Travellers with gourmet inclinations and curious food lovers, take note: Provence offers year-round treasures for the palate. When the gastronomically inclined think of the French region, their minds tend to fill with the heady, rich flavours of olive oil and black truffle, or call up the delicate scent and taste of fresh lavender and saffron, both cultivated in the area. The diverse region, which stretches from rolling inland farmland and poetic, rocky landscapes to breathtaking coastlines, also offers a generous number of traditional gourmet markets, renowned winemakers and prestigious restaurants, meaning the possibilities for luxury Provence food tours are nearly endless. Every season offers its own particular flavours, scents and marvellous gastronomic experiences, too, as we detail in what follows. However your taste buds may be calling you to explore this mythical and varied region, considering a bespoke excursion guarantees you’ll taste the very best it has to offer. Don’t hesitate to get in touch so we can begin designing the perfect culinary adventure for you.
Provence Food Tours: A Season-by-Season Guide
..Luxurious & Delicious Discoveries Await
Spring: Gourmet Markets, Fresh Produce, Superb Tables
During the spring months, Provence bursts into both colour and delicious flavours. This is an ideal time for exploring many of the region’s traditional outdoor markets: enjoy the more clement temperatures as you stroll by vibrant market stalls, overflowing with seasonal delights such as tender green or white asparagus, purple artichokes, sweet spring carrots, the year’s first strawberries, and Provencal violets, the latter of which are often used to delicately flavour creamy desserts. Provencal cheeses are also on full display and ready to leave your palate marvelled: from goat’s cheese with delicate fig to the hearty Banon and the creamy, rich Tomme de Valdeblore, there are so many delicious fromages to try, you may not know where to start. Taking a cheese tour is a good way to home in on the best ones.
Make no mistake: one of the most authentic ways you can encounter France’s wonderful culinary traditions is by touring its superb markets with an in-the-know private guide. They will decrypt the customs, sensations and even the traditional market cries you hear as you pass through the stalls– giving you an up-close and personal understanding of why the French are so dedicated to their centuries-old traditional marchés.
Which Markets Are the Best?
Some of the best markets in Provence include the Marché de Carpentras, a centuries-old gem whose 350 stands open each Friday to the delight of both locals and visitors. Located in the Ventoux region not far from the Alps, this market is a favourite among gourmets year-round. For a sweet note that will bring you back to your childhood, try a few Berlingots de Carpentras, colourful striped candies that are purely old-world, and made with fruit syrups.
Other markets that are highly recommended include the Marseille Fish Market, where you can admire the catches of the day, sample the maritime city’s world-famous bouillabaisse nearby and hear vendors cry out traditional sales pitches in singsong voices. The market at nearby Aix-en-Provence is also lovely, especially in the spring when the light returns and casts the gorgeous hues so beloved by Cezanne and other Impressionist painters over the market square.
Gourmet Tables Galore
In the spring, many gourmet tables revive their menus for the new year and offer delicious, innovative French cuisine based on local fresh produce, fish and meat. St-Remy-en-Provence is one regional destination that food and wine lovers naturally beeline to, counting gastronomic institutions such as L’Oustau de Baumanière and La Cabro d’Or – Michel Hulin: both are two-star Michelin restaurants serving fine Provencal and Mediterranean cuisine; both are also housed in 5-star hotels and “bastides” (stately homes) complete with luxury spas. Meanwhile, heading south to the coast, Marseille’s 3-Michelin star restaurant Le Petit Nice is simply a dream for anyone wishing to experience the finest seafood Provence has to offer– and chef Gérald Passédat is also well-known for his innovative use of fresh seasonal vegetables.
Summer: Lavender, Outdoor Dining, & Seaside Delights
With the arrival of summer in Provence, the region is probably at its most iconic: lavender fields are in full bloom, leaving their delicious scent on the air; summer theatre festivals take over places like Avignon and the glamorous beaches and resorts of the Cote d’Azur are in full, glorious swing. In this warm season, a luxury food tour of Provence may focus on sampling summer-drenched treats and delicacies such as fresh strawberries and other summer berries (you should especially aim to sample a number of divine desserts and spreads that they feature in, from fresh tarts to homemade ice cream and jams); Mediterranean specialities including ratatouille, pissaladière (a sort of local pizza garnished with olives, onions and anchovies), olive tapenade, and many others. Fresh, healthy and delicious, Provencal cuisine is perfect in the summer.
The warm weather will likely lure you outdoors, so at this time of year, a private lavender tour in an open-roofed vintage 2CV car will put you right in the center of some of Provence’s most breathtaking places, and allow you to sample delicious specialities made with the aromatic flower that is known in many places as “blue gold”.
See related feature: Where to See Lavender Fields in Provence?
You might also consider taking a private cruise on a luxury yacht, perhaps off the idyllic port of Cassis while you enjoy a glass or two of white wine native to the beautiful little town– or hire a private French chef to prepare a delicious meal for you onboard, sharing secrets of Provencal cooking as part of the experience.
Al fresco dining is de rigueur during the warmest months of the year, so we highly recommend reserving a table at one of Provence’s best restaurants and requesting a table outside. Whether you enjoy sea views and air while enjoying your meal or take in the idyllic, rustic country atmosphere of the Vaucluse or Aveyron area, summertime is simply too magical outdoors to spend too much time inside. And when you catch a summer breeze on the terrace as you delight in the region’s finest gourmet creations, everything is almost guaranteed to taste better…
Autumn: Wine Tours, Olive Oil, Saffron & More
The beginning of harvest and wine season arrives in Provence in the Autumn, when vintners and farmers begin seeing the fruits of their labour and local markets fill with the bounty: clementines, chestnuts and hazelnuts, crisp apples, flavourful grapes, and many other fruits are emblems of the fall.
These and other seasonal delicacies make perfect pairings with local cheeses and wines, and a private French food tour during this time of year might focus on a trip to one or several traditional markets to procure all of the above, followed by a wine and cheese tasting workshop hosted by a local sommelier, who will initiate you to the secrets of Provencal wines and show you which cheeses and fruit go most beautifully with a given bottle.
If it’s wine tasting in the region that most interests you, exploring local vineyards with a private guide will initiate you to some of Provence’s finest winemakers. One marvellous town to focus on might be Gigondas, an idyllic village dating to the Gallo-Roman period that is the centre point of the highly respected but little-known appellation of the same name. Here, local vintners make rich, complex reds, principally from Grenache and Syrah grapes. Touring the town, vineyards and local cellars is an autumnal delight. While you’re in Gigondas, enjoying gastronomic dining at addresses such as L’Oustalet, one of the region’s finest restaurants with a focus on fresh local produce and innovative Provencal dishes, is an essential way to cap off your luxurious food tour of the area. The restaurant, which has been featured in Conde Nast Traveller among other publications, offers a solid wine list as well as gourmet food and wine pairings.
There are many other unique and beautiful wine-tasting destinations to enjoy in the area, but wine tourism in the region is less obvious than in Bordeaux or Champagne, which is why relying on a private guide to show you the region’s most coveted vineyards and cellars is essential.
Other Seasonal Delights
Fall is also the moment when seasonal delights such as olives, saffron crocuses and certain mushrooms are ripe for the picking, so an ideal Provencal culinary tour might include exploring the savoir-faire and delicious creations behind these products. Visit an olive farm and help pick this year’s beautiful, fragrant fruits, before tasting the oils that are so emblematic of Mediterranean cuisine and culture. Visit a saffron producer and witness the delicate process by which the precious flower is extracted to yield the world’s most precious spice, and taste local dishes subtly perfumed and beautifully coloured with saffron. Embark on a mushroom-hunting hike through beautiful fall forests– here a knowledgeable guide is absolutely essential as they will know how to distinguish delicious seasonal mushrooms such as cepes from inedible or even poisonous varieties!
Winter: Truffle Hunting & Luxurious Christmas Delicacies
Finally, we arrive at winter in Provence, a time that’s far more enchanting and luxurious than many would presume. If most visitors flock to the region in the spring and summer to enjoy the beaches, the sea or al fresco dining, the winter holds true marvels for anyone seeking gourmet discovery.
Chief among the discoveries to be had is truffle hunting & tasting. The intensely earthy, flavourful and aromatic mushroom is ready for harvesting from early November, with the highly-prized black truffle ready to root out of the earth at its most flavourful in December and January. Provence produces some 80% of France’s truffles, with the fertile Mont Ventoux the reigning centre of the production.
There are so many ways to enjoy these natural “black diamonds”, which are among France’s most expensive and prized exports. See them piled high in local markets such as the aforementioned one in Carpentras or in Richerenches, and purchase some for your own precious culinary experiments. Dine at acclaimed Provencal restaurants whose menus place the noble truffle at the center of their creations: Chez Serge in Carprentras, Chez Philibert in Monteux and Chez Christian Etienne in Avignon are among some of the finest tables in the region to experience.
Go on a truffle hunting adventure with local artisans and their companions (truffle pigs or dogs) and learn firsthand the centuries-old secrets behind the practice. You can even sample a meal where each dish is made from truffle at the annual “Truffle Mass” in Richerenches, where on the third Sunday of January the “black diamond” is blessed by local parishioners and made the centre of an enormous, delicious feast. This is a local experience you won’t soon forget…
Since being outdoors for long stretches is less ideal, winter is also a wonderful time to indulge in a Provencal cooking class. The acclaimed gastronome and cookbook author Patricia Wells offers classes in English out of her rustic 18th century farmhouse. You might also consider culinary workshops with French artisans in the region, who can show you how to unlock some of the secrets of the region’s acclaimed cuisine.
Christmas Festivities & Tastings
Last but certainly not least, the end of the year is a marvellous time to sample traditional Provencal holiday delicacies at the region’s enchanting Christmas markets. Typical Christmas specialities include white and chocolate nougat, candied and dried fruits such as figs and dates, and sugared almonds. You can also sip hot spiced wine and shop for delicious gifts as you stroll through the festive markets. See our complete guide to the best Christmas markets in France for ideas on where to head in Provence.
One of the loveliest Christmas-time culinary traditions in Provence is, of course, “Le gros souper” (The Big Supper) which is an enormous feast that originally had a deeply religious sense, but in our present day almost everyone in the region enjoys the tradition regardless of their beliefs. The feast, presented with much fanfare each year in towns and cities including Avignon, traditionally ends with 13 desserts representing Christ and his apostles, and should be part of any holiday culinary tour of the region. From raisins, walnuts and prunes to winter melon and tangerines, gingerbread, Calissons d’Aix (a special local biscuit from Aix en Provence) and the showstopping Christmas log, dessert and sweet fans will be in heaven.
Book a Bespoke French Food Tour of Provence With Us
Have we succeeded in piquing your gourmet curiosity and making your stomach rumble? Interested in embarking on your own exclusive and meticulously tailored food and wine tour in Provence or elsewhere in France? Get in touch with us– we’ll take you there.