Occitanie & Provence, A Women's Only Adventure
May 14 – 26, 2022 SOLD OUT
This special twelve day tour takes a serpentine route through some of the most beautiful countryside in southern France beginning in Albi and ending with the Gypsy Festival in the Camargue. We’ll visit the best of the Occitanie and Provence-Alpes-Côtes d’Azur’s sun-kissed regions, famous for beautiful villages, market towns overflowing with character, legendary history, and unique culture. We’ll even dip over the border into the Vaucluse to visit a few villages that shouldn’t be missed.
Despite Castres Latin origins, the Agout River village, was not founded by the Romans. The origins of the city date back to the year 647, with the founding of its Benedictine abbey. Castres has some remarkable architectural treasures, in particular the Episcopal Palace, the work of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, architect of Versailles. The Palace became the Goya Museum in 1947. After the Louvre in Paris it houses the most important collection of Hispanic art in France. After lunch we’ll drive to the village of Lautrec. Amazingly, the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec never visited Lautrec. It is well known for its pink garlic, Ail rose de Lautrec, grown exclusively in and around the village, as well as its Bleu de Pastel dyes made from the woad plant.
Leaving the Tarn region on our way to the Bouches-du-Rhône, we’ll stop in the utterly charming village of Pézenas. Here we’ll find the centre ville, city center, full of artists ateliers, cafés, antique stores, and bookstores. It will be impossible to leave Pézenas without a handmade souvenir. Pézenas seduces visitors with its magnificent medieval architecture. Leisurely strolling along the winding cobblestone streets there we’ll be able to glimpse beautiful old houses through courtyard doorways, exquisitely carved Renaissance windows, and fabulous old doors with terra cotta carvings to photograph and admire. After lunch we’ll drive through the southern corner of the map to Fontvielle, home of one France’s most famous literary landmarks, the Moulin de Daudet and settle in at our hotel, the deluxe, boutique hotel Villa Regalido
Just a short walk from our hotel in the village, we’ll choose to visit one of France’s most famous literary landmarks, the Moulin de Daudet, Daudet’s Windmill (Alphonse Daudet wrote Lettres de mon Moulin, Letters from my Windmill here in 186o) or the Moulin Cornille, to tour one of the most important olive oil mills in the country, which continually produces oil from the fruit of over 400,000 olive trees that carpet Les Baux valley. Driving across the western side of the limestone massif, Les Alpilles. we’ll settle into the absolutely picture postcard perfect village of St. Remy de Provence. The physician and astrologer Nostradamus lived here and Vincent Van Gogh painted 150 canvases including his famous “Starry Night” while convalescing at Clinique St. Paul de Mausole just a two minute drive away.
Eygalières is a small, peaceful village full of understated charm in the heart of the Alpilles Natural Park, surrounded by vast fields of olive trees and vineyards. It has many Provencal country stone mas, Provençal farmhouses, all tastefully restored, and historical sites to visit such as the ruins of its old feudal castle and the esplanade of its old keep with magnificent views over the plains below. Eygalières is an easily walkable village filled with quaint store fronts and good restaurants. Friday is market day. Friday is market day in Eygalières. This very quaint market is filled with fresh produce, bread, fabrics, clothing, seafood, cheese, cured meats, local jams and paella made on site. The feel is definitively and beautifully local and authentic.
We’ll spend Sunday in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, just over the Bouches-du-Rhöne border. L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue resembles a miniature Venice with it’s canals and bridges. Of its original 70 water mills only 9 remain, powered by the crystal clear Sorgue river which cuts an intricate path through the village. It is the European center for antiques and second hand stores. Every Sunday of the year, L’isle sur la Sorgue combines its antique and farmer’s market making it a delightful feast for the senses and a shopper’s paradise. In the afternoon we may decide to drive a bit further to Roussillon, a stunning hilltop village, each of its buildings colored with one of the 17 shades of ochre, natural pigments, mined in its quarries
The Gypsy Festival and pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, located on the tip of the Camargue, has been taking place since 1448. According to legend, when a boat carrying the three Marys: Mary Jacobe, Mary Salome, and Mary Magdalene arrived from the Holy Land, Sara la Kali, patron Saint of the Gypsies, waded into the Mediterranean to help them ashore. She is the one who rests in the crypt of the ancient church by the sea. To experience the full-bodied flavor of the festival and pilgrimage, we will visit Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer for dinner and the candlelight procession in and around the church while musicians play traditional Gypsy music in the many village squares. Note: The Gypsy Festival was canceled in May 2020 due to Covid-19, for the first time in 572 years. Should this happen again, other arrangements will be made for next two days.
We will arrive early on the morning of May 25th, as the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer begins filling with people. The Manadiers, Guardian cattle ranchers, dressed in their traditional outfits sit astride beautiful white horses. Arlesian women and children, also dressed in costumes, mill through the crowds. By afternoon, the clergy make their appearance holding aloft a small wooden boat carrying effigies of two of the Saint Marys.
A procession begins forming and weaves its way through the village streets to the sea with everyone joining in song. Wading into the Mediterranean with the crowd, the priests return the boat to the sacred waters, and for one brief moment, history is repeated. Afterwards, restaurants in the village open, and everyone celebrates.
Cultivated since antiquity, the Salins d’Aigues-Mortes, salt marshes, form a magical pink landscape created by a naturally occurring microalgae which colors the water and the flamingos which winter here. We’ll tour these famous saltworks of the Camargue and learn about the delicate production of fleur-de-sel, handpicked at dawn. a unique marriage of the sea, the sun, and the mistral.