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

Portland

This relaxed, hipster city is the largest in Oregon and definitely worth a visit when in the Pacific Northwest. Portland is brimming with independently-owned shops, microbreweries, farm-to-table restaurants and has no shortage of wilderness escapes. The city is home to the Columbia and Willamette rivers, and is about 1.5 hours from the famous Mount Hood. Portland’s surrounding national parks offer plenty of adventure for hikers, kite-surfers, skiers, and more.

The Portland airport is about 35 minutes from city center. Take the MAX light rail or an Uber. If you plan on exploring the region, we highly recommend renting a car for a few days to check out some of the national parks nearby.

EAT

Portland is well-known for its restaurant scene, craft beer and food truck (cart) culture. The food carts are located in “pods” sprinkled throughout the city. Wandering around downtown? Head to the food pod between 9th & 10th Avenues on Adler Street, and don’t miss the Grilled Cheese Grill for their famous, cheesy sandwiches.

Double Mountain Brewery & Taproom Brick oven pizza and beer? Our kinda place. Try the Truffle Shuffle.

Imperial Located Downtown, this American style eatery from Chef Vitaly Paley is a delicious brunch spot. On the hungrier side? Opt for the Fried Chicken or French Toast.

Ox Restuarant Argentinian steakhouse famous for its wood-fired grill.

Paley's Place Upscale yet casual dinner in Nob Hill. The chef’s focus is on sustainable, locally-sourced Pacific Northwest plates.

Pine State Biscuits Famous breakfast eatery with three locations in the city. Go for the signature homemade biscuits and gravy or fried chicken.

Pok Pok Authentic, Thai cuisine in a chill, outdoor atmosphere. We like the original location on Division.

Salt & Straw Not your average ice cream shop. This creamery offers eclectic flavours like Arbequina Olive Oil and Honey Lavender with homemade waffle cones. Plain Vanilla kinda guy? No worries, they have it all!

Toro Bravo Spain meets Portland. Expect to find a mix of pintxos, tapas, charcuteria and a seasonal menu that changes daily based on local produce. A delicious, modern and local take on traditional Spanish dishes.

DRINK

Barista Little coffee shop on Alberta Street.

Breakside Brewery Craft beers and delicious bar food.

Great Notion Brewing Award-winning brewery with funky and fruity IPAs. We love the cans to-go.

Stumptown Sustainable coffee homegrown in Portland. Try the cold-brew!

PLAY

Downtown Like most downtown areas, Portland has it all. We love wandering around downtown as there are always new shops that are a bit unique and quirky in their own right. As an added bonus, the state has no sales-tax!

Japanese Garden Over five acres of beautiful gardens on the west side of the city.

Powell's Largest collection of new and used books in the US.

Union Way A little shopping quarter with various boutiques. Definitely check out All Good and Bridge & Burn for stylish and functional outerwear.

Waterfront Park If visiting for a weekend, check out this area on Saturday for the weekly market with locals selling a bit of everything. Portland at its finest.

DAY TRIPS

Canon Beach Home of the famous Haystack Rock, this beach is a perfect day trip from the city. Enjoy the beach, go for a hike in Ecola State Park, or explore this small seaside village for local food and shopping.

Columbia River Gorge National Park 30 minutes outside of Portland, this national park hosts an outdoor playground with several hiking trails and beautiful views of the Columbia River Gorge. Check here for trail information.

Mount Hood 1.5 hour drive from Portland, Mount Hood offers a variety of activities no matter the time of year. We visited during December and took advantage of the snow sports. We recommend booking a chalet in Government Camp and driving up to the mountain during the day. Airbnb had great options for our family. Government Camps offers a village-feel, and is within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and bars. For skiing, there are three options: Ski Bowl, Meadows and Timberline. We skied Meadows and loved skiing in the tree-line.

Tamanawas Falls This 6 kilometer hike is east of Mount Hood and begins at the Sherwood Trailhead. This is an easy path straight to the falls and back. Proper hiking shoes are recommended.

Timberline Lodge Check out (or stay in) this historic landmark lodge constructed in 1937 during the Great Depression. This lodge offers ski in/out access to the slopes and on site restaurants & bars. The lodge is also famous for its role in the movie, The Shining.

Multnomah Falls Iconic waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge. The trail is currently under repair after the forest fires so check here for the latest updates on trails.

STAY

We recommend using Downtown or the Pearl District for a base. The Pearl is known for its art galleries, boutique shopping, and dining nearby. Staying in Downtown? Check out The Nines on Morrison Street for its location, comfort, and friendly staff.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Mostar

Bridges and bullet holes. This tiny, medieval city in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina is well known for its iconic Stari Most bridge and blend of Ottoman, Catholic and Orthodox cultures. Damaged during the Bosnia War, it is not uncommon to see buildings still strewn with bullet holes. While many tour companies offer day trips from Croatia, stay overnight to fully do the city and country justice.

Crossing into Bosnia and Herzegovina takes time as it is not part of the European Union. We waited 30 minutes at the border on our way from Split, Croatia, and and an hour crossing back in near Dubrovnik. Rental cars can be taken from Croatia into Bosnia if you let the rental company know in advance.

Credit cards are less common here, although most places will accept euros or Croatian kuna. The local currency is the Bosnian mark.

To better understand the Bosnian War and genocide, visit the Museum of War and Genocide Victims in town and War Photo Exhibition right next to the Stari Most.

If it is your first time to the Balkans, check out Tea Obreht's beautiful novel, The Tiger's Wife, set it the former Yugoslavia.

EAT

Restaurant Vrata Orijenta This casual eatery is a few blocks north of the Stari Most on the Bosnian bank. Try the traditional cevapi sandwich.

DRINK

Black Dog Pub Inside a historic old mill, this laid back pub is popular with locals and tourists and has excellent views of Kriva Cuprija bridge.

Caffe Luft This cafe and hookah bar sits beneath the Stari Most and offers excellent views of the divers.

PLAY

Kriva Cuprija Translated to “Crooked Bridge”, it is a smaller version of the Stari Most.

Old Town bazaars A shopper’s paradise.

The Neretva River Icey cold but the most beautiful, crystalline green.

Stari Most Bridge Translated to “Old Bridge”, it connects the Catholic Croat western river bank with the Muslim Bosniak eastern side of the Neretva River. Be on the look-out for the professional bridge jumpers.

STAY

City Hotel An excellent hotel outside the city center. While it is about a 20 minute walk to the Stari Most and Old Town, the walk passes through the modern city where evidence of the war is still visible.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Asheville

Ashvillle is a bohemian town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Known for its artist enclaves, live music venues, craft beer breweries and delicious food, Asheville is just sparkling with southern charm!

Asheville’s airport is small and flights in and out can be pricey. Another option is to fly to Charlotte and drive two hours through the mountains.

Given the loveliness of the surrounding area, we recommend renting a car. If you’d rather not drive, Uber is available and an easy option for getting from the downtown area to the River Arts District, Biltmore Estate, and Biltmore Village.

EAT

Green Sage Cafe Healthy, organic cafe in downtown.

Tupelo Honey Perhaps Asheville’s most famous restaurant, serving up Southern food from scratch. Try the South Asheville location, likely to be less crowded.

Twisted Laurel Mediterranean food in an industrial-style setting.

Well-Bred Bakery & Cafe Tasty bakery in Biltmore Village with outdoor seating.

DRINK

Wicked Weed Brewing Pub Friendly brewery in downtown Asheville with outdoor seating.

New Belgium Brewing Company Industrial brewery and taproom near the River Arts District. Grab a seat on the deck for lovely views of the French Broad River.

Village Wayside Bar & Grille Local dive open late night in Biltmore Village.

PLAY

Biltmore Estate A historic, Chateau-style home built by George Vanderbilt with gardens and sprawling grounds at the seat of the Blue Mountains.

Blue Ridge Parkway A 496 mile drive through North Carolina and Virginia offering stunning vistas of the Appalachians. There are lots of hiking trails near the Parkway.

North Lexington Avenue A street in downtown with antique and eclectic shopping.

River Arts District Just west of downtown, this industrial area along the river is home to artist studios and galleries.


STAY

For a weekend stay, base yourself within walking distance of the downtown area.

If you have a car and intend to hike or visit surrounding areas, parking could be tricky downtown. We stayed in the very affordable Hampton Inn & Suites Asheville, just south of and within walking distance of Biltmore Village.

The Biltmore Estate offers luxury accommodation, a lovely option for a romantic weekend.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Whistler Blackcomb

The twin peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb are one of the largest ski and snowboard resorts in North America, and just 120 kilometers north of Vancouver.

The mountain offers quite the winter playground with over 200 marked trails. Ski season runs from November through May and lift tickets can be booked in advance to save on the peak price. Alternatively, visit the mountains in off-season for excellent hiking and mountain biking.

EAT

Creekbread Wood-fired pizza.

COWS Whistler Amazing ice cream… treat yourself!

Earl’s Kitchen American-style bar with food. Go for happy hour.

Nagomi Sushi Good sushi in a cozy Japanese restaurant. Convenient if you are staying in the upper village.

DRINK

The Fitzsimmons Pub Neighborhood bar with craft beers and board games.

Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill Après-ski bar with an outdoor patio.

Merlins Bar & Grill Après-ski bar at the base of Blackcomb.

PLAY

Ski, snowboard, hike, etc. The mountains have it all! The PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola allows easy access between Whistler and Blackcomb.

High Note Trail Take the Whistler Gondola and Peak Chairlift to the trailhead, which begins at the top of Whistler Mountain. At the top, you have 360 degree views of hundreds of snow covered peaks! Distance is 9.4 kilometers (moderate difficulty).

Joffre Lakes Trail Hike near Pemberton A 10 kilometer hike through forests with beautiful mountain and lake views (moderate difficulty)

For more information on these hikes and others, check out the Whistler trail map here.

Relax and unwind After a day on the mountains enjoy one of the many spa options in the villages.

STAY

Upper Village and Whistler Village are both easily accessible by car and have their own lifts, making both locations desirable. They are also both connected by a pedestrian walkway (5-10 minute walk).

Whistler Village is more commercial with more restaurants, bars and shops. There are also several Airbnb options in the area which we opted for as we prefer the space. With regards to hotels, we have been recommended the Four Seasons Resort Whistler or Fairmont Chateau Whistler, which has ski-in ski-out access.