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Provence heritage sites tour

 Provence Heritage Sites & Lavender Tour

Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Plunge into the beauty of Lavender

Taste the flavors of Provence

Provence TourThis Tour is designed to immerse you into the historical past of Provence taking you to the most captivating sites for both their cultural heritage and stunning architecture.  Along the routes, you’ll plunge into the beauty of lavender in bloom, stroll the markets abundant with local produce and artisan craftsmanship, and taste the exquisite flavors of Provençal cuisine.

Discover the Luberon region where hilltop villages and lavender mingle together creating an array of textures and backdrops.  The Alpilles region, around Saint-Remy & Les Baux-de-Provence is also part of the itinerary.  The contrasts in nature from these two regions offer a unique Provencal experience - everyday is new to the senses.  

Sunday, June 18 – Sunday, June 25, 2023

  • Tour pick-up location: Sunday 18 at 10:30 am – Avignon TGV train station (or Avignon hotel)
  • Tour drop-off location: Sunday 25 around 11 am – Avignon TGV train station

Two charming accommodations for you:

This B&B is within walking distance to the town center of Saint Remy.  You’ll enjoy cooling off in the pool, and lounging in your private courtyard with a glass of rosé.  The spacious rooms, studio style, allow you to settle in and feel at home. 

This B&B is an oasis of tranquility and beauty in the Luberon countryside.  It’s the perfect place to stay with the lavender in bloom as it’s in the heart of the lower elevation fields. 

Package Price:
  • $3,950 USD per person based on double occupancy (shared room). 
    $750 USD for single room supplement.

Deposit to secure your spot on the tour:

  • $500 USD (non-refundable)
    • Should restrictions due to COVID in your home country or in France prohibit the tour from happening your deposit will be applied to the 2024 tour.

Itinerary

Day 1 – Sunday, June 18

  • Pick-up at Avignon – TGV train station at 10:30 am (exact time will be coordinated once Emily receives all the arrival times)
  • From the train station we’ll drive into the center of Avignon for a historic walking tour.  UNESCO sites Pont d’Avignon and Popes Palace.
  • A 30-minute drive from Avignon will take us to Saint Remy.  Lodging at a charming B&B near the town center for the next 4 nights  
  • 7:30 pm – Dinner arrangements for the group in Saint Remy

Day 2 – Monday, June 19 

  • In the morning we’ll drive south to the Camargue region (classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO) to connect with nature and wildlife. The fresh water from the Rhone and the saline waters from the Mediterranean Sea create a mosaic of ecosystems unique to the area.  Flamingoes, herons, white Camargue horses & bulls will accompany us along our off-the-beaten-path routes. 
  • Lunch in the Camargue region to taste the specialties. 
  • Later afternoon we will plunge back into the Roman world in Arles and also trace the footsteps of Van Gogh who lived here from 1888 to 1889. 
  • Dinner together in Saint Remy.  

Day 3 – Tuesday, June 20

  • Today’s exploring will take us back to the Roman era that was built up starting around the 1st century AD.  The Roman aqueduct (Pont-du-Gard) will be our playground this morning. After our picnic lunch we’ll make our way to the village Chateauneuf-du-Pape for a tasting of the renowned wine. 
  • Later afternoon relaxing time back at the B&B (or venture off into the town on your own for some boutique browsing).
  • Dinner together in Saint Remy.

Day 4 – Wednesday, June 21

  • Today is market day in Saint Remy.  You have a free morning to roam the market and its boutiques.
  • Picnic lunch together with your market goodies near the ancient Roman settlement next to Saint Remy.  Then we’ll tour the asylum (Saint Paul de Mausole) where Van Gogh stayed for a year after his time in Arles.  
  • Relaxing time back at the B&B.
  • Around 5:30 pm we’ll take off for our evening events.  First the multimedia art show at the former rock quarry, Carrières de Lumières.  Then an evening stroll through the village Les Baux de Provence.  
  • The evening meal will be at small village bistro near Les Baux de Provence. 

Day 5 – Thursday, June 22

  • We’ll be changing regions today and lodging (bags packed).
  • Our first stop will be in Isle sur la Sorgue, known for its canal-lined streets and antique shops.  There’s a small farmers market today that will add some color to our tour, weaving through antique shops and heritage sites. You’ll have some free time to browse the shops and the market.
  • Picnic lunch near the Sorgue River.
  • Gordes will be our last village tour before making our way to our B&B to settle and relax (beautiful pool and gardens for your enjoyment).
  • Dinner together in the nearby village 

Day 6 – Friday, June 23

  • Today’s touring will be a remarkable contrast of colors.  From violet purple in the lavender fields to the rusty red and musky yellow of the ochre rich lands; you will be dazzled with natural wonder.  
  • Near Sault (the lavender capital of Provence) we will visit a lavender farm and distillery (also our lunch stop).
  • On our way back to the B&B, we’ll stop at Roussillon.  Learn why the land is colored red and yellow and all about the industry that flourished up until the 20th century. 
  • Evening outing for dinner near the B&B

Day 6 – Saturday, June 24

  • Learn the tips and tricks of French cuisine during a cooking lesson at a Michelin restaurant in Emily’s hometown.  This is a one-of-a-kind cooking experience…cooking with the famous “Cavaillon” melon that you’ll know all about after this week in Provence.  
  • Later afternoon back at the B&B.  
  • Farewell evening meal catered at the B&B – a magical evening awaits you!

Day 7 – Sunday, June 25

  • After breakfast, you’ll be transferred back to the Avignon TGV train station (around 11 am – please have train departures no earlier than 10:30 am).  Other drop-off places can be arranged (supplement may be applied).  

Provence Heritage Sites & Lavender Tour

June 18 – 25, 2023

7 nights / 8 days

  • $3,950 USD per person based on double occupancy (shared room) 
  • $750 USD single room supplement
  • Deposit: $500 USD to secure your spot (non-refundable)
  • Balance due by April 15, 2023.  
  • No refund of paid balance after April 15, 2023.  
    • COVID restrictions are the only exception

Marseille Soap

How and why did Marseille get so famous for its soap?  

First of all, let me ask you, what are two essentiel ingredients needed to make soap?  

You need soda and salt.  Soda (sodium carbonate and sodium hydroxide) combined with a vegetable oil, creates the base of a Marseille soap.  During the heating process impurities can arise.   Salt water is washed through the mixture several times for the cleansing.  The Camargue region (salt water marshes) next to Marseille, provides for both the soda and the salt.  
  • To have sodium carbonate, the plant known as La Soude (Salsola soda) from the Camargue salt marshes are burned.  The ashes of this plant contain up to 30% of sodium carbonate.  

Then of course, you have Marseille, a major port along the Mediterranean that had been key in trading ever since the Greeks arrived in 600 BC.   Put the well established trading port together with the natural environment providing the raw materials and you have the beginning of the Marseille soap story.

Timeline Marseille Soap

  • 1371 – First official soap maker located in Marseille
  • 15th century – the first industrial factories are established
  • 17th century – Marseille became the main production site of soap in France
  • 1688 – Louis the 14th laid down the rules which institutionalized Marseille soap.  
  • 18th century – the Marseille soap became more than just a regional product.  Sea trade began and it was being shipped all over the Orient and Mediterranean basin.
  • 19th century – progress in hygiene, technology, railway infrastructure, and advertising continue to expand the demand of Marseille soap. This was the “golden age” and lasted until the beginning of the 20th century.
  • 1940’s – The steady decline started.  A lot was due to the production of synthetic detergents, people using washing machines (instead of washing by hand), the set-up of supermarkets where people coud easily buy other products.
  • The 70’s & 80’s – a return to natural and ecological values, Marseille soap becomes popular again.

Unfortunately, the rebound will never be back to what it was during its golden age.  In 1924 there were 108 soap manufacturers in Marseille and 14 in Salon. Today, there are four companies still making Marseille soap the traditional way: Le Fer à Cheval (1856) La Corvette (1894),  Marius Fabre (1900), and Le Sérail (1949).

How do you know if you are buying the authentic Savon de Marseille?

There are many products out there using the name « Marseille » to market their product.  However, it’s quite simple to know if what you are buying is an authentic Marseille soap, or not.  If it wasn’t made in Marseille (or Salon which is quite near Marseille) than it’s not authentic.  Below are the other elements to look for:
  1. Only vegetable oils are used and it must contain at least 72% 
    • The very first « Marseille soap » was made only with olive oil.  Napoleon, in 1812, adopted a decree defining the shape of the soap (a pentagon) and the words « olive oil », the manufacturer’s name and the name « Marseille » stamped on the soap.  In 1927, Marseille soap was redefined as a product made exclusively from vegetable oils (palm oil or copra oil could be used instead of olive oil).  
      Why did « other » vegetable oils get authorized?  Believe it or not, there was not enough local production of olive oil for the demand. 
    • FYI – the « olive oil » used in the making of soap is the second press; the first press is oil used for cooking)
  2. No added animal fat, colorings, fragrance or preservatives (hence the term « Extra-Pure » can be used)
  3. There is 5 step process (traditionally using a cauldron) – these five steps take about 10 days.

When you go out to the local markets here in Provence, you will undoubtedly find many soaps to buy.  Most of them will be with coloring and perfumes (or sometimes essential oils).  You can ask the vendor where the soaps were made. Most, but not all, will be made in the Provence region.  It might even be made in Marseille.  These soaps can be referred to as « Soap from Marseille ».  But if you are looking for the « real » Marseille soap, « Savon de Marseille », you must remember that it will be either green (made from olive oil) or white (made from palm or copra oil).  Traditional Savon de Marseille will not be purple and smell like lavender.

Cavaillon, Provence history walk

Cavaillon history walk – hidden treasures in Provence

 

Cavaillon

Yesterday morning, while walking the ancient Roman road near my house in Cavaillon I stumbled upon more than ancient ruins. Not just one, not just two but a handful of lavender plants here and there. Surrounded by pine trees, thyme and limestone blocks from the Roman quarry I couldn’t help to marvel at this hidden lavender holding on to its fading purple flowers as if to give the curious wanderer one more treasure before winter arrives.

Cavaillon

cavaillon

On my hike, that I have often done but never guided by Annie Gaudin, historian at the Cavaillon Heritage Museum, I put together the pieces of my puzzle.