There are three quaint villages in Provence, France taking you back in a time machine when the Romans lived for 500 years. Provence surrounds you by green countryside, peaceful valleys, lavender fields, sunflower fields, olive fields, wineries, and splendid cuisine. Lets go visit just a few of Provence's villages, rich with history, culture, and best of all no car required!
Avignon is a small village surrounded by countryside and one can take the 2.5 hour TGV train from Paris or fly into the nearby city of Marseilles. Avignon's main street, Place de 'Horlage is filled with pedestrians, cafes, ice cream stands, shops, artists, and a merry-go-round. There are several adjoining narrow streets some made with cobblestone that leads to churches, residences, and Provencal inspired shops selling bright colored house items and souvenirs. The famous Provence patterned cloth seen in everything from tablecloths, bags, clothes, and dolls was originally imported from India. You cannot leave Provence without buying one of these items. The lavender stuffed mini dolls are adorable.
A street taken from the main square leads you to the 14th-century Palais des Papes which is the world's largest gothic palace. Photographers are delighted with all the angles that can be captured including a view of the countryside and the 800 year old medieval St. Benezet bridge which only a fifth of it stands over the Rhone River. The palace also has gardens, with ducks in a lake and a cafe. Tranquil enough to meditate, looking at the lush trees or Rhone River, highly recommended for a picnic consisting of baguette sandwiches, croissants, and yummy pastries.
In just 15 minutes by train from Avignon you are led to the ancient town of Arles. As you depart the train station, the town is eerie without many pedestrians, until you walk for a half a mile towards the town's attractions. This Romanesque inspired town is bustling with tourists, cafes, and Provencal shops and several fascinating historic attractions. You enter this town through the main opening of stone, which looks like a medieval castle that was destructed centuries ago. The town of Arles is where Van Gogh traveled to from Paris, because he knew Provence would have more sunlight for his mood and paintings. Arles was the place of inspiration for many of his paintings, nearly 200.
The street leads to the first main attraction, The Amphitheater built 2000 years ago when Julius Caesar conquered the area. For a small fee you can enter and view where the gladiators had their dress quarters and the arena where bullfights are still held. Van Gogh depicted the spectators at the bullfight in the painting, 'Arena at Arles'. Some other paintings depicting places that are preserved today are: 'Cafe at Night', 'The Drawbridge', and 'The Garden of the Sanitarium'. The sanitarium has been replaced with souvenir shops, but the garden is still maintained as depicted in his painting. Other attractions include ruins of the Roman Theater, Constantine's Bath, and the Saint Trophime Church. After exploring Arles there is a new appreciation of art, history, and culture.
Our next stop is 22 miles east of Avignon in a small cobblestone village called Gordes. The streets that take you to the hilltop of Gordes are filled with unbelievable layers upon layers of stone that make up homes. You will also pass by the medieval monastery l'Abbaye de Senanque with amazing lavender fields, if traveling in high peak season of June and July. Once you arrive in Gordes there is a spectacular photo view off a cliff of the village. Traveling by foot uphill toward the town there are a few selection of restaurants, shops, and an ice cream stand that offers lavender ice cream! No matter what narrow street is chosen, you won't be disappointed. There are cute French shutters on windows and a fountain in the center of the village. Cozy, comforting, and a scene you usually see in the movies.
The next time you decide to book a trip to France, highly consider the Provence region and make sure to fit Avignon, Arles, and Gordes into your itinerary. You will be enriched by your travels. Bon voyage!