Provençal food is delicious and comforting all year round, but an autumnal stay in the region truly rewards the traveller. Enjoy markets, unique local culture and vineyard trips at a quieter time of year, when you can still bask in glorious sunshine. Susie and Jamie Marquis highlight the best villages to explore in Provence, along with must-visit eateries and villas to stay at during your trip.
Having just returned from the South of France, I can vouch for the fact that autumn is a wonderful time to be exploring the picturesque villages and towns of Provence. Without the summer crowds, yet with mild sunny weather, you have the perfect excuse to base yourself in one of the stunning villas we offer here while you explore the countryside and villages, learn more about the local history, visit some great markets and wineries - and dine at some of the best Provençal local restaurants. Our director, Jamie, has done exactly this, and has some wonderful recommendations.
Discover magical markets in L’Isle sur la Sorgue
L’Isle sur la Sorgue, with its surrounding river, charming canals, cobbled streets and historic buildings, is an absolute must-visit. It’s also well known for its vintage and antique stores and, of course, its famous market, popular with locals and visitors alike. The market takes place regularly on Thursdays and Sundays, from 7am-1.30pm, although the Thursday market is smaller than the large Sunday market. If you’re thinking ahead to next summer, on the first Sunday in August there is the added bonus of a colourful Floating Market, with a party atmosphere, traditional Provençal costumes and music.
The picturesque water wheels on the canals are also a distinctive feature of the town. An important source of industrial power in the 18th century, there are still around 15 of these old wheels turning with the flow of the Sorgue.
Shop for stunning second-hand souvenirs
L’Isle sur la Sorgue has the highest number of antique, vintage and bric-a-brac stores outside of Paris. An International Antiques Fair, which originally started in 1966, still takes place here twice a year (at Easter and in the month of August) and is now rated as the third largest fair of its kind in Europe. Along the river, visitors can enjoy the beautiful views from one of the numerous cafés. If you are visiting with children, Parc Gautier is a large green space to the south of the centre of town with a children’s play area. It surrounds a grand 19th century villa, which is also perfect for a picnic.
Jamie’s recommended restaurant: La Balade des Saveurs
Set in a lovely position on a shaded terrace along the banks of the river, La Balade des Saveurs serves traditional Provençal cuisine. Based on the quality and freshness of the products, the menus are adjusted according to the market and the season.
3 Quai Jean Jaurès, 84800 L’Isle sur la Sorgue
Recommended villa: Villa Isle sur la Sorgue (8 bedrooms; 16 guests)
Just 2 kms away from L’Isle sur la Sorgue, this is the perfect villa stay for exploring the both the town and the Luberon area, famous for its vineyards and picturesque hilltop towns and villages. The rooms, which feature many original features, are beautifully decorated and open out to lovely furnished spaces for relaxing outdoors. Moreover, there is a swimming pool, and lovely views to the mountains in the distance.
Go exploring in Eygalières
On the other side of the Rhône river, along the north-eastern edge of the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles and just a short drive from the larger town of St Rémy de Provence, Eygalières is one of the most charming small villages in the Alpilles area. Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, Eygalières is peppered with old stone houses, quaint shops and restaurants. The village also has a weekly market every Friday, offering fresh local produce, and a monthly antiques market, one of the best in the Les Alpilles region. Just outside the village is the spectacular tree-lined entrance to the Domaine de Valdition, a large and incredibly beautiful vineyard and olive tree estate. Visitors are welcome for wine tastings at the shop here, and there are other gourmet products to buy for friends and family back home.
Soak up some local history
Evidence of the long history of Eygalières can be witnessed both within the village and on its outskirts. On a small rocky hill just 1km outside the village, you can visit the Chapelle Saint Sixte, which dates back to the 12th century and offers a 360-degree view of the Alpilles and Eygalières. The chapel was also the subject of one of Van Gogh’s famous paintings, captured while he was staying at the Asylum of St Paul-de-Mausole in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Within Eygalières village itself, the main street leads up to ruins of the 12th century Saint Laurent church, and the local history museum in the Chapelle des Pénitents Blanc is also worth a visit. Eygalières has the feel of a charming, friendly small village, and you could easily spend a day here just strolling around, admiring the historic buildings, and refuelling in one of the delightful restaurants or cafés.
Jamie’s recommended restaurant: Restaurant Paulette
Offering both indoor and outdoor seating, visitors here will enjoy freshly cooked local cuisine. Offering a small yet imaginative daily menu, the atmosphere is cosy and very Provençal.
Rue de la Republique, 13810 Eygalières
Recommended villa: Villa Eygalières (6 bedrooms; 12–15 guests)
Located just 1km from Eygalières, this villa sits in an elevated position with wonderful views to the Les Alpilles mountain range. The vast grounds boast truffle oak trees, a beautiful olive grove, a well-designed garden and an illuminated petanque court. There is also a heated swimming pool, and a paddling pool area. The outdoor terraces are furnished for relaxing al fresco and equipped with spectacular night lighting. Special treats at this property include fresh bread and newspapers delivered every morning, olive oil from the property, and cut flowers. Wine from the cellar is available for guests at cost price.
Get to know Gordes
Many would agree that Gordes is one of the most beautiful, and most popular, of the hilltop villages in Provence. Positioned on a rock, the village is dominated by its church and castle, and benefits from stunning views over the Luberon valley. Gordes is also a pleasure to explore from within, with its narrow, cobbled streets and alleyways. Over the years, unsurprisingly, Gordes has also been a popular base for many artists, including Marc Chagall, André Lhote, Jean Deyrolle, and Pol Mar. The magnificent and imposing castle was built in the 10th century and rebuilt in 1525. It is now classified as a historical monument and houses the Town Hall and the Pol Mara Museum.
Gordes market takes place every Tuesday morning, around the foot of the castle in the centre of the village. The market has a great variety of products including fabrics, soaps and lavender, as well as local food (bread, cheese, wine, olive oil and honey), all produced within the picturesque surroundings of the Luberon National Park. Just over 1km from Gordes is the Village des Bories, an ancient settlement of stone dwellings, used as shepherds’ huts during the 19th century, and classed as an historic monument. It is open to the public throughout the year and tours can also be arranged. Don’t forget to taste the delicious Luberon wine while you are in the region!
Jamie’s recommended restaurant: La Trinquette
This restaurant’s terrace benefits from wonderful views over Gordes and across the Luberon. Serving delicious modern French cuisine, La Trinquette offers an appetising regional wine list. We highly recommend the restaurant for its friendly staff, excellent food and professional service.
Rue des Tracapelles, 84220 Gordes
Recommended villa: Mas Chateaurenard (5 bedrooms; 10 guests)
Close to the peaceful village of Eyragues, which has a Friday morning market and a central square that's shaded by plane trees, Mas Chateaurenard is a 10-minute drive from the villages of Maillane and Chateaurenard. It’s also around a 20-minute drive north of St Rémy de Provence, and a 30-minute drive east to Gordes. The stunning and enormous lawned gardens are planted with Mediterranean trees, and there's also a 15-metre long-swimming pool. A sauna with infrared light is available for guests here, too.
Stroll around St Rémy de Provence
St Rémy de Provence is a beautiful place to visit, with its impressive mansions dating back to both the Renaissance and the 18th century. It’s also a town of pretty squares, shaded by large plane trees and dotted with old fountains, cafés and restaurants. Stroll through the pedestrian streets of the old town where you will find evidence of its beautiful architecture – and a very enticing choice of shops. Wednesday is market day, where you can find tempting, fresh local food, as well as ceramics, clothing and accessories. It’s the perfect base for exploring the charming villages of the Les Alpilles region.
Discover a melting pot of culture
There are several art galleries and interesting museums in St Rémy, including the Musée des Alpilles and Musée Estrine, as well as a variety of festivals and other annual events that include a wine festival, an outdoor arts festival, a jazz festival and of course, the Tour de France. Don’t miss a visit to the archaeological site of Glanum, just 1km south of St Rémy, to take in ancient monuments such as the Triumphal Arch.
Jamie’s recommended restaurant: Le Bistrot du Paradou
Just a 15-minute drive south of St Rémy is the pretty village of Paradou and this stunning bistro. The restaurant opened in 1984 and with its stone walls, timbered ceilings and excellent menu, it has achieved legendary status over the years, attracting visitors including Charles Aznavour and Caroline of Monaco. It’s also featured in Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence. There is only a single 4-course prix fixe menu available here, but the price includes unlimited bottles of Côtes du Rhône wine.
57 Avenue de la Vallée des Baux, 13520 Paradou
Recommended villa: Mas de Bellile (4 bedrooms; 8 guests)
Perfect for a holiday near beautiful St Rémy de Provence, the Mas de Bellile sits in a prime location, with breathtaking views of Les Alpilles. Just 1km south of St Rémy, the villa is set in a vast olive grove at the foot of the mountains. Within the grounds is a petanque court and a swimming pool, set spectacularly into the rocks and surrounded by olive trees.
Inspired to discover more about gourmet holidays in Provence and top other European destinations? We offer a wide variety of beautiful villas to rent in Provence, in addition to villas in the ever-popular Côte d'Azur region, city apartments in Paris and a host of properties further afield in Tuscany:
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