Provence

France’s southern region of Provence is celebrated internationally for its rosé wines, lavender products, sunshine, stunning landscapes with medieval villages, and it’s proximity to the glamorous Côte d'Azur. With so much to see and do, it is easy to spend a week exploring the region.

If traveling to Provence in the summer, you will almost surely cross paths with tourists. The lavender is in bloom in June and July, and is typically harvested in mid-July (this varies by farm). We visited in late June and while some fields were still early, others were in perfect purple splendor. If the lavender fields aren’t at the top of your list, we recommend avoiding the tourists by traveling during the spring or fall shoulder season.

Provence is a large region and our travels have covered only portions. The region is best accessed via the Marseilles or Nice Airports, and for full flexibility on schedule and timing we recommend renting a car. Choose one area to base yourself from or plan a road trip, staying somewhere new each night. We’ve highlighted our favorite towns and routes in the recommendations below.

Attempt to speak French, no matter how rusty it may be! While many in the hospitality industry will have some basic English, this is more difficult to find in smaller towns. It is easy to get by with a mixture of French, English, Google translator, and well-meaning hand gestures, but attempts at their language will go a long way with the locals.

EAT

La Fleur de Thym This gem of a culinary experience was recommended by our bed and breakfast hosts. It’s an unassuming space in the unassuming village of Flayosc, but the fish and meat dishes were fantastic. Try the three course menu.

La Guinguette du Lac This market nearby Plage Galetas and the Lac de Sainte-Croix is a good place to stock up on food stuffs and water before heading to the beach and lake.

Lavender ice cream Nothing quite like it! Find a small stall in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie featuring a non-dyed variety (many glaciers use a purple food die in their lavender ice cream, and while it looks nice it’s not necessary).

DRINK

Restaurant Le Styx at the Hotel Le Provence This restaurant and hotel in La Palud-sur-Verdon is the perfect stop for un café au lait, un biere, or snacks before continuing to or from the Gorges du Verdon. Pleasant outdoor seating in a quiet space.

Rosé wine Provence is one of the world’s top producers and exporters of rosé. There are numerous wineries and vineyards dotting the region, but if you are looking for a special tour or visit we have heard good things about Chateau d'Esclans and Domaine Rabiega. We also recommend Château d'Estoublon. We visited the Chateau while staying in nearby Les Baux-de-Provence. The winery has a selection of reds and rosés, and a delicious olive oil!

PLAY

Lavender Fields The Valensole plateau in Provence has a high concentration of lavender fields, with lavender distilleries (check out Terraoma Jaubert and Lavandes Angelvin) dotting its roadsides. Start just east of Manosque at the intersection of the D4 and D6, and take the D6 east towards Valensole. From Valensole turn left onto the D8 and head northeast. You’ll past a myriad of fields along this route, and we’ve pinned our favorite one just before the intersection of the D8 and D953.

Gorges du Verdon and Parc Naturel regional du Verdon The Gorges du Verdon are considered Europe’s Grand Canyon, and a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Come here for hiking, biking, white water rafting, kayaking, swimming, and more. Also visit the nearby icy, turquoise waters of the Lac de Sainte-Croix, where the gorge begins. The nearby village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is built into the craggy mountainside and located within the Parc.

Pont du Gard This relic remaining from the Roman occupation of France is a first century AD aqueduct. It is considered the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and remains one of the best preserved today, so much so that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a magical experience to walk across the bridge and marvel at the skill of Rome’s early engineers, and admire the view across the countryside.

Provence’s many medieval villages Make time to explore! Some of the ones we’ve passed include Aups, Comps-sur-Artuby, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, La Palud-sur-Verdon and Villecroze. Stop and spend an hour in a traditional Provençal market, often held one day during the week and one day on the weekend.

DAY TRIPs

Arles and Pont du Gard Formerly a provincial capital of ancient Roman, today the sunny city of Arles retains temples and vestiges of its earlier days. Tucked up against the banks of the Rhône River, its charming streets served as inspiration for the painter Van Gogh. We highly recommend an overnight stop here, to or from your way to the Pont du Gard.

Cassis Warranting a weekend visit, this fishing village is known for its beaches, bistros and beautiful calanques. Take a boat tour of the calanques (coves formed from dramatic limestone cliffs that line the Mediterranean coast). We bought tickets the day-of at the ticket stand toward the left of the Port. The 5 Calanques tour was the perfect length! The calanques can also be explored by foot via hiking in the area or by kayak. Eat at Le Grand Bleu, located central in front of the port. While in Cassis be sure to try the local rosé and Provençal mussels.

Gorges du Verdon, Lac de Sainte-Croix and La Palud-sur-Verdon This area could easily be broken down to 2-3 days, for an easier pace. The road leading in and out of La Palud-sur-Verdon, D952, has stunning views of the Gorges far below. For a really wild ride, take the steep and craggily D23 for even more panoramas. Warning, we only recommend this route for experienced and confident drivers! The villages of Aups, Comps-sur-Artuby and Villecroze are adorable and not far from these main sites. Stop for a few hours at one of the beaches along the Lac de Sainte-Croix. We loved Plage Galetas, where we rented a paddle boat for two hours to explore the lake and gorge, and swim.

Les Baux-de-Provence One of the most beautiful villages in France, Les Baux-de-Provence sits between Arles and Saint Remy de Provence. This medieval village rests atop the hill within the Regional Park of the Alpilles, and offers charming store fronts, scenic terraces, and delicious local cuisine. We stayed one night at the bottom of the village at the 4-star Benvengudo.

Valensole Plateau and Moustiers-Sainte-Marie See above under lavendar fields. Moustiers-Sainte-Marie is a great stop for a late lunch after a long morning on the D6 and D8 visiting the lavender. Stay overnight night here and then head into the Parc Naturel regional du Verdon the next day to visit the Gorges du Verdon.

STAY

Make the most of a visit to the region by road-tripping and staying in a few places. We would recommend overnight stays in some combination of Arles, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, La Palud-sur-Verdon and Draguignan. Choose a well-reviewed French bed and breakfast for a truly delightful experience with local jams and marmalades, and homemade baguettes and pastries.

We adored our overnight at Bastide des Selves, a quiet country retreat a few miles outside of in Draguignan. Run by a local couple, this small B&B has four spectacularly decorated rooms and serves up a delicious breakfast. We would come back to use Bastide as a base for a longer visit to enjoy the region’s wineries, the nearby Parc Naturel regional du Verdon and beaches of the Côte d'Azur. Both are approximately 40 minutes away by car.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Athens

The birthplace of democracy, Athens is at once a tantalizing blend of antiquity, modernity and the natural world. Ancient structures and monuments tower over a modern city interspersed with mountains and rocky hills, and striking views of the Saronic Gulf just a few kilometers to the south. Foodies and oenophiles rejoice, the food and wine is phenomenal!

Summers in Athens are hot, searing and touristy. We recommend visiting in spring (Greece in bloom is divine!) or fall to avoid the crowds.

There are a few options for getting to and from Athens International Airport. The easiest and most direct way is via taxi with a flat rate of €38. Alternatively, take Metro line 3 from the airport to Syntagma Square Metro Station. It takes about 40 minutes and will drop you right in the heart of the city.

EAT

Dióskouroi Cafe Tavern This taverna next to the Agora is popular with the locals. The house salad is a MUST try. Great for lunch.

Esperides A taverna in the adorable Anafiotika neighborhood situated right at the top of a dreamy, cobble-stoned staircase. The roof has views of the Acropolis and live music. Go for lunch or stop by in the evening for a tipple and mezes.

Karavan This teeny, tiny sweet shop is tucked (literally!) into the side of a doorway but is known for its incredible baklava.

To Kafeneio One of our most memorable meals in Greece, this tiny taverna was empty of tourists and perfectly delicious. They have their own vineyard and winery in Nemea. Definitely try the housewine and meatballs with sauce!

The Old Tavern of Psarras Local restaurant perfect for lunch near the Acropolis or for a sunset dinner with their lovey terrace overlooking the Ancient sites.

DRINK

Couleur Locale This hip drinking hole is located on a third floor roof deck overlooking the Acropolis. Go for sunset and stay for dinner. It’s a little tricky to find - walk inside the No. 3 building, head to the back, and the go up the stairs.

Dos Gardenias This Cuban-style tapas bar in the trendy Monastiraki neighborhood is a great spot for a drink before dinner or at the end of a long, dusty day.

Oinoscent Awesome wine bar near Syntagma Square with over 50 wines available by glass. Bustling with a PYT crowd on a Friday. If you like reds, try the local agiorgitiko varietal from Nemea.

Taverna Acropoli This taverna is next door to the Roman Forum and overlooks the ruins. Stop here to refuel on Greek coffee and take a break from the sun before heading to the next archaeological site.

PLAY

Anafiotika This charming neighborhood rises above the Plaka against the walls of the Acropolis rock. It’s blue and white buildings and winding walkways are reminiscent of the Greek islands. Awatara is a cute shop featuring world clothing, jewelry and accessories.

Archaeological ruins These should be at the top of your Athens list. Purchase a €30 three day entrance pass from any of the major archaeological sites to gain access into all the sites you’ll want to see. The “do not miss” list includes the Acropolis and its museum, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Forum, the Temple of Zeus, Kerameikos (the ancient, “seedy” part of town) and Hadrian’s Library.

National Parliament Building Worth a stop by to observe the ezone guards in their traditional wear.

Lykavittos Hill Hike or take a cable car to the top of this hill just north of Syntagma for spectacular views.

Monastiraki Flea Market The go-to spot for tourist shopping. Pick up Greek wine, olives, jewelry and decently priced leather jackets.

The Pynx This hill towers above the ancient Agora and was an important gathering place for the Athenian democratic assembly. It is an important place in the birth story of democracy, and a great viewpoint overlooking the city.

Syntagma Square and Syntagma Metro Station Syntagma is the heart of Athens today and its Square is surrounded by the shopping district. Check out the Syntagma Metro, also a celebrated archaeological site! Looking for local gifts to bring home? Check out Greek skincare company Korres Natural Products.

STAY

Nearly all the major archaeological sites in Athens are within walking distance of the Old Town, Plaka. While lovely and a great place to stay, Plaka is also touristy. For something a bit hipper, younger, or just slightly quieter, look for an AirBnb in either Psiri or Monastiraki.

Alternatively, we enjoyed staying at the three star Athenian Callirhoe Hotel just south of Plaka. It was well-priced with large rooms, breakfast included and was a 10 minute walk to Plaka.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Split

Split is Croatia’s second largest city and a jewel along the Dalmatian coast. It is celebrated for its cheerful red-tiled roofs, Old Town labyrinth, and the ruins of the 4th century fortress and palace lying within it. Spit is also a gateway to the rest of Dalmatia and the many islands sprinkled off its coast. We recommended spending a few days in Split at the start or end of a longer Croatian adventure.

Split has an international airport just a few miles and short drive from the city. Taxis and ubers are an easy option.

Split is also a three hour drive from Dubrovnik. Renting a car and driving in Croatia is fairly easy, as long as you making a booking in advance. We started in Split, drove 2.5 hours into Bosnia for an overnight in Mostar, and then continued south another 2.5 hours back into Croatia toward Dubrovnik.

While this seaside town would be gorgeous any time of year, it is especially incredible in the warmer months. Avoid the height of the tourist season by visiting during late spring or early fall (May, late August or September).

EAT

Bokeria Don’t miss this restaurant and wine bar serving up Croatian dishes and wines. Make a booking in advance.

Teraca Vidilica Stop at this on your hike back down the hill in Marjan Forest Park. It’s a great place for a snack, beer and view of the city and coastline.

DRINK

Croatian wine is incredible but not yet well known on the international market. According to a wine guide we met, the winemaking industry suffered greatly under the Soviet block, as all grapes produced were used to make one style of house wine. No individuality, creativity or experimenting was allowed or encouraged. However, the industry has more than recovered today and while in Croatia be sure to try the local varietal plavac mali. This small blue grape is the most planted grape used for red wines in Croatia, and it produces the most deliciously smooth rosés and reds.

PLAY

Bell Tower of St. Domnius Cathedral Perhaps the most touristy thing to do in Split, the (somewhat) perilous climb up the steps of the tower is worth it for the view at the top. Go early to beat the crowds.

Diocletian’s Palace This UNESCO World Heritage site is whats left of a Roman emperor’s palace. Today the ruins are the heart of Split’s Old Town, forming a labyrinth of shops, restaurants and bars. Hire a tour guide or use a guide book for a self-guided walk. Major sites within the Palace include the Peristil, the Cathedral of St Dominus, the Vestibule and the palace substructures which today form a marketplace leading down to the Riva. In summer go first thing in the morning, as this area becomes packed with tourists and Game of Thrones fans.

Klis Fortress This ancient fortress sits in the hills above the city. Hire a car or take a local bus to visit. Game of Thrones fans will recognize Klis as Meereen. Recommended by a friend.

Marjan Forest Park This hilly nature reserve rising above the coast is home to medieval chapels and caves, and a lovely walk through pine forests. A hike up offers vistas of the city and ocean below. Bring snacks and water.

Riva Split’s waterfront and harbor area is bustling with boat tours, restaurants and shops.

Sunset Cruise Organize a sunset cruise along the coastline with one of the many kiosks adorning the Riva. Short cruises are approximately 90 minutes to two hours and cost between €20-30. For those with more time, book a half day trip to Hvar or elsewhere.

Zapadna Obala This promenade connects the Riva to Marjan Forest Park and is worth a walk.

STAY

Stay within walking proximity of the Old Town and Diocletian’s Palace. We highly recommend Prima Luxury Rooms, a boutique hotel just minutes from the Old Town.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Rye

One of the prettiest and best-preserved medieval market towns in the United Kingdom, Rye is a few hours east of London in Sussex. This former port town is mere miles from the seaside and picture postcard perfect. Rye has it all with a nearby nature reserve and beach, charming cobble-stoned streets, antique boutiques and adorable pubs. A trip to Rye is a lovely way to spend a weekend.

Take a Southeastern train line from London St. Pancras Station to Rye Station in 1 to 2 hours, depending on the service. If you are coming from London and have a bike, bring it! Biking is the perfect way to traverse the three miles from the town to the nature reserve and coast.

EAT

Marino’s Fish Bar Classic fish and chips in a humble establishment.

The Mermaid Inn This restaurant, pub and inn dates back to the 12th century (though the current building was built in the 15th). It’s on the prettiest street in Rye, and maybe the United Kingdom, wethinks.

DRINK

Rye Waterworks Micropub This 300 year old former water-pump is now a teensy craft brewery. Super friendly local vibe.

The Ship Inn A 16th-century inn and pub just a block from the River Brede. Apparently it used to be a halfway house for smugglers.

Ye Olde Bell Inn It calls itself the oldest pub in Rye!

PLAY

Camber Sands This beach and dune area is three miles away but an easy bus ride from Rye. Recommended by a friend.

Mermaid Street Perhaps the most charming street in England, it is lined with medieval, Shakespearean style buildings.

Rye Harbour Natural Reserve This local nature reserve is over 1000 acres and was an important historic fortification in the 14th, 16th and 20th centuries. Buses travel regularly from Rye Station to Rye Harbour village and Winchelsea Beach near the Reserve.

St Mary’s Church A church has stood on this site for more than 900 years. Climb the bell tower for a gorgeous view of the town and sea and explore the ancient graveyard.

Strand Quay Great vintage, knick knack and homeware shopping.

Ypres Tower and Rye Castle This 13th century castle is now a quaint little museum. There is also a pretty view from the top of the tower of the coast.

STAY

Rye is an easy day trip from London but we’d recommend an overnight stay. Choose a quaint Airbnb within walking distance of the tiny town or the nature reserve. Alternatively, Rye Windmill is a historical bed and breakfast just a short walk from the town center. Recommended by a friend.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

San Sebastian

San Sebastián is located in the mountainous Basque country of Spain and surrounded by beautiful beaches. It is a surfing and foodie paradise.

San Sebastián has three airports, two are international, within about 100 kilometers of the city. Bilbao Airport has connections all over Europe and is 105 kilometers from the city. Biarritz Airport is about 50 kilometers away and served by French and low-cost international companies. San Sebastián Airport is 20 kilometers from the city centre and has connections to major Spanish cities Madrid and Barcelona.

Before traveling add Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises to your reading list. The novel takes place largely in this region of Spain.

EAT & DRINK

There are many bars and restaurants sprinkled throughout the city, all varying in quality. Take a stroll through Parte Vieja Old Town and try to find your favorite. Our recommendation for exploring the city is to combine both eating with drinking! Have a zurito (mini beer) and a pintxo (tapa) per bar, not sticking to one spot for too long.

Atari Gastroteka Fun, trendy vibe. Great Old Town stop for pintxos.

La Cuchara de San Telmo Still dreaming of this meal. Try the grilled octopus.

La Rampa Seafood lunch at the Port.

Fuego Negro A modern take on pintxos. We went for a full course lunch.

PLAY

Monte Igueldo On a clear day, we recommend taking the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo for the best viewpoints over the stunning Concha Bay and surrounding mountains.

Monte Ulia Coastal hike from San Sebastian to Pasaia. This 7 kilometer hike starts behind Zurriola beach (look for red and white trail markers and climb up towards Monte Ulia). Follow the signs to Pasaia. Once you arrive, you can take the local bus back to San Sebastian. Proper shoes are essential.

Monte Urgull Easy walking trails in the middle of the city. Burn off some pintxos and enjoy the views.

Playa de la Concha Right in the midst of the city, this urban beach attracts both visitors and locals and is the perfect spot to cool off in the afternoon.

Parte Vieja Explore the Old Town streets and visit the many boutiques, pintxo shops, and bars.  Don’t miss the Santa María and San Vincent churches.

Zurriola Beach The go to spot for surf-lovers.

STAY

We stayed in the Old Town and loved it. We were right in the midst of the food and nightlife scene but, depending on your location, it can be very loud. Looking for something quieter? Try an Airbnb near the beach in the Centro (city center) area.

LOCATIONS NEARBY