Provence is celebrated for its clear light and cobblestoned villages, its historic palaces and its abbeys set amid lavender fields. Yet the Provence you discover when exploring on foot is even more magical: it’s a land of tumultuous geology where colors take on a new depth and brilliance. Pastel-colored hamlets dazzle against an impossibly blue sky and golden-stone farmhouses are tucked into orchards and vineyards ripe with plump fruit. Set off through gnarled olive trees, fields of poppies, and hillsides fragrant with wild thyme to discover the true spirit of Provence. Walk through wine country, hike under the jagged ridge of Les Dentelles de Montmirail, and climb to fortresses and medieval villages deep in the Lubéron.
Meet at the train station in Avignon and transfer to our hotel in the historic city center. Nestled on the Rhône and crowned by the immense Papal Palace, Avignon is as rich in history as it is in contemporary arts. Delve into this enchanting town on foot and walk below the legendary Pont d’Avignon, originally built in the 12th century. Then gather for a welcome dinner.
Travel north to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where famous wines have been produced for more than a thousand years. Hike up to the castle and then into the endless vineyards that surround the village. Stop for a picnic amid the vines and end the walk at a wine estate where we sample excellent local vintages. A short drive then brings us to the quiet village of Mazan, located at the foot of Mont Ventoux—the highest mountain in Provence. Check in to our hotel, which once belonged to the Marquis de Sade, and enjoy some time to unwind before dinner. (6 miles hiking, 3–4 hours)
Drive to Vaison la Romaine to explore its renowned Tuesday morning market—one of the most beautiful markets in Provence. Enjoy free time to meander through the colorful stalls, discover the town’s Roman ruins, and have lunch on your own. In the afternoon, we make our way to the upper slopes of Mont Ventoux for a spectacular hike. With all of Provence at our feet, walk across verdant meadows and take in views of the entire chain of the Alps—and, with luck, encounter the elusive chamois. Following the hike, enjoy a wine and cheese tasting hosted by a master cheesemaker back at our château. (6 miles hiking, 3-4 hours)
Today’s hike begins in Gordes, one of the most spectacular of the hilltop villages in the famed Luberon mountains. Walk through a garrigue, or scrubland, of aromatic herbs on ancient cobbled paths lined with stone walls, passing centuries-old stone huts. Our trail takes us toward the 12th-century abbey Notre-Dame de Sénanque, one of the purest remaining examples of Cistercian architecture, where monks still cultivate lavender and honey. From mid-June to late-August, you may have the chance to see the monastery's lavender fields in bloom. We’re treated to a private tour of the abbey before crossing the Luberon to the picturesque village of Lourmarin. (6 miles hiking, 3–4 hours)
Starting in Bonnieux, dip down into the Calavon valley, walking through cherry orchards and past truffle-oak plantations. Our destination is Lacoste, a tight labyrinth of centuries-old homes winding up to the ruins of the castle of the Marquis de Sade. Stroll through the village and enjoy a pastis while overlooking the valley. In the afternoon, visit a local olive mill, exploring the olive groves and learning about the region’s renowned olive oils (and tasting them too). Return to Lourmarin for dinner. (5 miles hiking, 3 hours)
Follow the lush trail of the Aiguebrun river into the heart of the Lubéron. Climb up to the stunning 3,000 year-old Buoux Fort, set dizzyingly above sheer cliffs, and explore its secret passageways. Then travel to Roussillon for lunch. Radiant ochre cliffs and pinnacles buttress this hilltop town, and its houses are painted with ochre sands in a palette ranging from pale yellow to crimson. Take a stroll through the brilliant sands of an abandoned ochre quarry, and then travel west to St.-Rémy-de-Provence, a historic market town. (4 miles hiking, 3 hours)
Set out on the Van Gogh trail, examining reproductions of his works as you walk through the very landscapes they depict. From the Saint-Paul asylum where he painted “Starry Night” and “Irises,” a winding track leads us to the crest of the dramatic Alpilles mountains, where the 360° view stretches from Mont Ventoux all the way to the Mediterranean. Spend the afternoon exploring St-Rémy, from the Roman ruins of Glanum to the labyrinth of cobbled lanes filled with artists’ shops and cafés at its center. (5 miles hiking, 3 hours)
Hike from our hotel to Les Baux-de-Provence, a medieval hamlet set high on a rocky outcrop in the Alpilles. We’ll pass intimate squares and lovely terraces on our way up to the gates of the citadel. If you wish, explore the ruins of the citadel, see a collection of medieval war machines, and take in expansive views of the plains below. Return to Avignon in time for a farewell dinner. Depart the next day. (5–6 miles hiking, 3 hours)