My Week (Driving) in Provence: France Tours
Most of our clients prefer our cooking vacations that include all transportation. I understand why: no maps, no manual transmissions, no limits on wine with dinner, no worries! But when visiting our cooking vacations for work (or even for pleasure) sometimes a self-drive itinerary has been the only option. So here is my take on a week in Provence — behind the wheel.
I arrived in Paris and took the TGV to Avignon. (This is easier than it sounds, but more on that another day.) Although I can “technically” drive a manual transmission, I was not willing to entertain having that struggle in addition to negotiating jet lag and unknown roads, so I requested an automatic from the rental company. That is one myth busted: there are automatic transmission rentals in France! Because the only automatic on the lot when I arrived was a Mercedes, I got upgraded. Of course, I accepted the upgrade gleefully. And yes, I took a picture of the car to send to my husband.
My first stop was Tavel and our wonderful cooking vacation Provencal Adventure. It’s at a charming, beautiful B&B in a picturesque setting with a gracious, engaging hostess who also does the hands-on French cooking lessons. Christine is a gem, and truly innovative in the kitchen. I took home a jar of her red wine jam that I finished long ago but still fantasize about. But the other advantage of this cooking vacation is location, location, location. The town of Tavel is in the heart of a well-known wine producing region (Tavel rosé wines are justifiably renowned), and the famed Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards are minutes away. Sadly I did not have a chance to stop at each for a tasting (a drawback to the self-driving option), but exploring the towns and landscapes, enjoying a glass of this truly spectacular wine with lunch, was amazing. From there I journeyed a bit north to Orange. (Not “OR-ange” like we say in the US, but “oh-RAHNGE”!) I loved this city. It’s known for its incredible Roman ruins, but I enjoyed its vibrancy and friendliness. I parked very near the center and had barely gotten out of the car before two elderly Frenchmen confirmed that I was allowed to park there, asked if I was a tourist, where I was from, and if they could be of assistance. I got the idea they spent most of their days meeting up in the main town square and walking around. (And thus myths 2 and 3 are busted: you can park in France, and the people are gracious and kind.)
After Orange I journeyed to Isle Sur la Sorgue, which has been described as a Provencal Venice. It is famed for its system of canals (hence the Venice comparison, although in miniature–way miniature) and its antiques market (not in any way miniature, one of the best markets in France). We do not currently offer a cooking vacation in Isle sur la Sorgue, but it is a town worth visiting and we hope to include it soon in another itinerary.
From Isle sur la Sorgue I traveled on to the Cote d’Azur, meaning I traversed pretty much the whole of Provence during my trip. I unfortunately did not have time to stop at one of my favorite Provence cooking vacations, at the Chateau de Berne, but the riviera called! Here too I found it easy to park and walk. The city centers are often closed to vehicular traffic, making life easier and more pleasant as a pedestrian. St. Tropez was a particular favorite, where I sat at an outdoor cafe for a light lunch and enjoyed the people watching.
I didn’t have the benefit of a GPS–but I imagine that would make things even easier. Myth #4 busted: in France they drive on the right side of the road, just like in the US. I did have one tricky moment when I tried to refuel: I couldn’t figure out how to open the little door on the gas tank. I looked everywhere in the car for some sort of switch or button, and finally used my (muddled) French to ask a kind gentleman if he could help. He came over to the car, pushed on the little door, and it opened immediately. A bit embarrassing, but it’s never a bad thing to be rescued by a nice Frenchman, right?
This is not to say that a self-driving cooking vacation is right for everyone. If circumstances afford it, I usually recommend a trip without the worry. But anyone with a spirit of adventure and a bit of savoir-faire can have just as fun a time as I did driving through Provence.
See our website for more on our self-driving and full-loaded Provence cooking vacations.
By Peg Kern
Learn more about all of our foodie trips.By Peg Kern