Summer Road Trip in the South of France

Patricia Sands

It’s summer! I love taking a drive to follow winding roads in the south of France. Let me be clear … I love to hop in the car and have someone else drive. That way I can take photos all along the route. Jump in and come along with us!

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First, we’ll pass through the Bouches du Rhône department along tree-lined secondary roads to our first destination:  Arles. The remains of the region’s glorious Roman civilization of 2000 years ago are still very much a part of the community.

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Ancient, intriguing Arles on the banks of the Rhône. The Ligurians were here in 800 BC, followed by the Phoenicians who developed an important trading port. The Romans took the town in 123 BC. A rich and colourful history followed through the centuries. The Roman and Romanesque monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1981.

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Concerts and festivals fill the seats today as they once did in ancient times.

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The medieval 16thC old town has a comfortable mix of hotels, shops, restaurants and family life. Narrow streets make driving a challenge and most are accessible only to residents.

Vincent van Gogh lived in Arles from 1888 to 1889 and produced over 300 paintings and drawings during that time. His spirit lives throughout the town and at the moment the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh has an excellent exhibit of 31 of his paintings.

Staying on the outskirts, we catch a quick view of the newest excitement in the town.  Internationally renowned architect, Frank Gehry is contributing to the fusion of modernity and antiquity in Arles with his latest project for the Luma Foundation. It is slated for completion in 2018.

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We make a quick detour south through the intriguing wetlands to the south of the town, the Camargue. a unique, marshy triangular river delta, famous for its white horses, black bulls, pink flamingoes and salt.

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The remarkable Aigues-Mortes, a medieval walled town is also located there. Click on that link for some excellent photos of the town.

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Heading north again, we drive through the picturesque Alpilles (small Alps) region.

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Our next stop is the charming and very popular Saint-Remy de Provence.

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After a pause for a cool drink on the terrace in front of the Mairie, let’s carry on through the undulating countryside. Fields of sunflowers and lavender alternate with vineyards and olive groves. It’s a rich time of year and every sense is on high alert!

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Let’s be impulsive! How about an unscheduled stop in the tranquil village of Eygalières … and … bonus (!) … it’s market day. We’ll pick up something delicious for lunch and carry on. This is part of the fun of road trips!

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IMG_3455Now on we go! In the hot Provençal summers, these shaded roads provided relief in the centuries before air-conditioning. Today they add a picturesque and romantic atmosphere to the drive.

Turning up into the rocky outcroppings once more, we catch a glimpse of the hilltop village of Les Baux de Provence. Ruins of the medevil castle dominate and offer a spectacular panoramic view to those who venture up to the top. For today, that’s not us.

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Before heading south, we’ll make one last stop to purchase local products. Honey, lavender and olive oil can all be found at independent cottage farms such as this.

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It’s time to let the GPS guide us along and settle back for a two-hour drive to the Côte d’Azur.

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We catch our first glimpse of the shimmering Mediterranean as we look down over the popular village of Saint-Paul de Vence.

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Irresistible! We’ll make one more stop before we reach our destination. After all this time in the car, a stroll and an ice cream treat under those red umbrellas will be just the ticket!

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Finally, 30 minutes further down the road to the coast and there it is, La Grande Bleue … the sparkling Mediterranean. We are home.

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Are you planning a road trip this summer? I wish you a bon voyage if you do!

Click here for information on these villages and more in Provence and on the Riviera.

Patricia is a writer whose heart remains in the south of France no matter where else she may be. Her 2013 novel, The Promise of Provence, has spawned the Love In Provence series, her love letter to France. She writes about and shares her photography of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur regularly at http://patriciasandsauthor.com. Find Patricia at her Amazon or Facebook Author Page or her popular Instagram gallery @patricialsands.

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