No Such Thing as a Free Lunch? Try This in France…

For grilled squid, lavender ice cream, and a glass of chilled local white wine, I know a waterfront terrace restaurant at Cassis that’s perfect. Whether it’s sea bass, red mullet, clams, langoustines or anything else Mediterranean you can think of, the catch here is as fresh as it gets—it will have been landed this morning. West of St Tropez, Cassis is a gorgeous little seaside town with a castle, vineyards and half-moon harbor set on an unhyped stretch of the French Riviera.

Then again, that spread of charcuterie, garlicky rabbit, and pear tart at Villars sur Var washed down with a carafe of rosé was hard to beat. As everything is seasonal, I can’t tell you the lunch special for today. But you’ll love it—the food is slow-cooked and traditional, and tables are set under shady plane trees on the village square with its prettily-tinkling fountain. Beyond, the streets shadow into a miniature medieval world of vaulted passageways. In a blossomy valley north of Nice, Villars delivers a taste of Provence without the crowds.

But we can put up with crowds when a city is as dreamy as Avignon. On the river Rhone and encircled by medieval ramparts, Avignon is a cultural and culinary treasure house. The imposing Papal Palace…St Benezet’s Bridge, the Pont d’Avignon of nursery rhyme fame…art galleries, musicians and street theater. Oh, and I want to take you back to my favorite courtyard restaurant so you can try duck breast with asparagus, rhum baba and a robust Chateauneuf du Pape red. (Don’t worry about the cost—someone else is paying for it.)

When I’m speaking at IL conferences—as I will be next month in Las Vegas—I’m often asked about my favorite place in the world…it’s almost impossible to come up with an answer.

But on a country selection, France would be up there in the top three for me. If judging by the pleasures of the table alone, it’s at the very top of the list. And if you’re then forcing me to choose a French region, it has to be sweetly-scented Provence.

In France’s sun-drenched south, Provence is blessed with every good thing that you could ever think of—olive groves, sunflowers and lavender fields…seascapes, beaches, and fishing ports… outdoor markets…Roman ruins and medieval wanderings…art trails and art towns where the menfolk play boules late into the starlit evening…wine villages covered in wisteria and perched villages clinging like limpets to the alpine foothills…the fascinating cities of Nice, Marseille, Avignon, Arles, and Aix-en-Provence (home to the most sensuous food market I’ve ever visited).

If you’ve never been to Provence, you really are missing out. But even leaving aside the expense, the drawback is that the region has so many facets, it’s impossible to uncover a fraction of its delights during a short vacation. From the Rhone to the Italian border, from the mountains to the Mediterranean, there are dozens of towns and villages to distract you with their beauty, history, and stories. You’ll yearn to come back again and again.

Anyone can take a vacation to a wonderful region like Provence…but I don’t have to wait for a vacation. In fact, I get invited to explore this fascinating world, meet interesting people, and experience new cultures in my job as a travel writer.

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