Greetings dear readers and friends. What an absolutely lovely time of year in Provence! We managed to make it to the beach in Bandol this morning at around 9am (a small miracle) and there was not another soul around. We spent a peaceful hour or so before a few families showed up, and what a difference from the “high season” crowds. Plus, the weather was gorgeous – not a cloud in the sky and full of that famous South-of-France sunshine.
Today, I’m sharing a few of my favorite ways to spend the spring season in Provence… bon voyage!
-Visit the Gorges du Verdon
Have I mentioned before just how gorgeous the Gorges du Verdon is? Wow, this place will take your breath away. And truth be told, I’ve only ever visited the Gorges du Verdon on the off-season because it gets really, really busy during the summer months. Spring is a great time to visit. You can go camping, kayak down the river itself, and mainly just revel in the natural beauty that is this beautiful corner of Provence. There are great restaurants and hotels nearby (like Alain Ducasse’s at La Bastide de Moustiers), charming villages to visit, and tours offered around the region by companies like Getaway in Provence.
I admit that I say this almost every season, but what a wonderful time of year to visit the outdoor markets of Provence! For one, everything is just green, green, green. Artichokes, asparagus, green beans, fava beans, lettuce of all varieties – they all make their star appearance in the spring. I have more recipes saved in my “recipe file” than I can find time to make, but I can’t wait to get out to the market each spring to try my hand at a new dish.
-Picnic by the sea
I had a day off in the middle of this week and just happened to pop-down to our local beach around 10am… and found it almost empty. A few people playing with their kids in the sand, and some retired folks on their beach chairs, but beyond that, my friend and I were quite alone. And what a place! Warm enough to wear our sandals (and put our toes in the water) but not too hot at all- the calm crystal-blue waters of the Mediterranean right at our feet. I’m looking forward to returning with a big picnic basket and enjoying this beautiful time of year.
-Take a cooking class
If you’re anything like me, you might get a kick out of taking your cooking skills to the next level with a cooking class. I remember several springs ago, we were fortunate enough to attend a class were the theme was “all about” asparagus. I still use the cooking techniques we learned that day, plus I learned many new ways to enjoy this springtime veggie – in salads, soups, and simply well-seasoned.
-Attend a springtime festival
As in summer and fall, spring festivals abound in Provence. There are festivals to celebrate the arrival of spring, nature festivals (complete with a balade gourmande, gourmet “walk”), and of course, the ever-present food festivals (& a rosé wine festival, Just’ Rosé , in Sanary-sur-Mer: April 29 – May 1st). One thing I noticed recently was the number of festivals / parties taking place at vineyards. This is a great way to discover different vineyards around the area while enjoying a day out with lunch / activities. Two useful sites for finding out which festivals are happening during your travels are Visit Var and Provence Guide.
-Take a hilltop-village road trip
Sunlit, cobblestoned-streets and alleyways that have flowers popping out of every village-terraced house… what could be prettier than a Provençal hilltop-village in the spring? You can pick a few of your favorites, and make a road trip out of it… picnicking along the way. It’s no secret that our absolute favorite is Le Castellet village; about a 30-minute drive from Aix-en-Provence.
-Get a little glitzy in St. Tropez
St. Tropez is actually a very beautiful, charming town to visit in the South of France. Unfortunately, it loses a bit of its “quaintness” during the peak summer months – where you can wait literally hours in a line of cars trying to get into town. I remember we thought we’d do a quick St. Trop “pop-in” one weekend in late June and quickly did an about-face when we saw the line into town. That being said, I have the absolute fondest memory of visiting the weekend market around Easter-time last year. Simply gorgeous.
-Go camping in Provence Verte
While running around the markets and soaking up the sun along the coast, it’s easy to overlook one of the most beautiful spots in Provence – Provence Verte, or “Green Provence”. This area is quite close to us in the Var region (further out if you’re traveling in the Vaucluse or the Luberon) and has some of the prettiest villages around, like Barjols, Correns, and Cotignac. Think total nature surrounded by flowing rivers (perfect for kayaking, which we tried one time on the Argens river), vineyards, and hiking trails. Many of the villages have camping areas right next to, or just outside of, town. A very relaxing introduction to this gorgeous Provençal “backcountry”. Check out the website, Provence Verte for planning tips.
-Soak up a little café-culture in Aix-en-Provence
A visit to Aix at any time of the year is a wonderful experience, and when the “beaux jours” (beautiful days) arrive, it’s all the better. It’s hard to think of a better way to spend the afternoon than having a long, relaxing lunch on Cours Mirabeau and watching the world go by. Or you can simply post-up in any of the sidewalk cafés and enjoy some of the finest “café culture” in all of France. You’ll see people lingering over their coffees (you can stay as long as you like), but don’t be afraid to try a traditional Pastis or the Provençal drink du jour, an ice-cold glass of rosé.
-Take a bike tour
Spring is also a great time to go cycling around Provence. Everything is in bloom… not to mention that a lot of bike tours take you through the vineyards where the first signs of tiny, green buds are just appearing on the vines – a very pretty sight to see and also a nice excuse to pop-in for some wine-tasting along the way.