Most of us think of lavender, sunflowers, gorgeous markets and hill top towns when it comes to Provence. But, it’s also an area of outstanding natural beauty from its beaches with dramatic cliffs and wonderful bays to its interior landscape of hills, orchards, vineyards and rivers. We asked Emily Durand, an expat local and guide at Your Private Provence to share some of her favourite places of exceptional beauty and nature in Provence.
Cassis – The fishing village
“Charlemagne’s Crown” is to be found in captivating Cassis. The coronet shaped cliff hovers over the harbour offering protection. The coloured facades and wooden fishing boats bobbing on the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea are like the jewels in the crown. With this spectacular setting before you while you indulge in heavenly Bouillabaisse, you’ll understand the words of the 19th century writer Frederic Mistral: “He who has seen Paris and who has not seen Cassis, has seen nothing at all!”
The white wine from Cassis is considered a cru (the best) and was one of the first to be classified as AOP (Protected Appellation Origin). For perfect relaxation, sit at a café sipping white wine and then relax on the beach. Cassis has many benches for wanderers to rest, so if you didn’t bring your swimsuit, you can still chill and watch the world go by.
The morning market is on Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you stay overnight, wake up early to see the fisherman arrive to sell their catch of the day. A drive up to the top of Cap Canaille, the highest coastal cliff in France – and one of the highest in Europe, is one more highlight you won’t want to miss: you’ll have the most spectacular view of the Mediterranean coastline.
If you’re feeling energetic and want to explore off-the-beaten-path, you can rent a kayak from Port Pin in Cassis. This way you’ll really appreciate the beauty of one of France’s most breath-taking landscapes – Les Calanques. These limestones creeks are sometimes referred to as the French Fjords.
If you prefer to stay on land, a trek from Port Pin to the En-Vau Calanque is easily accessible for the adventurous hiker. This route reveals dreamy turquoise waters in a hidden cove – paradise guaranteed. You can also opt for a classic boat ride from the port of Cassis that offers views of 3, 5 or 7 Calanques.
Should you be traveling with a small group, opt for a private boat excursion. This will get you up closer to the beaches and provide you with scuba gear for some underwater exploration. Don’t leave Provence without a little aqua adventure.
Vaison-la-Romaine – Authentic High Vaucluse Region
More and more people are becoming aware of the area referred to as Haute (high) Vaucluse. This region retains an authentic atmosphere with its less touristy villages. Here, the mountain atmosphere adds a touch of Alpine air that opens up the senses to the lavender, truffles, wine, saffron and fruit trees. Vaison-la-Romaine is a lively town with two weekly markets as well as a lovely Provencal square lined with cafés for resting tired feet.
It’s also a paradise for Roman history buffs with open-air museums featuring a 1st century BC antique theater and one of the largest Roman villa remains in France. Don’t leave Vaison before crossing the Roman bridge to explore the Medieval City, Haute Ville. Should you be feeling in the mood for a little climb, wend your way to the top where the Counts of Toulouse built their castle. The view is worth the effort!
Emily Durand’s tours take in the most beautiful villages, authentic experiences, fabulous restaurants and vineyards – her Your Private Provence tours are an entry to Provencal paradise…