Provence is quite a large area stretching from north of Monaco right across to the west of Arles, and dotted throughout the countryside are hundreds of pretty villages, steeped in history and many lovely vineyards and olive mills. The opportunities to enjoy an atmospheric visit to an ancient village and partake of a glass of the local rose or perhaps a pastis in a leafy square in the warm summer sunshine must be one of the most evocative sensations one can ever experience.
The villages nearer Cannes and Monte Carlo tend to be much more sophisticated than the villages in the Var, north of St Tropez and out towards the Carmargue. Valbonne stands out amongst these, with its 12th century square surrounded by restaurants and cafe’s, and with no cars allowed after mid day makes this one of the most sought after holiday and second home locations in the whole of Provence, a fact borne out by the prices of property in the village. There is a huge ex pat community here due to the proximity of several international schools and the French version of Silicon Valley at nearby Sophia Antipolis.
But if you want solitude and to commune with nature, do some hiking and be far from the crowds, then head into the northern and eastern parts of Provence where you will find dozens of quiet hamlets, all with their own charm and story to tell.
Maillane for instance is at the centre of the olive oil trade with still a number of working olive mills and of course a countryside covered in olive trees, a particularly attractive tree that can live for thousands of years. Indeed the oldest ones were probably producing olives in Roman times. Eyragues, Maubec and Lorges are all very pretty villages and St Vallier de Thiey north of Grasse is one of any number of villages perched on the hills that offer fantastic panoramic views across to the Mediterranean and even as far as Corsica on a clear day.
Bormes les Mimosas in late January and February is at the centre of the Mimosa Trail. The mimosa is a flowering shrub which lights up the Provencal coastal hills in early spring with its distinctive and bright and cheery flowers, which are so popular that a Mimosa trail has become established which runs for scores of miles along the hillsides.
The staggering beauty of the Loup river, best appreciated from Bar Sur Loup where the waters rush from the snow fields above and cascade down towards the sea. Gurdon with its terrific views and lovely old preserved village, and Eze, with is breathtaking cows nest restaurants clinging to the side of the hillside thousands of feet above the sea. The whole Var area is wild and sometimes windy when the Mistral blows, hot in summer, cold in winter, but the beauty of the wild landscape cannot be underestimated, it has inspired artists for centuries. The wine region of the Var also produces an amazing range of wonderful wines, mainly rose, which is cheap and vastly underestimated.
In order fully to appreciate the area, the best option is to consider renting a private villa. These often come with great views, nice gardens and great views and can be so much more relaxing that spending time in a hotel. A private swimming pool is a luxury you can afford, even in high season. there is a massive range of property available and an array of agencies who will arrange and look after the rental details for you, some of them are even English, but most speak English anyway.
Provence is easily reachable by car from Nice airport, which has flights to at least 8 UK destinations and most European centres, but Marseilles and Toulon airports are both possible.