Provence: Hill towns of the Luberon

Hiking in France's Provence

Fields of lavender, honey-colored stone medieval churches and towns, markets filled with melons, meats, and cheeses…it’s everything that comes to mind when you think of Provence, France. This region is located in the southeast corner of the country. It is flanked by the Alps to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It is routinely listed as one of the top five places to visit in France.

Provence is so quintessentially French that it has intrigued artists throughout the centuries. Both Paul Cézanne and Vincent Van Gogh painted its landscapes obsessively. Van Gogh painted 200 pieces alone in various locations around the small Provence city of Arles. In more recent years, Peter Mayle’s classic 1989 travelogue, A Year in Provence, has inspired both travelers and second-home owners alike to experience the “good life” for themselves. Indeed, Provence is a place where fantastic food and wine, hilltop villages, and lively markets all co-exist amidst tranquil Mediterranean breezes.

Hiking in France’s Provence

11th century Sénanque Abbey in Provence, France

11th century Sénanque Abbey

Although the Alps might be what comes to mind first when you think of hiking in France, Provence is also known for its top-rated hiking trails. The explanation is simple: the hiking is relatively easy. On the Ryder-Walker route, you’ll never exceed 6.5 miles or 1,500 feet ascent in elevation. The days are spectacularly varied.

One day, you’ll visit the beautifully preserved 11th century Sénanque Abbey. The Abbey is set against the backdrop of lavender that the monks originally planted as a source of income for the monastery. On another day, you’ll visit the lively Friday market in Bonnieux. Bonnieux is another enchanting hilltop town first settled during the Roman era. On your rest day, halfway through the trip, you’ll have the chance to take a cooking class and visit a winery.

For someone who loves a little bit of everything—art and architecture, history and culture, food and wine, amazing climate and stunning landscapes, all framed by carefully planned hikes, this is the place to be. Yes, there’s a reason why Provence, France is top-ranked among the world’s most romantic getaways.

Provence’s History

Its fertile farmlands are suitable for producing the essentials in life. With vineyards for wine, grasslands for livestock, and groves containing olive and fig trees alike—Provence has been fought over since ancient times. The location is sandwiched on the trade route between Italy and Spain. This made it an ideal place for the Greeks and then the Romans to conquer. The remnants of the later empire can still be seen in Provence’s Nîmes and Arles. This area contains fantastically preserved amphitheaters. It is also among the top spots in the world to see examples of Roman architecture.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Christians, Germanic Tribes, Arabs, and pirates from North Africa rushed in to fill the void and battle over this prized country. But even amidst the chaos, architecture thrived, and the Sénanque Abbey, which you’ll visit, is a great example of this. Likewise, the markets boomed with olives and wines, pottery and perfumes. Provence continued to be prosperous until the French Revolution, when chaos returned. Yet, when the Industrial Revolution arrived a half century later, Provence restored it trade networks. It also resumed its position as the epicenter of fine wine, food and culture that it is today.

Provence’s Food and Wine

Fresh products market in Provence, FranceIn a country known for its food culture (the word cuisine is French, after all!), Provence has to be one of the best destinations for a foodie to travel.  This is the land of markets, where it’s easy to pack a picnic with “Le jardin de France” (the garden of France). The day’s freshest picks—apricots and cherries, hundreds of varieties of cheeses, sausages, honey, and of course, the world-famous baguette. This is also the land of extra-virgin olive oil, tomatoes, and garlic. This trio that appears in the soups, salads, and sauces of Provence. As a fact, one of the regions most famous dishes, Bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisee combines these three things with fresh-caught seafood, forming a delicious stew, often served with an aioli-topped slice of baguette.

Another popular dish is Salade Niçoise, literally Nice’s salad. This dish unites some of the region’s best produce—olives, green beans, and fresh greens—with eggs and tuna. Ratatouille, a dish revived by the popular kids’ movie carting its name, was born here, and is best in summer, when its signature ingredients—zucchini and tomatoes—are at their prime.

With its delicious cuisine, its towns and cities steeped in history, its vibrant market culture, and its fields packed with flowers, it’s easy to see why Provence is consistently ranked as one of the best places to visit in Europe. With Ryder-Walker, your time in Provence will come alive, becoming one of your best adventures to date.