Provence is the superlative of all your Southern French dreams. The sky really is that blue, the food is as fresh and tasty as can be, and the people are as welcoming and hospitable as the everlasting sunlight that warms your skin. Easily accessible by TGV from Paris, Provence is only three hours away from the capital. Alternatively, one can hire a car and make the most of the French country side on route. Either way, no excursion to the south of France is complete without stopping in this idyllic region and getting lost in any one or other of the picturesque towns while exploring the unspoiled landscapes.
If Provence is a highlight of the country, than the city of Aix is the area’s treasure. Through this quaint town you can meander for hours; get lost in a free standing market, idle down a cobbled laneway ignorant of where it leads, or be lured by one of the amazing Provencal restaurants; surrounded by air so thick with enticing smells you just cannot help yourself- and wouldn’t if you could. This city is known for both a lively student atmosphere, and an overwhelming style and sophistication. Compact and easy to navigate by foot, you’ll find Aix with its 17th century architecture and open paved plazas a delight to visit. Indeed, the history and ambiance will leave you wanting to return.
Every summer Aix hosts its annual arts festival in July. Since 1948 spectators have been offered opera, theatre and concerts over a diverse variety of genres. With a now established international reputation for excellence, the festival is one of the most renowned in France. The 2012 Festival, running from July 5th-27th, heavily focuses on the power of Opera. Director Bernard Fouccroulle hopes that the experience will profoundly affect every spectator’s humanity, and no one observer will leave unchanged. Visitors can take advantage of several ticket packages in order to experience this musical/theatrical extravaganza.
If one needs a break from city culture, there are a dozen or so beautiful vineyards surrounding the city. There is no better circumstance under which to unwind after touring, then to indulge in some delectable wine tasting. And you will not find a more striking example of this than the Chateau de Vauclaire. Situated only 15km from Aix, the estate of Vauclaire consists of 120 hectares, 30 of which hold an expansive vineyard, right in the heart of Provence. The Sallier wine makers of Domaine de Vauclaire have taken advantage of the land’s natural assets to produce some of the best rich and subtle blends of red, white and rose across the country. Their award winning produce leaves no visitor dissatisfied and is sure to please the palate of the most fastidious critique. Having been passed down through the family for generations, you can be assured that the wine here is made with the greatest care and attention to detail possible.
The difference between the Salliers and other wine makers in France is evident in their story. Enlightened art collectors, they devoted themselves to winemaking with this same taste for refinement and excellence. From generation to generation, the family has improved their know-how and expanded their knowledge, encouraged by the growing potential of the wine market in Provence. The diversity of grape varieties within the vineyard reflects a long history of Mediterranean wine. It allows the Sallier family the freedom to compose with rich and subtle blends. Having spent a summer at Vauclaire, the author can attest to the domain’s spiritual atmosphere and healing surroundings. It is impossible to find fault with the vineyard’s location, ambiance or hosts. Ideal for a summer escape or winter sojourn; Vauclaire is perfect all year long.
So if you are pondering a European jaunt anytime soon, whether you are after sunshine, sightseeing, culture or culinary delights; look no further than the south of France. A few days in Provence will leave you refreshed, relaxed and planning your return trip. With dozens of villages worth a visit and exploration, the thumping beat of the streets of Marseille, France’s second largest city, and the overwhelming calm and sophistication of Aix; there is something in the Provincial region for everyone.