Southern France is synonymous with glamour, indulgence and sublime rural landscapes. Picturesque villages, vineyards, dazzling cities and azure coastlines form an elegant blend of cultural richness and natural beauty.
Lavish hotels, Michelin-starred dining and exclusive events all contribute to its status as a luxury haven. Here, Travel Concierge Helen shares her admiration for French culture and cuisine, along with her personal recommendations to make Ultimate Southern France even more exceptional.
Discover this on: Ultimate Southern France
Sophisticated and stylish
“What I’ve always loved about France is that it is just so sophisticated,” says Helen. “The French are very stylish.”
“As a culture they really take the time to learn how to prepare something. Take food for example. It takes years to become a chef, and there’s a real respect around acquiring and applying knowledge and producing something of really high quality. This can be seen in many areas, such as with wine, furniture and so on.”
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Luxury is time
“There’s a different approach to time in France, which I really I really appreciate,” she tells us, adding with a smile that it can also be sometimes frustrating.
“For me, luxury is all about time. Obviously, it’s the quality of things, but it’s also the luxury of taking the time to enjoy things. Of being able to say we can sit and try the local specialty, be that a patisserie or an aperitif, and break from a world where we’re all so busy. And Ultimate Southern France offers just that.
“We have two nights in Monte Carlo, three days in Aix-en-Provence Two nights in Carcassonne and two in Bordeaux So, the pace of the tour is elegant. We’re not running from hotel to hotel, we have this chance to relax and go a little bit deeper.”
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The rural pleasure of southern France
“Often people’s first point of arrival in France would be Paris, the City of Light. Big and beautiful, it’s also big and busy,” says Helen. “The South of France is a haven of tranquility.
“Historically it’s a huge rural economy. So, inevitably, the pace of life is very different. Up until a few decades ago everything would have been based on the agricultural cycle. This routine is maybe not so much the case anymore, but farming and the vineyards are still an incredibly important part of the South of France.”
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I love this chateau on the French Riviera
The Côte d’Azur, also known as the French Riviera, stretches from Saint-Tropez to the Italian border, and encompasses iconic cities like Nice and Cannes. This glamorous Mediterranean coastline is renowned for its azure waters and golden beaches, dotted with palm-lined promenades, luxurious yachts, and chic boutiques.
“Elegant and enchanting, there is so much to love about the Côte d’Azur,” says Helen. “My highlight on Ultimate Southern France is the Rothschild Chateau in Nice. “It’s one of the places where everybody asks, ‘what is this about?’ It is so unusual.”
Built in 1905 by Beatrice de Rothschild, the opulent Villa and gardens of Ephrussi de Rothschild is home to over 5,000 art objects. Up on the hillside, it looks out over the Côte d’Azur.
“I think it’s this thing of going to a place you might not have gone to yourself, and it is stunning. It’s such a nice surprise because nobody has any expectations.”
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Exquisite dining, perfectly planned
With many exceptional dining experiences included on this tour, from a pastry making lesson with a professional chef to fine dining, you embark on a thrilling gastronomical journey. In addition to the included dining, there are countless options in the South of France to further indulge the taste buds.
“The Pressoir d’Argent, Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant is located in Le Grand Hotel Bordeaux and, if you love haute cuisine, then this is an exceptional experience,” says Helen. “Reservations do need to be made around a week in advance, so this is something I talk to guests about at the start of the tour.
“A key aspect of being a Travel Concierge is about being on the front foot all the time with guests. France is my neighborhood and I know all the ways to make this tour exceptional above and beyond the planned itinerary. So, I make sure to impart this knowledge to guests and tailor recommendations to their pleasures, to ensure they can make the most of these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.
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My restaurant recommendations in Nice
Nice, the largest city on the French Riviera, is also one of the most charming. Located between the Mediterranean Sea and the famous Maritime Alps, the city offers a unique combination of urban convenience and natural beauty.
Guests on Ultimate Southern France have free time in Nice, to choose where they have lunch and dinner. With so many options, Helen is on hand to help you choose the perfect spot.
“If you really want to sit down and have a nice lunch in Nice, you’ve got the top top option, which is the Hotel Negresco,” Helen advises. “It’s restaurant Le Chantecler, with its 18th century décor, is incredibly decadent, indulgent and fun.
“And if you want something more casual then I’ll send you to the Old Town. In the lovely higgledy piggledy streets, with their gorgeous pink and peachy hues, I recommend you visit ‘Le Panier’.
“Around 100 years ago, a huge wave of Italian immigrants came from Bergamo into southern France and brought their delicious food with them. You must try the ‘socca’, it’s like a frittata but made from chickpea flour. Its great as an aperitif with a beer or glass of wine.”
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Personalize your day in Aix-en-Provence
On all Luxury Gold tours, at various points guests can personalize their day with a choice of two experiences. Each thoughtfully chosen with the Luxury Gold guest in mind, they offer contrasting ways to experience your destination.
“In charming Aix-en-Provence, we visit the remarkable Château La Coste, and here guests can choose between a wine tasting or an art walking tour,” Helen explains. “The Chateau La Coste is one of these surprising places where often no one has any expectations when we arrive, and it’s pretty phenomenal. There is a huge vineyard, a beautiful lake and a fascinating outdoor art gallery. Guests also have the opportunity to choose between experiences in Nice and Bordeaux.
“It’s all about personal preference, not just on where your interest lies, but also your rhythm at that point. Some guests may still be tired from their transatlantic flight for example or come from another European trip. So, I encourage people to work out what they need at that moment in time. Maybe it’s to sit down and sip fine wines, or whether you’d like to explore and learn. Indeed, on most occasions, guests can also choose to do both options, this is the beauty of our small group journeys.”
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Elevated souvenirs – a timeless piece of French history
“My advice for a fabulous souvenir would be ‘les boutis,’” Helen says. “You can find some of the best examples of these elegant textiles at the market we visit when in Lourmarin.
“In the 1700s there was a strong commerce connection between the southern French city of Marseille and India, which saw the arrival of amazing fabrics. The French found the prints so beautiful they decided to begin making their own. So, when you see Provençal material, like tablecloths, serviettes or bedspreads, it’s likely that that print came India 300 years ago and has become part of a kind of cannon of prints that haven’t really changed ever since.
“Aesthetically, they’re beautiful – a timeless classic. They don’t age and still look as good today as they did say 50 years ago.
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My pick of the exceptional hotels
A hallmark of Luxury Gold tours are the exceptional five-star hotels. Each one hand selected, they not only bookend each day, but are often a destination in themselves. “Each hotel is stunning but different, which I love about Ultimate Southern France,” says Helen. “All reflect the sophistication and excellence of French hospitality, whilst offering a variety of decadent experiences.”
“The 18th century La Magdeleine – Mathias Dandine, where we stay for three nights when visiting Aix-en-Provence is definitely a highlight,” says Helen. “An elegant Provençale country house, you’re at the foot of the Sainte-Baume Mountains and get a real taste of the spirit of living in Provence.
“Then in contrast in the heart of the city, Le Grand Hotel Bordeaux in terms of luxury is phenomenal. I love this hotel because it’s got a superb relaxation and wellbeing space with a lovely indoor pool and rooftop terrace. We spend two nights here at the end of the tour so you can really relax and make the most of the amenities, and it’s perfectly placed for easy sightseeing.”
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The beauty of a Luxury Gold tour
“With Luxury Gold, everything is personal,” explains Helen. “With an average of just 20 people on a tour, our small group journeys leave plenty of time for one-to-one attention from your Travel Concierge.
“We’re able to respond to the ideas, needs and desires of guests and also of the group. For example, with one group, in Aix-en-Provence, some wanted to come to the Chateau, and some wanted to rest back at the hotel for us to collect them later. This is the kind of thing we can do on Luxury Gold, we have that flexibility, which I love.”
To experience the sophistication for yourself, take a look at Ultimate Southern France, just one of our exquisite small group journeys.