A scenic region in the southeast, the classic French countryside of Provence boasts sleepy villages, Roman ruins, unparalleled wine tasting, spectacular dining and a rich history of inspiring artists like Cézanne, Picasso and Gauguin. From Cannes, the Mediterranean mecca for moviemakers, to the markets of Marseille, to Saint Rémy de Provence (where Van Gogh painted one of his most famous paintings, The Starry Night), there’s no shortage of celebrated places to visit. But can be Provence, France be traveled with a baby in tow? A few summer ago, my husband and I traveled to France with our then one-year-old girl. Here are some of the top places to travel through Provence, France with a baby.
Like any good travel blogger, I’d done my homework before my trip. I studied Van Gogh’s sunflowers, researched Chateauneuf du Pape wine tours and read “A Year in Provence,” Peter Mayle’s amusing tale of a bumbling expat fumbling his way through France. I’d planned to drive from the vineyards of Avignon to the lavender farms of Sault, from Tourrettes, a perched village overlooking the Alps and Gourdon, a town with sweeping vistas directly above the Loup River that served as a backdrop for Hitchcock’s 1955 “To Catch a Thief.” After all, just because we had a baby didn’t mean I shouldn’t indulge in a little art appreciation. Right? So we packed up the family, our daughter – little Miss P, my husband and myself.
While the “Super Tourist” in me wanted to see it all, I quickly realized that my cram-it-all-in-wham-bam itinerary was more suffocating than satisfying. Add a kid to the mix and there was just no way I could see it all. Speeding through the South of France was akin to rushing through a 10-course Michelin-starred meal. True enjoyment, required a languid pace, giving oneself time to experience, relish and reflect. I vowed to give up on my carefully planed itinerary, let loose and embrace a “French Slow” lifestyle.
Best Things To Do in Les Baux-de-Provence with a Baby:
One of our family favorites with . Set against a backdrop of the Alpilles mountain range, the medieval town of Les Baux-de-Provence has a rich history dating back some eleven centuries.
Strolling though the maze-like cobblestone streets of this fortified city, visitors will find outstanding relics of medieval and Renaissance architecture. One key historic spot to visit is Château des Baux, a cliff top castle teetering on a limestone outcrop. Joining a guided tour of the site gives you a glimpse into medieval life, everything from the era’s social hierarchy to the weapons and defense structures. At Château des Baux, you can walk among crumbling towers, climb ruins, descend into dungeons and wield plastic swords found in the gift shop. Older kids will love the life-sized reproductions of catapults and wartime paraphernalia. Our baby was more interested in putting flowers in her mouth rather than the history but once she’s old enough, we’ll be sure to hit the Tourist Office, since it offers a treasure hunt (children 4-6 years and 7-10 years) allowing them to discover the village in a fun way. Beyond the history lesson, this spot also guarantees sweeping panorama views over the vineyards and olive trees of the southern plains.
At every turn, the rocky vertical village of Les Baux-de-Provence oozes charm. Steps are lined with terracotta pots and bright red flowers; fragrant bouquets of freshly cut lavender decorate window sills; local nougat vendors sell their artisanal treats alfresco with smells of sweet apricot, salted caramel and Nutella wafting in the air. Our baby will always be able to gloat that she tried (and can’t remember) one of her first sorbets in Provence, France.
Next spot on the tourist hit list was Carrières de Lumières. This unique multimedia art show in the old quarry projects images of famous Renaissance art onto walls and pillars carved out of the mountain. There’s nothing quite like seeing the master works of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphaël towering high on slabs of rock. Check out Carrières de Lumières for the latest art show and know that kids under 7 are free.
Having worked up an appetite sightseeing, our family ventured downhill, along the steep streets to L’Oustau de Baumanière, a 5-star luxury hotel located at the foot of the village of Les Baux-de-Provence. The goal? Lunch. Although what we ended up experiencing was more of a life-changing gastronomic experience.
Fine cuisine at L’Oustau de Baumanière
Nestled in a valley among jagged rocks and Cypress trees as tall as Corinthian columns, L’Oustau de Baumanière is a hotel with some 30 suites, a spa and a two-Michelin star fine dining restaurant known for serving up some of the best food in the region. Family owned for the past 70 years, L’Oustau de Baumanière has seen some very famous guests over the years, from the likes of Queen Elizabeth, to Bono, Hugh Grant and Johnny Depp. But on this particular day, it was just little ‘ol me. Tummy grumbling on the hunt for tasty treats, I’d found myself at the historic Baumanière not knowing what to expect.
My menu favorites included: the Mediterranean red mullet with sundried tomato confit, fresh farmhouse goat cheese, fish jus scented with savory; the “Chair de ‘Dormeur,’ a King crab dish with raw beef, sheep farmhouse yogurt with caviar lemon and ginger; the classic “Millefeuille” dessert in the Baumanière tradition, done with light Tahitian vanilla cream, pistachio florentine and frozen sea salt caramel. Humbling.
Fine cuisine at L’Oustau de Baumanière
Our one year old daughter, new to solid foods, was amazingly amenable to this Michelin star meal. She ate with furor, sampling new tastes and textures. My husband and I worried that this would perhaps spoil her; setting a palate precedent that Mom (with my banana mash and pea purees) could never live up to. While many restaurants might turn their noses up at hosting a wild, food-throwing intact, L’Oustau de Baumanière was very accommodating, providing a high chair and several simple dishes she could enjoy.
Between managing our little foodie, I found a few moments to enjoy my own meal. My palate is not accustomed to the decadence of Michelin starred restaurants. Each bite had surprising flavors, complex combinations, welcoming aromas, zests and tangs that were a real treat for the taste buds. My senses were buzzing, awakened by ingredients so fresh they tasted as if they were recently plucked and traveled straight from dirt to table. Chef Jean-André Charial favors a classic style of cuisine, rooted in the local produce of Provence, with vegetables grown in his own organic garden.
For those foodies who dream of putting on the apron and joining the ranks of celebrity chefs, L’Oustau de Baumanière offers regular cooking classes that share the tricks of the trade. For wine lovers, there are also oenology classes, where guests can learn about the perfect wine pairing. Classes take place in a unique learning environment, their famed wine cellar (one of the largest private cellars in France, stocked with some sixty thousand bottles of wine and best vintages from the region). Beautiful food in a beautiful setting that will most certainly spoil your baby.
Best Places to Stay in Avignon France With a Baby:
Next, a visit to the medieval walled city of Avignon on the south bank of the Rhone River.
My days were spent visiting the 14th century Gothic-style Palais des Papes, browsing bookshops along Rue des Teinturiers, sampling treats from the vendors at the covered food market Les Halles, drinking lattes at one of the many bustling cafe terraces.
La Prieure, a charming boutique hotel in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon
Walking along the old winding streets within the protective walls, I kept an eye open for one of the many trompe-l’œil (an optical illusion art technique) frescoes that decorate building facades. Since most of these old, European cities seem to have cobblestones, strollers are a bit of a bumpy ride. For shorter day excursions I always wore my Ergobaby carrier. While there are a ton of different styles, weights and fabrics of carriers out there on the market, the Ergo baby is a classic workhorse that gets the job done. My daughter loved being in the Ergo, plus I didn’t have to worry about navigating the narrow city streets stroller in tow. For those longer day activities, times I didn’t want to wear her all day and kill my back, I absolutely relied on having a travel stroller. On this trip, I brought my red BumbleRide stroller (the Flite model) which was great light-weight travel option, far more durable than an umbrella travel stroller. Plus we were able to clip in the carseat (with a car seat adaptor attachment) so that made it very versatile for days that included driving.
So back to strolling along the streets of Avignon with baby. For hardcore art lovers, Avignon has a wide selection of museums and galleries with renown collections, among them: The Angladon Museum showcasing world-famous artists including Cezanne, Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh; The Calvet Museum, set in an 18th-century mansion specializing in French Baroque art; The Petit Palais, devoted to Italian painting and Avignon art from the Middle Ages and The Collection Lambert, a contemporary art museum. Our daughter Miss P. seemed to love the art, toddling around the priceless pieces with careless abandon. You can never start art appreciation too young, I say.
Around nap time, after a few hours worth of exploring, we found refuge and relaxation at Le Prieuré a charming boutique hotel in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon. This former 14th-century priory turned luxury Relais & Chateaux property boasts some 25 rooms and 13 suites, a walled garden with fragrant wisteria and terraces overlooking a swimming pool. Their award-winning restaurant serves up mouthwatering cuisine with regional dishes such as duck foie gras with Gariguette strawberries and pot-roasted Costières wood pigeon with fresh sage. Le Prieuré is a lovely hotel choice for those travelers who are looking for refined, elegant service in casual garden setting. Baby in arms we enjoyed strolling the ground, exploring their lavender-filled garden. The hotel provided a basic crib and bedding. A paranoid mom at times, I made sure to sweep the room and baby-proof upon arrival. That priceless antique vase? I think we should move that. Those death trap phone cords? I’ll take those. Packing a baby proofing travel kit (complete with plugs for electrical outlets and corner edge protectors for sharp corner) can save your sanity.
A successful journey through Provence means embracing the “French Slow” lifestyle, leaving time to soak up the charm, culture and ubiquitous romance that wafts across the countryside.