January 27th 2023
Traveler: Kevin Clark
Destination: Provence, France
Kevin Clark recounts a trip of a lifetime he took with his wife in 2019 when he combined his love of soccer with a journey through the historic region of Provence, France.
My wife, Lynn, and I had the good fortune to travel to France in July 2019. Friends of ours unexpectedly had two extra tickets to the semifinals and finals of the Women’s World Cup, and we leapt at the opportunity to cheer on the US Women’s National Team. And while there, of course, we had to go exploring, taking in the beauty, culture, and cuisine in France.
The World Cup semi- and finals games were hosted in Parc Olympique, the main soccer stadium in Lyon, where we stayed the nights of the games. Lyon was a wonderful host city, and we had opportunities to explore during the day. Since the semi-finals and finals games were spaced out to give the teams time to prepare, this gave us the chance to rent a very small stick shift Citroen and explore the area – first stop, Villeneuve-les-Avignon:
After a two-and-half hour drive south, on the A7, we arrived at our homebase between soccer games – Villeneuve-les-Avignon, a town which was the perfect size and pace for a quiet getaway.
Dinner at Le Prieure in Villenueve-les-Avignon is not to be missed. This Michelin star restaurant features fresh and in-season local food, which pairs well with wine from the neighboring region like Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Bandol. Dinner is best enjoyed on the wisteria and jasmine-draped terrace, overlooking the gardens of the priory grounds.
Thankfully, my wife is a perfect travel partner and we always seem to have similar goals for our trips – a healthy mix of relaxation and exploration. So, after a bit of time by the pool, and a glass of rosé in the garden, we hopped in our car and headed out to explore the Luberon Valley:
The Luberon is a region in the northwest corner of the legendary Provence, home to countless idyllic villages, extraordinary food and wine, rolling hills of lavender and sunflowers, and postcard moments at every turn – who wouldn’t love visiting here!
Our first stop was lunch at Les Ramparts, located in the charming village of Venasque, which has broad views of the valley below. La Campagnarde salade, paired with a rosé from Tavel, fed our immediate needs, while the restaurant-wide bank of windows provided a feast for the eyes of the stunning Provencal landscape.
Another stop of note is Roussillon, with its stunning ochre-colored buildings, dating back to the 11th century:
Driving past the ochre cliffs and outcroppings on the way up to the village, you see why the buildings have such distinct coloring. With the prevalence of limestone throughout Provence, Roussillon’s consistent ochre hues provide a respite from the buff and beige of the region’s villages. The village’s topography creates interesting moments, looking over the square from a road above, or grabbing a cocktail or gelato from a sunken sidewalk café.
If you have time, head towards Gordes, where there are two worthwhile sites to see. The Village des Bories, featuring beautiful dry-stack buildings from the 17th century, and the Abbey of Notre Dame de Senanque, a 12th century monastery set in a lavender field.
The villages of the region may be similar in their form, but each had a unique quality and identity. The diversity of the region was breathtaking, making for a memorable visit.