Château Comtal – the heart of the medieval fortified city – access isn’t free, but it’s definitely worth paying the entrance fee as this is the only way to enjoy a stroll along its amazing ramparts. The deeply historic Basilica Saint-Nazaire (once the main cathedral serving both of Carcassonne’s twin towns – La Cité and La Bastide) and wonder at the enormous rose windows and weird and wonderful gargoyles. Église Saint-Vincent – designed in the 13th century in the Languedoc-Gothic style with an impressive 23.5-metre-high vaulted roof. Climbing the 54-metre-high octagonal bell tower’s 234 steps will lead you past its 47 bells and to Carcassonne’s highest point for breathaking views of the entire city. The statue of Lady Carcas (inspiration for the naming of Carcassonne) – legend has it she outwitted an attack on the city by Charlemagne by convincing him the city was stronger than it actually was, leading to his retreat.
La Barbacane at Hôtel de la Cité (the only Michelin-star restaurant within the city walls), where Chef Jérôme Ryon creates beautifully presented but not overly fussy traditional French dishes. A great choice for a leisurely lunch or romantic dinner, accompanied by enchanting panoramic views.
Stay: Hôtel de la Cité Carcassonne – MGALLERY by Sofitel (3 nights)
||Carcassonne to Gordes
Drive Time: 3 hours, 5 minutes | Distance: 192 miles
One of just three gorgeous Romanesque abbeys founded in Provence by the Cistercians, the sublime Sénanque Abbey and its solitary, lavender-surrounded setting is one of the region’s most photographed sights. Being a working abbey, visitor numbers are tightly-controlled for a truly serene experience. (Visit the Abbey Shop and purchase honey and lavender produced on-site by the resident monks). Continuing on with the violet vibe, head to Coustellet’s Musée de la Lavande and journey straight to the heart of the universe of true lavender – a lively, instructive and fun experience, with films, unique collections, and interactive events. Nestled on a low mountain in the Vaucluse, the ancient Village des Bories (curious beehive-shaped drystone huts, built in the Bronze Age, inhabited by shepherds until 1839, and then abandoned until being restored in 1970) offers a fascinating account of life in Provence, from far-off times to the present day. Visit early morning or just before sunset for the best light. A marvellous rural museum two miles from Gordes, Moulin des Bouillons has bragging rights to a perfectly preserved animal-powered olive oil mill and its 10-metre-long, seven-tonne Gallo-Roman press which dates back to the 16th century (supposedly the world’s oldest).
You are cordially invited to experience an epic culinary journey at innovative, triple Michelin-starred chef Pierre Gagnaire’s Pèir at La Bastide de Gordes – an intimate dining experience with just eight tables that celebrates everything great about Provençal fare.
Stay: La Bastide du Gordes (3 nights)
||Gordes to Saint-Paul-de-Vence
Drive Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes | Distance: 151 miles
As adorable as it is tiny (just ask the likes of Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse – just two of the many arty types seduced by the atmosphere, landscapes and light over the years), it doesn’t take long to explore quaint Saint-Paul-de-Vence’s labyrinthine cobblestone streets. Dotted with elegant fountains, vine-covered stone ramparts and statues tucked into the walls, you’ll come across a host of art galleries, boutiques, and pavement cafés; and fall in love with the breathtaking mountain and Mediterranean backdrops. Just outside the village, the Maeght Foundation’s museum and gardens are a must if you’re interested in contemporary modern art, with almost 9000 works of art from Miro, Leger, Braque and Giacometti and more. And just 40 minutes’ drive away is Grasse, a perfume town since the 17th century, where over two million tourists annually come to visit the Fragonard perfume museum and factory outlet.
Feast on Provençal specialties and timeless French classics in the company of master painters: Picasso, Chagalle, Léger, Matisse et al at La Colombe d'Or on the Place du General de Gaulle.
Stay: Le Saint Paul (2 nights)
||Saint-Paul-de-Vence to St Tropez
Drive Time: 1 hour, 35 miles | Distance: 66 miles
St Tropez is the place for soaking up the best of the French Riviera’s sun, sand and beautiful scenery, its multitude of art, museums and parks, not to mention the round-the-clock wining, dining and dancing scene… with something to seduce everyone. Entwined with the explosive popularity of St Tropez, Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach was the very first of its kind and said to be Bridget Bardot’s favourite. Today it’s still the sexiest and classiest beach club here, with simple-yet-gourmet cuisine that’s hotter than ever after 60-plus years, and a guest list that frequently drops the biggest names around. Nearly 50 and just as fabulous, St Tropez’s crown jewel of disco – the glitzy, glamorous Les Caves du Roy – has lost none of its panache or electric ambiance. Champagne remains the drink of choice, and superstar resident DJ Jack-E mixes music for its flashbulb-popping, celebrity-rich clientele. Open from late June to early September each year, it’s champagne, celebrities and one wild party at The VIP Room Bar & Nightclub: Jean Roch's legendary dance institution in the centre of the St Tropez, heralded by Karl Lagerfeld as the ‘best club in the world’ and – like Les Caves du Roy and Club 55 – seems to defy age and time. Perfect for breakfast, lunch, an aperitif or late evening cocktails (when the atmosphere transforms from a quaint seaside café to a happening bar with a party atmosphere that carries on well into the night), Bar du Port is perfect for all ages, open year-round, and not excessively expensive.
Fancy a break from the glittering nightlife? Then look no further than the idyllic L’Auberge des Maures – St Tropez’s oldest restaurant tucked into a quaint narrow street near the harbour. Locals (and those in the know) head here for copious amounts of authentic Provençal specialities. Book a table on the leafy, vintage-vine-covered terrace come summer.
Stay: La Réserve Ramatuelle (4 nights)
||Depart St Tropez
||12 nights from £2795 per person, including accommodation, economy flights, breakfast and car hire.