Provence, France

The wild dunes and marshes of the Med coast are the domain of cowboys, white horses and neon-pink flamingos. Inland, Arles, and its laidback neighbour Nîmes in Languedoc-Rousillon, are a beguiling blend of Roman amphitheatres, Provençal cuisine, café culture and sun-dappled boulevards. From the dramatic clifftop village of Les Baux, set among the olive groves, vines and craggy uplands of the Alpilles, you can look out across a land of Van Gogh, sunflowers and starry, starry nights.

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Do Go/Don’t go

Spring and autumn are perfect: the weather is warm and there are fewer crowds. May is a riot of flowers, and September sees the grape harvest.

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Getting there

  • Planes

    Access the region from Nîmes | to the west in neighbouring Languedoc-Roussillon | or Marseille. From the UK | Ryanair flies to Nîmes from Liverpool and Luton (www.ryanair.com); or travel to Marseille from Gatwick with EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) or British Airways (www.ba.com). As of Summer 2011, CityJet (www.cityjet.com) will offer flights from London City airport to Avignon.
  • Trains

    From the UK, put your car on the Autotrain at Paris, catch a separate train and be reunited in Avignon (0844 848 4050). Or take the Eurostar – probably the most civilised option – and change at Paris for Avignon or Aix (www.eurostar.com). Trains from Paris Gare de Lyon to Avignon take around three hours (www.tgv.com).
  • Automobiles

    Avis (www.avis.com) and others do car hire from Avignon TGV station, as well as Nîmes and Grenoble airports. The A7 is the main artery from the north.
  • Taxis

    There are taxi ranks in the main towns, railway stations and airports. Prices are cheaper than on the Côte d’Azur, but there may be a charge for luggage. Your hotel should be able to arrange transfers by cab.

Provence

Provence

Stocked up on designer finds and stuffed full of steak tartare, ditch the city in favour of the verdant olive groves and limestone villages of the southern French countryside. Wind your way along Rhône, through the fruit orchards and fields of lavender, to Alain Ducasse’s romantic hillside hideaway, La Bastide de Moustiers. Make like Cézanne and hike up the nearby cliffs for dramatic views, then return home to nap in a hammock in the garden before a pastis aperitif on the patio and dinner at Ducasse’s restaurant. Spend your days on private food tours of the region and learning to press its famous olive oil. Visit artisan pottery and textile workshops, and join winemakers on private tasting tours of local vineyards. It won’t take long to slip into the relaxed Provençal lifestyle.

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FOLLOW YOUR TASTEBUDS

FOLLOW YOUR TASTEBUDS

For many of us, travel is what we eat: new flavours, local delicacies and relaxing al fresco feasts. Grade-A gourmands tend to love things Gallic and, when it comes to getaways, Provence’s Alain Ducasse-owned Hostellerie de l’Abbaye is the cerise on France’s rich gâteau. Nearby Baumanière is a Michelin-star-spangled stay hugged by abundant vineyards. Cross the Med to Castiglion del Bosco and you can learn the secrets of the Tuscan cucina at its renowned cookery school. Thirsty? California’s cinematic wine country – valleys Napa and Sonoma – will sate you in style. 

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THE GREAT OUTDOORS

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

From gentle exertions like cycling between the vineyards around Hôtel Crillon le Brave, to brow-dampening hikes in the Atlas Mountains near Kasbah du Toubkal, we know activity-packed places to appeal to every type of adventurer. Thrill seekers might consider the Alps: bathed in summer sun, they're a playground for hikers, climbers, mountain bikers and white-water rafters. Alpaga makes for a tranquil base to rest up afterwards. Those of a more leisurely persuasion might prefer to mount a steed and see the White Isle's wilder side on horseback – rustic retreat Can Curreu in Ibiza has its own stables. And if Sweden's big-kid-thrilling Treehotel can't make you fall in love with the outdoors, nothing can. 

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