A Week In Provence With Kids
I recently read an article that tackled the question, “Tuscany or Provence?” That was the first time I thought of the two locations comparatively. Italy’s Tuscany is a magical place full of history, vineyards and culinary delights. France’s Provence is, well, describable in very much the same way. Interestingly, we visited both Tuscany and Provence for a week each and both in winter with kids. You can read about our time in Tuscany using this link. Provence held many treasures for our young family and they are spread across multiple posts on this site. . This post is a summary of the region with some pointed tips on how best to explore the area.
Provence is defined as the southeastern chunk of France, wedged between the Rhone and Italy. It is known for the mistral, a punishing wind that is squeezed by the mountains to the north of Provence. Inside Provence, you’ll find glitzy Nice, Cannes and the nation state of Monaco. Further west, you’ll chance upon the gritty but family-friendly French gateway city of Marseille. Even further west still, you’ll find what we found to be quintessential French countryside, straddling the Rhone River.
When we decided to spend a week on holiday in Provence, we looked at a map of southern France and drew some circles around the sites we were interested in. These included the Van Gogh sites in Arles, the Palace of Popes in Avignon, the Pont du Gard and the Camargue National Park. It was quickly evident that most of what we wanted to see centered around a little town called Eyragues. So that was it.
We wanted to homestead in one spot for the whole week because moving hotels every few nights with kids can be stressful. We picked a family-friendly Airbnb near Eyragues and planned on taking day-trips from there for the duration of the trip. The Airbnb also allowed us to cook evening meals which removes a lot of the stress around bedtime.
Of course our calculus was more involved than just plopping us in the middle of the attractions we wanted to see. We wanted to be close to a historic old town center. We needed a nearby grocery store and a boulangerie. And there would be bonus points if we could find a place near parks and playgrounds. A parking spot was essential. Airbnb’s options allow you to enter some of these criteria and we were luckily that out came a perfect little French house.
I think our kids’ only criteria was the nearby boulangerie. Eyragues has a winner called Boulangerie Patisserie Silvestre. Our trip to Provence was unseasonably cold for February so the prospect of walking a kilometer to a boulangerie sounded romantic but wasn’t practical. Nonetheless, we were able to pick up fresh bakery items every day. By the end of our stay, the staff at Silvestre knew us and our daily order, which made us really feel like locals. We also had a local grocery store with an excellent selection of fresh produce.
Perhaps the most humorous happening from our time in Eyragues was our date night at Le Pre Gourmand. We had friends visiting us who babysat our kids while we enjoyed dinner out. Strangely, we were the only reservation at Le Pre Gourmand that night. The dining room was silent and we felt watched over by the serving staff that was only there for us. We got over the awkward feelings at first sight of our first course. Everything produced by the kitchen was magnificent and we highly recommend the restaurant. It was weird to know that the entire staff was waiting for us to leave so they could go home, but we still had a lovely time out. When you have three toddlers, any moment away with your spouse counts.
Day-Trips in Provence:
Foremost, don’t forget that Provence is a leisurely place. You’ll want to make time for the weekly market in each city. And any flex time in your schedule can easily be filled with a stop at a winery (or two), an olive oil press or shops. Nevertheless, if you position yourself in the middle of this region (think near Eyragues or Arles), you’ll have access by car to so many sights with minimum driving (less than an hour each way per day). Distances are deceptive, though. Roads are slow, narrow and winding.
Here is a sample set of places you might want to visit on a 7-14 night visit to Provence:
–Arles (Roman Ampitheater, Van Gogh trail)
–Avignon (Palace of Popes)
–Pont du Gard (Roman aqueduct)
-Orange (Roman theater w/ preserved back wall)
-Nimes (Roman arena)
–Camargue National Park (pink flamingos)
– Les Baux (hilltop fortress, quarry turned into art show)
On most writing trips, we hard plan most of our stops into our itinerary. This ensures we don’t miss a site or make mistakes with opening days/hours. However, with Provence, we felt that there were so many epic sights that we could plan each day a few days prior. During high season, there may be some sights that require pre-purchased tickets, but we found during winter that it was easy to pick the next day’s city on a whim and based on the weather forecast.
Provence is a magical place. It rivals Tuscany and makes it really hard to choose one over the other. Provence served up a wickedly cold mistral wind while we were there and plenty of rain, but we found that everything we visited in Provence was an absolute joy for both us and our kids. Oh yeah, and we can home with a few bottles of olive oil in our checked bag. Win!