Sabrina Moriconi, Tour Leader for ExperiencePlus!, guides us on the Walking Van Gogh’s Provence tour
Sometimes I wonder what it is that ties me to France. My father is Italian from a small Tuscan sea town. I have no French blood in me, but I did grow up speaking French at home as my mother is a francophone Belgian. Because of my parents’ work, I spent several years living in France as a young child. I have very vague memories of these years, but no doubt they left a mark on me and perhaps here is the origin of my love for France.
France is a vast country, with regions that are all very beautiful, yet very different from each other. I have sampled many of them, and several of these regions are high on my list of favorites, but my absolute favorite has always been Provence. Here I think I find the right combination of my mother’s tongue and my father’s Mediterranean blood. The warmth of the Provencal people reminds me of Tuscany, as does the vegetation, with its olive trees and umbrella pines. With ExperiencePlus! I’ve been lucky enough to lead many tours in Provence and for me, Walking Van Gogh’s Provence is the tour I regard with special favor.
Arles is a small city with enough variety to satisfy my every desire. From Roman ruins to landmarks of the Impressionist painters, from the vivid folklore of the past to today’s vibrant market life, despite its size, it’s all here. Thanks to the location on the Rhone river, Arles not only became the capital of the Roman Provincia (hence the term Provence), but also an important center of trade that connected Northern Europe, Spain (thus Africa), and Italy.
This wide range of influence is evident in the culinary traditions of Provence. The succulent codfish from the North and exotic spices from distant lands to the south are available in the markets and on menus today. A highlight of the stay in Arles for me is always the market, one of the biggest and most spectacular I have ever seen!
At Pont-de-Gard is the magnificent Roman aqueduct. This is quite a treat! After walking for several hours through little towns, vineyards, and wooded areas, there is nothing like the sudden appearance of this aqueduct! The last time I was there, a movie, set in Roman times, was being filmed. It was incredible to see all of the participants dressed in Roman garb. I really got a taste of what it might have been like years ago.
I relish spending the next two nights in the town of St Remy in the Alpilles Mountains. I love this charming town. The shopping is great and there is an exquisite chocolatier. St Remy is where Van Gogh spent his last years in the hospital. I am always moved when I visit this hospital and explore his surroundings. It is easy to understand why he painted his famous work, A Starry Night, here during his most prolific period. A walk to the nearby fortress town of Les Baux is another stirring hike.
Finally, heading for the Luberon Mountains and the Bories village near Gordes is always exciting to me. No wonder Van Gogh was taken with the sky here, as I have never seen a sky as blazing blue as that of the Luberon. It is worth waking up early just to see the sunrise.
As I walk through Provence, I absorb and taste the countryside whose language was my first tongue. I feast on the mix of unique sights and rich flavors of this region. I am never disappointed. Traveling through Provence heightens my awareness of my ties to France and my connections to the world. But most of all, I love sharing the nuances of Provence that I continue to discover.