Ever wondered what goes into planning a villa stay? “It’s a time-consuming process and the reason you may find me up at wee hours, fielding questions from three different time zones,” says Sylvia Delvaille Jones, one of UltraVilla’s general consultants. Recently, Sylvia and her “master curator” put together an itinerary for a family with children who will be staying at one of her villas in Provence this summer, and she offered to share it with us.
What follows is a goldmine of information about the towns, restaurants, and attractions in this popular region—created, says Sylvia, “by people I’ve worked with for many years. None of the daily programs is hurried; it’s important to us to immerse guests in the local environment—the flavors, the land, the people, the culture—with each day a different experience.” Note: Some of these activities can only be arranged through a guide with the right connections.
The program starts with a list of attractions that are situated within a 30-minute driving radius of the villa and a list of restaurant recommendations. The information below is all courtesy of Sylvia’s company, Villas and Apartments Abroad.
St-Remy de Provence: Famed as the birthplace of Nostradamus, St-Remy was also where Vincent Van Gogh was interred, at his own request, in 1889. It offers good shopping and has many good local restaurants.
Les Baux de Provence: One of the jewels of the region, Les Baux de Provence is a must in your week’s stay. It is a bit further on from St-Remy de Provence and we have included it in the same day (below).
Avignon: Once the seat of the Papacy, the city has retained all of its walls and the imposing Palace of the Popes, a UNESCO World Heritage and the biggest Gothic construction in the world. There is great shopping to be had here and fantastic restaurants as well. Over the Rhone River is the town of Villeneuve les Avignon, and a visit to La Chartreuse, one of the biggest Carthusian settlements in Europe, is well worth it for anyone interested.
Wine tasting and olive-oil tasting: The region of Les Alpilles has some excellent vineyards well worth taking the time to discover. These vineyards often produce olive oil as well, and a tasting of both can easily be organized.
Honey tasting: Visit a producer that has been making honey for four generations. We can visit La Mielerie (where the honey is conditioned) and taste different kinds of honey, such as lavender, forest, rosemary, mountain plants.
Carrières de Lumières: A unique immersion into an artist’s work. The Carrières de Lumieres is a sound and light show in an old quarry near Les Baux de Provence. Every year the theme is changed, and for 2016 it is Chagall. You are literally surrounded by the works of the artist on the walls and the floor using the latest digital technology. It is a worthwhile visit after Les Baux de Provence or St-Remy de Provence. Another possibility is the privatization for your group after closing time, allowing the choice of theme to be shown. Past themes have been Klimt, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, Renaissance masters, and the artists inspired by the Mediterranean.
Le Jardin de l’Alchimiste: A private garden with the label “Jardin Remarquable,” which lists it as one of the most beautiful in the region. The garden is made up of five parts, starting with a maze, then the garden of magical plants, followed by the alchemist’s garden, which is presented in three separate parts represented by colors: black, white, and red. This could be a perfect visit to precede the essential oils workshop, perhaps in the morning.
Top Restaurant Recommendations
This list of Michelin-starred restaurants (all within a 35-minute drive of the villa) is not exhaustive but gives an idea of the possibilities the region offers. There are also many bistrots and more modest establishments in close proximity.
Oustau de Baumanière, Les Baux de Provence: This two-Michelin-starred restaurant is probably the local reference for fine dining. On the table, the present pays tribute to the past and the past allows the present to express its creativity. When the founding father, Raymond Thuilier, was chef, the cuisine was rich and creamy. His grandson, the present chef and owner Jean-André Charial, added his own touch, a purer, more subtle style concocting a colorful and lively cuisine.
La Maison de Bournissac, Noves. This one-Michelin-starred restaurant is the closest to the villa. The chef and owner, Christian Peyre, takes his inspiration from his native Provence often using produce from his own garden to complement the fresh local produce you will find in your plate.
Le Saule Pleureur, Monteux: Laurent Azoulay, a young chef who obtained his Michelin star in 2009, will delight your tastebuds in his restaurant where he remains faithful to traditional Provence cuisine, whilst stripping it of its heaviness and keeping the essential.
Christian Etienne, Avignon: Christian Etienne is a man of strong passions—a passion for cooking, of course, but also a passion for life and a passion for Provence. His menus echo this passion, and often you will find an entire special menu based on a single product if it is exceptional enough! He has one Michelin star.
Your tour coordinator will be at the airport in Marseille to meet you with three Mercedes V Class vehicles. A separate baggage transfer can be put in place if you have a lot of luggage.
Sunday, July 17
Isle sur la Sorgue Sunday market
This morning you will discover L’Isle sur la Sorgue. The main market itself is a myriad of colors and smells as you wander through the market stalls, but here is the antique market as well as the antique dealers in what is the second biggest antique buyers’ platform in Europe. Your guide will also show you some of the 14 remaining water wheels (there where once over 70), witnesses of the city’s milling industry, as well as the Church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges, one of the finest Baroque churches in Provence. We will depart from Isle sur la Sorgue at noon and return to the villa for lunch.
Wine tasting at the villa
A comprehensive wine tasting of the finest offerings from the Rhone Valley with sommelier Kelly McAuliffe. We can base the tasting on the region’s finest or go further afield with wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Alsace, and Champagne. The form of the tasting can be a predinner tasting of several local wines with delicious nibbles to accompany, followed by a tasting menu concocted by Kelly and our chef. (The choice of wines will need to be made as far in advance as possible especially if you wish to obtain rare vintages.) Kelly McAuliffe has been the only American sommelier working in France for the past 17 years. After doing an internship in Alain Ducasse’s three-star Michelin restaurant in Paris, Kelly was asked to run his new chic restaurant in Monaco, which was filled with international celebrities. Eventually he was asked by the chef to run his uber-successful restaurant back in Paris called Spoon. He left Chef Ducasse to be the head sommelier at Michelin-starred restaurant Christian Etienne in Avignon to be closer to his wife and family. This also allowed Kelly to meet and befriend the best wine makers in the Rhone. He is now a specialist of the Rhone and instructs professionals from around the world about its wonderful wines. After six years in Avignon, Chef Ducasse convinced Kelly to run his hugely successful restaurant in Las Vegas called Mix at the top of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Kelly was then offered the French wine specialist position at Southern Wine & Spirits in Las Vegas. On a daily basis he would work with the best sommeliers and master sommeliers of Las Vegas. Now back in Provence, Kelly shares his knowledge and passion for wine as few others can.
Monday, July 18, 8:30 a.m.–4 p.m.
Canoeing on the Gardon and Pont du Gard
This morning we will drive to Collias, a small town on the banks of the River Gardon. Here you will meet at 10 a.m. with your canoe guides for the morning, who will lead you down the Gardon River by canoe, an easy activity for all levels. There will be two people per canoe and two guides for the group. On your journey you will pass underneath the stunning Pont du Gard (above), offering a beautiful perspective of this formidable monument. Built in the first century A.D., the Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is, with the Aqueduct of Segovia, one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance. Once 44 million gallons of water flowed here every day, supplying the citizens of Nimes. At the end of your canoe ride, one of our “rustic chic” picnics will be waiting for you on the banks of the river with delicious local produce, pastries, cheeses, charcuterie, fresh fruit, and of course a drop of local rosé wine. The picnic will be organized in a public area, so we will possibly not be alone. After lunch we have a rendezvous at the Pont du Gard with an exceptional VIP visit of the aqueduct. From 160 feet above the Gardon riverbed, you can admire the surrounding region and marvel at the quality of Roman construction, which still stands strong after 2,000 years.
Tuesday, July 19, 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Camargue Private Manade Tour
For this tour we will drive into the heart of the Camargue (above) to meet with your hosts, who will take you on a private visit of their working manade, a traditional Camargue farm. Their manade has won more prizes than any other manade in Camargue, for its bull raising. Your hosts will explain their daily lives as we discover this wild wetland, which is also home to native pink flamingos, herons, storks, and many other beautiful birds. You’ll have lunch on site, then drive back toward the villa with an optional stop in Arles to visit the Roman Arena.
Wednesday, July 20, 9 a.m.–12 p.m.
St-Remy de Provence Market
Today it is market day in nearby St-Remy de Provence, which offers some good shopping opportunities for souvenirs and local produce; the children could maybe have the task of buying some local fruit and vegetables for their cooking class later this afternoon. One of our favorite places to visit and taste are Joel Durand’s chocolate shop, where his famous chocolate alphabet proposes a different chocolate for every letter of the alphabet as well as six punctuation marks! Also there is Premiers Pression Provence (also in Les Baux de Provence), where you can taste olive oils and tapenades. (Premiers Pression Provence was founded by Olivier Baussan, the founder of L’Occitane en Provence, and his first shop outside of France is in Hong Kong.) Historically, St-Remy is the birth town of Nostradamus, but aside from a statue and a plaque on the door of the house where he was born there is not a lot to be seen. However Vincent Van Gogh spent a year in the asylum of St-Paul de Mausole, which can be visited. There is also the archaeological site of Glanum, where the ruins of the original Roman settlement in St-Remy de Provence can be found, as well as the triumphal arch and mausoleum.
Cooking Workshop at the Villa
Celebrity chef Yvan Cadiou will come to the villa this afternoon for a pastry cooking workshop with the children (but the adults can join in!), which the entire group will be able to taste at dinnertime. Yvan will also be preparing tonight’s dinner, and so an impromptu cooking session with him in the kitchen will be possible whilst he prepares. Yvan was born in Brittany and has received classic French training in the kitchens of the Ritz Hotel and the Crillon Hotel. He then began life as a chef-traveler, cooking with celebrity and Michelin-starred chefs from England to the Algarve, to Barbados, Spain, luxury homes on the Côte d’Azur—all the while learning cooking traditions and combining his passions for fresh, local ingredients with creative cuisine. He did several shows on French national TV which have appeared worldwide and even created a theatrical cooking show which met with critical acclaim in Marseille. His flamboyant style and creativity will make this an unforgettable treat for the participants as well as the rest of the group, who will taste his food at dinner.
Thursday, July 21, 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
Lavender and Luberon Tour
Today we will leave the villa and set off for the lavender fields of Provence. We will start with the drive to the Plateau de Sault, a 70-minute drive. Here you will discover the amazing fields of lavender that are picture-postcard perfect! We will visit a traditional distillery, its owner a “nose” keen to the subtle variations of the scents of lavender. You will have an opportunity to buy essential oils and other lavender products there, perfect as gifts.(We cannot guarantee that the distillery will be working as this depends on the dates of the lavender harvest.) We will then drive the very short distance to the town of Sault where you can discover the delights of André Boyer’s nougat shop (and delicious homemade ice creams), as well as Yves and Virginie, a fantastic charcuterie shop where you can find an unbelievable selection of hams, patés, and saussicons to take home for the evening’s aperitif. Lunch today can be either in Monieux at Les Lavandes, a local restaurant serving excellent meals at very reasonable prices, or Le Bistro de Lagarde, a 20-minute drive and one of the best-kept secrets in the region. This restaurant is off the beaten track, but today is perfectly positioned for us. Its chef, Lloyd Tropeano, had an incredible local following, and those in the know kept quiet. However, he was awarded a Michelin star in 2013 and the word got out. After lunch we will continue on to Roussillon (35 minutes) and maybe take a stroll in the ochre deposits before arriving at Gordes (14 minutes) to admire the view of probably the most iconic village in the region before heading back to the villa (35 minutes).
Friday, July 22, 9 a.m.–12:35 p.m.
Les Baux de Provence
Les Baux de Provence (above) is one of the most beautiful villages in France. Perched on a rocky outcrop, the village is crowned by the ruins of the medieval castle, which the children will love. We will take the scenic route along the interestingly named Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell), which comes out above the village, offering a stunning panorama of the village on arrival. In summer there are demonstrations of the catapults and knights sword fighting, as well as a blacksmith. The village itself is extremely picturesque and historically fascinating, but being very beautiful it is also very popular with tourists, hence the morning visit. Olive-oil and wine tasting can also be planned today.
Sylvia’s company, Villas & Apartments Abroad, has properties all over the world, including luxury villas, smart city apartments and yachts. The above itinerary was designed for a family stay at a large private estate in Provence. For more information or to book a stay, contact Sylvia through Ultravilla.com.