PACA is filled with exciting villages of different size, character and content. Here we try to tighten the appetite to visit some of the more interesting. The ones we have mentioned are: Vence, St. Paul, Tourettes sur Loup, Frejus, Draguignan, Lorgues, Cotignac, Salon-de-Provence, St. Remy de Provence, Les Baux de Provence and Isle sur Sorgue. But there are more coming up.
Vence, St. Paul de Vence og Tourrettes sur Loup
The small and pretty famous town of Vence, a little north of Nice, has many qualities. But it's primarily for two things, it's "become something". If it were not for the little medieval town, and if it were not because Matisse in his last years chose the Matisse Chapel as the end of his life. It took four years before he, as a 82-year-old in 1951, severely weakened by illness, could finish work with La Chapelle du Rosaire. He has created the architecture, chosen the materials and then decorated the renovated chapel made to the Dominican nuns. Nothing less than a masterpiece in all its simplicity. Beautiful, impressive and atmospheric at once. A tribute to Christianity and the Provencal light. Follow the small signs for Chapelle du Rosaire from the center of Vence, drive D 2210, Avenue Henri Matisse.
The medieval city lies like a city in the city. Like many others of the kind, hugely fascinating, wonderfully nice and packed with shops. But like other places, more and more clean tourist shops. However, there are some galleries in the old city. And it does not cost anything to look.
Many Scandinavians have settled down in Vence. We even know a few that have apartments in the city - and that's understandable, because it's a nice city with a very good location. Close to the water, close to Nice, close to the airport. It also means that you often hear Scandinavian language in the city, so be careful not to comment on something here!
Close to Vence are a few places that are also worth visiting. It is the neighboring town of St. Paul de Vence with the famous art museum Fondation Maeght, which Knud Jensen has received a lot of inspiration from when he built Louisiana. The museum has been rebuilding for a couple of years, but was reopened in 2012, and it is still worth a visit.
Another town or village on the edges worth visiting is Tourrettes sur Loup. It is actually a nice village ("violet city") with a small square, Place de la Libêration, which all life in the city revolves around. There are several good places to eat in the city - take no mistake of a small cheap look at the back of the central square. A notch elegant blue awning with the words Snack - Boissons - Glacer welcomes. But if you are for a quick and cheap meal, you can easily sit down for the food is good, Monsieur is in the kitchen and Madame serves - and talks. The talk goes steadily, because it is one of the places the locals come.
Frejus has grown more or less with St. Raphael. We have only stayed in the city for a few days, but found the village very pleasant and welcoming. Lovely little shops, including some interesting galleries. We bought an original watercolor painted by Jean-Pierre Beroard, who himself stands in the store when he is not looking for new motifs. Remember that in a small gallery you can also review the price!
We found several places that seemed interesting, but several of them were also well stocked up. We tried a few times to get a table at a small Fromagerie, where it was clear that some of the locals lived. But never succeeded. Instead we got a table at one of the cafes on the town's little square - it was a pretty excellent omelette they served there.
A restaurant we can recommend is Farigoulette on Rue Grisolle. A hearty introduction to the Provencal cuisine is no better than in the very small restaurant Farigoulette. It is a wife and man who manages the peas here. Christounette reigns in the small kitchen, while Jannot serves and revolves around the guests in the restaurant embellished by Provencal relics and photographs of the great heroes and personalities of the region.
The example of one of these little proud restaurants, where Christounette and Jannot start every day on the market, where the absolute best food supply sets the agenda on the menu. All dishes and all the ingredients are Provencal and exquisitely cooked throughout. Petit Farcis Provencal (diced vegetables with four different kinds of meat) should be mandatory for everyone (it has become one of our absolute favorites). The same applies to Calamares a la Provençale like lamb from Sisteron. It is appropriate to say that prices are extremely reasonable. That's okay with us.
Farigoulette is located at the Porte Dorée car park in Frejus between the two major parking lots.
Draguignan and Lorgues
They are mentioned here under the same heading because they are close to each other. Draguignan is the main city of central Var, and you naturally will end in the city when you're on the edges. True, we do not think the city is particularly exciting. But go there on a wednesday or saturday, where the great central square forms the framework of a big market. That gives a lot of life to the city.
However, we found here what you can call the 7th winegrow. It is located in Rue Frederique Mireur nr. 12 and is called L'amphitryon, a small shop with its finest wines, liqueurs, homemade pastries, tapenade, anchoiade, nougat and honey.
It really takes balance-art to step inside and move around in this shop, because there are simply bottles everywhere - no matter how you turn and return. And since there is not much space, you have to be a little careful.
Follow the small pathway from Place du Marche and you are on the way up to the 7th winegrow. In addition, L'amphitryon offers the most delicious Gigondas (which we really like) and champagnes.
Another place to recommend when we are close to Draguignan. When you come from D557 (Flayosc), just before you enter the city, look after Les 3 Collines at Rond-Point de Michelage. Here you van buy their range of wines, red, white and rosé. We can highly recommend the rosés - they are excellent.
Lorgues is a city many Scandinavians visit. It is located in the middle of an area of Var, where there is amazingly beautiful nature around. The city itself is perhaps the most famous for its big market on Tuesday. It is one of the area's largest and it fills almost the entire city. In summer there is also a market on Fridays.
And then there's one thing that Lorgues is more famous for, even though the place is located a little south of the city. Drive a few kilometers along Route des Arcs. It is restaurant Chez Bruno, located on the right side a couple of miles out of the road. We can reveal that you need to be lost in truffles to choose to spend a little fortune eating at Bruno. There are many who do, and when we were on the verge, a helicopter landed in front of the restaurant. We guess they flew in some guests from one of the giant yachts in the harbour of St. Tropez!
In Lorgues itself there are many restaurants and other eateries. Some are good, some don't find the balance between price and quality - but we have a small recommenda-tion. A little tiny place, just near the church square. It's called Chez Isabelle, and is a one-woman company, ie with Isabelle at the helm. She serves the most beautiful salads and tapas-like snacks in her small cozy garden. A visit there we can highly recommend. But there is battle for the seats - there can be barely 20 people at the tables.
Our last visit in Lorgues was in 2015. Things might have changed. Restaurants close and new come up. But there is a fine range of eating-places to choose among.
When we are in the area, we have to mention Grand Hotel Bain. Traditional and charming hotel in Comps sur Artuby, located a bit in "no-where". Up on the edge of the Gorges du Verdon National Park, 20 km north of Bargemon. We have stayed there for a couple of nights. The hotel is fine, but one should not go there because of the rooms. They are nothing special. That is, on the other hand, the food. 100% authentic Provencal food for nine generations - and at prices to be paid. The menu card varies from day to day, and there are several regional dishes based on the traditions and commodities of the area.
Bargemon must also be mentioned. Nice little medieval village north of Draguignan. It is a small town, small narrow streets and so the usual focal point in the city: the square. This is where you find life, centered around the square's cafes and restaurants. In Bargemon and the surrounding area there are a lot of Scandinavians, so the chance to hear voices from there when sitting in one of the square's chairs is great.
Cotignac is one of the villages we return to every time we are nearby. It is located in the area west of Lorgues and south of the Gorges de Verdon, and together with other small towns such as Entrecasteaux, Villecroze and Tourtour it is a very beautiful and interesting area. In daily speaking: Provence Verte, the green Provence.
The city itself is very nice, it's a small town, but there is even a little bit of life in the season. It is nice, plenty of restaurants, cafes and bars along the main street, which every Tuesday year round is consumed by a large market. But it is also a village with more than that. It is known for relatively many galleries and art shops, so if you are interested in local art, go there and spend some time and money.
We have been in town many times, and we also have little experience with dining places. There is a large offer, lots of places to serve a fair and proper salad or a menu - our best meal we have had at La Terrasse on Rue St. Jean, just behind the main street.
Cotignac is best known for its cliffs, as the city is built in and into. You can walk up to the cliffs in the end of the village behind Le Mairie, and you can come up the broad way to the old Hospice de la Charité. There comes a narrow curve in the rock where there is obviously a set of railings so nobody falls down. From here there is a magnificent vue down to the village.
6 km outside Cotignac at the village Sillans-la-Cascade you find the 42 m high and very beautiful cascade or waterfall.
Salon de Provence
We did not get aware of Salon de Provence until we saw the French film The well Diggers Daughter (La Fille du Puisatier). Until then, we had often passed by the city when we were on the edges, because we fell for St. Remy so it was easy to decide that it was there we had to go. But now we have been to Salon several times, including we visited the city on C'est la Vie's group trip in 2014 and we can happily recommend a couple of days' stay in a beautiful city. The town is nice and manageable, many good shops (three pairs of shoes in under half an hour, that's very well done) and several good restaurants. We have eaten two to three times on the city's main square with Fontaine Moussue, which you can see in the picture. In fact, at least two good dining experiences, one at Aux Deux Gros, the other at Le Café des Arts.
We have lived at the Grande Hotel de la Poste, 10 steps from the square. Excellent hotel, reasonable price and nice service. Cute and helpful hosts, she is from Holland and speaks fine English.
The Prophet Nostradamus was born in St. Remy, but he lived the last years of his life in Salon, and his house has been transformed into a museum for his work.
St. Remy de Provence
St. Remy de Provence is a really nice city, definitely worth a visit. Good size, living around 8,000 people in town, so it's a real city with lots of life, shops and restaurants. The city is located in western Provence (Les Alpilles), approx. 20 km south of Avignon in the heart of the Alpilles mountain range. Perfect place to stay if you plan to visit cities such as Avignon, Arles and Isle sur Sorgue. It also has some history to offer which does not make it worse. The city consists of an old historic district with a kind of ring street all around the city.
If we start with the story. There are three things the city is known for:
The Prophet Nostradamus was born in St. Remy in 1503.
Vincent van Gogh lived here for a couple of years in the sense that in the period up to his death in 1890 he was admitted to the psychiatric center of the monastery of Saint-Paul de Mausole.
Glanum, a reasonably well-preserved city built in the sixth century before Christ. Located approx. 1 km south of the city and is a relatively exciting historic monument.
Yes, there is actually just one small thing more that has shone over St. Remy. Princess Caroline of Monaco and her children lived in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence a number of years after her second husband, Stefano Casiraghi, was dead. When you choose to settle in a city as a princess of Monaco, there must be something about it!
We have fallen for the city because it has this old city center, filled with shops and good eateries in the small streets. You are clearly aware of the slightly international and touristy atmosphere, but you are also not in doubt that you are in a French city. All that we love in the French cities is there. The narrow streets of the old historic district, great little specialty shops and galleries, the local boulangerie, where you buy your baguette, the small cafe, which is the venue for many of the locals, the mood, the colors, the smells - and of course the weekly market (Tuesday) supplemented by a smaller market on Saturdays where only food is sold. The city is very good at attracting festivals, exhibitions and other events, which means that there is always life in the city.
That said, there are plenty of places to eat - there are also a few goodies of the kind that we will emphasize here. Let's start by recommending a pizzeria. We know it well - during a vacation you may want to have a pizza. And if you are not for those cheap and boring, tied pizzas that swim in fat, but you want to pay a little extra for a good copy, we can recommend La Cantina, located on 18 Boulevard Victor Hugo. Here you pay around 20 euros for a pizza - in return, both pizza and service are top.
Another restaurant we can recommend is a restaurant inside the middle of the old town. It's called L'Olivade in Rue du Chateau, and is a cozy place where you sit in a patio around an olive tree. Traditionally Provencal cuisine, menus between 20 and 35 euros - we had a really good experience there.
But the best restaurant experience we have had in St. Remy, and perhaps one of the best in Provence ever, was in summer 2017, where we walked around looking for a place to eat the last dinner of our summer-vacation. We stopped outside this small restaurant with a few tables on the pavement. We saw what was on the dishes - and fortunately there was a last available table. The name of the restaurant is Le Marilyn. It is situated on 13 Boulevard Marceau. It is rated very high on for instance Tripadvisor - and we can give them our best recommendation, as the food was magnificent.
Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux is located as the neighboring town of St. Remy de Provence in Les Alpilles, a little special mountain range. We are in the westernmost Provence and the landscape is characterized by the white cliffs covering an area of approx. 50,000 hectares. The mountain range is approx. 25 km long, 10 km wide and highest point is nearly 400 meters above sea level. The area has the status of a natural park, and its name has been named after the Alps, as the explanation is that the Alpilles are a miniature edition of the Alps.
The city itself is small - and you can not drive into it. The cars are parked outside, and then you walk the last hundred meters into the city, which is an ancient medieval village dating back to the 10th century. There are many exciting historical sites to visit, especially Le Château des Baux and the medieval church of L'Eglise Saint Vincent. Of course there are also a few museums that help tell the exciting story.
But also the view from the city - which is on the top of the part of the Alpilles - is worth going after. One can see Arles and La Camargue, an outstanding visual journey.
A unique experience
A lot to look at for those interested in history - but it is something else that attracts us to Les Baux year after year. That is the wonderful Carrières de Lumières (formerly Cathédrale d'Images), which is a very extraordinary multimedia show in big caves just outside the city. The show is new every year, it starts in March and runs the year. In 2014 we had to see it all twice, Klimt was a Vienne (including Hundertwasser) that was on the program. A unique experience here really makes sense for the senses. In 2015, the program Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael - Les Geants de la Renaissance is called. In 2018 it is Picasso. Check out their website www.carrieres-lumieres.com
Isle sur Sorgue
Known as France's Venice. A very nice city, characterized by its proximity to the canals that lead the river La Sorgue through the city.
As documented on the picture here, there is an exciting life around Sorgue. This dude was so much different from the crowd - we have never seen so many beautiful colors collected on a member of the family.
We are not particularly bird-watching, so we had to go home and investigate what it was for a size. It turns out to be a Mandarin duck, originally a bird from East Asia. When it appears at our European latitudes, these are birds that have been broken captive. Thus, intermittently, the bird is also shortly spotted in Scandinavia.
But otherwise, the city is characterized by the many restaurants that have settled up or down the water, and it is like newcomers to naturally settle on one of them. Of course, there are restaurants that cater to tourists (many of them are in town), and not everyone keeps a decent quality level. But alone the location and the atmosphere can make you choose one of these. If you want to sit overlooking the water, we can recommend a sensible little place, the restaurant Les Terasses, down at one end of the range of restaurants. Great view of the water (when we sat there was the "performance" of a bunch of teenagers who jumped into the water from one of the city's bridges - but it was also very hot) and the food was quite good.
Another cafe or restaurant tip is Café de France at Place de la Liberté. Typical French café located on the main square of the city - away from the water, but included all the charm and atmosphere that such a cafe brings throughout France.
Isle sur Sorgue is very famous and touristy - and it is not least because of the city's antique market (which is also a more traditional market). Every Sunday people from far and near come to the region's absolute largest market of the kind - it can be very hard to find a parking space, but come early and have a really good experience with. For the same reason, keep in mind that you do not have to go through Isle sur Sorgue on a Sunday morning. We came to it once - it took a while to get through.
If you are anti-interested, do not despair if you can not get to town on a Sunday. There are lots of shops that deal with antiques and other things in the same street - they are in line with one of the city's main stretches.