Travel in 2021 is going to be challenging. We will continue to want to keep our distance and stay out of crowded, tourist resorts. Therefore, going somewhere so attuned to the traveller’s needs as Provence might not be your best option.
However, the desire to see our beautiful world up close is more potent than ever, and there is nowhere more idyllic than the Cote d’Azur. It is a place of the heady perfumes of lavender fields and the coast’s sea breezes, matched by the delicious light and shade of mountains and beaches.
So, how can we thread this tricky needle? How can we keep ourselves and others safe while immersing ourselves in the calm and luxury that will heal us?
The answer could easily be a road trip through Provence. Hiring a camping van and drawing out a route through the region. You can stop off long enough to admire the cuisine and the view and retire to your bed in your space.
Here we offer a suggested road route through Provence that will bring so much joy.
Starting some 25km east of Avignon, the provincial town of L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue is a beautiful place to begin your tour. It is known as the Venice of Provence, as the city is essentially an island surrounded by the river. There are many bridges, some private, but the public ones will lead you to the quaint old town.
As you travel on from the town, heading south, you may want to time your road trip to the time of the flowering of the lavender. The expanse of purple flowers of the region is a significant driver for most to come to Provence. The bloom happens between June and August, though the timing depends on the weather. If the weather is warm in spring, you will want to make this road trip through Provence earlier.
However, a reason to head to the mountain region is the lure of real lavender grows in hidden spaces amongst the rocks. While this real lavender is rare, if you are going to be a purest in your road trip, you need to look above 600 meters for genuine plants.
The villages of Luberon
From the tourist town of L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue, with its many restaurants, wineries and museums, you should head to the mountain villages of Provence. The Luberon is a mountain range to the south of the Vaucluse Departement. While you will have to master French to order your food from the local shops, you will also be lost in quintessential Provence. The villages of Luberon are filled with vineyards, olive groves, small stone houses and lavender fields.
Gordes should be your first stop, at least for lunch. It is one of the most tourist-inhabited villages in the area and can get crowded and full of stalls with inauthentic gifts. However, the views are stunning and walking the old town’s streets makes it worth a stop-off.
Roussillon is also worth visiting to see the sunshine on the red rocks. Time your road trip through the area just right and you will be astonished by the vista.
Continue south towards Saint-Saturnin-Les-Apt and onward to the village of Saignon. Again, it is a beautiful view, of course, and it is worth finding yourself a spot to stop and sleep and raise to the early morning light. Then, hit the road early and look to be at Lourmarin as the sun sets the silhouette of the village on the mountainside is enough to soothe any troubled soul.
Secret coves of the coast
From the mountains, you should then travel further south to take in the coast. The beautiful views and great food continue, but Provence’s coastal area offers the change to hike and swim in hidden gem coves far from the crowds. While there are obvious tourist honeypots on Provence’s coast, there is no need to end your road trip amongst these crowds.
Start this section of your trip in the pine forest of Bormes-Les-Mimosas. Pellegrin beach is a long strip of sand border by pine trees. The sea is a deep green. Despite all this appeal, the secret of this coastline has yet to spread. On the horizon is the island of Porquerolles and there is no better way to spend your time than taking the coastal path to Fort Breganon. This 3-hour round trip will give you a chance to soak in the sun and find occasional shade.
If you love these fragrant pines, you can head to Le Lavandou. You will delight in the cicadas and the white sand. The sea is a vibrant blue, and you can find some solitude on Jean Blanc Beach, which is a delicious inlet. From here you can head up to the coast path that stretches from Lavandou and Cavaliere. At the end of this walk in the wild cove of the Elephant, with its green waters and rocks.
Why take to the road?
A road trip around Provence might be the perfect option for our pandemic times. Find your own space while experiencing all the luxury and beauty of the region.
And yet, a road trip in a campervan through the many landscapes of Provence feels like a perfect trip even in the best of times. You may want to see the lowlands with the birds, the mountains with the lavender fields or the coast with the beautiful coves. You do not have to compromise and choose between the vineyards or the beach, the small boutique shops or the farmer’s markets.
By travelling the roads of the region, you also see the stunning landscape from the viewpoint of a local. You can wake up to the sunrise in one place and experience the sunset in another. You have the freedom to travel where your heart desires – and let’s face it – there is much that it will desire in this stunning region of France.
Su Stephens is Owner of Olives & Vines. Olives & Vines is a luxury holiday company based in the South of France offering stays at their beautifully designed holiday house and boutique hotel in Le Castellet.