The Mediterranean Provence Experience
2024 Dates: April 26-May 3; June 7-14 (Women’s Week); Sept 6-13
We were delighted to introduce The Mediterranean Provence Experience for the first time in 2022. This trip is based around the beautiful Var coastline of Southern France, between Marseille and Toulon.
Our focus for this week is the protected, lesser-known western area of the French Riviera, where “la mer” meets “la terre.” The landscape features a mix of natural Provence forests, rocky cliffs, coastal paths, discreet sandy coves, and the azure blue sea. The Greeks settled in this area 2500 years ago, followed by Romans and other sea-faring cultures, establishing ancient Mediterranean trading posts that are now colorful ports.
Our groups enjoy time on the water as offshore islands and “fjord”-like inlets lure us by boat, offering views of dramatic cliffs and wild landscapes of olive groves and fig trees, punctuated by white beaches. We go out on the Mediterranean Sea three times on a variety of boat trips, always highlights of the week.
The ancient Greeks introduced vineyards here, and today this region excels at producing world class rosé wines. There’s nothing more evocative of the Mediterranean Provence lifestyle than ending the day with a refreshing glass (or more!) of rosé on a terrace with a view, accompanied by the perfect bowl of olives.
Our group is based for the week in the lovely seaside town of Bandol on the Var coast of the Mediterranean. We stay in a traditional, locally-owned hotel in a quiet neighborhood just a short walk from the port and the seaside promenade.
Experience Mediterranean Provence
The Mediterranean Provence Experience follows the same approach as our other Experience trips, including a variety of special activities and experiences unique to this area:
- A day trip to Marseille, France’s oldest city. We enjoy a walking tour of the historic port area, the Roman docks, and the new Mucem facility perched above the harbor entrance. We also visit Notre Dame de la Garde, guarding the city and offering sprawling views across the terracotta rooftops and to the outlying islands.
- Visits to small villages such as Le Castellet and Sanary sur Mer, with their bustling farmers markets. Fishing boats return each day with the fresh local catch, always a big feature.
- Exploration of the seaside village of Cassis, surrounded by the tallest sea cliffs in Europe. We drive to the lookout above the town for a bird’s eye view over the surrounding vineyards. And then we head out on a boat ride to experience the fjord-like inlets called “calanques” (a national park). Everyone has free time to explore Cassis and meander its quiet lanes.
- Optional morning walk along the “sentier littoral” coastal path. There’s also a lovely beach a short walk from our hotel.
- A visit to a classified garden or arboretum to learn about Mediterranean plant species and “dry” gardening.
- Wine discoveries, including a vineyard/winery visit. One of the most prestigious Provence red wines is made in this region under the “Bandol” appellation. We also enjoy an equally prestigious minerally white wine from Cassis.
- A day trip to Toulon, long considered one of the world’s most beautiful naval ports. The harbor is home to submarines and warships as well as fishing boats and ferries. We visit the Liberation Museum to learn about the “other” WWII landings took place in France. The museum is located on Mont Faron, offering spectacular views. In the afternoon we take a boat tour of the harbor to explore its fascinating history.
- A day trip to one of the area’s many outlying islands, where we’ll enjoy outstanding views back to the French coastline, including all the fishing villages and beautiful scenery enjoyed through the week. We’re accompanied by a nature guide, who explains the unique geology of this privately owned island, with its seaside flora and fauna. And we learn that this breathtaking nature spot is one of the Southern most points of mainland France.
- Memorable meals in a variety of settings, including family-owned village restaurants that use seasonal Provencal farm produce and locally-fished seafood among other ingredients, a local Moroccan Couscous restaurant (the locals’ favorite ethnic cuisine), and a final night dinner at a Bandol institution, THE bistro of this popular portside village. We also relax at two picnic meals, in very special settings, including a variety of salads, quiche, cheese, baguettes and of course, local wine.
- Time for relaxing and exploring on your own.
Our “Women’s Week” is a special variation of this Experience trip. We follow the same overall itinerary, with some adjustments based on the interests of the group. As always with our all-women groups, there’s a unique camaraderie and spirit that’s an important part of the week.
Arrival and Departure
Our meeting/drop-off point is the Aix en Provence TGV station, about three hours from Paris on the high-speed train. The Marseille Provence airport is just 15 minutes from the station, served by a shuttle. We’ll meet the group on the first afternoon and drop-off mid-morning on the last day.
We always recommend arriving in Europe at least one day before our week begins. This allows you to adjust to the time difference and also provides a buffer in case of any travel delays. Aix en Provence, the first Roman city of France and the former capital of the kingdom of Provence, would be an excellent base for independent travel before or after our week together. Aix is also the birthplace of the famous artist Paul Cezanne. An aristocratic university town with impressive architecture, Aix offers a world famous music festival, noble city mansions housing art centers, colorful farmers markets, and excellent shopping.
Leaders: Jennifer Dugdale
Prices: $4,300 per person double occupancy; $4,650 single occupancy of a double room