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Provence has everything you need for a two-day break; hilltop villages, vineyards, lavender fields, old abbeys, African culture, food markets and swimming holes. The only problem will be fitting it all in. Here’s our guide on how to spend 48 hours in Provence.
The first day is all about the Luberon, the area of northern Provence and home to small villages and traditional ways of life.
Lourmarin and Bonnieux are on the map for the morning. Lourmarin is in the valley – an old village with the traditional blue shutters and old houses that you’d expect of Provence. It has its own castle, is home to the annual Festival Yeah! and has lots of rustic interior design shops. The second town is different. Bonnieux is on a hill and is much more of a locals place to live – a village with its own sense of community. Carry on to lunch, which should ideally be at the vineyard of Domaine des Peyres. It isn’t big but the wine is renowned, the service is friendly and there’s an art gallery on site.
After a quick wine tasting (and buying) head up to the Sénanque abbey. It’s a 12th-century monastery where monks still live. You can tour the main buildings, buy some of their hand-farmed lavender products and walk around the lavender fields (go in summer to see them in bloom). Read our guide here.
Head to the little town of Gordes, which is perched high up on a hill overlooking the Luberon valley that you’ve spent the day crossing. If your budget can run to it, stay in the chic Bastide de Gordes in the centre of town, where you can take a swim before dinner. Gordes is a popular town in the summer months so it’s best to park outside and walk in. It’s a place to idly wander and take photos, stopping for a coffee after dinner, or at one of the many ice cream shops that will cross your path.
Day Two offers a chance to visit two conflicting cities – those of Aix and Marseille. Both are wildly different and now part of the same governmental district. Aix is upmarket, meticulously clean, very rich and homogeneous in its make up. Marseille is chaotic (the traffic is legendary) and much more multicultural – it’s a great place to delve into African French culture.
Aix is full of winding streets, glorious fountains (it’s called “the city of a thousand fountains”) and wonderful food markets. The daily market is in Place Richelme (8am to 1pm) and there’s one on the Cours Mirabeau on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Foodies should head to rue d’Italie too, for lots of wine and jam shops and Italian delicatessens. You’ll find all your Provençal souvenirs to buy and the local delicacy, calissons.
After you’ve finished in Aix, head to Marseille, which is a 30-minute drive or bus ride. Walk around the old port, “le vieux port” and have lunch at La Piscine (French for swimming pool). It’s a restaurant owned by French olympic swimming champion, Florent Manaudou and designed like a pool. It takes its cultural leanings from the iconic French movie filmed in St Tropez, La Piscine. Locals love the burgers and it looks out over the harbour.
Marseille has some architectural wonders to visit and you’ll need to make a decision here as you won’t have time to visit all of them. The new MUCEM (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations) is just round the corner, next to the old Fort Saint-Jean, and opposite the Cathedrale La Major. Alternatively head to Corbusier’s brutalist “city within a city” which was built after World War Two. It’s an entirely self-contained apartment block complete with its own school, doctor’s surgery, restaurants, bar, supermarket and rooftop pool (unfortunately, for residents only). They run tours and the rooftop offers views looking out over most of Marseille. The Palais Longchamp is another must-see. It’s a palace built to commemorate a ten-year structural feat to bring water to the city from the nearby river Duranne, when Marseille was suffering a cholera epidemic. It now houses the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts.
A trip to Provence wouldn’t be complete with a swim or a drink along some of France’s most popular coastlines. Head to the Calanques, France’s natural wonder – a series of inlets, which you can hike down or take a boat tour into. Cars are not always allowed because of fire risk. These bays are perfect places for dinner, for example, at Le Château in the Calanque Sormiou. Reserve a table on the terrace, watch the sunset and raise a toast to your 48 hours in Provence.