Luxury Travel Blog

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August 31, 2023

Just Back: Culture, Cuisine & Lavender in the South of France

We recently returned from a private tour of the cultural, scenic and gastronomic highlights of Provence and Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes in the south of France. Highlights included touring the cities of Arles and Lyon, strolling through lavender fields, wine tasting in the Rhone Valley, dining in top restaurants, visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more.

Artisans of Leisure arranges exclusive gourmet wine, food and cultural touring throughout the south of France and can incorporate these experiences into any of our private France tours.

We began in Provence, the region of southern France synonymous with sun-drenched lavender fields and picturesque hilltop villages.

Highlights of private touring in Provence included visiting the ancient city of Arles, known for its impressive Roman monuments and Romanesque architecture—together a UNESCO World Heritage Site—as well as notable art museums.

The Arles Amphitheater in the heart of town is particularly impressive. Constructed in the first century and modeled on the Colosseum in Rome, it’s incredibly well-preserved and still used for concerts and other events.

A striking contrast to the ancient Roman and medieval architecture is the Frank Gehry-designed twisting stainless steel tower of LUMA Arles, a large contemporary art complex.

For travelers interested in art, we also recommend Lee Ufan Arles, a cultural venue dedicated to the Korean modern artist Lee Ufan and located in a historic villa renovated by Tadao Ando; and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles, which exhibits the work of the Dutch master as well as contemporary artists.

Van Gogh lived here in the 19th century and painted a prolific number of masterpieces in Arles and its environs, including his series of Sunflowers (1888-89), Cafe Terrace at Night (1888) and the iconic Starry Night (1889).

We also enjoyed visiting beautiful hilltop villages…

…browsing local markets…

…and dining on incredible regional cuisine.

One afternoon we accompanied fishermen on a fishing charter off the Mediterranean coast.

A highlight for many travelers is seeing the fragrant Provencal lavender fields in the summer months when the blooms peak.

One of our favorite experiences on this trip was a picnic in the lavender fields in Drome Provencale, a bucolic area of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region just over the border of northern Provence.

The fragrant purple flowers made a spectacular setting for sampling local gastronomic specialties such as olive tapenade, goat’s cheese and Cotes du Rhone wine.

Artisans of Leisure can arrange exclusive gourmet picnics in lavender fields, visits to lavender farms, tours of distilleries and meetings with lavender farm owners. For active travelers, we can also incorporate privately guided hikes and bike rides by lavender fields on any of our private France tours.

One afternoon, we attended a private wine blending workshop at the Universite du Vin, a wine university in a chateau in the heart of the Rhone Valley vineyards.

We enjoyed a sommelier-led wine tasting and learned about the appellations and grape varieties of the Rhone Valley.

We also blended a personalized cuvee to take home…

…and concluded with a tour of the chateau’s beautiful interiors.

During our time in Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, we visited beautiful medieval villages…

…and toured chateaux and gardens.

We also visited family-run wine estates in the Rhone Valley for private cellar tours and tastings.

Gastronomy is a highlight of the region, and we enjoyed dining in incredible restaurants, from off-the-beaten-path gems…

…to Michelin-starred restaurants. A highlight was dining at Maison Pic in Valence, the hotel and restaurant of the acclaimed chef Anne-Sophie Pic.

We also browsed local markets overflowing with local produce and crafts…

…and took part in a private truffle-making class.

We concluded in Lyon, the capital of Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, known for its rich gastronomic culture and UNESCO-listed historic center. Founded by the Romans in the first century B.C., Lyon has a long and prosperous history reflected in the Roman ruins and medieval and Renaissance architecture of Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon).

An expert local guide took us through Lyon’s historic center filled with medieval lanes, traboules (covered passages) and landmark architecture.

A highlight was learning about Lyon’s cultural and culinary history during a private gourmet walking tour.

We visited specialty food shops and stopped in some of Lyon’s famous bouchons—cozy neighborhood restaurants that serve local specialties, a centuries-old part of the city’s culinary identity.

We also enjoyed a pate en crout (pate baked in pastry dough) lesson with a renowned local chef. After our cooking class, we dined on our creations, accompanied by a wine pairing.

Lyon combines well with other favorite destinations in France, such as Provence, Burgundy and the Cote d’Azur, as well as Geneva and the Lake Geneva region in Switzerland.

Contact Artisans of Leisure to begin planning a private luxury France tour featuring the culture, wine and gastronomy of the south of France.

Destinations:  Europe, France

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