I absolutely adore France and have always thought the French lifestyle is hard to beat. When I think of France I immediately reminisce about my many happy family holidays in the Ile de Re - which my pug Bogart has told you all about. I've heard countless times how fabulous Provence is, but never had the chance to visit - until now.
I only had three precious days in Provence, which flew by far too fast. Staying in a beautiful village a few miles north of Avignon, I am already dreaming of my next visit. Here is my must-try list of things to do, see, and eat whilst enjoying an idyllic getaway in Provence.
Relax in style
I was fortunate enough to stay at the gorgeous Crillon le Brave, which I cannot recommend more highly. I am a bit biased, as I look after the PR for the hotel, but this is the place to do as much or as little as you like, whilst staying in a plush haven of unspoilt luxury.
Picture spacious gorgeously furnished rooms with delicate French touches. Plop on the plush sofa in the communal bar area, and you are suddenly transported into the pages of World of Interiors Magazine.
There is a charming church next door to the hotel in case you want to get hitched and have an intimate French wedding.
Feast your eyes on Crillon le Brave's miniature version of the gardens of Versailles...
... after all, the scenic views from this hotel are beyond stunning.
Did I mention there is a gorgeous aqua blue swimming pool in the midst of all this?
I saw this glorious piscine (French for pool, get with it!) and immediately knew where I would be spending as much time as possible soaking up needed rays.
Crillon le Brave will take very good care of you, and will not disappoint. I'm already mentally planning a future visit - mom, do you want to come with me now or what?
France is for lovers, fashionistas, and foodies. Who knows how on earth French women eat delicious French food all the time and stay so slim - it is a mystery a lot of us would like to know! I ate A LOT during my time in Provence, but the most memorable dishes that I tried in Crillon le Brave's fantastic two restaurants were:
Semi-cooked fois gras with strawberries, preserved rhubarb, and home-made brioche. I would definitely not get bored eating this every day.
A citron flavoured ice lemon mousse, which was lighter than Alexa Chung, but packed with zingy flavour; accompanied by citrus fruit jelly and ginger apricots, arranged like an exquisite edible piece of art.
This was possibly the best tuna tartare I have ever had - super fresh tuna with mango, hints of ginger, topped with a balsamic glaze. I am desperate to attempt to re-create this pure heaven on a plate, but know my version will not be nearly so good!
A tender plump rump steak in a French red wine sauce with fresh local veggies. Hearty, delicious, and oh so satisfying.
I think one of the reasons why I love French food so much is because the French have absolutely perfected the basics. A cup of strong espresso paired with a fresh bite-size brioche is simple, yet the ideal afternoon pick-me-up.
Don't even get me started on my love for French baguettes. It actually makes me cringe imagining visiting France on the Atkins diet, knowing you wouldn't be able to sink your teeth into the fresh, dough-filled, savoury goodness. In my opinion, French bread is the best bread on the planet. (Can you tell I like French baguettes or what?!).
I'm sure it doesn't come as too big of a surprise to hear that the cheese in France is pretty hard to beat. Forget about the calories and indulge yourself with a proper Provençal cheese tasting. Treat your taste buds to the local varieties of sheep, cow, and goat cheese - the more the merrier I say!
Only the French would be able to wrap a cheese in leaves and make it look tres chic. I'm going to try adorning a cheese plate with shrubbery and flowers at my next dinner party in hopes of it looking like this.
Take your cheese tasting to the next level with local truffle honey. Just a dab of truffle honey on top of your cheese will delight the senses. It's amazing how easy it is to work your way through a jar of this goodness - must be why it's a delicacy!
Contrary to what most Italians say, white and black truffles can be found in France, and there is a prominent truffle area in Provence. Upon hearing this, I knew that I had to find some - even though I wouldn't really know what a truffle looked like if I was hit in the face by one! So I followed a truffle hunter and his dog into the woods to sniff out this tasty fungi.
I know she looks like the distant cousin of your childhood favourite, Lassie, but this collie dog is a trained truffle hunter. From a very young age, this dog has been fed and trained with truffles, so she is well acquainted with the scent. It was amazing how fast the process took. I was envisioning myself getting dehydrated in the sunny woods of Provence following a dog on a truffle hunting goose chase. Contrary to my imagination, within minutes the collie started to paw at the dirt and prod her nose into the ground on a specific spot.
At first I couldn't tell exactly what the dog was looking at and started to question her eye sight.
To me, this looked like just another rock in the ground covered with dirt. You too?
But once you turn it over, voilà, you have yourself a pretty hunk of truffle. Here is what it looks like up close and personal:
You can use your truffle in the kitchen to project some pizzaz into a risotto, pasta, or even a pizza! Apparently truffles are an aphrodisiac, so why not have that special someone over for a memorable supper doused in truffle oil?
Wine has been made in Provence ever since the ancient Greeks founded the city of Marseilles over 2,600 years ago in 600 BC, so you can imagine there are some pretty serious vineyards in the area worth exploring.
The Provençal speciality is a gorgeous light pink coloured rosé wine. It's a bit too easy to drink glass after glass of this refreshing wine on a hot summer's day. Rosé is my go-to wine of the summer, so I felt right at home in Provence, where everyone has wine with lunch and dinner - naturally!
Full-bodied red wines from Provence are also highly regarded, so a wine tasting is necessary to ensure you taste the best of what the region has to offer.
As you can see, my friends and I were rather good at that!
If wine isn't your thing (if that is even possible), then try the local specialty drink, Pastis, which is an anise-flavoured French liqueur and apéritif. This drink tastes like black liquorice, so I was immediately not a fan. The locals assured me I was seriously missing out though, so if you like liquorice, then drink up! Remember to dilute the mixture first or you will be flat on your face before you can say cheers.
Take a bit of exercise - Provence style
In case you ever do drag yourself away from the beautiful Crillon le Brave swimming pool, there are many lovely walks and cycle rides in the area boasting picture-perfect views.
|The hills are alive, with the sound of Provence... la la la laaa|
I was focusing so hard on not falling off my bike down the steep hills that I failed to take a picture of myself cycling to prove I really did whiz around Provence on two wheels. Many serious cyclists come to this area to cycle up Mont Ventoux, which is apparently amazing.
Having grown up in California, I was immediately drawn to this French version of the California Poppy. The flowers were in full bloom during my visit, so I highly recommend seeing as much of the wildlife as possible over a long walk or brisk run, to help work off all that cheese!
Of course, you could be frightfully French and play a game of Boules, where the object is to throw a heavy metal ball and have it land as close as possible to a smaller target ball. I find this game a bit monotonous, so I would recommend playing Boules like the locals do, with a cigar in mouth or stiff drink in hand.