A Day in Provence with Kids

Day at a glance

Day in detail:

Morning – Port pick-up; drive to Aix en Provence; Aix markets; carousel

Provence is a region in Southeastern France noted for its stunning and colorful landscapes – mountains, plains, vineyards, lavender and sunflower fields… It is easy to see why Cezanne, Picasso and Van Gogh settled in this area to paint.  Many Mediterranean cruises make a stop along the French Riviera, and once in port, one has quick access to the many beautiful cities in Provence – an opportunity we did not want to miss. 

Aix en Provence

A full-day shore excursion with kids demands flexibility and patience…and not just from mom and dad.  With four kids, the goal is to find a tour guide who won’t quit on the spot – which means scouring TripAdvisor for reviews from families with small children. The tour company, A Day in Provence, sounded perfect for us so I contacted them to help me plan a custom shore excursion.  I told them what we wanted to see and do, and they delivered a day with something for everyone – a carousel ride, outdoor market shopping, a picnic, a breathtaking kid-friendly art exhibit, and a visit to a castle with hands-on lessons in medieval weaponry!  TIP – Always plan for weapons to be at the end of the day when everyone is too tired to get violent or creative with them.

Our Day in Provence tour guide, Sebastian, picked us up at the port and my kids put him to the test immediately. Sebastian and I chatted about France and I pretended that my kids were NOT loudly singing a macabre rendition of Jingle Bells (in July) over and over for the entire hour-long drive from Marseille to Provence.  The song went something like this: Dashing through the snow, on a broken pair of skis, I lost my control, and crashed through all the trees.  The snow was turning red, I thought that I was dead.  I woke up in the hospital with stitches in my head.  OH, 911, 911, please help me… you get the idea. Sebastian played it cool and did not quit on the spot. 

We arrived in Aix and our first stop was at a double decker carousel!  We felt that since the kids behaved so well during the drive, they deserved to go on a ride.  This beautiful carousel is called Carrousel Paul Cezanne and features replicas of the artist’s works.

I had never seen a double decker carousel.  The fun and exciting part about it is of course the second level; however, the unfortunate part is that the second level horses are about 1/3 the size of standard carousel horses, so my 11-year-old looked like the star of Honey I Blew up the Kid.

Bit of a stretch here…
This looks right.

Our next stop was shopping at the Aix outdoor market.  The market is held several days a week on a wide street in Aix, Cours Mirabeau, and the vendors offer items ranging from textiles and soaps to books and antiques…all things that young children love to browse.  Just kidding.  This part was a struggle.  Our oldest daughter turned 11 and wanted to pick a few things for herself and we wanted to do a little souvenir shopping.  We had to rely on Sebastian to translate for us when conversing with the vendors, and the younger kids all whined the whole time.  We finally emerged with some soap and hand towels, sweating like we had been at the gym, which meant we should have used the soap and towels immediately, but we held onto them as gifts.

Lavender products!

After those 15 excruciating minutes, the kids needed another reward for their stellar conduct, so we took them to Patisserie Bechard – one of the oldest bakeries in Aix, which opened in 1870. 

A French bakery is a feast for the senses – brilliantly-colored pastries and wrapped candies, the smell of freshly baked cakes and chocolates, and the bustle and excitement of a hungry crowd.  I couldn’t even make out a line, but somehow the French know what they’re doing in there, and before I knew it, Sebastian ordered the items we wanted to sample. 

Delicious chocolates with caramel and fruit-flavored gummy candy.  The best, freshest candy we have ever had! The sugar worked its magic for 5 minutes and then we arrived at the outdoor food market.  Another amazing sight to see – fruits, vegetables, cheese, dried meats, flowers and the holy grail of the French diet (and the mainstay of my kids’ daily sustenance) – bread, aka the baguette!  We gathered some fruit, and cheese and lots of bread and headed to a picnic spot in another hilltop village in Provence, Les Baux.

Lunch – Picnic on hilltop in Les Baux

The view from our hilltop picnic spot was breathtaking.  This was a surreal moment…my daughter’s 11th birthday!  We were eating the fresh baguettes and fruit we just bought at an outdoor market in Provence, enjoying a view of a 12th century medieval castle that we were soon going to visit!  There was nothing that could ruin this moment.

Except for flies.  Flies ruined the moment.  Flies ruined all of the picnic moments.  My 4-year-old is afraid of insects and we had to scarf down our delicious baguettes to get her back in the car away from the murderous flies.  She left the picnic unscathed and despite the rush, I managed to get a couple of pictures before our next stop – Les Carrieres des Lumieres for the Van Gogh art exhibit.

Afternoon – Les Carrieres des Lumieres; Village of Les Baux; Chateau des les Baux

The Carrieres de Lumieries is unlike any art exhibit I have ever seen.  I majored in art history in college.  I studied abroad twice.  I have been appreciating fine art for 25 years…in several countries, in countless galleries and museums.  Nothing will ever top what I saw at the Van Gogh exhibit at Les Carrieres de Lumieres.  I would return to Provence just to see this show again.  The lights and sounds immersive exhibit takes place in an old quarry.  It is a huge space, dark and cool, with several “rooms” to walk through, and thank God, there are no flies.  The show lasts about 25 minutes and the artist’s works are projected onto the walls, floors, and ceiling.  The images move and develop before your eyes.  To make the impact on your senses even more emotional, the show is set to music.  It is unforgettable.  The best part about this show for parents is that there is nothing that your kids can’t touch!  If they want to run into the walls at full speed, skip, climb on the rocks, nobody is judging.  There is nothing roped off, no guards giving your kids the evil eye, and no alarms going off if you get too close to the art. It’s the perfect family art appreciation scenario.

After the Van Gogh exhibit, we drove just a few minutes up the road to spend our last hour and a half at the Chateau de Les Baux.  This little hilltown of Les Baux is an absolute delight and I wish I could have gotten the time back from our failed picnic-o-flies to spend here.  We stopped in a shop for ices to cool off a bit and then headed up the hill to the medieval castle. 

The Chateau les Baux was originally built about 1100 years ago and enough of its structure is left so you can see how it remained a stronghold for centuries. 

Strolling around the ruins, as you take in the amazing view of the Alpilles mountain range, you will come across full-size replicas of medieval siege weapons – a trebuchet and a ballista (giant catapults), and a battering ram. 

There are demonstrations of these weapons but unfortunately we were not there for this.  It’s probably best my kids didn’t get a catapult engineering lesson.  We did, however, get to talk to a gentleman about chain maille and leather used as part of armour. 

The kids also got to try out some stocks (we let them out). 

And the most exciting part of the day – we were able to try our hand at shooting a medieval crossbow!  Nobody was injured and Mommy hit the bullseye! 

We loved all of our adventures in Provence (except for the fly encounter) and it’s hard to believe we were only there one day!  Ideally, you should stay in Provence for several days, but if you only have one day as we did, let One Day in Provence plan the perfect day for you!

Let us know about your day in Provence!

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