Provence is a region in southern France steeped in sunshine, delicious food, and unimpeachable wine selections. Whether you’re recreating the artistic path of Van Gogh or trying to teach yourself the art of perfumery, Provence has myriad interests to delight both the casual enthusiast or the invested auteur.
Read on to discover five educational experiences off the beaten path to enjoy, enhance your understanding of the region, and create lasting memories.
Farmer’s markets are the lifeblood of many towns in Provence and often occur multiple mornings a week. These sell food, wine and other items of interest in the region. Whether you’re in search of tote bags or tablecloths, goat cheese or fruit, a Provençal market is the full of delightful surprises.
Some other goods that can be found at markets like these are:
- Fruit and vegetables
- Cheese and meats
- Desserts like macarons and madeleines
Stop at a cafe afterward with your plunder and mingle with locals will you sip some early afternoon wine and watch the world go by. Some wonderful markets to experience include Vaison La Romain, Apt, Avignon, Isle sur la Sorgue, and the St. Remy-de-Provence market. Always remember to check times and dates online before you go, as details can change.
Walk the Way of Van Gogh
Art enthusiasts alike will be cowed at the sheer number of places in Provence related to the famous painter Vincent Van Gogh. For those wanting to walk in the man’s footsteps, the tourist information office in Arles offers a map to easels of Van Gogh’s work erected throughout the city next to the subject of the painting.
Information about the piece is included underneath the image. Some of his most famous pieces crafted in Provence are “La Maison Jaune” and “Le Café de Nuit,” which was completed in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
Some other trip highlights include:
- The Roman Arena, where Van Gogh would paint bullfight spectators.
- The Jardin d’Ete.
- The Café Terrace at Night easel at the Place du Forum, inspired by his time with Paul Gauguin.
- The Espace Van Gogh cultural center, where he was hospitalized after cutting off his ear.
- The St. Paul Monastery and Hospital in St. Remy-de-Provence, where he created more than 100 paintings over the course of a year.
Be sure to stop at these highlights to get the full story on the extraordinary, if often tragic, life of the world-famous artist. Of course, if the art of Van Gogh isn’t your area of interest, Aix-en-Provence offers a full experience walking through the life of Paul Cézanne.
When visiting Grasse, a provincial town in Provence, be prepared to set your olfactory senses alight. The town is known as the perfume capital of the world and houses around 65 perfume companies – some even built into the city walls. Naturally, it’s also home to the International Perfume Museum, which has gardens just outside of town.
Originally, perfume was used by tanneries to add a more palatable odor to leather. Three factories, which have been in operation for hundreds of years, offer free tours of the facilities: Parfumerie Fragonard, Molinard, and Parfumerie Galimard.
These tours teach the history of perfumery and the process of turning plants into essential oils. Machines from decades past are shown to display the distillation process from plant to perfume.
Each location offers classes for participants to create their own fragrance. Parfumerie Galimard even keeps track of visitor’s created scents that can be re-ordered and put into gels, balms, and creams. If you like, you can even take a stroll in some of their gardens.
Flower Fields & Festivals
Flowers abound in Provence. If you’re interested in the lavender growing practices of the region, check outL’Abbeyde Senaque or travel Les Routes de la Lavande, an educational road trip through Provence’s lavender fields.
The growing season is from mid-June to mid-August, but be sure to look up individual field bloom times as each field can differ within that time frame based on altitude. The best area for viewing lavender ranges between east of Avignon and in the Verdon and Luberon plateaus north of Marseille.
Flower festivals usually take place in August, the most notable being the Jasmine Festival, Lavender Parade, and the Lavender Festival. If you have an interest in the base botanicals used in creating your favorite scents, this is the route for you.
The Museum of Lavender in Cabrieres d’Avignon walks you through the history of lavender growing and harvesting. During peak lavender season, live demonstrations of traditional distillation practices using an open flame still are available to the public. The museum offers a shop where lavender products like soaps, cosmetics, and oils are sold.
Adults are €8.00 and students are €7.00. Audio tours are available in 10 languages, and guided tours are offered at 1 pm and 5 pm every day from May to September.The museum is open 7 days a week from February through December, but be sure to check opening times as they can change depending on the time of year.
The Olive Tree Ecomuseum (Maison Bremond 1830)
The Olive Tree Ecomuseum, part of Maison Bremond, is a museum located in an old lime kiln detailing the history and biology of olives in Provence. Art exhibits often share space with the museum as well. You can get a free private visit without a reservation, or a guided tour, which requires a reservation.
The museum offers a short movie on the history of olives in the Mediterranean. It covers the history, growth, and harvesting of olives, as well as alternative uses of the oil outside of cooking. Pressing equipment is also available for viewing.
The museum offers a tasting, where you can try fruity green, fruity mature, and fruity black olive oils. There’s also a tea room offering fruit juice, Terre d’Oc tea, cookies, and ice cream made on-site.
Check out the attached gift shop, where you can buy souvenirs to bring home, including:
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Regular vinegar
- Truffle products
- Organic products
The Ecomuseum is open Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. July and August hours differ, so be sure to check online before you go.