  • Countryside, Culture, Foodie Trip, Outdoors, Weekend Getaway
  • Europe, France, Provence

There are many reasons to visit Provence: the sunny blue skies, the spectacular lavender fields, the delicious food, the festive morning markets… the list goes on. Just a three-hour train ride from Paris, Provence is an easy side trip to be had — and one that will put all five of your senses to work.

Eat some bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse at Le Petit Nice overlooking the Mediterranean Sea
Bouillabaisse at Le Petit Nice overlooking the Mediterranean Sea

Begin your culinary adventure in Provence with Marseille’s signature dish: bouillabaisse (seafood soup). Marseille has a number of Michelin-starred restaurants specializing in Provençal cuisine. A must-try is three-starred Le Petit Nice (Anse de Maldormé , Corniche JF Kennedy, 13007, Marseille) by chef Gérald Passédat, which serves one of the finest bouillabaisses in town. Passédat creates his dish using a variety of fish of rare finds, and the stock is simmered for 48 hours. Enjoy this southern specialty with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean Sea and a glass of Provençal rosé.

Artistic creation at Alcyone - Charcoal Crust Top with Grilled Tuna
Artistic creation at Alcyone – Charcoal Crust Top with Grilled Tuna

Also not to be missed is one-Michelin-starred Alcyone (InterContinental Marseille Hotel Dieu, 1 Place Daviel, 13002 Marseille). It’s located inside the Intercontinental Marseille Hotel Dieu, which faces the Notre Dame basilica hill. Alcyone’s dishes are creative and beautifully executed using the freshest local ingredients. The tasting menu is full of surprises – start with a basil smoothie hanging on a plant and a grilled tuna with textured charcoal crust top before moving on to the bouillabaisse, catch of the day, and a dish of guinea fowl. Finish with an artistic berry dessert and a macaron bonbon cart.

If you prefer a more classic bouillabaisse, try Chez Fonfon (140 rue du Vallon des Auffes, 13007, Marseille), a family-run restaurant by the Vallon des Auffes harbor that has been open since 1952 . CF offers generous portions of fish stew with five kinds of fish and all-you-can-eat bouillabaisse stock.

Browse the medieval towns and morning markets

The Vieux Port of Marseille is an ancient trading port with a long history: it was settled by the Greeks as early as 600 A.D. Across the port is one of the most picturesque views of the city, with the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde at the top of the hill. The Romanesque-style basilica was originally built in 1214 to safeguard sailors and fishermen. The architecture is crowned with a gold statue of Madonna and Child, and the interior walls and domes are decorated with beautiful mosaics. The church is at the highest point of Marseille – and it’s the best spot for a stunning panoramic view of the city.

Illuminated Notre Dame de la Garde and Vieux Port at night
Illuminated Notre Dame de la Garde and Vieux Port of Marseille at night

The Luberon and Vaucluse regions north of Marseille form the beginning of the magnificent wild lavender landscapes in Provence. Remember to head there between last week of June and first week of August to catch the peak bloom. The scenic drive through the countryside of rolling hills and beautiful medieval villages is surreal and breathtaking.

The weekly morning markets in the villages of Provence are a sight to behold. Markets normally begin at around 8am and last until noon. There’s a vast variety of local products on offer – from fresh produce and lavender-based novelties to crafts and antiques.

Smell the lavender fields

Picturesque field of lavender and village
Picturesque lavender field and medieval village in Sault

Lavender is the essence and the soul of Provence. Walking into the lavender fields is like soaking in an all-natural, relaxing aromtherapy bath. The high plateau in Luberon offers the perfect environment for high-quality lavender plantations. Pay a visit to one of the distilleries (Distillerie Aroma’plantes: Route du Mont Ventoux, 84390, Saultand museums (Musée de la Lavande: D2 Route de Gordes, 84220, Coustellet) to learn about the history of lavender and its cultivation, distillation and production.

Fragrance-making has a long history in Provence. Visit a perfume museum like Le Studio des Fragrances (Galimard, 5 route de Pégomas, 06131, Grasse) in the Provençal perfume capital of Grasse and sign up for a natural fragrance workshop to make your own bespoke bottle of eau de toilette.

Listen up at a music festival

Summer is the best time to go to the music festivals and concerts in Provence. Head to Orange for the Arts Festival at the Roman Theatre & Museum of Orange. It’s one of the oldest festivals in France and has taken place every summer for more than 100 years. Enjoy some of the best operas of all time at this UNESCO Heritage Roman amphitheatre originally built in the first century AD. Don’t forget to book your tickets in advance! Aix en Provence also has summer festival featuring both classical and modern operas, orchestras and concerts.

Travel back in time and enjoy an Opera at the Roman Theatre of Orange Photo: Tyler Bell/Flickr
Travel back in time and enjoy an Opera at the Roman Theatre of Orange Photo: Tyler Bell/Flickr CC

Every year on August 15 is the Lavender Harvest Festival in Sault. Besides lavender cutting competitions, there is also plenty of live music to go around.

Feel the healing touch of a lavender massage

While you’re at it, remember to pamper yourself with a soothing lavender massage and therapeutic thermal baths. Lavender is well-known for its calming properties, but it’s also believed to have other therapeutic health benefits. We recommend Chateau Berger (281 Corniche Kennedy, 13007, Marseille) and My Spa by l’Occitane (Le Moulin de Vernègues, RN7 Domaine et golf de Pont Royal, 13370, Mallemort).

Bon voyage!