How easily I could slip back into my sleepy Provence, to a village called Vers, next to the Roman aqueduct I used to swim under, near the medieval town of Uzès where my mother bought our vegetables, in a garden where an imagination could run wild. I’ll find my way back, with silver hair and the wrinkles of time. But for now, I’ll settle for weekends here and there. For those following along on my travels via instagram who asked, I’ve written down a few of my favourite spots for a 48 hour Provençale getaway…
But of course you should begin the weekend with dinner at a chateau! If the weather is good, book a dinner at Chateau d’Arpaillargues, set in the small village by the same name, in the valley of Uzès where Jacques Brel once lived. If you have time before or after dinner, take a stroll around the village and have “un pot” (a drink), at the local bar with a pretty terrace on the main square, Le Boit Bernard.
Before bed, wander the streets of Uzès under the moonlight, making your way to the Places aux Hèrbes to see the evening’s entertainment (usually live music by the fountain), but don’t drink too much of that Provençale rosé. We’ve got a big day ahead tomorrow…
Saturday mornings are the liveliest day in the region for activity, so we’ll need to be up early to squeeze it all in. First, we don’t want to miss the Uzès food market on the town’s timeless square, Place aux Hèrbes, which starts as early as 7.30. Wander the stalls, eye up some breakfast nibbles, maybe pick up some local honey, and observe the locals doing their weekly shop. It is one of the most magical and authentic markets in the region.
Hop in the car, direction: Villeneuve-lès-Avignon for the best weekly antiques market in the region. Situated just across the river from Avignon, Villeneuve is the sleepier and smaller sister town to the famous papal city, surrounding a fort that once kept a lookout for the Pope’s enemies. Held on Place Charles Daniel every Saturday for the last 25 years, this is not just any old antiques market; this is the market, where professionals take their hunting very seriously. You’ll find more 20th century treasure than 17th century furniture these days however, as is the present trend of the industry, but you can come away with anything from a Louis Vuitton suitcase to a good salad bowl for 15 euros.
After the market, walk up through the village of Villeneuve to the lovely Italianate Jardins de l’abbaye Saint-Andre for a delightful walk through history. You’ll be rewarded with a great vista of Avignon across the river, discover the old churches, olive orchard, cemetery and quiet corners to sit and relax and just take in the view.
I imagine by now you’ve worked up an appetite. Walking through the village, you probably found numerous cute little terraces where you can have lunch. So. Here’s where you need to make a decision. Do you go for an easy lunch there in town, or do you hop in the car and drive 30 minutes to a bucket list-worthy chateau lunch. It’s your call. I’ve left a photograph of the Chateau des Alpilles above to help you decide. It’s open for non-residents for lunch with an advanced reservation.
Our afternoon activity is a visit to a wonderful little museum, dedicated to the story of the “indiennes”, the vividly colored cotton fabrics imported from the Great Indies to the port of Marseille at the end of the 16th century. These prints are a part of Provence and since 1806, they’ve been produced by my favourite French fashion house since I was a little girl. Souleaido (a brand that speaks to the French peasant girl in me), began in a sleepy town called Tarascon, and their headquarters is found in a beautiful mansion in the old streets where they’re set up a wonderful textiles museum. A visual feast tells the story of Provence and its bohemian aesthetic, with time capsule workshops and colour laboratories– you can even have a go at making your own prints. Hopefully you’ll fall in love with them as much as I did. (Open Monday-Sat, 10am-7pm).
And don’t forget to have a little wander around the silent streets of Tarascon after your museum visit. The architecture is truly stunning and untouched– or as we say in French “dans son jus“.
If you make it back to Uzès in time before the Jardin Medieval (medieval gardens) closes at 6pm, it’s well worth a quick tour prior to dinner. Set inside a part of the Duke’s old castle, this little paradise transports you to simpler times, when gardens were our pharmacies and one of the most important parts of a household. Take the narrow stairs in the King’s tower all the way to the top for a panoramic view of Uzès.
One should never leave Uzès without a dinner at Le Bèc a Vin, hidden down a tiny backstreet in the shadows. The ownership has changed hands several times over the years, but the setting is always magic on a warm Provençale evening. Call a day in advance and ask for a table in the courtyard (dans le cour).
6, rue entres les Tours / Tel:04 66 22 41 20 / Around 25 euros per head with wine.
Let’s spend the first half of Sunday … village hopping! Perhaps you might first want to have a wander around the one that raised me: Vers, just a 15 minute drive from Uzés. Have breakfast at La Grange, a café recently opened by an English ex-pat and wine-grower, on the main square, where the elderly locals play pétanques in the evening.
Next, drive through the fields over to the next village, Castillon-du-Gard; once a hilltop ghost town that rose from the ashes in the 60s to be restored and somewhat revived, with a handful of restaurants and cafés. Photo opportunities a plenty. Our third village visit is Saint-Hilaire-d’Ozilhan, where we’ll be stocking up at the local épicerie for a picnic lunch. At the heart of the town is the locals’ well-loved café and produce shop, Terra Nostrum (open until 1pm on Sundays). You can buy cold cuts, cheeses and various fresh snacks to take with you for a Sunday feast.
The plan is to lay a picnic blanket on the Gardon river, the one that runs under the Roman aqueduct, Le Pont du Gard. The monument itself and the museum and other facilities are impressive, but my best memory is swimming in the river that flows under the aqueduct. The water is perfect in the summer, cool and deeper than you expect. You can find a spot a hundred yards or so upstream from the bridge, and swim/drift with the current down near the aqueduct itself. If you’re feeling sporty, you can also find kayaking in the village further upstream in Collias. If you want to avoid the crowds of the Pont du Gard, my advice would be to park in Collias and find your spot along the river there.
After a long day by the river, back in Uzès, don’t fret about everything being closed on Sunday– Ten is a friendly restaurant under the stone arches behind the main square that will welcome you with hearty portions and fresh oysters. After dinner, take a timeless stroll via the Cathédrale Saint-Théodorit d’Uzès, under the orange glow of the streetlights, as the bells softly chime on the hour, and the cicadas sing you home.
Getting there from Paris
The Paris-Avignon TGV train takes 2h 30 minutes. You can (and probably should) pick up a rental a car from the TGV station.
Where to Stay
For a weekend, I recommend staying in a village or in a town like Uzès, arguable the most beautiful town in the whole of Provence.
Here are my top picks:
Chateau d’Arpaillargues – in the valley of Uzès, with a swimming pool.
Hotel d’Entraiges – a restored townhouse in the heart of Uzès, with a terrace pool.
This affordable Airbnb – with a back garden, on one of the most beautiful backstreets in Uzès.
Le Gardien des Anges – in the village I grew up in.