Easter… the word conjures up Spring sunshine, cute rabbits, fluffy chicks and chocolate. However, in the UK, the reality can also be the nightmare of a long school holiday break with torrential rain outside. So, give yourselves a treat and head south. Blue skies, balmy air, open spaces and even beaches await you in Provence….plus the temptation of local wines and chocolate to die for! With the hard to beat mix of the city of Marseille, with countryside and coast all within easy reach, Provence is definitely a destination with something for all the family!
With scheduled and budget airlines flying into Marseille, arriving quickly won’t be a problem. If you prefer to drive, then make a holiday of the journey and stop a night or two en-route and enjoy seeing the changes to the French countryside as you go. Although tolls are charged on many of the main motorway routes, it is often worth the cost to avoid city centre traffic and reduce your travel time. Plus, the motorway network in France is second to none.
When you arrive in Provence, you will be spoilt for choice in accommodation either with something for every budget or family size. Consider renting a village house to really get the feel of French life or opt for staying at a Chambre d’hotes. Such accommodation can vary from very simple to very elegant, depending on your budget, but these “home from home” stays will also often serve wonderful evening meals which will give you a real taste of local cuisine. There are also, of course, a wide range of hotels in locations from country to coast.
The Easter weekend
Easter is very much a family time in France when all generations will gather together. Unlike the UK, the only public holiday is on the Monday and life continues as usual on the Friday before the Easter weekend. As a predominantly Catholic country, you will see whole families heading to church on Easter Sunday and they will follow this outing with a traditional Easter Sunday lunch of roast lamb. Easter egg hunts will abound over the weekend, so look out for these events near to where you are staying.
Traditions stand firm in France as amply demonstrated in the wonders of the chocolate confections conjured up in the windows of the local “Chocolatiers”. Here you will find the most glorious confections of chocolate with the Easter eggs, still traditionally decorated with sugar flowers, swirls and bows. No girl could possibly resist (regardless of age!).
Chocolate bells are also big on the chocolate agenda in France so no excuse for the boys to not be able to indulge. You will also find that many Chocolatiers will serve gourmet coffee and hot chocolate to tempt you for a mid-morning break. You then just have to work out how to burn off all those calories!
How to pass your time
The great outdoors awaits in Provence and, in April, the weather should be kind enough to allow you to suck in lungfuls of healthy, unpolluted fresh-air. Head into the countryside to stone hilltop villages like Le Castellet. Admire the tiny streets of these ancient villages, bask in the views and enjoy the Spring flowers growing wild.
Down near the sea, enjoy the timeless beauty of the Parc Nationale de Calanques which hugs the coast east of Marseille and stops just before you reach the pretty seaside fishing village of Cassis. Glorious views all the way and absolutely no excuse for the kids not to burn off excess energy!
If you and the younger generation are game, the sunshine might even tempt you to a paddle on one of the many beaches along this southern coast. If the Mediterranean is still a bit on the chilly side, warm up with a game of Frisbee on the beach afterwards.
If you head into Bandol a little further east, the kids will have a choice of three beaches, while the wine drinkers in the family can choose from a wide variety of bars and restaurants where they can sample offerings from the local vineyards.
Exercise can also be found in eclectic Marseille with its old town back-streets and markets offering lots of retail temptation. Indeed, April is the perfect time to really explore the city before the heat of summer makes street-exploration more arduous. There are art-galleries, museums and the always vibrant seafront gives views out to Chateau d’If just offshore… another great trip for the kids with the temptation of not only a boat ride, but the chance to view dungeons in the castle on arrival.
Marseille although known for its vibrant city life and seafront, also offers some beautiful parks – the huge Parc Borely with its fabulous chateau and fountain, also has a play area and a separate Jardin Botanique with a collection of rare plants. In the Parc du 26eme Centinaire you will find 4 different themed gardens but also a skate park and bike paths. If you are getting footsore, you can rent a bike here to explore. Parc Longchamp has it all; a chateau, pavilions and museums plus parks, ponds and fun animal statuary. Jardin du Pharo, although smaller, has the beautiful Palais du Pharo to admire and also offers the chance to see Marseille from a different angle, taking in views of the old port and many of the city’s monuments.
When you’ve burnt off that excess energy (and the chocolate!) as with any big city, there are a host of bars and restaurants to tempt you.
….and just think, a little trip to Provence also has the added benefit of offering 24/7 French classes prior to the Summer term exams. Nothing can beat the benefit of hearing the language all around you and there’s no excuse not try out those phrases learnt in school.
Whatever you end up doing this Easter, I hope you have a wonderful time! Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions about Provence, particularly around the Bandol area… I’m happy to help.
Su Stephens is Owner of Olives & Vines. Olives & Vines is a luxury holiday company based in the South of France offering stays at their beautifully designed holiday house and boutique hotel in Le Castellet.