Get off the beaten track with these three unique activities and experience the south of France in a more authentic way.
With a life in the U.S. keeping us from taking the leap and becoming full-time residents abroad, I always make sure the limited time I have in Provence is well spent.
No matter what your interests are, you can always find tour companies that offer excursions or experiences aligning with your preferences or tastes. In some cases, though, it’s hard not to feel like a bunch of herded cattle, being shuttled from one overly saturated, popular destination to the next.
Because of this, I try to find things to do that are a bit off the beaten path or have a homegrown feel to them. I’ve found, the less well-known the activity is, the more enjoyable and authentic it has been overall. Here are three incredibly different, under-the-radar activities in Provence with vastly different price points to suit any traveller’s interests.
1. Domaine de la Bouvaude
Number one is the least expensive of the three and is perfect for a romantic date night or a group of family or friends ready to explore the region in a unique way. Most travellers who visit Provence sign up for a wine tasting or vineyard tour and it is an incredible way to explore the region and learn not only about the wines, but history. Domaine de la Bouvaude, nestled in the beautiful Drôme Provencale, takes exploring a wine estate one step further by offering “Between the Vines and Lights,” a two-kilometre stroll through their beautiful vineyard, olive groves, forests and the rocks, known as Saffres. The immersive experience is accompanied by an audio tour that comes in French, English or German and is mixed with a combination of light projections, synchronized audio, video mapping and scenography as you walk along the paths, through the estate. During the tour, you will be introduced to the legends surrounding the vineyard and learn more about Alain, the winemaker who has owned the property since 1969. Each ticket purchased comes with a glass of wine or juice for children.
The domaine also offers the option to add a “pique nocte,” or nighttime picnic, on to your ticket if you’d like to add to your experience and have a small snack – including organic antipasti vegetables, Provençal cake, fresh bread, Picodon goat cheese and caillette – while enjoying the lights and the beautiful estate.
The 2024 schedule has not been listed on the website yet, but the 2023 tours started in July and ended mid-September, holding the event Mondays through Saturdays starting at dusk.
Price: €15 for adults €5 for children ages 7-18. Children 7 and under get in for free.
Add ons: Picnic basket for €24.
When: July – September, Monday-Saturday, at dusk
2. Horse Adventure
My number two spot is for the adventurer who is looking to discover Provence in a very different and unique way. Horse Adventure is a stable around Montpellier that offers an array of what they call “unusual horse rides.” What I really like about this experience is that there are many different rides at many different price points that could appeal to a mass audience, providing a unique experience for everyone. Because this is Provence, the first unusual ride offered is of course “horses and wine,” which allows the rider to have a wine tasting during or after their ride. They also offer horse rides themed to sunsets or sunrises for the rider wanting to experience Provence through a gradual change in its famous lighting.
The most interesting rides offered, however, were definitely the horse yoga and horse and botanic pick, which allows the rider to pick some locally grown herbs and flowers before coming back as a group and discussing recipes and remedies to be made with what they have foraged. You may also opt to add a dining option to your ride, choosing between an aperitif and appetizers or an aperitif dinner.
If you are looking for something a little more low key, the stable also offers traditional trail rides that last between an hour and two hours (for €70) with the option of extending it to a half day (€85).
However, if you are someone who is very comfortable with horses and wants to experience Provence through a more in depth horse-driven experience, they do offer overnight excursions that include accommodations and meals for between €120 euros and €210 euros depending on the length of the excursion.
And finally, there is also an option for people who love horses, but perhaps aren’t too keen on riding them. The bikes and horses ride allows participants to ride an electric bike through the beautiful Provence countryside while being accompanied by horses, which are ridden alongside participants.
Price: Starting at €70 per person for a trail ride, people can choose different experiences that extend to €210 a person.
Add ons: An aperitif and appetizer for €15 a person or an aperitif and dinner starting at €45 a person.
When: Check the website calendar for the most recent updates
3. Plate Full of Dreams
The third and final underground experience is for the traveller who loves indulging in regional cuisine. It is the most expensive experience of the three, but does have options at various price points for people who are interested in a shorter, less costly activity. Chef Suzanne Kay of Plate Full of Dreams, offers vacation cooking classes to the lucky six participants who happen to snag a spot in one of her coveted experiences.
The vacation classes are held four times a year and include a five-night stay at the beautiful Mas de Mourchon, located on a vineyard in the charming, hillside village of Séguret in Provence.
Guests start their experience on Monday where they get settled into their rooms and freshened up before meeting other attendees at the apero dînatoire. Tuesday, participants travel as a group to Vaison-la-Romaine’s historic weekly market to collect items for their first cooking class, which brings everyone together to create that evening’s meal. All dishes are made with local, mainly organic and seasonal ingredients, in keeping with Provençal tradition.
At the start of the experience, students are given a book of the recipes they will prepare in each class, which they can use to take notes in as they continue on their cooking adventure. For each meal, students prepare four courses: a starter, a main course, followed by a selection of cheeses with salad, finished with dessert. Each class meal is also paired with wine selected by a local sommelier, allowing students to explore the wines of France and understand how they compliment the taste of their dishes. Wednesday begins with a tour of the domaine followed by a wine tasting and intimate picnic lunch before coming together for the second cooking class to prepare dinner. Thursday’s class centers around preparing lunch, giving the students the evening to explore other towns or attractions around the area. During Friday’s class, the last of the series, Chef Suzanne likes to tailor the lesson to any dishes the group is curious about learning to make. More often than not, students get creative, straying away from the Provençal-style of cooking, and adding another layer to their ever-budding cooking skills.
Saturday, participants have their final breakfast, all of which are included in the price of the experience, and say their goodbyes before heading off.
If you are someone, however, that doesn’t have that length of time to devote to the whole vacation cooking series, Suzanne Kay also offers private classes that can be tailored to your specific tastes. The lesson includes a minimum of three-hour class, followed by a three to four course meal and wine pairing.
Price: The six-day vacation classes range from €3,200 for a single student not needing accommodations up to €5,000 for a single student staying in a single occupancy room.
Private classes range from €200-€400 a person and tailored to your specific requests
Extra Fees: Fees do not include your travel to Provence or any traveling done on your own around the region between classes. It also does not include any meals you have off of the mas.
When: Check the website for the 2024 calendar- Some dates are already sold out!
Whether taking in the beautiful landscape with a glass of wine and an illuminated stroll, riding horses through the stunning Provençal countryside to forage for some herbs or breaking bread with a group of food forward new friends at the Mas de Mourchon, any activity will show you a unique side of one of the most stunning places on earth.
Check out Rachel’s other tips and insights on visiting Provence on her blog, www.wheninprovenceblog.com
Lead photo credit : ©Coucher_Soleil_Cavaliers
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