If you have dreamt of walking though fields of lavender, then Apt is the perfect base to do this. About 1 ½ hours drive north from Marseille airport, Apt is a market town in the heart of Provence. Although not especially pretty, it is perfectly located to visit other wonderful sights – the perched villages of Roussillon, Menerbes and Gordes, wineries with grand, old chateaus and best of all, vast fields of lavender in every direction. Even my reluctant husband and brother drank in the scent! On a practical note, Apt has three supermarkets to stock up with provisions. We also stumbled upon a fantastic restaurant, Chez Nous and enjoyed sublime food, charming service and great value at 28 Euros for three courses. In the middle of July, we may not have been on the Riviera but there were so few crowds! We hired a villa with a pool, with stunning views of the hills surrounding the town. The market in Apt on Saturdays transformed the town, with its colour and perfumes and enabled us to bring back memories of a special Provencal holiday.
Chez Nous, 87-93 rue de la republique, 84400 Apt, France
Google map: bit.ly/Prob1f
L'Isle sur la Sorgue is a pretty town built around the river Sorgue, it’s a colourful place filled with flowers. The town is a haven for antique lovers with 300 specialist shops; from gold laden cherubs to rusty horseshoes, there is something for everyone. Irresistible deli’s sell fresh bread and local produce – great for a picnic on the riverside.
Google map: bit.ly/ONuKil
Saint-Paul de Vence is a picturesque village perched on top of a hill, the little streets are filled with quaint shops selling homemade soaps and lavender from the nearby Abbey Senanque. There are fantastic restaurants on every corner, sit outside among the fragrant flowers and enjoy the local cuisine then visit the Fondation Maeght art gallery; striking pieces set in beautiful gardens.
A delightful little B&B (only three rooms), the decor is superb (we stayed for an extended weekend in the Suite Framboise, meaning the Raspberry Suite!) with breakfast on the sunny private terrace. The hosts are really lovely and can tell you a thing or two about antiques and collectables, which was very handy as we came down to Provence also to look at antiques for our house back in England. A really lovely place to stay and not too expensive as I recall.
Grotte des Demoiselles is an amazing network of underground caves near Provence and the Cevennes National Park. Reached by a small funicular railway, the caves can only be explored in small groups with a guide. The spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, some of which are four or five stories high, are simply out of this world. The largest cave made me go weak at the knees with vertigo so be prepared! The caves were fitted with pathways, staircases and stone balustrades in the 1930s which add to the experience - I was constantly reminded of the optical illusions of Escher (the never ending staircase!).
If you can ignore the obligatory tackiness of the visitors centre/cafe, tune out the prattle of the guide and simply admire the natural beauty of this place then you'll be sure to enjoy these grottos.
Price wise it was a little steep (c. £10 each) but the group sizes were small and it didn't seem too busy (we went in late June).
I can't help thinking if this was somewhere a little more accessible it would be deemed a natural wonder.
Send your feedback or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org