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

Porto

Clinging to the steep banks of the Douro River, Portugal’s second largest city is filled with medieval intrigue, historic bridges, beautiful views, delicious seafood and port wine! Portugal’s famous port takes its namesake from the city itself, as the wine passed from the hands of its Dourvo Valley producers on its way to England and beyond. Both the Porto and the Douro Valley are UNESCO World Heritage sites in their own right.

Fall is lovely time to travel to Porto. The sun is shining, the days are warm and the Douro Valley wineries are wrapping up harvest!

Uber and taxis are widely available in Porto and its an easy 20-25 minute drive to the city center. It is also possible to take the Metro do Porto light-rail system from the Airport station into the city where it makes various stops.

The Douro River Valley is a one to two hour drive from the city and a very easy day trip.

EAT

Cafe Progresso Great brunch spot just north of the Universidade do Porto and Livaria Lello bookstore.

Fábrica da Nata This bakery serves up this most exquisite pasteis de nata, delicious Portuguese custard tarts.

Jimão Tapas e Vinhos Small tapas-style restaurant and wine bar in Riberia.

The Wine Box Hip, bustling restaurant just a few blocks north from the Riberia. The sommelier is incredibly friendly and happy to make recommendations.

Vintage Theory This boutique port winery in the Douro River Valley has a lovely restaurant with a stunning view.

DRINK

Bar Ponte Pensil A small cafe at the base of the Luís I Bridge on the north bank. Go at sunset for a glass of vinho verde to admire the stunning views of the city and river.

Douro Valley Wine Tour No trip to Porto would be complete without a visit to this world renowned wine-making region. We especially loved this full day tour with eFun Tours which included lunch and wine (and port!) tastings at three different wineries.

Quinta do Beijo Small, family owned winery in the Douro with many vintage ports. The winemaker gives tours himself.

La Boheme entre Amis Bright and airy bar near the Universidade do Porto. Stand at the bar and sip a glass of port.

Letraria Craft Beer Garden This hole in the wall craft beer garden has a large outdoor area and decent selection of craft beers and lunch foods. Pop by before dinner or on Sunday before heading to the airport.

Majestic Cafe This art deco cafe, just down the street from Fábrica da Nata, was a favorite haunt of JK Rowling’s when she taught at the Universidade.

Xico Queijo Hip bar and restaurant near the Universidade. Great spot after hours and the surrounding bars and restaurants will all be busy well into the night.

PLAY

Cedofeita One of Porto’s trendiest neighborhoods. Take a stroll down the Rua de Cedofeita and pop into cute boutiques, restaurants and bars.

Livraria Lello The historic book store that inspired JK Rowling’s Hogwarts. Purchase entry tickets from the Armazéns do Castelo or in advance online.

Luís I Bridge Walk across the Douro River and admire the splendid view.

Muralha Fernandina A medieval castle in the center of the city whose ancient walls, staircases and watch towers remain intact today.

Porto Cathedral

Ribiera Walk along the river and winding streets of Porto’s medieval Old Town.

South bank wineries There are tons of wineries and port tasting rooms on the south bank side of the city and around the Castelo area.

STAY

Stay within walking distance of the Ribiera or Universidade to be close to all the sites. We enjoyed this AirBnb near Bolhão, which was a 15 minute walk from the riverfront.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Barcelona

The Catalan capital is the second most populous Spanish city and the most beautiful (we think). From its Mediterranean beaches, Iberico ham, tapas, sparkling Cava wines and dreamy, Gothic architecture, it is a European gem well worth a weekend or extended visit.

The Barcelona airport is just 12 kilometers south of the city and an easy and affordable 25 minute taxi ride. Check out the MyTaxi app, an easy way to call rides. It is also possible to take the A1 or A2 bus to Plaça de Catalunya (Pl. Catalunya - Andana Central). It is about a 40 minute trip.

EAT

Bar Castells Casual, late night tapas just off La Ramblas.

Delicious Barcelona Consider hiring a private chef through Delicious to cook dinner at your AirBnb or apartment. This is a great option for a group or family planning a special night.

El Nacional A renovated, 19th century factory with four specialized restaurants and bars. Make a booking.

Pla Restaurant Romantic restaurant in the Gothic Quarter. Go for dinner.

Restaurant Mirabé Food is pricey but the view is amazing and overlooks the entire city. Recommended by a friend.

Sensi Tapas Amazing tapas in the Gothic Quarter. Reservations a must.

DRINK

Alaire Terrace Bar Located on the 8th floor of the Hotel Condes de Barcelona, this bar overlooks La Pedrera and the Sagrada Familia.

Bo Kaap Nice, little spot for beachside drinks.

Carrer de Joaquín Costa Lots of bars on this narrow street west of Las Ramblas and just past the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Penedes Wine Region Organize a day trip wine-tasting in any of the surrounding wine regions with The Wine Colours. We enjoyed Penedes which is well known for its cava production. Definitely request a visit to Pares Balta, a bio-dynamic, family-owned winery with incredible wines!

PLAY

Ciutadella Park The green heart of Barcelona, this park has a small lake and fountain, lovely architecture and the zoo.

FC Barcelona Check out a game at Camp Nou, you won’t regret it!

Gothic Quarter Traverse the winding, medieval streets of the old city. Lots of bars, restaurants and clubs here.

La Rambla It’s touristy but worth a walk down Barcelona’s most famous street.

La Sagrada Familia Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí’s most famous work, this Roman Catholic church is so exquisite that construction started in 1882 and is still unfinished. Book tickets in advance!

Mercado de La Boqueria La Boqueria is one of the most famous markets in the world. Closed on Sundays.

Museu Picasso One of the largest collections of Pablo Picasso’s works.

Park Güell Another Gaudi creation, this park overlooks the city and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Plaça de Catalunya Considered Barcelona’s city center.

Platja de la Barceloneta White, sandy beach. The perfect spot for a siesta.

STAY

Stay within walking distance of Plaça de Catalunya and the Gothic Quarter and you will be just fine. We enjoyed the three-star Hotel HCC MontBlanc.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Paris

The City of Lights and Love is truly special. There is so much to do, see, and taste in Paris and often too little time, making it easy to feel overwhelmed when planning. Besides the major sites, our favorite way to enjoy the French capital is just walking around the different neighborhoods, stopping in a café to just enjoy the moment.

Charles de Gaulle and Paris Orly are the two nearest international airports. Orly is smaller and offers the Orlybus shuttle from the airport to Paris Denfert-Rochereau Station in the city center. The bus costs about €8, takes roughly 30 minutes, and departs every 15-20 minutes. It is also possible to take a bus from de Gaulle into the city but may take longer due to traffic. Uber is also in the city and an efficient option.

If you are coming from London, take the Eurostar from St. Pancras Station direct to Paris Gare du Nord. The trip takes about 2.5 hours total.

While Paris is magical any time of year, we love it best in spring and fall. The weather is milder and the tourists that descend upon the city in summer have long gone home. Try visiting during the first weekend of October, when Parisians celebrate Nuit Blanche. “White Night” is an all-night festival when museums, art galleries and other cultural institutions are free and open all night. The city also celebrates special installations and performances which are hosted in public spaces throughout the city.

While in France attempt to speak French! Parisians are friendly but even friendlier if you dust off your rusty high school French.

EAT

Derriere A fun and funky spot for dinner. Good for groups.

Ellsworth Casual spot where the Parisians take on some American classics

Le Comptoir du Relais A well-known bistro in St. Germain.

La Jacobine A tiny, adorable and affordable restaurant in St. Germain. Make a reservation for dinner.

Le Marais Boulangeries (bakeries) Wander around the neighborhood and treat yourself to the local specialities: croissant, pain au chocolate, baguette tradition, and chausson aux pomme.

La Petite Perigourdine Quintessential French restaurant in the Latin Quarter. Try the steak and aligot, a smooth, buttery potato side.

DRINK

Bar du Marché This St. Germain bar is open late and a great stop for a night cap.

Candelaria Not far from Le Marais, this taqueria features a hidden, speakeasy in the back. Good for cocktails.

Chez Jeannette Hip bar between the 3rd and 10th arrondissements with a PYT crowd.

Les deux Maggots Hemingway is rumored to have frequented this old world, St. Germain cafe. Stop here for a coffee or beer and watch the world go by.

Le Syndicat An amazing cocktail bar in the 10th.

Lockwood Relaxed and understated cocktails in the 2nd.

OChateau Wine + Cheese tasting lunch Lunch and learn!

Prescription Cocktail Club Posh cocktail lounge in St. Germain. Recommended by friends.

PLAY

Eiffel Tour Paris’ most beloved icon. Sit on the lawn and admire the view with a picnic.

Jardin du Luxembourg A lush sanctuary in the heart of the 6th arrondissement.

L'Arc de Triomphe Stop to admire this monument built to honor Napoleon before strolling down the posh Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

Le Marais One of Paris’ coolest neighborhoods, go for the delicious French pastries, medieval cobble-stoned alleys and trendy boutiques. We especially love Blue Lemon Paris, Merci and Sézane.

Louvre Home to da Vinci’s timeless Mona Lisa, plan to spend at least a half day at the world’s most famous museum. While here, check out the nearby Tuileries Gardens. Bring some cheese, wine, baguettes, and enjoy the views.

Montmartre This village-esque art enclave on a hill is one of our favorite neighborhoods in Paris. Stop by the Sunday Brocante des Abbesses market, admire the Sacre Coeur church, observe the street artists and musicians, and look out across the gorgeous city view. The Moulin Rouge is also nearby.

Musée d'Orsay Internationally recognized for its Impressionist art, including works by Monet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne and more. The museum is closed on Mondays.

Notre Dame Cathedral A must see. Truly beautiful architecure inside and it. Aside from your day visit, we recommend an evening walk along the river to photograph the illuminated cathedral.

Saint Germain and the Latin Quarter The 5th and 6th arrondissements are traversed by the ghosts of literary and artistic legends who flocked here in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today these bohemian, student neighborhoods are excellent for a mosey around.

Seine river cruise A bit touristy but offers amazing views of the city from a different vantage point. Go at sunset.

Day Trips

No trip to France is complete without a visit to the Champagne region. Home to Moet, Veuve Clicquot, and Dom Perignon, this region is a must see. Rent a car for a self-guided trip or book a tour through Ô Chateau.

Palace of Versailles The opulent, former seat of the French monarchy is an easy day trip from the center of Paris. About an hour by train, go in the morning to tour the chateau before spending an hour or two in the gardens. For a little insider tip, rent a golf cart to explore the full extent of the gardens. Buy tickets online in advance.

STAY

Our favorite neighborhoods to stay in are Le Marais (3rd arrondissement), the Latin Quarter (5th) and Saint Germain (6th). Airbnbs are generally the best value for money. Friends have also recommended the four star Hôtel Atmosphères near the Sorbonne in the 6th arrondissement.

LOCATIONS NEARBY

Luxembourg City

The capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was once one of Europe’s strongest fortresses, known as the Gibraltar of the North. Today this medieval city is home to the European Parliament and European Investment Bank.

While Luxembourg is a small, mostly rural country tucked between Belgium, Germany and France, it is accessible via train from most places in Western Europe. The airport is also located just a few miles from Luxembourg City.

Luxembourg was occupied by Germans during World War II and liberated by American troops in 1944 and 1945. Today, the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, a short trip from the City, is the final resting place for over 5,000 American service members and General George S. Patton. It is a peaceful place for reflection and memorial.

EAT

Luxembourgish food draws from the cuisines of its neighbors’ and immigrant communities. Try French pâtisserie, German sausages and apple sauce, and Portuguese food.

DRINK

The historic Grund district, known today for its nightlife, beauty and medieval charm, lies at the bottom of a valley that runs through the center of the city’s Old Town. Our favorite spots include:

Melusina A trendy night club.

The Pyg Friendly and cozy Irish pub.

Scott’s This pub is popular with the ex-pat crowd.

PLAY

Casemates du Bock A network of medieval tunnels used as bomb shelters during World War II.

Le Chemin de la Corniche The “most beautiful balcony in Europe” is a lovely walk along 17th century ramparts overlooking the Grund and Alzette River valley.

Grand Duke’s Palace

The Grund Walk around before the sun sets.

Moselle River Valley vineyards The Moselle’s wines, especially the whites, are internationally recognized and cellar door tastings are a short trip from the city.

Philharmonie Luxembourg A beautiful, internationally renowned concert hall.

STAY

Luxembourg City is small and easy to get around by bus. Stay in the city center for easy access to shopping, restaurants and the Grund’s nightlife, or in the area just north of the train station.