Provence, France

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Aix-en-Provence, France - Sunflowers and mums. (Photo: iStockPhoto/Earl Eliason)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on September 15, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: adventure travel, Aeromexico, Air New Zealand, AirTran, Aix-en-Provence, Alaska, American, Arizona, arts and culture, beach, Charleston, Continental, Dominica, island, LAN, Lenox, luxury travel, Machu Picchu, Massachusetts, Mexicana, Molly Feltner, Oaxaca, Queenstown, resort, spa, sports, Todos Santos, Ubud, vacation package, women's travel.

The muse for artists like Van Gogh, Picasso, and Cezanne, Provence continues to inspire passion in those who visit it today. With its warm, dry air and bold Mediterranean light, the southwestern region of France is perfect for outdoor touring, not to mention growing grapes, olives, and the other staples of classic Provencal cuisine.

To experience the region most fully you'll want to stay in several different towns and visit small villages in between, getting around by car or bike. Be sure to stop in Aix-en-Provence, where you can visit Cezanne's studio and take in the fountains, cafes, and historic mansions along the town's main street, Cours Mirabeau. In the splendid medieval city of Avignon, you'll get your fill of cathedrals and churches, and in Arles recognize many of the vistas from Van Gogh's paintings. Also head to St.-Remy, where Van Gogh spent time in an asylum, and Les Baux, a village topped with a sprawling fortress.

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"I loved Provence for its incredible beauty," says Californian Diane Korellis who traveled to the region with her mother on a women-only escorted tour with Gutsy Women Travel. "Whenever we stopped at a village, I always found a little spot to be alone and absorb what I was seeing. I spent my free time taking pictures of doorways, gates, gardens. My mom and I particularly enjoyed seeing the churches and chapels in the area—from rustic to stunning. The residents were friendly, and we got some good wine recommendations by chatting with the shop owners!"

Women-only tour: The next Gutsy Women Travel Provence tour departs December 15 and includes visits to Aix-en-Provence, St.-Remy, Avignon, Arles, Cannes, and Monte Carlo, among other destinations. This eight-day trip starts at $3,679 and includes airfare from New York, accommodations, ground transportation, tours, some meals, and guides. You can save $250 if you use promotion code GWTHA250 and book by September 30.

Do-it-yourself: In Aix-en-Provence, you can stay at the centrally located Hotel Le Manoir from $88 per night. In Avignon, cheap but comfortable lodging (from $82 per night) can be found at the Italian influenced Hotel Danieli (website in French only).

You can fly into several area airports, but in general it's cheaper to fly to Paris and then take a train to your start destination in Provence.

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