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Great Monuments, Art and Gardens of the Côte d’Azur, Provence and the Cévennes 2025

Status: limited

7 May – 24 May 2025

Overview

Great Monuments, Art and Gardens of the Côte d’Azur, Provence and the Cévennes 2025
Tour Highlights

Led by award-winning artist David Henderson and French historian Romain Nugou, this tour explores the extraordinary diversity of the natural and human landscapes of Southern France, and their influence upon human creativity, with visits to important art collections, idyllic private gardens, great monuments, and spectacular natural sites.

  • View the work of artists such as Bonnard, Cézanne, Cocteau, Chagall, Matisse, Hepworth, Miró, Giacometti and Picasso, and visit the coastal towns, villages and landscapes that inspired them.
  • Enjoy guided tours of the finest private gardens of the Côte d’Azur: La Casella designed by Claus Scheinert and Tom Parr, and Villa Fort France originally planted by Lady Fortescue in the 1930s.
  • Travel in May to witness vibrant spring wildflowers and stroll through picturesque stone villages in the UNESCO-listed Cévennes National Park, which so impressed Robert Louis Stevenson.
  • Uncover the rich Roman history of Provence as you visit Nîmes’ monumental Roman Arena and the Maison Carrée, newly inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list; the breathtaking Pont du Gard aqueduct; and the impressive two-tiered amphitheatre of Arles.
  • View some of the finest Roman mosaics in France at the innovative Musée de la Romanité in Nîmes; a 31 metre-long Roman boat in the Musée de l’Arles Antique; and the rare remains of an ancient commercial warehouse at The Museum of Roman Docks in Marseille.
  • Gain special access to enchanting private gardens in the heart of Provence: the Pavillon de Galon, a restored 18th-century hunting pavilion at the foothills of the Luberon mountains; La Chabaude, a stone manor with gardens designed by landscape architect Philippe Cottet; and Anne Cox Chambers’ celebrated domain Le Petit Fontanille.
  • Meet tree sculptor Marc Nucera at his atelier, and visit one of France’s most famous private gardens, Mas Benoît, laid out by sculptor, garden designer and land artist Alain-David Idoux.
  • Meet landscape designer Dominique Lafourcade, whose work embodies the Provençal ‘art de vivre’, and view one of her creations near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
  • See the paintings, sculpture and furniture of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild and the nearby Villa Grecque Kérylos, a luxurious re-creation of an ancient Grecian dwelling.
  • Tour the Château La Coste estate, a unique alliance of wine, architecture and art, featuring a wine cellar by Jean Nouvel, an art centre by the great Japanese architect Tadao Ando and sculptural artworks by leading contemporary artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Alexander Calder.
  • At the UNESCO-listed Cap Moderne site, overlooking the Mediterranean, visit two jewels of modern architecture, Eileen Gray’s restored E1027 Villa and Le Corbusier’s Cabanon, where he spent his summers.
  • Cruise through the precipitous Gorges du Tarn, a limestone canyon carved by the Tarn River and dotted with medieval castles.
  • Savour haute cuisine at the Michelin-starred restaurant, La Petite Maison de Cucuron, in the Luberon Ranges.

Overnight Menton (2 nights) • Antibes (3 nights) • Marseille (2 nights) • Aix-en-Provence (3 nights) • Arles (4 nights) • Florac (3 nights)

Introduction

The district of the Côte d’Azur is one of the world’s most famous examples of interactions between magnificent landscapes and the human creative spirit. Gardeners, architects and artists, writers and musicians have moulded this environment and also celebrated its topography, colour and light.

In stark contrast, the Cévennes region, on the south-western edge of France’s Massif Central, is one of the least populated, most isolated and grandest semi-wilderness areas of Western Europe. Yet a different balance between nature and human creativity is to be found in Provence, which has a far deeper history of civilization than the other two regions.

Before the 18th century, the Côte d’Azur was the rarely visited haunt of poor fishermen and pirates. Little of human value existed between populous and powerful Genoa and the old cities of Provence. In the 19th century wealthy gardeners began to create villa gardens along this coast, whose clement climate enabled them to grow a bewildering variety of plants from everywhere in the world.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries artists followed: Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Signac, Seurat, Picasso, Braque, Miró, Fernand Léger, Matisee, Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau and a host of others, and the coast became inextricably associated with the development of modernist art. Kenneth E. Silver has aptly entitled his book on this artistic transformation Making Paradise, Art, Modernity and the Myth of the French Riviera.

Provence was the first transalpine province of the Roman Republic, and has some of the finest antique architecture outside the Italic peninsula. Provence fractured into a number of small principalities in the Middle Ages, and Avignon became the temporary home of the papacy. When this region became integrated into the French nation its days of glory had, however, passed, yet its lovely agricultural landscapes and distinctive peasant culture fascinated 19th century intellectuals and artists such as Mistral, Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne.

In the 20th century, this region became increasingly important for its excellent cuisine, fine wine, its homely bastides (country houses), its distinctive way of life celebrated by Marcel Pagnol, and the rugged beauty of its landscapes. In stark contrast to the artists of the Côte d’Azur, the farming community of the Cévennes has always struggled with the region’s awesome environment.

This tour will explore the diverse ways in which gardeners, artists and architects have interacted with one of Europe’s most beautiful regions, contrasting to this the Cévenne’s wild scenery of man’s struggle with nature. We explore many of the Côte d’Azur’s most interesting gardens, buildings and museums, and also spend time in one of the Mediterranean’s most important trading cities, Marseille, whose wealthy families built magnificent palaces and collected masterpieces to hang in them.

We also explore Provence, where the Romans created wealthy cities, and where in the 19th and early 20th centuries writers and artists found a deeply traditional, distinctive peasant culture. In the great Cévennes National Park we end our tour with gentle hikes through magnificent scenery, visit isolated villages, and even go on a cruise through the Tarn Gorges.

Itinerary

Itinerary

The following itinerary describes a range of museums and private gardens which we plan to visit. The daily activities described in this itinerary may change or be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours and confirmation of private visits. Participants will receive a final itinerary together with their tour documents prior to departure. The tour includes breakfast daily, lunches & evening meals indicated in the detailed itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=dinner.

Menton - 2 nights

Day 1: Wednesday 7 May, Menton – Cap Moderne – Menton
  • Tour commences at 1.30pm in the foyer of the Hotel Napoléon in Menton
  • Introductory Meeting
  • Salle des Mariages, Menton
  • Eileen Gray villa E-1027 & Le Corbusier’s Cabanon
  • Welcome Dinner

Meeting Point: The tour commences at 1.30pm in the foyer of the Hotel Napoléon in Menton. Note: private transfers from the airport to the hotel can be arranged through the hotel’s concierge, please contact ASA for further information.

For the next 2 nights we stay at the 4-star Hotel Napoléon, located just across the road from the beach and only a ten-minute gentle walk to the old town of Menton. The hotel’s private off-street courtyard is an exotic garden designed by Eric Ossart and Arnaud Maurières.

Following a short welcome meeting at the hotel, we transfer to Menton’s town centre. Menton occupies a natural amphitheatre dominated by Mount Agel and the Gorbio and St. Agnes Heights. Ruined fortresses clinging to its surrounding cliffs testify to the town’s deep, turbulent history. Here we shall encounter the work of the famous artist and film-maker Jean Cocteau. Cocteau redecorated the town hall’s Salle des mariages (marriage room) with frescoes and furnishings, all in the theme of ‘Love’.

We then transfer to Cap Moderne to view Le Corbusier’s Cabanon and the interior of Eileen Gray villa E-1027. Le Corbusier built his Cabanon on the land of a restaurateur friend, Thomas Rebutato. This tiny, wooden, 14-square holiday house was the only residence the architect ever designed for himself. Cabanon is the French diminutive for cabin, but also evokes the shepherd huts that can be found throughout the south of France, a clear reference to Le Corbusier’s love of nature. Le Corbusier at the time was master planning the city of Bogotá and work on his Marseille Unité d’Habitation, his vertical concrete garden city was coming to an end. He lived from time to time at the much-photographed modernist villa that his friend, the Anglo-Irish designer Eileen Gray, had already established here.

In 1924 Gray and Jean Badovici had begun working on this vacation house. L-shaped and flat-roofed with floor-to-ceiling windows and a spiral stairway to the guest room, E-1027 was both open and compact. Eileen spent three years designing the furniture and working with her partner Jean Badovici on the plans. This is considered to be Gray’s first major work, making indistinct the border between architecture and decoration, and highly personalized to be in accord with the lifestyle of its intended occupants. The name of the house, E-1027, is a code of designers’ names; ‘E’ stands for Eileen and the numbers are those of the alphabetical positions of their initials: ’10’ Jean, ‘2’ Badovici, ‘7’ Gray. The encoded name was Eileen Gray’s way of showing their relationship as lovers at the time when the house was built

This evening we enjoy a welcome meal at a local restaurant overlooking Menton’s Garavan Bay. (Overnight Menton) D

Day 2: Thursday 8 May, Menton – Cimiez – Menton
  • Musée Matisse, Cimiez
  • Jardin Exotique Val Rahmeh, Menton

This morning we drive to Cimiez, site of a small Roman city just outside Nice, which is famous for its museum devoted to France’s greatest modern painter, Henri Matisse; he lived in Nice from 1917 until his death in 1954. We shall view paintings that span his career, from the very early Still Life with Books (1890) to his Rococo Armchair (1947) and Blue Nude (1952).

We drive back to Menton where lunch will be at leisure. Les Halles Market is open every day, and you’ll have the opportunity to taste some local specialties, including the socca, a savoury chickpea pancake.

We end the day with a visit to the Jardin Exotique Val Rahmeh, the sub-tropical botanical garden of May Sherwood Campbell. A guided tour will reveal its wonderful array of lush plantings. Its pond is enlivened with water hyacinths, water lilies, and papyrus. (Overnight Menton) B

Antibes – 3 nights

Day 3: Friday 9 May, Menton – Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat – Villefranche-sur-Mer – Beaulieu-sur-Mer – Antibes
  • Villa Ephrussi, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat
  • Chapelle Saint-Pierre by Jean Cocteau, Villefranche-sur-Mer
  • Villa Grecque Kérylos, Beaulieu-sur-Mer

We spend today on Cap-Ferrat, a narrow peninsula extending far out to sea. Cap-Ferrat was one of the most fashionable resorts of the 20th century. In 1926, Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild chose a site here for her enormous villa and garden – Villa Île de France. We take a guided tour of the villa’s first floor that includes terracotta sculptures by Clodion, a Meissen China Room and a Tapestry Room whose furniture by Jacob is upholstered with Beauvais tapestries. We then tour the villa’s seven exquisite gardens, which include patios, waterfalls, ponds, floral borders, shady walks and rare species of trees. The garden ensemble comprises Florentine, Spanish, formal French and exotic gardens, as well as rose and rock gardens.

Our next visit is to the Chapelle Saint-Pierre, painted by Jean Cocteau at Villefranche-sur-Mer. The chapel’s feeling of simple, humble fervor echoes that of small Romanesque churches. Its decoration simultaneously represents St. Peter’s life, the village dear to Cocteau’s childhood, and the artist’s friendship with the fishermen to whom the chapel was dedicated.

After time at leisure for lunch in Villefranche-sur-Mer we visit the extraordinary Villa Kérylos. This unique re-creation of an ancient Greek dwelling, complete with wall decorations and furniture, was built by two great Hellenophiles, archaeologist and patron Théodore Reinach and the architect Emmanuel Pontremoli. They based the design on 2nd century BC noble houses on the Island of Delos. Everything inside, from the arrangement of rooms to the details of the décor, recreates the atmosphere of a luxurious Grecian villa. The villas garden grows typically Greek plants: olive trees and vines, pomegranate and carob trees, acanthus and myrtle, oleanders and irises, pine and cypress trees, palm trees and papyrus. (Overnight Antibes) B

Day 4: Saturday 10 May, Antibes – Saint-Paul-de-Vence – Vence – Antibes
  • Provençal Food Market, Cours Masséna, Antibes
  • Château Grimaldi – Musée Picasso, Antibes
  • The Maeght Foundation, Saint-Paul-de-Vence
  • Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire, Vence

This morning we explore the port town of Antibes, which attracted many writers, such as Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Our walking tour includes a visit to Antibes’ Provençal food market. We also visit the Château Grimaldi that houses the Musée Picasso. Picasso used the castle as his studio for a time in 1946. It holds a fine collection of the master’s paintings and ceramics.

We next drive to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, built on a rocky outcrop and surrounded by ramparts overlooking the coast. Fortified in the 16th century, it  began to attract artists such as Marc Chagall, who moved here in 1966 followed by a host of famous artists and writers drawn to the beauty of the surrounding area and its exceptional light.

After time at leisure for lunch and to explore the narrow, picturesque streets of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, we visit the Marguerite and Aimé Maeght Foundation, which has an exceptional collection of 20th-century and contemporary artworks in all media. Painters and sculptors collaborated closely with Catalan architect Lluis Sert to create such elements as the Giacometti courtyard; the Miró labyrinth with sculptures and ceramics; mural mosaics by Chagall and Tal-Coat; a pool and stained glass window by Braque, and a Bury fountain. We shall enjoy works by artists such as Bonnard, Braque, Calder, Chagall, Giacometti, Léger, and Miró.

We return to Antibes via Vence, noted for Henri Matisse’s  Chapelle du Rosaire. Matisse worked on this unique architectural masterpiece between 1948 and 1951, creating its plan and all its decoration, including stained glass windows, ceramics, stalls, stoup, cult objects and priestly ornaments. (Overnight Antibes) B

Day 5: Sunday 11 May, Antibes – Le Cannet – Grasse – Châteauneuf-Grasse – Antibes
  • Musée Bonnard, Le Cannet
  • Time at leisure in Grasse
  • Jardin de la Villa Fort France, Châteauneuf-Grasse (private garden, by special appointment)

This morning we travel to the hillside suburb of Le Cannet to view the work of neo-impressionist painter Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947) who was a founding member of group of artists called the Nabis, and later found inspiration from Fauve artists who worked in vibrant colours. Bonnard arrived in Le Cannet fresh from Paris in 1910 and lived in a seafront villa in the town with his wife, Martha, until his death in 1947. It was during this period that Bonnard painted his most important works, including several landscapes of St-Tropez, Antibes and other areas of the Riviera. Highlights include Nu de profil circa 1905 and La Salle à manger au Cannet, 1932.

We then travel to Grasse where there will be time at leisure to explore the town. Perched 350m above sea level, Grasse is renowned as the world’s perfume capital. Its thriving perfume industry dates back to the late 18th century, attracting skilled “noses” who have honed their craft in Grasse, distinguishing over 2,000 different scents. The town’s microclimate has fostered a flourishing flower farming industry, particularly for jasmine, a key perfume ingredient. Introduced to southern France by the Moors in the 16th century, Grasse now harvests an impressive 27 tonnes of jasmine annually. The historic quarter of Grasse is a captivating labyrinth of narrow, shaded streets, showcasing the town’s medieval and Renaissance architecture. As you wander through these streets, you will encounter various landmarks that trace the city’s development, including the Saracens Tower Square, remnants of 16th-century ramparts, and the former bishop’s palace, which now serves as the town hall. All of these streets converge at the magnificent Notre Dame du Puy Cathedral. Originally built between the 10th and 11th centuries and later modified in the 17th century with the addition of an immense bell tower, this Romanesque church is a treasure trove of art. Inside, you will find a splendid altarpiece by Louis Brea, paintings by Rubens and Fragonard, as well as exquisite stained-glass windows and statues.

Nearby is the garden of Villa Fort France. Its original owners, Lady Winifred Fortescue and her husband, Sir John, bought it in 1935. Lady Fortescue wrote of her struggles to create her home there entitled Perfume from Provence, illustrated by A.A. Milne. Her rose garden was expanded by Jeanne Gruniaux for the present owners, Pierre and Valérie de Courcel, who have added their own touches to create a lovely garden full of colourful annuals: Poppies, larkspur, love-in-the-mist and aquilegia plus a sweet pea hedge. (Overnight Antibes) B

Marseille – 2 nights

Day 6: Monday 12 May, Antibes – Opio – Fréjus – Marseille
  • La Casella, Opio (private garden, by special appointment)
  • Jardin la Pomme d’Ambre, Fréjus (private garden, by special appointment)

Our first visit today is to the stylish garden of La Casella, located on the site of an old jasmine farm. Tom Parr, one of England’s leading designers, and Claus Scheinert, created this late 20th-century garden, combining Provençal, English and Italian styles. Parr evolved a series of flower-filled rooms of simple grandeur. Laurus nobilis has been sculpted into rows of obelisks and walls clipped from Italian cypress and yew. Old-fashioned roses form one of the garden’s terraces  framed by lavender. The house, integrated with the garden, is coloured terracotta and planted with white wisteria.

We continue our journey to reach Fréjus, built upon the remains of an ancient harbour where Octavian (Augustus) moored ships captured from Cleopatra’s fleet at the Battle of Actium. Our main interest is not Fréjus’ Roman remains, however, but the Jardin la Pomme d’Ambre of Madame Nicole Arboireau, chief exponent of the Provençal cottage garden. Nicole Arboireau’s garden contrasts vividly with the foreigners’ gardens you have hitherto encountered. She has set herself the task of nurturing the Provençal tradition of the small garden in which local plants are propagated. We will explore this lovely small domain, learning much about the traditions of gardening in this region. Nicole’s delightful book Jardins de Grands-Mères describes the gardens of grandmothers, with their special secrets revealed.

Mid-afternoon we depart for the port city of Marseille, once a Greek settlement founded in 7th century BC. (Overnight Marseille) B

Day 7: Tuesday 13 May, Marseille
  • Musée des Docks Romains
  • Musée des Beaux Arts
  • Afternoon at leisure

We begin with a short walking tour of Marseille. Dominated on one side by the old town, ‘Le Panier’, and on the other by the church of Notre-Dame de la Garde, our walk reveals the city’s ancient Greek and Roman origins. Marseille’s vocation as a trading port is illustrated with a visit to the Musée des Docks Romains which displays the remains of one of the few-known Roman commercial warehouses. Discovered in 1947, the museum contains 30 dolia or large ceramic containers, lying in situ, used in Roman times for agricultural purposes.

Next we travel by public transport to visit the recently renovated Musée des Beaux Arts in the 19th-century Palais Longchamp where the highlight is a fine collection of nineteenth century French art including works by Daubigny, Courbet, Corot and Millet. (Overnight Marseille) B

Aix-en-Provence - 3 nights

Day 8: Wednesday 14 May, Marseille – Aix-en-Provence
  • Musée des Civilisations d’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MUCEM), Marseille
  • Atelier Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence (subject to confirmation in 2025)
  • Terrain des Peintres

We begin with a visit to the icon of modern Marseille – the Musée des Civilisations d’Europe et de la Méditerranée (MUCEM), designed by Algerian-born, Marseille-educated architect Rudy Ricciotti, and Roland Carta. The permanent collection charts the historical and cultural cross-fertilisation in the Mediterranean basin. The museum is linked by footbridge to the 13-century Fort St-Jean from which there are spectacular views of the Vieux Port and the surrounding area.

Following some time at leisure for lunch, we continue to Aix-en-Provence. Provençal poet Frédéric Mistral went to school in Aix, Marcel Pagnol attended its university, and it was Émile Zola’s home town. Zola and Cézanne enjoyed long excursions on which one would paint and the other would write. On arrival in Aix we visit the Atelier Cézanne which still has many of the objects Cézanne used as subjects for his still lifes: a table, a short ladder, a high easel, a potbelly stove, a sofa, a few chairs. A few locally decorated vases, a ginger jar and an olive pot, a fruit bowl, a plate, a glass, a bottle of rum, three skulls, and a little plaster cupid by François Duquesnoy are among the smaller objects in the atelier’s collection that all appear in his paintings. From the nearby Terrain des Peintres (Painters Park), we shall enjoy views of Mont Sainte-Victoire, painted so often by Cézanne. (Overnight Aix-en-Provence) B

Day 9: Thursday 15 May, Aix-en-Provence
  • Orientation walk of Aix-en-Provence
  • Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence
  • Afternoon at leisure

We begin our morning with a guided walk through Aix-en-Provence. Established in 122 BCE by the Roman garrison led by Caius Sextius Calvinus as Aquae Sextiae, Aix later flourished as the capital of the county of Provence. Renowned for its spa traditions since ancient times, Aix-en-Provence boasts a rich cultural heritage and serves as a prominent arts hub along the French Mediterranean coast. Dubbed the “City of a Hundred Fountains,” Aix is a city characterized by its water features.

Our walk will end at the Musée Granet where we’ll get a tour of the collection. It includes works by Picasso, Léger, Matisse, Monet, Klee and Van Gogh. It also includes ten paintings by Cézanne including a Portrait of Madame Cézanne, a work in tribute to Delacroix, and a recent addition to the museum’s collections – the Portrait of Zola. The latter represents Zola at the age of 20 painted while they were both in Paris, intoxicated by literature and painting.

The afternoon is at leisure for you to further explore and enjoy this pleasant city. (Overnight Aix-en-Provence) B

Day 10: Friday 16 May, Aix-en-Provence – Cucuron – Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade – Aix-en-Provence
  • Pavillon de Galon, Cucuron (private garden, by special appointment)
  • Lunch at La Petite Maison de Cucuron, Cucuron
  • Art and Architecture Tour, Château La Coste, Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade

This morning we travel north  to the Pavillon de Galon, a restored 18th-century hunting pavilion at the foot of the Luberon mountains, surrounded by vines, orchards, cherry and olive trees. Its gardens boast a colourful mix of lavender and clipped hedges.

We next drive to the well-preserved medieval village of Cucuron in the heart of the Luberon National Park. Here we enjoy lunch at Michelin-star chef Eric Sapet’s La Petite Maison de Cucuron, one of the finest restaurants in Provence. Located on the central square in the shade of hundred-year-old plane trees, it serves traditional Provençal dishes made with fresh market produce.

On our way back to Aix-en-Provence, we visit Château La Coste, the creation of Irish property magnate Patrick McKillen. Since 2008, the Château has invited artists and architects to create a work there. Jean Nouvel designed the estate’s chai de vinification (wine vault). In 2011 Tadao Ando designed the art centre surrounded by a shallow pool of water, on which Louise Bourgeois’ Crouching Spider perches. On a guided tour through wooded hilltops and valleys, alongside olive groves and vineyards, we discover many installations by Alexander Calder, Frank O. Gehry, Ai Weiwei, Andy Goldworthy, Paul Matisse, Tom Shannon, Jean Prouve, Sean Scully, Richard Serra, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Tunga, and others. We also visit its kitchen garden, conceived by the landscape designer Louis Benech. It consists of twelve equal-sized square plots of aromatic herbs, vegetables and flowers, and it is edged by an orchard of almond, peach, red plum, and cherry trees. The garden’s central plots are planted with perennials, perfumed roses, asparagus, artichokes, aubergines and tomatoes. (Overnight Aix-en-Provence) BL

Arles - 4 nights

Day 11: Saturday 17 May, Aix-en-Provence Lourmarin – Apt – Bonnieux – Arles
  • Village of Lourmarin
  • La Chabaude, Apt (private garden, by special appointment)
  • Lunch at La Bergerie, Bonnieux
  • Le Jardin de La Louve, Bonnieux (private garden, by special appointment)

Lourmarin is listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France. It has a castle, winding streets, great views and famous writers. Albert Camus, Nobel Prize winner, lived and wrote in Lourmarin, as did novelist and biographer Henri Bosco. Both men are buried in the cemetery. We will follow their footsteps through this charming village.

Mid-moring we cross the Luberon mountain range to La Chabaude, a beautiful stone manor near the market town of Apt. Its gardens, designed by owner and landscape architect Philippe Cottet, are a masterpiece which includes sculptural boxwoods, sycamore trees, towering topiaries and fragrant rosemary and lavender.

We continue through the Luberon  range to the picturesque village of Bonnieux, set atop craggy cliffs. Here we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant followed by a visit to Jardin La Louve (‘She-Wolf Garden’). Fashion designer Nicole de Vésian began restoring her Provençal terrace garden on the lower fringe of this medieval village in 1987. She designed the house and garden in harmony with the natural surroundings. Since Nicole’s death in 1996, this tiny spot has become one of the most photographed gardens in the world. Louisa Jones’ book, Modern Design in Provence (2011), brought further fame to the garden. (Overnight Arles) B

Day 12: Sunday 18 May, Arles
  • Theatre and Amphitheatre, Arles
  • Saint-Trophime and its cloister, Arles
  • Musée de l’Arles Antique, Arles
  • Time at leisure with optional visit to LUMA Arles

This morning we take a guided walking tour of Arles. Provence takes its name from the fact that it was the first ‘province’ (provincia) of the Roman Empire outside Italy. Roman Arleate became a major city, was built to protect the vital estuary of the Rhône. This colonia was given a typical gridded street plan that can still be traced in the centre of the city. It had an important amphitheatre, which in the Middle Ages became a castle but is now used for bullfights, and a theatre, now used for festivals. Arles’ Basilica of Saint-Trophime has one of the finest Romanesque porticoes in Provence with a porch modelled on a Roman triumphal arch.

Following time at leisure for lunch we visit the splendid Musée de l’Arles Antique, whose rich collection of antiquities includes a wonderful sculpted head of Julius Caesar and a 31m-long Roman boat which was discovered in the Rhône.

The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to join an optional visit to LUMA Arles, an arts centre designed by Frank Gehry. The centre, which opened in 2021, features a stainless steel-clad tower with a twisting geometric structure – a glittering icon set within the Parc des Ateliers. (Overnight Arles) B

Day 13: Monday 19 May, Arles – Pont du Gard – Nîmes – Arles
  • Pont du Gard
  • Musée de la Romanité incl. the Mosaic of Pentheus, Nîmes
  • Walking tour of Nîmes incl. the Maison Carrée and Les Arènes

This morning we visit the Pont du Gard, best preserved of all Roman aqueducts. The massive blocks from which it was fabricated have remained in place for two millennia despite the fact it is a dry stone construction (without mortar or cement).

On arrival in Nîmes we visit the iconic Musée de la Romanité which opened in 2018, opposite Les Arènes. This modern museum, designed by French-Brazilian architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, features exhibitions devoted to regional archaeology from the 7th century BC (Iron Age) to the Middle Ages and complemented by several 18th and 19th century collections. One of the highlights is a 35 metre-square mosaic among the best preserved in the world after those of Pompeii. Dating from the beginning of the 3rd century AD, it was discovered in 2006 during excavation work on Avenue Jean-Jaurès. Impressive not only by its size but also for its composition and colours, it shows the mythological story of Pentheus who was put to death by his own mother for defying Dionysus.

We then take a walking tour of the town centre to view the magnificent Roman Temple, the Maison Carrée, and the twin-tiered amphitheatre (Les Arènes) which is considered the best preserved in France. Built around 100 BC, the arena once seated 24,000 spectators. Following our guided walking tour we return to Arles for an evening at leisure. (Overnight Arles) B

Day 14: Tuesday 20 May, Arles – Eygalières – Noves – Saint-Rémy de Provence – Arles
  • Mas Benoît, Eygalières (private garden, by special appointment)
  • Atelier of Marc Nucera, Noves (by special appointment)
  • Garden of Valrugues, Saint-Rémy de Provence (private garden, by special appointment)

We begin today with a visit to the private gardens of Mas Benoît in the foothills of the Alpilles. The garden surrounding a traditional Provençal farmhouse, or mas, lies on a low hill with a magnificent distant mountain backdrop. It is a leading example of contemporary Mediterranean landscape art, with lavender wedge, almond spiral, rock river and oak groves sculpted by Marc Nucera.

In Noves we are privileged to meet with Marc Nucera, renowned tree sculptor and ‘shaper’, at his atelier and experimental garden ‘Le Terrain’. Nucera sculpts living trees, favouring natives such as almonds, green and white oaks, and the remnants of cypress hedging often found on old farmsteads. He also gives new life to dead trees by turning them into furniture and sculptures.

We next make a visit with master landscape architect Dominique Lafourcade to one of her recent creations near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, the garden of Valruges. “A garden is first and foremost a work of art, with the gardener playing the roles of architect, sculptor, musician and painter in turn. A garden should move visitors, setting all their senses aquiver” – Dominique Lafourcade. (Overnight Arles) BL

Florac - 3 nights

Day 15: Wednesday 21 May, Arles – Saint Etienne du Grès – Uzès – Florac
  • Le Petit Fontanille, Saint Etienne du Grès (private garden, by special appointment)
  • Wednesday market in the medieval village of Uzès
  • Dinosaur footprints, St-Laurent-de-Trèves (time-permitting)

This morning we visit Le Petit Fontanille, the private garden of Mrs Anne Cox Chambers. Le Petit Fontanille is the work of several English garden designers: Peter Coates, Rosemary Verey, and, more recently, Tim Rees. The garden merges perfectly into the surrounding hills, woods and olive groves; its success lies in its combination of a profusion of native plants with exotics that are compatible with the climate.

From Saint Etienne du Grès we drive north-west from Arles to the pretty village of Uzès, home to one of the most colourful markets in the south of France. The Wednesday morning market specialises in regional products and specialties: creamy goat cheese, garlic olives, fragrant herbs, pots of thyme-flavoured honey, bread and even small jars of snail and shallot spread!

We continue to our friendly family hotel in the picturesque village of Florac at the very centre of the Cévennes National Park. Time-permitting we stop at the little hamlet of St-Laurent-de-Trèves, situated on a rocky outcrop with magnificent views. Dinosaur footprints have been discovered here, dating back 190 million years, to a time when the region was a limestone swamp. A short walk around the site reveals a number of footprints, which are amazingly clear.

Tonight we dine in the hotel restaurant, L’Adonis, where owner and chef Martial Paulet will serve dishes with the best local seasonal produce. The hotel is situated on the escarpments of the Causse Méjean close to the awesome Gorges du Tarn, Mont Lozère and Mont Aigoual. Robert Louis Stevenson became enamoured of this awesome region and spent much time wandering through it. (Overnight Florac) BLD

Day 16: Thursday 22 May, Florac — Mont Lozère — Finiels — Pont de Montvert — Florac
  • Orientation walk in Florac
  • Mont Lozère scenic drive
  • Le Pont de Montvert

We spend the next two days exploring the Cévennes National Park in the company of local expert mountain guide Anne Nourry, Vice-President of the Association Sur Le Chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson. The Cévennes is one of the wildest areas of France, with high mountains and deep gorges. Nineteenth-century travellers like Robert Louis Stevenson visited isolated villages that seemed locked in the past, with a tradition-bound, conservative culture.

Today’s program will combine coach touring with easy rambles through the countryside and to small, medieval villages. We shall be able to imagine the area as Robert Louis Stevenson saw it, with its wilderness scenery of rugged escarpments, deep valleys, small streams and a host of pretty wildflowers.

After an orientation walk in Florac, we take a scenic drive to the summit of Mont Lozère, the highest peak in the Cévennes National Park. It offers some stunning views of coniferous plantations and ‘broom’ scrub moorland. A short walk will enable us to view the Pic de Finiels which rises at 1699m. The distinct geological zones that make up the Cévennes National Park sustain different types of landscape, which have all been shaped by human activity. Mont Lozère is a granite massif scattered with typical reliefs called felsenmeer (‘block fields’). Water is omnipresent in springs, peat bogs and rivers. The bare crests are summer pastures for great flocks of sheep. Mont Lozère bears the signs of ancient human occupation: menhirs, Gallo-Roman vestiges, and so on.

Following lunch in the small village of Finiels, we drive to Le Pont de Montvert (870 metres in altitude), located at the base of the south-facing slopes of Mont Lozère. Le Pont de Montvert is a pretty granite village that is named for its hump-backed bridge (en dos d’âne) that spans in a single arch the swift-flowing Tarn. The bridge is guarded by a defensive tower. The bridge, where Robert Louis Stevenson stopped during his famous ‘travels with a Donkey’is now a stop along the popular trail that follows his original route. (Overnight Florac) BLD

Day 17: Friday 23 May, Florac — Gorges du Tarn — Gorges de la Jonte — Florac
  • Boat excursion, Gorges du Tarn
  • Belvédère des Vautours (Vulture Lookout), Gorges de la Jonte
  • Farewell Dinner

This morning we focus on the great Gorges du Tarn, an impressive canyon cut by the Tarn through the harsh limestone plateaux (causses) south of the Massif Central. We shall drive along the gorge and then take a small cruise down the Tarn as it winds through the most spectacular section of the valley. We cruise through Les Détroits, the most beautiful and narrowest section of the canyon, between towering vertical cliffs of 400 metres, and end at the Cirque des Baumes, where the gorge widens forming a magnificent amphitheatre.

Following a picnic lunch we travel to the western edge of the park, where the Gorges du Tarn meets the Gorges de la Jonte. Here we visit the Belvédère des Vautours, an interpretive centre and viewing point for the many Griffon and Black vultures that nest in the Gorge. National park officers will show us their nests as we watch individuals and groups perched on the dramatic gorge walls. Following a majestic aerial ballet performed by 30 or so vultures, we return to our hotel and enjoy a farewell meal. (Overnight Florac) BLD

Day 18: Saturday 24 May, Florac — Nîmes Centre TGV Station
  • Corniche des Cévennes

This morning we drive out of the Cévennes National Park along the scenic Corniche des Cévennes, past the village of Saint-Jean-du-Gard and on to Nîmes’ TGV station, where you will be able to take a train to your airport or next French destination. Our tour ends at Nîmes Centre TGV station at approximately 1200hrs (midday). B

Accommodation

Accommodation

21-day Cultural Garden Tour of Southern France

Hotels are rated 3- to 5-star locally and are comfortable and conveniently situated. All rooms have en suite bathroom. Further information on hotels will be provided in the ‘Tour Hotel List’ given to tour members prior to their departure.

  • Menton (2 nights): 4-star Hotel Napoléon – located on the seafront, overlooking the picturesque Bay of Garavan and within walking distance to the old town and harbour. The beautiful hotel garden was designed by famous landscape architects Arnaud Maurières and Eric Ossart. www.napoleon-menton.com
  • Antibes (3 nights): 4-star Hôtel & Spa La Villa Port d’Antibes – modern hotel located between the marina and the old town of Antibes. www.villa-port-antibes.com
  • Marseille (2 nights): 4-star Grand Hôtel Beauvau Marseille Vieux-Port – historic hotel situated on the Vieux Port, right in the heart of Marseille. www.grandhotelbeauveau.com
  • Aix-en-Provence (3 nights): 4-star Grand Hotel Roi René – located in the heart of the city, a short stroll from the famous Cours Mirabeau and the old town. www.accorhotels.com
  • Arles (4 nights): 5-star Hôtel & Spa Jules César Arles – situated in the centre of Arles, right across the antique theatre, this hotel was refurbished and decorated by Christian Lacroix and presents a colourful style. www.hotel-julescesar.fr
  • Florac (3 nights): 3-star Hotel des Gorges du Tarn – a charming family-run hotel set in the heart of the Cévennes National Park, in the picturesque village of Florac. The hotel restaurant, L’Adonis, serves creative seasonal menus with locally sourced produce. www.hotel-gorgesdutarn.com Note: due to mountainous terrain, internet service in this area can be intermittent.

NoteHotels are subject to change. In this instance a hotel of similar standard will be provided.

Single Supplement

Payment of this supplement will ensure accommodation in a single occupancy throughout the tour. In all hotels on this tour, this will be a double/twin room for single occupancy. The number of rooms available for single use is extremely limited. People wishing to take this supplement are therefore advised to book well in advance.

How to book

How to Book

ASA RESERVATION APPLICATION FORM

Please complete the ASA RESERVATION APPLICATION and send it to Australians Studying Abroad together with your non-refundable deposit of AUD $1000.00 per person payable to Australians Studying Abroad.

Practical Information

Practical Information

The number of flags is a guide to the degree of difficulty of ASA tours relative to each other (not to those of other tour companies). It is neither absolute nor literal. One flag is given to the least taxing tours, seven to the most. Flags are allocated, above all, according to the amount of walking and standing each tour involves. Nevertheless ,all ASA tours require that participants have a good degree of fitness enabling 2-3 hours walking or 1-1.5 hours standing still on any given site visit or excursion. Many sites are accessed by climbing slopes or steps and have uneven terrain.

This 18-day Tour of Southern France involves:
  • Moderate walking and standing during site visits; walking tours may include steep inclines (eg. hilltop towns), flights of stairs, cobbled streets and uneven ground.
  • Traversing nature trails in the Cévennes National Park.
  • Moderate travel by air-conditioned coach, involving slow winding coastal and mountain roads.
  • Public transport in Marseille (Metro).
  • Boat cruise in the Tarn Gorges, Cévennes National Park.
  • Several early-morning departures (between 8.00-8.30am), concluding in the late afternoon (between 5.30-6.30pm).
  • 3- or 4-star hotels with five hotel changes.
  • You must be able to carry your own hand luggage. Hotel porterage includes 1 piece of luggage per person.

It is important to remember that ASA programs are group tours, and slow walkers affect everyone in the group. As the group must move at the speed of the slowest member, the amount of time spent at a site may be reduced if group members cannot maintain a moderate walking pace. ASA tours should not present any problem for active people who can manage day-to-day walking and stair-climbing. However, if you have any doubts about your ability to manage on a program, please ask your ASA travel consultant whether this is a suitable tour for you. Please note: it is a condition of travel that all participants agree to accept ASA’s directions in relation to their suitability to participate in activities undertaken on the tour, and that ASA retains the sole discretion to direct a tour participant to refrain from a particular activity on part of the tour. For further information please refer to the ASA Reservation Application Form.

Practical Information

Prior to departure, tour members will receive practical notes which include information on visa requirements, health, photography, weather, clothing and what to pack, custom regulations, bank hours, currency regulations, electrical appliances and food. The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade website has advice for travellers: www.smartraveller.gov.au

Tour Price & Inclusions

Tour Price & Inclusions

AUD $13,790.00 Land Content Only – Early-Bird Special: Book before 31 March 2024

AUD $13,990.00 Land Content Only

AUD $3290.00 Single Supplement

Tour Price (Land Content Only) includes:
  • Accommodation in twin-share rooms with private facilities in 3-4 star hotels
  • Meals as indicated in the tour itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch & D=dinner
  • Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
  • Transportation by air-conditioned coach
  • Use of public transport in Marseille (Metro)
  • Airport-hotel arrival transfer if travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ arrival flight
  • Hotel-TGV station departure transfer
  • Porterage of one piece of luggage per person at hotels (not at airports/train stations)
  • Lecture and site-visit program
  • Entrance fees
  • Use of audio headsets during site visits
  • Tour handbook
  • Tips for the coach driver, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tour Price (Land Content Only) does not include:
  • Airfare: Australia-Nice, Nîmes-Australia
  • Personal spending money
  • Airport-hotel transfers if not travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flights
  • Luggage in excess of 20kg (44lbs)
  • Travel insurance
  • Visas (if applicable)
Tour Map

Tour Map

Gallery
Terms & Conditions
Deposits

A non-refundable deposit of $1000.00 AUD per person is required to reserve a place on this ASA tour.

Cancellation Fees

If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:

  • More than 75 days before departure: your initial deposit of $1000.00 is non-refundable.**
  • 75-31 days prior 50% of total amount due
  • 30-0 days prior 100% of total amount due

**$500.00 of this amount (ie 50% of your deposit) may be credited to another ASA tour departing within 12 months of the original tour you booked. We regret, in this case early-bird discounts will not apply.

We take the day on which you cancel as being that on which we receive written confirmation of cancellation.

Unused Portions of the Tour

We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.

Will the Tour Price or Itinerary Change?

If the number of participants on a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates ASA reserves the right to amend the advertised price. We shall, however, do all in our power to maintain the published price. If an ASA tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all tour monies paid. Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of ASA make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes in due course.

Travel Insurance

ASA requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. A copy of your travel insurance certificate and the reverse charge emergency contact phone number must be received by ASA no later than 75 days prior to the commencement of the tour.

Final Payment

The balance of the tour price will be due 75 days prior to the tour commencement date.

Limitation of Liability

ASA is not a carrier, event or tourist attraction host, accommodation or dining service provider. All bookings made and tickets or coupons issued by ASA for transport, event, accommodation, dining and the like are issued as an agent for various service providers and are subject to the terms and conditions and limitations of liability imposed by each service provider. ASA is not responsible for their products or services. If a service provider does not deliver the product or service for which you have contracted, your remedy lies with the service provider, not ASA. ASA will not be liable for any claim (eg. sickness, injury, death, damage or loss) arising from any change, delay, detention, breakdown, cancellation, failure, accident, act, omission or negligence of any such service provider however caused (contingencies). You must take out adequate travel insurance against such contingencies. ASA’s liability in respect of any tour will be limited to the refund of amounts received from you less all non-refundable costs and charges and the costs of any substituted event or alternate services provided. The terms and conditions of the relevant service provider from time to time comprise the sole agreement between you and that service provider. ASA reserves the sole discretion to cancel any tour or to modify itineraries in any way it considers appropriate. Tour costs may be revised, subject to unexpected price increases or exchange rate fluctuations.

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