There are certain things that Provence, France brings to mind, like fragrant lavender fields and staggering seaside cliffs. When Go Ahead President Heidi explored the region on our Provence Walking Tour this summer, she wasn’t just in awe of the incredible scenery—she also fell in love with its amazing flavors. Here, she shares some of the top culinary experiences in store for any traveler lucky enough to visit colorful Provence.
Cuisine in Provence is as varied as its landscapes are, but the food is always characterized by bold, fresh flavors. Sage, thyme, rosemary and lavender are seasonings often sprinkled on all kinds of meat and vegetable dishes. Other typical tastes that pair perfectly with these herbs include artichokes, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and honey.
Finding the local specialty is a can’t-miss experience for me when traveling. At every destination we visited, I researched the cuisine and picked up the treats that we just had to taste. One must-try was tapenade, a delicious mixture of pureed olives with capers, garlic and olive oil that can be spread on a baguette instead of butter. Another was fougasse, a scrumptious bread baked with either savory or sweet fillings like olives, herbs or cheese. My absolute favorite dish was ratatouille, the classic Provençal meal made with stewed, fresh-from-the-garden vegetables.
Anyone who goes on tour with me quickly finds out that I have a sweet tooth! Luckily, Provence had so many options that I was able to get a different sugary treat every day. French pastries lined the windows of the many small shops in the villages and cities we visited. Everyone in my group enjoyed a taste of the traditional nougat, a soft bite made with almonds, egg whites and honey. French ice cream, la glace, is not to be missed when in Provence, especially when the weather warms up. The flavor combinations you can find are amazing—in Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, I tried honey-lavender and lemon that was artfully swirled into the shape of a rose, and it was my personal favorite!
Every morning, I loved popping into the local café for a quick espresso. It was the perfect way to start each day before we set out to explore by foot. Evenings were always the time to raise a glass. We’d sip aperitifs before meals, and then enjoy locally produced wines with our dinners. One night, we set out from Avignon to explore the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape area of the Côtes du Rhône wine region, which is known for its full-bodied reds. We stopped at a wine cellar and tasted a few of the different vintages, including whites, reds and rosés.
When traveling, I learn everything I can about the cuisine so I can bring that knowledge back home with me. Since I like to host a dinner to share the flavors of my experience with family and friends, I’m always on the lookout for authentic ingredients and a local cookbook. The markets in Provence were the perfect places to pick up French staples like baguettes, garlic, Herbes de Provence, fennel, olives and tapenade. One of the most incredible markets we visited was in Aix-en-Provence. On weekdays, merchants and farmers come together in the center of the city to sell fruits and vegetables. And on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, it expands to include an antiques market and a flower market—we were fortunate to visit on a day when we could admire all the beautiful, bright blooms.
My group never tired of all the types of scenery in Provence. Each day, we were surprised by something new: the rugged Verdon Gorge, the forested Luberon Valley, the ochre mines of Roussillon and the seaside cliffs along Cape Ferrat. Since we made our way through many of these landscapes by foot, we often rewarded ourselves by spending a few moments taking in our surroundings. After climbing to the pilgrimage site of Sainte-Baume, we enjoyed an impromptu picnic, eating some Provençal specialties, drinking rosé and singing. This is what travel is all about—exploring new destinations together and having fun, memorable experiences along the way.
I shared so many wonderful moments of discovery like these with my fellow travelers in Provence, France. What are your favorite on-tour discoveries? Let me know in the comments below or share on social media with #goaheadtours.