Arrive in Avignon and pick up your car. Head for Châteauneuf-du-Pape to walk amongst world-renowned vineyards, then continue to Orange, a walker’s delight, with some of the finest Roman monuments in Europe. Your destination is Vaison-la-Romaine, a bustling town with interesting shops, a romantic medieval quarter, and extensive Roman remains.
Explore Vaison before driving into the rugged Drôme to Nyons, famous for its olive oil. Pass fields of lavender on the way to Dieulefit, with a long history of pottery production, and Le Poët-Laval, officially listed as a Plus Beau Village. Enjoy a walk into the gorgeous countryside before heading for Buis-les-Baronnies, a herb and flower centre known particularly as the central depot for the linden flower harvest. Then it’s on to Mollans-sur-Ouvèze, before returning to Vaison.
Travel through vineyards, ringed by hills and mountains. Walk from Gigondas, a delightful Côtes-du-Rhône wine village, into the spiky Dentelles, limestone mountains eroded by the wind. Then continue to Beaumes-de-Venise, known for its sweet, white dessert wine. From the château ruins overlooking the town, walk to the superb Romanesque chapel of Notre-Dame d’Aubun. Then follow the route through Crillon-le-Brave, Bédoin, St-Didier, and Venasque to today’s destination, Pernes-les-Fontaines.
Today you’ll head for Gordes, a striking perched village that has become an artists’ colony. Along the way visit Fontaine-de-Vaucluse where you can walk to the resurgent spring that is the source of the Sorgue River. Extend your route through Murs and Joucas in the limestone countryside of the Vaucluse. Enjoy walks to a village of drystone huts known as bories and to the magnificent Cistercian abbey of Sénanque, set in a peaceful, remote valley.
Drive into the Luberon, made famous by Peter Mayle. One of the day’s highlights is red Roussillon high on ochre hills. Visit the ochre quarries before heading to Goult, walk to olive terraces dating from the Middle Ages and a ruined Celtic hilltop oppidum. Then on to Lacoste, a beautiful village rising in tiers up a hill crowned by the ruined castle of the Marquis de Sade. Savour the silence at Fort de Buoux, once a stronghold of pre-Roman Celtic Gauls and inhabited right into the 17th century, before returning to Gordes.
Today’s drive takes you through the famous villages of the Luberon Valley — Ménerbes, Bonnieux, Lourmarin, Cucuron, Ansouis. Arrive in Aix-en-Provence, a cosmopolitan city of grand boulevards, fountains, shops, and cafés, said to be the most beautiful small city in France.
Explore Aix, with its fountains and fine 17th - and 18th-century mansions. Relax at chic cafés sheltering under the canopies of huge plane trees - the mirrored Les Deux Garçons is the most famous. The Impressionist painter Cézanne lived and worked in Aix. Follow his footsteps on the Circuit Cézanne, find sites he painted, including the pyramid-like wedge of Mont Ste-Victoire, and finish with a visit to his house and studio.
Leave Aix behind and head into an undiscovered hinterland, wild white limestone country. Picnic at the Refuge de Cézanne, with Mont Ste-Victoire looming overhead. In the wild and rugged Ste-Baume mountains, follow the Way of the Kings to a cave sanctuary where Mary Magdalene is supposed to have spent her last years. Arrive in Moissac-Bellevue.
Spend a day in the magnificent Haut Var region. Discover France’s Grand Canyon, the spectacular Gorges du Verdon, carved deep into the earth by the wild Verdon River. Explore Moustiers-Ste-Maries, nestling against a cliff at the western edge of the gorge and famous for its ceramics.
Take a step back in time as you wind your way through authentically Provençal villages. Pause at the Abbaye du Thoronet, one of the most impressive medieval abbeys in Provence, then continue through deep forests of pine and chestnut trees, as well as cork oaks, covered by their characteristic lumpy bark or smoothly orange if the bark has been harvested. Today’s destination is St-Tropez.
Enjoy the bustle of this pretty fishing port, stroll through streets of pastel houses to the Quai Jean-Jaurès, lined by chic cafés and artists selling their work. Visit the Musée de l’Annonciade, housed in a converted 16th-century chapel and displaying an array of Post-Impressionist art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then head out to some of the lovely villages perched on the hilltops behind St-Tropez.
Follow the spectacular coastline to Nice. Along the way, take a walk on the Esterel Coast, with its red and mauve rocks descending to the turquoise sea. Pass through Cannes, famous for its film festival, and explore the Cap Antibes, where millionaires make their home. If you like, turn briefly inland to St-Paul-de-Vence, a beautiful village in a dramatic loction and an art centre since the 1920s.
There’s time for a final stroll around Nice before heading off to your next adventure.