I fell in love with Provence long before setting foot on French soil. I had read and heard so much about Provence that for years I dreamed of visiting this region of La belle France. I almost made it there on my honeymoon when my new husband and I spent a week on the Côte d'Azur but I had to wait another 15 years before this travel dream came true. When I finally traveled to the area, I had my two children in tow and was a bit worried that my expectations were too high and that Provence with kids would be less than ideal. I needn't have fretted because not only was Provence even more beautiful than I had anticipated but also it proved to be a wonderful family vacation destination for a number of reasons.
Plentiful Villa Rentals
Villas are available for rental throughout Provence. Renting a vacation home is ideal for families who are planning to spend more than a few days in the area and who are happy to get by without hotel amenities. Having a home-away-from-home means having much more space to spread out in and it is often more cost-effective than staying in a hotel. Families will appreciate having separate bedrooms for privacy, a kitchen for meal preparation, and especially a private pool for cooling off after a day of exploring in the heat of a Provençal summer. The most difficult part for me was sorting through all of the choices and deciding which village and house we wanted to call home for our two-week stay.
An Opportunity to Practice Speaking French
Vacationing in Provence provides the perfect opportunity to practice speaking French while being immersed in another culture. Attempting to speak French in shops, at restaurants and with other locals helped my children realize that learning another language is a life skill and not just a subject studied at school. In Provence, there are fewer people who speak English than in larger cities like Paris so communicating in French is necessary even when it's a struggle to make yourself understood. By the end of our two weeks, my teen daughter was comfortable ordering from menus and was able to follow simple conversations. Meanwhile, my grade school-aged daughter was quite pleased with her ability to use even a few words.
Kids of any age will enjoy visiting the weekly markets that are held in most of the villages of the region. My daughters loved shopping for food–especially bread and fruit. After our trip, we laughed at how many vacation photos included my older daughter with a baguette in hand; she just could not get enough of the delicious freshly-baked bread sold at the markets. Perhaps even more fun was browsing the various stalls for little things like hair-bands and other trinkets to spend their pocket money on.
Beautiful Villages to Explore
The region's picture-perfect villages–each with their own unique shops, cafés, and patisseries—are great fun for families to explore. We alternated days spent close to the village of Gordes where we were staying with longer day trips to other areas. We enjoyed the nearby villages of Joucas, Roussillon, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Oppède-le-Vieux, Ménerbes, and Lacoste–every one just a little different from the others.
Meanwhile larger towns had more sightseeing options and many offered old-fashioned carousels, which delighted my younger daughter. The Abbaye de Senanque and its famed fields of lavender was also nearby. The lavender had bloomed earlier than usual the summer we visited so I will have to return another year to see it. My daughters were content to spend part of each day exploring before returning to our villa for an afternoon swim followed by a leisurely dinner at one of the restaurants in the village. It was one of the most laid-back, pleasant holidays we have ever taken as a family.
Introduction to History and Art
Before planning our trip, I had no idea that there was such a Roman influence in Provence (although if I had thought it through then I should have realized that the area would have been part of the Roman Empire). We visited the Roman Theatre in Orange, a Roman Arena and Theatre in Arles, and the Pont du Gard–a Roman aqueduct built around 19 B.C. to supply water to one of ancient Europe's largest cities. My kids had so much fun exploring each of these sites that they didn't realize that they were learning history at the same time.
In the walled historic area of the city of Avignon we toured the Palais des Papes (or Palace of the Popes), a 14th century Gothic palace that functioned as the primary papal residence and headquarters of Catholicism during the 1300s. In addition to learning about this unique era in the history of the Catholic Church, we also got a chance to dance on the medieval Pont d'Avignon (actually Pont St. Bénezet), the famous bridge from the French children's song that Canadians like us all learned in school.
Art enthusiasts will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about the many French impressionists who made their homes in Provence. In Arles, for example, visitors can not only dine at the famed Café Van Gogh from Café Terrasse at Night but they will also find easels around town depicting the masterpieces that Van Gogh created on the spot where he painted them. At the time of our trip, Van Gogh was my younger daughter's favorite artist so she thoroughly enjoyed trekking around Arles in search of the easels and learning a great deal about the man and his work in the process.
Your vacation in Provence will pass very quickly and, if your family is anything like ours, then you will wish you could do as Peter Mayle did and spend A Year in Provence instead of just a week or two.
What do you think your family would enjoy most about a holiday in Provence? Let us know in the comments!