Tour France: Lavender

images-2Tour France: Lavender, Poppies, Perched villages and colorful markets. In May and June you cannot help but celebrate the stunning beauty of Southern France. Van Gogh, below, painted this nearby. It’s striking in both its creativity, and it’s actual depiction of what Provence looks and feels like. The red coloration in the field probably represents the poppy fields that are so prevalent in May and early June.

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An amazing photograph taken by a client last June (2014). The field is just down the hill, and visible from our inn.

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Another great photo by the same client, this time of the painted buildings in a nearby village where we saw the ochre ‘mines’ (pigmentation used to make the paints on these buildings). 

 

 

 

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

Poppies and olive trees, some of the signature foliage of Provence.

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vines and poppies, side by side, irresistible.

 

 

 

Our October trip also features professional photography lessons!

Setting up for the photo…

Our clients loved to stop in the lavender fields when we passed them!

A quick pic!

Tour France; Bliss Travels is the Feature Article in France Passion Magazine!


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Bliss Travels is so pleased to be featured on the front page of this luxury editorial magazine, which is owned and operated by the French Tourism Bureau! Read the rest of the article right here and get inspired by the author’s musings about our “insider” Provence travel experiences.

One of the first bulls to run free in the square on Bastille Day.

One of the first bulls to run free in the square on Bastille Day weekend. And that’s “no bull”!

One of our favorite meals is outside at a farm overlooking the Luberon valley!

One of our favorite meals is outside at a farm overlooking the Luberon valley!

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch just outside of van Gogh's Provencal sanitorium.

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch in a private walled garden in St Remy before joining the public festivities and visiting Van Gogh’s Provencal sanitorium.

We are so excited about our Provence trips this summer. Enjoy 5 nights in the stunning Luberon region of Provence having the benefit of our exclusive access, and then live it up for 3 nights of festival activities or along the Mediterranean staring at the crystal clear water. Enjoy fireworks, bull fights, running of the bulls through the streets, community dances and markets. In addition to the special festival events, this  sophisticated town is home to an archeological dig, Roman ruins,Van Gogh’s residence, as well as wonderful boutiques, museums, galleries and sights. Not to mention an abundance of specialty wines and gourmet meals!

Our summer trips to Provence are some of our favorites for a reason. Come tour France with an insider!

A bientot,

Bliss Travels

Tour France; Live TV Interview with Wendy Jaeger, Travel Expert of Bliss Travels

Tour France: Live TV Interview with Wendy Jaeger, French Travel Expert

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Click here for live TV interview with Wendy

Exclusive access and authentic experiences.
Bliss Travels specializes in giving our clients special experiences they cannot have on their own. (To read what our clients have to say, see the bottom of this post or our website testimonials).

We find special venues; unique, lesser known (or impossible to get into) restaurants; off the beaten path sights;  closed to the public vineyards; stunning ruins…and that’s where we take our clients. We combine the things you know you want to see (like that great Provencal market, or the home of that world famous artist) with the things you never knew existed, or only dreamed you’d be able to d0. Imagine being invited into the home of a chef and ‘hanging out’ while he cooks you dinner, or being asked to dine on the farm of local family, or invited into a tiny restaurant that opened just for you. Sound like Bliss?

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The biggest “problem” we have at Bliss Travels is explaining to new travelers that we are not a big bus tour company. We’re not the people with the rigid “fixed” schedule who require that we see a zillion things from morning to night. We are a boutique travel company and we pride ourself in personalized experiences that are custom tailored to our very small groups of 6-12 travelers.

To learn more about our philosophy and our experiences, watch our live TV interview below. Then contact wendy@blisstravels.com to book one of our “one-of-a-kind” vacations to Paris, Provence, Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Mediterranean…even Barcelona!

Everything is fresh, and everyone is happy!

The markets

Live TV Interview of Wendy Jaeger by Adam Bierman

See what our clients think!

"Thanks again for planning such a great vacation for Jeff and I.  We had a fabulous time and getting engaged on the trip was just the icing on the all ready delicious cake.  We are still wondering how we will be able to go back to drinking the wines we liked before after tasting so many fabulous ones on the trip"

“Thanks again for planning such a great vacation for Jeff and I. We had a fabulous time and getting engaged on the trip was just the icing on the all ready delicious cake. We are still wondering how we will be able to go back to drinking the wines we liked before after tasting so many fabulous ones on the trip”

“Thank you…, for an absolutely memorable vacation adventure. Your planning and attention to detail was absolutely superb. I felt immersed in the culture and lore of the land as you ferreted out exceptional sites for us to explore….Because of your passion for Provence and connections, we were privileged to really enjoy off the beaten path exceptional experiences….”

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“We had a blast on our trip and are still remarking on the joie de vivre exhibited by one and all! Great group of folks, great times and great food! Thanks again…for the splendid memories!”

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“The food (unforgettable meals), the wines (rose’s & your wine tasting), the art…, the people (us tourists, & all the drivers/tour guides), ALL the various places we would never have found on our own, AND YOU and Anthony! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you….we now have wonderful memories….”

Experience Bliss! Contact us now. wendy@blisstravels.com

http://www.blisstravels.com

 

Tour France: Provence is “heaven on earth”

In the New York Times article “Steal My Vacation: Norma Kamali’s Provence” , renowned fashion designer and dedicated olive oil conoisseur Kamali extols the wonders of Provence. She mentioned that “If there was a description of what heaven looks like, I would say this is it.” Tell us something we don’t know!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

The lavender fields of Provence smell as beautiful as they look!

Thankfully, Provence isn’t only visited for its (admittedly fantastic) olive oil orchards. Bakeries, farms, ancient ruins, resplendent cathedrals, and warm locals all beckon people from across the world to take a break underneath its spotless blue sky. It is one of the best places to visit in France! Period! Oh, and what about the wines? Chateauneuf du Pape wines, Cote du Rhones, Bandols….and Rose of all shades.

Provence is completely unique, with a relaxed pace that stems from each easy moment. The cicadas chirping in an ancient olive orchard, a secluded lavender field heated by the sun, and an incredible dinner made from fresh ingredients bought at that morning’s market. It is a retreat from stress, and a voyage into “bliss“. Parfait!

The list of our favorite places to visit in Provence could go for days. Luckily, Bliss Travels creates small group custom vacations in Provence at several points throughout the year, in MayJune, July, August, and October, so you can come up with your own list of favorites!  And do it with an insider. Exclusive access is the best part of what we do. (See what our clients say about that.) Escape to your own “heaven on earth” with us to see what Norma Kamali and the New York Times are raving about.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Check out some photos of our previous trips to Provence below!

Provence offers divine meals with incomparably fresh ingredients.

Provence offers divine meals with incomparably fresh ingredients.

Every corner offers a new view to take your breath away.

Every corner offers a new view to take your breath away.

Hiking to the Ancient cathedral on top of a perched village was one of the group's favorite moments in July!

Hiking to the ancient church on top of a 1000+ year old perched village was one of this group’s favorite moments in July!

Olive orchards are around every corner

Olive orchards are around every corner

Our clients loved to stop in the lavender fields when we passed them!

some very special return clients on an awesome trip. Summer is the time that everyone loves to stop in the lavender fields. We pass tons!

Our October trip also features professional photography lessons!

Our October and May (for poppies) trip also feature professional photography for those who want to capture the beauty. Poppy fields are astounding

Tour France; New Van Gogh Painting Discovered!

After being stored in a Norwegian attic for over 100 years, “Sunset at Montmajour” has been officially declared a long-lost van Gogh original. The first van Gogh to be confirmed since 1928, it took two years of extensive testing before art historians accepted the hypothesis. Museum director Axel Rueger called it a “once-in-a-lifetime experience,” going on to effuse praise on his fellow historians and van Gogh experts.

"Sunset at Montmajour" was unveiled by the delighted  van Gogh museum director, Axel Ruetger.

“Sunset at Montmajour” was unveiled by the delighted van Gogh museum director, Axel Rueger.

Over a million people visit Amsterdam’s van Gogh museum each year. “Sunset at Montmajour” will only be on view until September 24th, as it is owned by a private collector, giving audiences even more incentive to visit the museum quickly!

Much of van Gogh’s adult life was spent in various facilities in Provence, France–even in the village that Bliss Travels visits each summer and autumn! Visiting the same sites that van Gogh painted has always provided Bliss clients an intimate link to the painter and his oeuvre.

Van Gogh's Provencal self-portraits provded a look at his tumultuous feelings.

Van Gogh’s Provencal self-portraits provded a look at his tumultuous feelings.

We hope that someday soon we will see “Sunset at Montmajour” on our summer or autumn trips to Provence. Come with us to get a unique look at his life!

This past summer Bliss clients explored van Gogh's favorite region.

This past summer Bliss clients explored van Gogh’s favorite region.

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch just outside of van Gogh's Provencal sanitorium.

Bliss clients also enjoyed a beautiful late lunch just outside of van Gogh’s Provencal sanitorium.

If you want to know more about the esteemed artist, check out our previous blog, Vincent van Gogh’s Provence.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Tour France; Exploring the Arles Outdoor Markets

Provence is known for its laissez-faire attitude, excellent food, and vivid, beautiful landscape. And all of this is captured perfectly in the enormous outdoor market of Arles, France!

The Arles Colisseum was built shortly after Rome's- you can see the inspiration!

The Arles Colisseum was built shortly after Rome’s- you can see the inspiration!

Saturday morning, Bliss Travels and our guests made our way over to Arles, a UNESCO World Heritage site best known for its Roman ruins (it was Julius Caesar’s favorite French town!) and stunningly preserved colosseum.

It is also the town where van Gogh famously lopped off his ear and painted one of his most well known pieces, the Cafe Terrace at Night. The cafe is still working to this day- we stopped and had drinks to cool off!

"Cafe Terrace at Night" by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

“Cafe Terrace at Night” by Vincent van Gogh, 1888.

However, on Saturdays these beautiful ruins and even van Gogh‘s tumultuous history are overshadowed by the sprawling market that runs through the two main streets of town. Locals from around the Luberon region flock to this market, the largest around, to buy all manner of things. Mounds of burgundy cherries are sold next to blocks of homemade nougat and wheels of cheese that can weigh up to 60 pounds. Baskets of clucking chickens were stacked next to vats of black olives and woks of fresh Paella that three or four people could fit on!

After strolling through this gorgeous feast, we picked out our favorite foods–fresh forest strawberries (frais du bois), local goat cheeses, brioches, slabs of ham, spit roasted pork, a few bottles of wine, ‘donut’ peaches….amongst many other things!–and headed to a park surrounded by Roman ruins for the picnic of the decade! What a way to tour France.

Every ingredient is so fresh...it's hard to buy just one of anything.

Every ingredient is so fresh…it’s hard to buy just one of anything.

Under the trees, we shared a beautiful day surrounded by good company, piles of delicious treats and centuries of history. What a day- and what a life! Provence is pure Bliss.

A bientot-

Bliss Travels

Everything is fresh, and everyone is happy!

Everything is fresh, and everyone is happy!

Local cheeses were everywhere. Our mouths were watering from a booth away.

Local cheeses were everywhere. Our mouths were watering from a booth away.

F. Scott Fitzgerald in France; The Great Gatsby’s Birthplace

Fitzgerald in the Riviera

Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald early on in their tumultuous marriage.

Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald early on in their tumultuous marriage.

The Great Gatsby is everywhere at the moment. But surprisingly, F. Scott Fitzgerald was barely on the map at the time he wrote it, an unsuccessful author living in a village on the coast of France.

In 1924 he and his wife Zelda did their own “tour of France” and moved to Valescure, a picturesque little town on the French Riviera, halfway between Marseille and Monaco, which continues to inspire people to this day. Maybe it is because of the medieval villages filled with street artists, little cafes, and bustling markets. Perhaps it is the sweeping views of the coastline, where only the vividly painted fishing boats distinguish where the azure waters stop and the cloudless sky begins. Inspiration may strike purely from the smells of the sea and the lavender fields and the steaming plates of the best food in the world, relished on a rickety table in a cobblestoned side street.

A sidestreet in Monaco, just a few miles from the Fitzgeralds' home.

A sidestreet in Monaco, just a few miles from the Fitzgeralds’ home.

Even Bliss Travels groups are affected in the Riviera. People spontaneously buy journals as they tour France to sketch and start jotting down ideas for the novel they always wanted to write. Maybe one of us will be as inspired as F. Scott and create the next Gatsby on a tour! As Fitzgerald could have told us, anything is possible in Provence.

But despite the region’s astounding effect on his creativity, the esteemed author cut his visit short once he discovered that his wife was having an affair with a French naval aviator. Packing quickly, The Great Gatsby’s final editing was to be done in Rome as the simple joy of Provence was left behind them after only two seasons.

Fitzgerald in Paris

            The novel was published as the well-traveled couple was returning to their beloved Paris, a frequent stop of theirs. Though it was well received by critics, sales were underwhelming, adding to their already stressed relationship.

A rare glimpse of Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris

A rare glimpse of Hemingway and Fitzgerald in Paris

Thankfully, it was here that F. Scott found solace in a new friendship with Ernest Hemingway, who was as yet relatively unknown in America. The two shared many things in common—both were literary geniuses and heavy drinkers going through rough patches in their careers.  However, Hemingway would go on to achieve fame in his lifetime—F. Scott would die believing he was a failure.

Yet at the time, neither was aware that their writings would be considered revolutionary or would be read by billions. Their friendship and the city they both loved dearly kept them afloat with hope and inspiration. Can you imagine them strolling through the side streets of Paris—how the great city influenced their work, their thoughts, their lives? Did they meet at Notre Dame to talk of literature? Did they visit the Sacré Coeur and watch the sun set over Paris?

Sitting in a café a few blocks over from the Louvre, perhaps feasting on something we always enjoy –a special menu of Os a Moelle in winter or a perfectly roasted chicken, like only the French make!a dish from a recent vacation in Paris!

It is easy to picture Fitzgerald and Hemingway side by side, contemplatively sipping a café au lait, observing the passersby and dreaming up the world’s next immortal novel. Two friends with extraordinary talents, quietly taking in the most beautiful city in the world. The fact that we can tour France in a similar way is a gift in itself.

Today, you can visit the spot where the two met, the Dingo American Bar and Restaurant (10 rue Delambre) or see the Fitzgeralds’ apartment building at 14 rue de Tilsitt, near the Arc de Triomphe, which give the pleasant thrill of a solid connection with the past.

Cafe de Flore has been around since Fitzgerald's time.

Cafe de Flore has been around since Fitzgerald’s time.

The Fitzgeralds stayed in France for two years, splitting their time between the apartment in Paris and the Riviera, where F. Scott wrote and his wife Zelda became increasingly bizarre (she would eventually suffer from several mental breaks). After much debate, they finally returned to America for a life of fewer distractions than the one they had in Europe, which was ironically the very reason they had moved overseas in the first place.

As a result of his wife’s illness, they returned to France only once more. Did F. Scott miss his adopted home? France has a way of pulling people in and making them crave it once they leave, a feeling that is quickly understood once you visit. Something in the very light makes the world more beautiful, simple, romantic—it provided a muse for The Great Gatsby, one of the best books ever written. And if great authors like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald fell in love with it, then we certainly cannot attempt to avoid its charms.

Happy viewing,

Bliss Travels

French Wine Tasting: Tour de France of Wines in NYC

French Wine Tasting in NYC 

This past Saturday we co-hosted a blind wine tasting of fine wines from several fabulous regions of France. This fun event was held at the NYC home of “frequent travelers” Kat & Mark. They graciously opened their lovely home on a perfect day, and stocked the tables with fabulous French and Spanish cheeses and delicious gourmet treats!

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Getting ready for people

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We tasted 5 wines, all from France.

Wine 1: Laurent Combier Crozes Hermitage white. A beautiful wine with floral notes and a rich bouquet. This wine is from just north of Chateauneuf du Pape. People don’t think of Chateauneuf du Pape as a town or even area that produces whites, but they produce excellent white wines. This is a very small part of production but the top ones are truly special –and hard to find in the US. We regularly highlight these when in Provence.

The area around Chateauneuf du Pape, where our first wines came from

Wine 2: Meursault, Les Narvaux, 2010 David Moret. A great buttery chardonnay. Loved this wine (as I do all Burgundy wines). This wine has a bit more minerality than the Les Charmes, 1er cru, we like to profile on our Burgundy trips.

Typical of Burgundy, wines and quaint towns and villages

Typical of Burgundy, wines and quaint towns and villages

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Our hosts this past September in Burgundy on a private visit to the 14th Century cellars of the winemaker who owns our luxury inn!

Wine 3: Auxey Duresses, 2010, Billard.  A very nice pinot noir from Burgundy. However, Burgundy did not receive its due by comparing and tasting a village wine with the 1er Grand Cru classe from Bordeaux. Next tasting I will showcase wines from Burgundy that are equal in quality and ranking to the ones from Bordeaux. Because this region’s wines have such a “wow” factor  -and the area itself is so stunning –it’s a shame to leave people thinking one region is superior to the other!

The stunning town of Beaun

The stunning town of Beaune

Wine 4: Les Amouriers, Vacqueyras, 2010. This grenache and syrah wine is also from just north of Chateauneuf du Pape, and a very accessible alternative to the big names (and prices) of Chateauneuf du Pape reds. Needs to breath for about 90 minutes to 2 hours as it is young. But is a good wine, full flavored and a great example of what the region can produce.

St Emilion, from Pavie's vineyards

St Emilion, from Pavie’s vineyards

Wine 5: Chateau Pavie Macquin, 2007, her Grand Cru Classe. Predominantly merlot (84%) with 16% cabernet franc, this wine is truly a top wine. It surely overshadowed the other reds. It was smooth, rich and extremely well balanced. Still young, it was opened 2 hours before drinking. Next tasting, we will bring out the big guns in Burgundy to compare with Bordeaux. I think it will be a very tough decision for folks at that point!

Bordeaux France Wines

Thank you to all of your who came. And for those of you who couldn’t make it, we hope to be able to hold “reunions” for other groups and more return travelers!

One final shot of those of us who went out for dinner at a cute French style bistro after the tasting.

Dinner for those who could stay late

2013-04-27 15.35.19Hope to see you in all again very soon!

A Bientot,

Wendy

Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli

Tour France: Traditional Provencal Foods, The Aioli

Tour France: Vacations in Provence and the Mediterranean

One of the best warm weather traditional Provencal dishes is the Aioli. Named after the garlic mayonnaise like sauce used as the centerpiece of the dish (the word Aioli comes from the words for ‘garlic’ and ‘oil’), this is quintessential Provencal fare. It has it’s roots, like many dishes of that region, in Roman times. It has been revered as a symbol of Provencal life for hundreds of years.

 

“Among the peoples living around the Mediterranean coasts, the use of garlic dates back to the very beginning of cooking itself. But as Leon Daudet observed, with the aioli it attained its peak of perfection, ‘the very highest degree of those truly civilized customs and habits that until health with well-being.’ So that we need feel no astonishment at learning that when the poet Mistral founded a Provencal newspaper (this was in 1891), he called it L’Aioli. The sauce had become a symbol. And he wrote of it with justice: ‘It concentrates all the warmth, the strength, the sun-loving gaiety of Provence in its essence, but it also has a particular virtue: it keeps flies away. Those who don’t like it, those whose stomachs rise at the thought of our oil, won’t come buzzing around us wasting our time. There’ll just be the family.’ And elsewhere again: ‘The ailoi goes slightly to the head, impregnates the body with its warmth, and bathes the soul with its enthusiasm…”
—The Hundred Glories of French Cooking, Robert Courtine [Farrar, Strause and Giroux:New York] 1973 (p. 137-140) 
[NOTE: This book offers a recipe for Aioli de Morue. We can scan/send if you like.]

another home made aioli served with tapenade

It’s served every Friday at the local cafe (because the fish monger comes on Fridays, and that’s the day of the Provencal market). It’s served at group meals –those community meals offered at village fetes and fares during the spring and summer months. This dish is a market fresh favorite.

There are many variations, but the mainstays are this:

Aioli sauce (recipes below)

Hard boiled egg

Boiled potato

Haricots verts (the thin French green beans)

Tomato (raw)

and steamed cod.

Then, the other items you might see are:

sea snails

cauliflower

zucchini

artichoke

mussels (along the Mediterranean)

 

Everything is served room temperature (unless you have steamed mussels, which of course, are served warm). The sauce is cold. You dip each item in the sauce to flavor it.

How to make a quick and simple Aioli:

Take mayonnaise (1/2 cup) and mixed with crushed garlic clove (4-6), a squeeze of lemon, a few tablespoons of white wine (you can determine how thick or thin you want the sauce by how much wine you use), sea salt –and optional flavors such as saffron or herbs de Provence.

Mix well, cover tightly and let sit for at least 3-4 hours. Best if left overnight to allow the flavors to meld.

For a traditional Aioli, this is what Escoffier says:

 

[1907]
“Aioli, or Beurre de Provence
. Pound 30 g (1 oz) garlic as finely as possible in the mortar, add 1 raw egg yolk and a pinch of salt and gradually mix in 1 1/2 dl (9 fl oz or 1 1/8 U.S. cup) oil allowing it to fall drop by drop to begin with, then faster as a thread as the sauce begins to thicken. The thickening of the sauce takes place by turning the pestle vigorously whilst adding the oil. The consistency of the sauce should be adjusted during its making by adding the juice of 1 lemon and 1;2 tbs cold water little by little. Note: Should the sauce separate it can be reconstituted by working it into 1 egg yolk as for Mayonnaise.”
Le Guide Cuilinaire, Escoffier, first translation into English by H.L. Cracknell & R.J. Kaufmann, 1907 edition [John Wiley:New York] 1979 (p. 29)

As the spring and summer seasons in Provence swing into action, you can be sure that people will be dining on Aioli, sipping rose, and enjoying the sunshine.  It’s Bliss!

Hope to see you there!

Wendy Jaeger

Owner, Bliss Travels

A Photographic Tour of the Best of Provence (One of the Regions of France)


Top 6 Reasons to Visit Provence

Last year I printed the top 4 reasons to visit Provence in the spring. But, really, there are so many more things to explore than just 4, and so many wonderful things to do and see all spring and summer (and fall). Here are Bliss Travels top tips for Provence.

1. Stunning scenery bathed in light that made world famous painters like Renoir, Van Gogh, Cezanne, Monet …..swoon. In May, there are poppies, cherry blossoms, almond blossoms, and all sorts of spring flowers. In June, the cherries are in full bloom. In July and August you have Lavender.bill m france 2008

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Our class topped the tart with cherries -not fresh like the ones here, found in June in Provence

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2. The Provencal Markets. Whether it’s the first fruit and spring vegetable, or the late summer melons, peaches and figs, the produce in Provence is unrivaled –and the crafts, crowds and street life are all showcased at the colorful Provencal markets.

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3. The Villages. They are beautiful and each one is a piece of art in its own right!

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3. Food. Mouthwatering, amazing, real, local, sustainable, gourmet FOOD.

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5. Wines. Provence is home to the Cote du Rhone and has many fine wines, Chateauneuf du Pape among them. It is home to Bandol, Tavel, Vacqueras, Gigondas and many many more.

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6. Festivals. The festivals in spring and summer are wonderful. Everything from fancy markets, to bull fights to street music, to games, to dancing, tasting and more. There are cherry festivals in May and June. Village festivals from May through August. Music festivals in June. Melon festivals in July. Lavender festivals in August. Bastille Day festivals –on Basstille Day (see our earlier post about this.)

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Taken by TourEiffel Fireworks

Taken by TourEiffel Fireworks

6. Time on your own with your family and friends--even with all the activity! Provence is a place with lots of beautiful little corners, fabulous walks, quiet beaches, empty mountain tops, miniscule villages –all where you can see something new, and be away from it all — Be with yourself, your family or your friends, or your thoughts.

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If you’d like to learn more about Bliss Travels, small, custom trips –and how we provide exclusive access to things your typical traveler never sees, please  look at our website at www.blisstravels.com or our testimonials and  email us or call us at 609 462 6213. We have limited spring and summer trips available.