Paris To Provence

Nestled next to the rough, brown stone century-old farmhouse is a long white cloth-covered table set for lunch under the tall trees.

Bright blue, red and yellow French Provençale dishes and platters hold a generous amount of food, enough for a bus load of hungry travellers.  That’s a good thing because I’m on a Trafalgar bus that has descended through the Luberon to stop at organic winery Domaine Meillan-Pages for a Be My Guest experience.

Next to the table, a hen scratches in the leaves showing her clutch of tiny chicks how to find their own feast. This is real rustic French farm living and after meeting my hosts Eveline Meillan and Jean Pierre Pages I do feel like an honoured guest.

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Regional And Organic

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Standing next to a table groaning with the weight of tender poached chicken, ruby red tomatoes, crisp green salad and creamy local cheese is food sherpa, blogger and local Nathalie Ruffat Westling.  She has prepared this feast of regional, organic food using her favourite recipes, some from her mother’s cook book.

 The Be My Guest Lunch is something to experience

“It’s simple, traditional food,” Nathalie says but my eyes and nose tell me this is no ordinary spread.

When I leave the table the chair has sunk a little lower into the ground due to the weight of flavorsome food I’ve consumed.

It’s all been washed down with wine from the adjacent Domaine Meillan-Pages winery, which we waddle through with our overfull, post-lunch stomachs, climbing steep ladders to view the liquid contents of gleaming stainless steel vats. At just four euros a bottle, I can’t resist adding a rose to my take home list, with plans for a pre-dinner aperitif in mind.

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The Train Wins

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My French ‘Paris to Provence’ experience with Trafalgar started with three days in Paris. It’s just enough time to get a taste of this city and the feeling that I want to come back and walk its streets.

 Claude Monet's famed garden

The tour ticks off several of the ‘must-dos’ with a walk around the second level of the Eiffel Tower, an afternoon exploring the Louvre and an expedition out to Giverny for immersion in Claude Monet’s exquisitely colourful garden.

From Paris it’s a six-hour bus journey or three hours on the high speed TGV train to Aix-en-Provence. Which would you prefer? The train wins hands down so Trafalgar kindly organises their guests on the fast route to maximise comfort and sightseeing opportunities.

Lined with tall mansions that date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the narrow, winding streets of Aix-en-Provence were home to famous post-Impressionist artist Cezzane and also the birthplace of the deliciously sweet Calissons d'Aix.

 Calissons d'Aix were originally made for a royal wedding in 1454

Trafalgar Tour Director Sarah Ryan explains these oval-shaped treats are made from ground almonds and candied fruit peel and were created for King Rene's second wedding in 1454 to his much younger bride Jeanne. They can be found beautifully packaged in shops throughout the town or on your hotel bed pillow.


The colours of Provence. Picture-Perfect Provence

There's more to see in Paris. Beyond the Eiffel Tower


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Hilltop Of Old Stone

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In the wide plane tree-lined Cours Mirabeau, I dine on squid risotto at Le Deux Garcons, where Cezzane frequently met his childhood friend Emile_Zola for afternoon coffee more than 100 years ago.

With Aix as a base the bus travels on narrow, winding roads into the countryside to discover the hilltop town of Gordes. Its century old stone buildings perched on tumbling hillsides were used as the backdrop for Russell Crowe’s film, A Good Year.

Enterprising Gordes locals cater effectively for travellers' needs and desires with authentic-looking cafes and shops stocked with everything from local biscuits and art, to clothing and wine.  All you need is enough room in your suitcase to bring it home.

Next stop is olive grove Moulin du clos De Jeannons to learn about olive growing and harvesting, explore their crushing facility and taste the clean, sharp olive oil flavours of the countryside.

The Roman Amphitheatre ruins and Romanesque cathedral of Arles are only a short drive from Aix-en-Provence.  These cobbled streets were the haunts of another famous artist, Van Gough, who used the city for painting inspiration and as a hospital retreat.

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Market Day In St Remy

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In Avignon I sleep almost within arm’s reach of the 14th-Century Palace of the Popes and walk the bustling Place de l’Horloge, wishing I was a child and could ride the horses on the carousel.

 Palace of the popes

With exceptional good luck, the coach pulls up in St. Remy on a Wednesday, which is market day.  Tables overflowing with fish and flowers, sausages and cheese, line the footpath but it’s the clothing and tablecloths that catch my eye and I walk away with another full bag.

Les Baux de Provence, with its expansive views over Arles and the Camargue, is known as one of France’s most beautiful villages and has more shops to browse.

At the medieval village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, it’s a relaxing walk alongside the river to the source of the spring and a dinner of frogs’ legs, local perch or fois gras stuffed guinea fowl.

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Just About Perfect

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You must have pastis at Cassis said the boat captain as he negotiates the steep-sided white limestone coves known as calanques, awash with brilliant blue water.

Sitting later at a harbour-side restaurant sipping on the aniseed-flavoured, traditional drink of France in the warm sun life seems just about perfect.

 The seafront at Nice with the famous Cafe Negresco

An excursion to Monaco, the second smallest and most densely populated country in the world, proves that size doesn’t matter.  Outside the 700-year-old palace of the Grimaldi family march white-uniformed guards who could also double as Vogue models. It’s a shame they can’t see the stunning views of yacht-filled Port Hercule.

The Trafalgar journey ends in the seaside city of Nice.

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Friends For The Future

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Rubber shoes are a must to negotiate the large pebble beach but the Mediterranean is cool and deeply blue. Nice’s Flower Markets are a wonderland with more food than flowers and the market stalls morph into restaurants when sunset descends.

It’s here that I spend the last tour night reminiscing with my new friends from around the world at a restaurant. Over 11 days of travelling I’ve enjoyed their company, happy to become Facebook friends for future reunions or just to admire their photos.

Paris to Provence is a well-beaten track because the rewards are plenty. However local insights from a good guide will give you the ability to be a traveller not a just a tourist.

This writer was a guest of Trafalgar.

Kerry Heaney

Kerry Heaney is a food sherpa searching the world for ultimate tastes to share. As a freelance food and travel writer/editor, her tough job is writing about the things she most loves doing. See where she has been lately at www.eatdrinkandbekerry.blogspot.com.