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This charismatic region has enchanted scores of artists and caused many travelers to linger for months at a time. Even if you can’t spend a year in Provence, you can still revel in its unforgettable beauty and flavor. Read these tips for helpful hints on how to get the most out of your time in this idyllic corner of France.

When to Go

September and October bring fall colors to the Provençal countryside, while hotels, B&Bs and roads become less crowded (once the summer tourists have departed). Great weather combined with moderate temperatures make autumn the perfect season for walking, biking and sightseeing. The wine harvest begins in September at the same time that village feasts and markets provide great foraging opportunities. November marks both the olive harvest and the onset of truffle-hunting season, which means the famous mushrooms will soon appear on menus and in markets.

The Michelin Star

More than 75 Provence restaurants have earned Michelin stars. Plan your trip so you can visit a few to taste the best of France.

Michelin awards excellence based on a three-star system:

  • 1 = Very good food; a good place to stop
  • 2 = Excellent food; worthy of a detour
  • 3 = Exceptional food; merits a special journey

Across a broad range of budgets and styles, stars are earned solely by what’s on the plate—food quality, consistency, technique mastery and value for money. Under a cloak of anonymity, unannounced reviewers test meals and make repeated evaluations to ensure reliability. Earning a star is seen as one of the highest honors in the industry.

Slow is Good

French cuisine is meant to be savored. Rushing through mealtimes is seen as uncouth (or, at the very least, American), and good service doesn’t necessarily mean it will be fast. A multiple-course dinner can last two hours or more. Even paying the bill may take 15 minutes. It’s just part of the French way of lingering over a meal—even more so in Provence where life is slower and the harvest superb. When planning your daily itinerary, factor in longer times and later meals (many restaurants open for dinner at 7:30 or 8 p.m.). You can also adopt the lifestyle of the locals, who tend to go out for lunch when prices are more affordable. One way to save time and money during the day is to buy food at local markets and have a picnic in a scenic spot. There’s nothing like a fresh-baked baguette for a real taste of France.

Rent a Car

To fully experience the glory of Provence, plan to rent a car while you’re there (unless you’re riding the rails). Having your own wheels will give you the flexibility to go where you want when you want—and to stop for photos, a market or a hidden gem you spot along the way. GPS and Michelin’s orange regional maps are best for navigating (pick up #527 Provence-Alps-French Riviera). You can get a GPS device with your rental car, or bring one from home loaded with European maps.

Watch speed limits, even if French drivers are zooming past. Foreign/rental cars are often tagged by speed cameras, and tickets may follow you home, even for minor infractions (such as driving 4 miles over the speed limit). The Michelin website provides an overview of the area’s gas stations, car parks, restaurants, hotels, weather and traffic.

Handmade in Provence

Provençal artisans create world-famous crafts that include candles, fabric, soap, leather, pottery and santons (clay figurines for Christmas creches). This region is also well-known for its edible products such as lavender, honey, wine, herbs and olives. Visit the sources of these products to add homegrown flavor to the souvenirs and gifts you take home. Provence artisans are often found in small villages with charming appeal—a lavender distillery in Nyons, a textile manufacturer in Saint-Etienne-du-Grès or pottery at Atelier Soleil in the town of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie.

The Most Beautiful French Towns

In 1982, Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Towns of France) was established to protect and promote the outstanding heritage of French villages. This independent, non-profit association has a mission to “reconcile villages with the future and to restore life around the fountain or in the square shaded by hundred-year-old lime and plane trees.” In essence, the organization works to preserve the marvelous French feeling of these towns and avoid a theme-park mentality or “rural exodus.” To win a spot on this list, a town must submit to a thorough evaluation process. To date, the association has honored  157 villages on its list, including 15 in Provence.

Climate & Clothing

Autumn in Provence is marked by gorgeous sunshine and bright blue skies. It also rains this time of year, so be prepared (the good news is the rain doesn’t last long). Indian summers are common in September and October. Temperatures average around the low- to mid-70s, dropping to the 60s in November. It’s a good idea to pack T-shirts, blouses, shorts, capris and skirts for the day, and long pants, long-sleeved shirts and light sweaters for evening.

Provence is not formal—one very smart-casual outfit will do the job. Dress modestly in small villages. In the upcountry hills, rain and clouds appear many afternoons, and cooler evenings and mornings are the norm. Take a jacket] or coat, and don’t forget an umbrella and walking shoes. For nicer outings, choose wedges instead of heels.

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