Postcard from

A Provençal Road Trip

Words and images by Martina Mondadori
Image from oltrepò pavese

Pretty Provence is full of charming medieval towns and bustling brocantes; Martina Mondadori. 

In the second instalment of her Summer Travel diaries, Editor-in-Chief Martina Mondadori shares highlights from a trip to Provence, spent exploring brocantes, beautiful houses and charming towns. 
I love a proper old school road trip, exploring towns and villages, being inspired to stop as you go along; here are highlights from my trip through Provençe, some more predictable, some more off-the-beaten-track. Trigger warning for any contemporary art lover: I did NOT visit any sculpture park or contemporary art center. 
As one drives from Italy, or indeed France if you land in Nice, the first obligatory stop for any Interiors lover is Villa Kerylos in Beaulieau. We have all seen many pictures of it, but nothing beats your first in-person experience in a place like this. The vision of the owner, his passion for the Greek world and its decorative motifs, is unrivalled. I was particularly inspired by the pattern motifs on walls and mosaic floors, and by the bathrooms upstairs. 
Driving towards Hotel Crillon le Brave in Avignon, our beautiful home for the trip (see 'Where to Stay' below), we stopped in Villecroze, a small, extremely charming medieval town with great views. There are plenty of brocante flea markets on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in this area. Check online for details.


Image from oltrepò pavese

Provence is a paradise for antique and vintage lovers with its many markets and shops; Martina Mondadori. 

L’Isle sur la Sorgue
The 'Capital of Antiques' does not disappoint, although it is now very touristic and extremely expensive. We went to the Sunday market, which allows you an extra mile of better-priced brocante stalls and antiques. The two highlights of the more established antique dealers in town were Bernard Durand for textiles and interesting objects, and Galerie Quattro for some glorious Provençal ceramics, a real feast for the eyes and celebration of craftsmanship. Also worth visiting (but not on a Sunday!) is the baroque Collegiale Notre Dame des Anges Church. 
No weekend in Provence is complete without a stop in Avignon. Famous for its unbelievable medieval papal palace, the highlights for me were Musée Calvet, Avignon's impressive Fine Arts museum, and the more discreet Musée Louis Vouland (pictured below), which has a very original and beautiful display for its collection of ceramics on the first floor. The “Asian” room, also on the first floor, is equally mind-blowing.


Image from oltrepò pavese

Left: Musee Louis Vouland in Avignon. Right: Provençal pottery in one of the region's many brocantes; Martina Mondadori. 

The main purpose of my stop in Arles was to see Francois Halard’s house. It was a bit of a dream come true as I had been raving about his interiors since the very first time I saw pictures of them. But still it exceeded all expectations (not easy with me!). His layering, collecting, use of color, texture, wallpapers and fabrics is truly masterful. The house is also his main studio, and where he keeps his archive, and I had a glimpse of his imminent exhibition, coming to Paris in the Fall. Definitely something to look forward to, and worth planning a trip to Paris for.
A few other interesting spots to visit in and near Arles include: the Roman ruins; Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, and the artist's bedroom at the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (a 30 min drive from Arles); Museon Arlaten, dedicated to the ethnography and crafts of Provence; Musée Réattu for Fine Arts; and Vague, a shop and gallery recently opened by the Japanese artist Teruhiro Yanaghihara. And of course, just strolling through the streets of Arles will give you a real sense of this wonderful coastal city.
Recommended Reading: Arles-based design legend, Christian Lacroix, discusses life after couture.


Image from oltrepò pavese

Block printed textiles and shelves full of ceramics can be found across the region; Martina Mondadori. 

This was the highlight of my Provençal road trip, because it was totally unexpected. Less well known than Arles or Avignon, we primarily drove to Tarascon to visit the Souleiado factory and Atelier Vime’s house and newly-opened shop in nearby Vallabrègues, but also discovered a completely charming historic town. 
Souleiado has a long-standing tradition of block printing the archetypal 'Provençal fabrics', cotton fabrics with bright floral patterns. Nowadays they mainly produce fashion and apparel, but in their museum you get a sense of the incredible history of textiles and block printing, as well as traditional Provençal costumes.
There is also a small room dedicated to the region's typical ceramics and Aptware (marbled earthenware from Apt), showcasing unbelievable antique pieces. I gathered leftover yardage of vintage upholstering fabrics and borders and purchased them, knowing that some day sooner or later I will use them (this is a rule of mine when decorating: if you find worthy fabrics or objects, better buy them and at some point they’ll turn out to be useful!). 


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Atelier Vime's house and recently opened shop in Vallabrègues near Tarascon; Martina Mondadori. 

What impressed me most about Tarascon is its utterly untouched charm. Every single street has a palace or house worth looking at, whether for its unusual color or decadent-yet-run-down architectural features. 
Just a few kilometers from Tarascon, in Vallabrègues, lies Atelier Vime’s house and newly-opened shop: four rooms and a courtyard, keeping it all real and authentic. Benoit and Anthony have a very unusual eye, one that isn’t shy of “looking backwards” to that charm of a bygone era, pulling off a simple rural chic filled with beautiful objects and “aesthetic nonchalance”. Their curation of every detail is impressive, and their brand one to follow. 



Hotel Crillon le Brave: the ultimate expression of unpretentious luxury; Martina Mondadori. 

Where to Stay
Nestled in one of the most charming villages on the hills behind Avignon, Hotel Crillon le Brave is the ultimate expression of unpretentious luxury. Facing the most perfect landscape, one is taken far away from the frenzy and hustle of city life.
The rooms, which are all very spacious and decorated by Charles Zana, are spread across a dozen stone houses in the village surrounding the church. This unique set up allows guests to feel like they are experiencing typical rural village life whenever they walk to breakfast or visit the spa.
There is great attention to detail, with freshly-baked Madeleines awaiting you in your bedroom, and even bookmarks placed in the pages of your book - should you be one of those hopeless people, like me, who constantly forgets theirs at home. 



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