Updated: Oct 27, 2019
Because Provence is more than just “rosé all day” …
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve stood at the foot of Montagne Sainte-Victoire, basked in the culinary delights of Philippe Da Silva, and of course over-indulged in copious amounts of rosé. Provence is a wine lover’s dream, but I quickly discovered it’s so much more than that. Today I’m sharing the top reasons why Provence should be your next travel destination.
Of course, I had to start here. Too obvious? When you hear, “Provence” the first thing you probably think of is rosé…and there’s good reason for that. 88% of wine production here is rosé wine, and it’s also important to note that the region has been producing wine for over 2600 years! Warm sunny days, cooling influences from the Mistral winds, and altitude (in some areas) allow for successful wine-growing and viticulture. The region is also known for its diverse aspects, slopes, and soils consequently producing a wide range of styles. Maisons des Vins, in the center of Arcs Sur Argens (in the region of Dracénie Provence Verdon), is a cultural center for wine and a great introduction to the wines of Provence. They house over 800 wines from the region that you can buy at producer prices and rotate 16 wines per week for in-house tastings. It was there where I experienced first-hand the diversity of not only the different styles of wine produced here, but the range within just the rosé category alone.
Into wine from volcanic soils? The Eastern sub-region of Fréjus within the Côtes de Provence showcases rosé with a distinct minerality and a well-balanced acid structure. Looking for a rosé with more concentration and complexity? Check out the sub-region of Saint-Victoire. Here, the limestone soils and large diurnal range produce rosé and red wines with age-ability.
Speaking of red wine, the heat of Southern France quite literally brings “the heat” when it comes to the red blends. Some of my favorite moments were when I was wrapped up in the perfect romance between Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, although Grenache, Mourvedre, Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise, and Tannat are also allowed in the blends. Some are fresh, fruity and easy-drinking, while others are oaked, complex, and begging to be aged. These wines are a little harder to find in the US (Bandol being the exception), but if you can find one, definitely buy it!
The white blends were impressive as well. Combinations of Rolle (Vermentino), Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano), Clairette, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, Roussanne, and Grenache Blanc served up wines with notes of white rose, lemon rind, grapefruit, white peach, fennel, and honey. Some winemakers will choose to age these wines on their lees for 5-6 months giving a creamy, weighted mouth-feel, and the perfect tug-of-war between fresh fruit, flowers, herbs and bready yeast.
Rosé may have put Provence on the map, but there is a wine for everyone’s palate. It’s not just about aromas and flavor compounds either. As of 2016, Provence had 17,789 acres of certified organic grapevines. That is a staggering 65% increase over the last six years! Provence is committed to the rise of eco-friendly, sustainable practices, and I think that’s important to factor in when deciding your next wine travel destination!
To say I was in culinary heaven for six straight days would be an understatement. There is no shortage of Michelin Star restaurants in Provence, and the first night I had the pleasure of experiencing the culinary masterpieces of Philippe Da Silva at Les Gorges De Pennafort. Beef carpaccio with shaved white truffle and mushrooms, John Dory fish in a traditional barigoule sauce, and duck liver ravioli in a parmesan cream were just a few dishes I will always remember…quite possibly for the rest of my life. Cozy up and stay awhile as the restaurant is part of the Hostellerie de Pennafort fully equipped with 13 rooms and suites.
World-acclaimed French chef, Alain Ducasse has also made Provence a home for his hotel and restaurant, Hostellerie De l’Abbaye de La Celle just 3 kilometers away from the medieval village, Brignoles. Nicolas Pierantoni, Chef de cuisine since 2016, carries the motto, “product in the purest form,” and that is evident when you walk through the property’s gardens. The vegetable and herb gardens are weeded by hand and watered with spring water. The selections change with the seasons, and that is always reflected in the ever-changing menu selections. They also house 88 grape varieties in their outdoor conservatory just past the Cyprus trees…a wine lover’s dream! Try the young rabbit porchetta with seasonal garden vegetables or rump of veal roasted with sage, boulangere potatoes, and carrot tops. Don’t forget to end the meal with roasted figs with fromage blanc sorbet, and a plum tart from Brignoles. It’s not surprising that the restaurant has held a coveted Michelin Star since 2006.
The best part about dining in Provence is that you don’t need to visit a Michelin Star restaurant to have an incredible culinary experience. Another one of my favorite meals was at Restaurant Le Chapitre at Le Couvent Royal Hotel. Located in the old Chapter House (connected to Basilique de Saint-Maximin), you can take a stroll through the cloisters and garden before being romanced by Chef Romaric Olivot’s menu. The duck breast with gingerbread crumble, soft fig pastillas, reduced port, and sweet potato purée left me singing praise all night long. The meal ended with seasonal roasted figs for dessert which seemed to be a Provençal seasonal staple.
The Art & History
You don’t have to be a huge history buff to know some iconic artists would spend their days in Provence. I mean with over 3,000 hours of sunshine per year can you blame them? Van Gough made his way from Paris to Provence to try and cure his depression. In 1888 he painted the famous, “Starry Night Over The Rhone” in Arles. The infamous Paul Cézanne was a resident of Aix-en-Provence and dedicated much of his time painting the beautiful Montagne Saint-Victoire. Pablo Picasso was so enamored by Cézanne’s work, that he eventually followed him to the South of France and found a home in Vauvenargues.
Today the art culture is still very much alive and thriving. You can find it weaved into the small galleries in medieval villages, and on display in grand Châteaus. One of my favorite experiences was visiting Château La Coste in Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade. Between the 500-acre biodynamic vineyard, architecture, olive trees, restaurants, and art installations, I was in sensory overload.
I was lucky enough to experience Jean-Michel Othoniel’s "Îles Singulières" art exhibition while I was visiting. The perfect balance between minimal and abstract, it was just another luxurious layer of the afternoon.
In a different space, we stumbled upon the early works of Jean-Michel Basquiat titled, “Œuvres sur papier” or, “Works on Paper.” There were about 140 works from 1977-1987. These pieces showed his inspiration and creative process and evoked feelings of angst, anxiety, controversy, and reality all at the same time.
Musée Terra Rosa in Salernes is also not to be missed for those history buffs out there. Since Roman times, Salernes has been a ceramics epicenter. Walk through an old kiln and recreated space to discover the production methods used for the famous Provençal terra rosa tiles and pottery. Experience the techniques dating back three centuries, and how these are crafted today.
Whether you’re staying in a Bed & Breakfast or 5-Star Hotel, the accommodations in Provence were unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
Some eluded romantic luxury like our stay at Château de Fonscolombe, just a short distance from Aix-en-Provence. This 18th century Château welcomes you with a winery, 120-person restaurant, wellness center, salon, and park. I woke up feeling refreshed and rejuvenated accompanied by the sounds of the French countryside. It’s the perfect escape for anyone looking to stay just outside the city center.
How about a Michelin Star restaurant right on the property? Château de Berne offers their guests a 5-star experience complete with cooking classes, spa, wine cellar, bistro, and famed Michelin restaurant, Le Jardin de Benjamin. Herbs and vegetables for the restaurant are pulled straight from the garden on the estate. Stay with your significant other or with a group of friends, either way, you’ll be entertained and taken care of for your entire stay.
Have I mentioned you have your wedding at most of these places as well?
Located in Ollières within the AOC Coteaux Varois en Provence, Domaine de Saint Hilaire has been producing wine since the Roman times. The Domaine acquired its name in 1817 when it was purchased by Baron Hilaire Reynaud. Complete with an award-winning vineyard, art gallery, and boutique accommodations, Domaine de Saint Hilaire is a great option for your dream French wedding.
If you find yourself in Cotignac, consider staying at La Bastide Des Anges. Brigitte, the owner of this B&B, will welcome you to her “bastide” just a short drive from the city center. Take advantage of the refreshing pool amongst the French-style garden. It’s the perfect place to rest your head after consuming a charcuterie plate at Bar Nestuby!
It’s been hard putting my thoughts about Provence down on paper. It’s almost as if the experience I had there was too heightened for words. I have met people I will never forget, and was treated as part of a bigger family. I feel the pride of the Southern French, and understand where it comes from. Provence will make you wonder why you waited so long to visit, but the sweet memories of sunshine and rosé will keep you company until you return. You should come for the wine, but stay to experience the moments that will fill your soul.
*This post was written in partnership with ATOUT France. All opinions are my own.