Perfectly Provence!


Aix en Provence

When one mentions the region of Provence in Southern France, many associate it with delicious food, wine, and romance. But what sets Provence apart from other regions of France also known for their romantic undertones?  Perhaps it’s the beautiful purple lavender that smells so wonderful and fills fields everywhere in the months of June, July and August.   Maybe it’s the rich history that surrounds you in places like Aix en Provence and Avignon, or the narrow cobblestone streets and breathtaking views in the towns of Gordes, Roussillon, and Gorges du Verdon (also known as the little grand canyon) in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.



In order to truly enjoy Provence, one needs at least a week to have a good mix of relaxation and exploration.  While all of the areas are accessible and easy to get to by car, they all have their own flavor and you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to see as many of them as possible, and include at least a day in Marseille.  Marseille was named the European Capital of Culture for 2013, and for good reason, with its numerous museums and exhibitions within the port city.  In Provence, we balanced seeing the sites and learning the history of Aix and Avignon with leisurely drives through the rolling hilltop villages of the Luberon region.



We flew into Marseille from JFK aboard XL Airways, a great new carrier that just has two itineraries out of New York; to Paris and Marseille.  Because they are not a huge carrier, running numerous flights a day, the check-in and security lines were almost non-existent.  You can opt for the first three rows, which have wider leather seats and a little more room, but the service is the same as on the rest of the flight.  The advantage to this is that they don’t charge nearly as much as it would be to upgrade to first class, but if you prefer the extra room, you can take advantage of this option for just a small upgrade fee of around $140.

Cours Mirabeau

Cours Mirabeau: Aix en Provence


Market in Aix en Provence

Renting a car is a definite must to getting around and visiting the quaint villages through which no train would pass.  We rented from Hertz, as we found they had very competitive rates and were conveniently located at the airport, just outside the main terminal.  If you only drive automatic, you’ll be limited in your selection at some rental companies, and you can definitely expect to pay more.  However, Hertz had a great selection and the customer service was outstanding.  When we arrived in Marseille, the process was seamless from the time we got there to getting our car on the road.  Their inventory consisted of new cars with low mileage and included unlimited mileage. They were in great shape, and spotless; something you don’t always find with car rental companies.

Aix and Avignon should be a part of everyone’s Provence itinerary.  Aix en Provence is a wonderful first stop, as it is only 25 minutes from Marseille airport and a great way to integrate into the French culture.  We happened to be in Aix for the Thursday and Saturday markets, and in my book, you can never visit too many markets.  You can sample tapenades, cheeses, and breads until your heart’s content and shop for clothing, shoes, and household goods.   I’d highly recommend taking the one-hour train tour that leaves from the center of town near the Fountain of the Rotonde.  This gives you a great overview of the city so you can figure out what you’d like to explore further.   A terrific place to stay is Odalys Les Floridianes, a hotel situated within a five minute walk of the Cours Maribeau, the main street in Aix, lined with stores, cafes, and the market.

Vineyard Tour : even the dogs get worn out from all the samples!

Vineyard Tour : even the dogs get worn out from all the samples!

It is reasonably priced and the rooms include a kitchen, ideal for those who choose to base themselves in Aix for a longer period of time or want to prepare what they’ve bought at the market.  The front desk staff is extremely knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and the breakfast was one of the best on the trip, with a selection of croissants, breads, eggs prepared to order, yogurt, and my favorite, the juicer, to make your own freshly squeezed orange, kiwi or grapefruit juice.  Aix is a great walking city, and I always felt completely safe.  If you’d like to take a vineyard tour, there are chauffeured tours that leave from the tourism office, so you never have to worry about sampling a few too many.

In Aix, your days can be filled with strolling the market in the morning, checking out Cezzane’s studio during the day, or just walking the streets of Old Town, eating crepes, thin crust pizza, or planting yourself at a café along the Cours Maribeau and experiencing the vibrancy that is Aix.

Bastide de Cabries

Bastide de Cabries

If you’re looking to stay in more quaint surroundings, the Bastide de Cabries in Cabriès is about a 10 minute drive from the center of Aix en Provence and offers a quiet retreat with impeccably maintained grounds.

Within the walls of Avignon sits a city rich in history and architectural splendor.  The city became the seat of the pope from 1309 to 1378 and he resided at the Papial Palace, built in the 14th century.

Papial Palace

Papal Palace, Avignon


This massive structure can be seen from the bridges leading into the city and it immediately makes you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.   When visiting Avignon, you’ll want to stay within walking distance of the palace, the Saint-Benezet  Bridge (Pont d’Avignon), and the shops.  For that, the Hotel de l’ Horloge offers reasonably priced accommodations in a prime location overlooking the square of the same name.

Hotel de l' Horloge

Hotel de l’ Horloge

You have the option of booking various types of rooms depending on your budget, but even the superior rooms are reasonably priced and offer everything you’ll need to make your visit a memorable one.

While many stay in the region of Avignon and Aix for their entire trip, you would be remiss not to drive north and take in the awe-inspiring scenery that makes Provence so spectacular.  We stayed at Le Phebus Hotel and Spa in Joucas, a fifteen minute drive from the cobblestone village of Gorges and the red rocks of Roussillon. Gordes has a great market on Tuesday mornings and Roussillon is another great village with gorgeous ochre rocks through which you can hike.

Suite at Le Phebus Hotel and Spa

Suite at Le Phebus Hotel and Spa

If you’re looking to treat yourself to a luxurious and secluded getaway, Chef Xavier Mathiew’s creation, Le Phebus Hotel and Spa, is the place to stay.  The food is top notch and the setting of the resort forces you to take a deep breath and relax.  For even greater relaxation, the spa offers many massage and facial treatments with access to a steam room and large Jacuzzi for both men and women.

Abbey de Senanque

Abbey de Senanque

While at Le Phebus Hotel and Spa, you’ll want to explore the areas of Gordes, Rousillon and the Senanque Abbey, known for its beautiful lavender fields when in bloom.

Le Couvent des Minimes is also a must visit if you’re looking for the five star spa and resort experience.



Nestled in the small town of Mane, Luberon, they’ve done a fantastic job converting its inner courtyard into a picturesque place to enjoy breakfast and dinner.  We had dinner one night at the property and the food was fantastic.

Its spa offers two co-ed steam rooms, saunas, a pool, and a relaxation room stocked with snacks as well as a full line of treatments using L’Occitane products.

Les Couvent des Minimes

Le Couvent des Minimes

In addition, the resort features a large outdoor pool, fitness center, billiard room and library.

Thirty minutes away is the L’Occitane factory, which offers free tours daily.  You’ll undoubtedly also want to drive to gorges du Verdon, which takes an hour and a half, but along the way, stop at Moustiers Sainte-Marie for lunch to enjoy another quaint and gorgeous village.

So when is the best time to visit Provence? We went in October, which turned out to have bright sunny days and comfortable temperatures in the high 60s/low 70s, but if you are looking to experience the lavender season, you’ll want to head there in June, July or August. However, it’s also the busiest time of year.   When you’re ready to experience the true beauty and romance of Provence for yourself, click here for even more ideas for your trip.  Bon Voyage!

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I Love Paris Anytime!

As soon as I saw the Eiffel tower from atop the hill of Sacré-Couer I felt the magic of the city.  I asked myself if it was just because I knew Paris was supposed to be romantic, but that wasn’t it.  I really felt the magic and I looked at the Eiffel Tower all lit up that first night and it never got old.  My view from the hotel room was spectacular and when I got up real close to it, I felt saw its magnitude.  I asked a guy who has lived in the city for ten years if he still feels like it’s romantic or if he is just used to it and even he said that he still feels it everyday and knows it’s a great city in which to live.  I was there last when I was 21 and I  definitely have a new perspective of it now.  At first we were just going to go for a night or two on the way to the Amsterdam, but I’m so glad we decided to extend our stay another day.  You definitely cannot do Paris in a day, but if you map out your journey and you’d like to just get a feel for the various neighborhoods, it can be done.   I like to meet the locals when I go to a new city.  I feel like they have the best insight into what one should see and do and what better way to do this than through an online dating site?!  Obviously Paris has some pretty spectacular and world renowned museums, but I’m not a huge museum person and I always feel guilty for saying so.  However, I really liked what he had to say.  To him, Paris is a museum in and of itself.   I am the type of traveler who likes exploring neighborhoods, eating the local food, and spending time with people who live there.  Therefore, on the first day, we took a river cruise with the company Bateaux-Mouches down the Seine to get a quick overview of the lay of the land as we sailed past the most popular museums and monuments.  This company offers both sightseeing as well as lunch and dinner tours in five different languages.

On the second day, I started in the Marais area and walked for hours, exploring all of the major sights, shopping and eating quarters by foot.    Even though as I mentioned I am not a big museum person, I did make the obligatory visit to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. It is a magnificent museum in which one can spend hours or even days, but considering I only had a short time in Paris, I wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to explore as much as possible. Of course  I had to find some good treats so upon a recommendation, I had the most delicious icecream at Bertillon, a popular (for good reason) shop in Marais; a warm chicken and mushroom crepe in the Latin Quarter, and the best macaroon pastry I’ve tasted yet at Ladurée near the Concord.

For great nighttime entertainment, definitely go for a dinner and show at Lido on the Champs Élysées.  The food is great, and you can enjoy an elegant night out which will include a live band playing the standards during dinner (you can get up and dance if you’d like!), followed by a spectacular cabaret show with outstanding dancers, singers and performers.  The acts in between the dance numbers were quite impressive and kept the crowd engaged in amazement at some of the acts.

For my last day, which was basically just a morning before we took the train to Amsterdam, I took a walk to the Eiffel Tower and while you can see it from pretty much anywhere in the city, it’s pretty awesome to stand under it and see just how massive it is.  You can also get some great pictures from many different points near the tower.  This morning (Saturday), there was a great market close by with fruit, vegetables, seafood, cheeses, breads and crepes being sold.  It was definitely a lot of fun to walk through and I  wished I hadn’t just eaten breakfast because everything looked so good!

When staying in Paris, I would highly recommend staying at the Concorde La Fayette Hotel attached to the Palais des Congrés, which is home to a few floors of boutique shops and restaurants.  Aside from its rooms and top floor bar with incredible views of the city, it is situated in a great location.  The 1 Metro is right behind the hotel and is the main train line used to get to mostly everywhere you’ll need to go, and if not, you can take the one and transfer to another line.  The bus that goes to and from the Paris Nord train station is also right in front of the hotel.   If you have the opportunity, try and get a room on one of  the top floors with access to the Concord Lafayette Club.  While the main breakfast is great, the one in the lounge serves a delicious spread of salmon, whitefish, fruits, cereals, breads and yogurt.  It is also open for your use most hours of the day for a drink and a place to come and relax or hold a meeting.  From three until seven o’clock, enjoy a wide array of complimentary delicious pastries, fruit and drinks. After a long day of on my feet, it was so nice to come back to the lounge and have a cup of tea or glass of wine with some pastries (yes, more macaroons and chocolate and creamy pastries!).   Everyone in the lounge, business center, and reception areas were really friendly and helpful.   The hotel is constantly renovating to stay modern, but never doing too much at a time, so it will never impact your stay.  The hotel is perfect for the business and leisure traveler.  I felt really comfortable and had everything I needed there.  Be sure to check out the bar on the top floor for a cocktail at night.  With a live DJ Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, it’s the place to be for both locals and tourists.  If you are traveling with a few people or just feel like splurging on yourself, the hotel has some pretty amazing suites with fabulous views on the top floors.  I wish I could move into one of them and stay in Paris for a bit longer!