Astonishing the array of organised ‘theme’ holidays going around these days. I noticed a friend was in our local tourist bureau the other day, dropping off brochures for her restaurant, and went in to see her. After we chatted, I looked around for a few minutes at all the holiday leaflets.
Here in Provence in the south of France you can book any one of, oh, about a squillion activity holidays.
Organised tours have never been my preference when travelling frankly, but I can see that for people who have a particular interest to nurture, or for singles who want to avoid eating alone and sightseeing alone on holiday, they’re probably a great idea.
Provence is a fantastic place to have a holiday, any time, and the holidays on offer round here are legion. There are ride-a-pony-in-the-Provencal-garrigue holidays, restore-a-medieval-village-in-Provence holidays, wine tours and tasting holidays, birdwatching in the Camargue wetlands holidays, join an archaeological dig and uncover Roman artefacts holidays, learn to cook French cuisine holidays, paint in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh holidays, digital photography holidays, kayaking holidays and walking holidays. And that’s before all the ‘spiritual’ or new age-y holidays offering massage and every-kind-of-therapy or retreats in medieval villages or monasteries.
Like many others, I’ve never been attracted by the idea of organised holidays because I like to meander about if I take a holiday. Travelling for leisure should be fun – timetables, and deadlines to be back from the walk round the chateau, aren’t my idea of fun. And Provence is incredibly easy for visitors who want to turn up and improvise. Certainly if you want to book one of the famous French Riviera hotels and be sure of a view over the glittering Mediterranean sea, you need to book ahead. Some of the loveliest – the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, La Reserve de Beaulieu, the historic Negresco, the Royal Riviera and others – get booked up way ahead of time in the summer months. But there are heaps of good hotels and guest houses on the coast and inland that are full of character, not expensive and with rooms available even in summer. (Careful near Monaco though round the time of the Monaco Grand Prix. You’ll sleep on the beach if you don’t make a reservation.)
Round my way, near beautiful Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with its tiny canals and large water wheels, you’re spoilt for choice if you want a reasonably-priced room with character. In the tiny hameau or hamlet nearby there are several apartments and studio flats for around 450 euros – 600 dollars – a week. For that, you and the family get to stay in a blissful little hamlet with two swimming pools, set in olive groves, with fig trees, cherry and almond trees and 11 hectares of tranquil countryside, all yours for the week.
Along the road at spectacular Fontaine de Vaucluse there are rooms in a beautiful big old village hotel where the dining room is a walled courtyard draped with greenery and centred on an ancient stone fountain. It’s a few steps from the lovely crystal-clear Sorgue river, the famous rushing source of which is a few hundred metres away up in the Provencal hills. Rooms there cost around 50 euros a night.
If you’ve seen the classic films Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources you’ll have an idea of the blissful countryside in Provence. If you want to see it for yourself, you can just turn up at Marseille airport, Avignon airport or Avignon TGV (high speed train) station, book a car and easily find accommodation in a town or village you like the look of. If you prefer to be organised, you can book one of those squillion doing-this-or-that-in Provence holidays.
For daily life in Provence see also: http://provencesouthoffrance.blogspot.com/