Forget the lavender – this is why you should visit Provence in the autumn

Last updated 13th December 2023

Provence family holidays go far beyond fields of lavender as Harriet Mallinson found out the easy way when she enjoyed a weekend at the family-friendly, five-star hotel Coquillade Provence in autumn.

provence autumn

Provence’s vineyards showcase spectacular colours come autumn

The French sommelier is looking at me with disdain. “For… ze vegetables?” he asks, lip curling in horror. I’ve made the mistake of casually asking this keeper of cuvées whether it’s true a good way to aerate red wine is to pop it into a blender – and his expression gives me the answer I need.

The fact that you can hardly move for a vineyard in this Luberon region at the heart of Provence shows how seriously wine is taken. Lavender may get all the purple-hazed glory in early summer but it’s the vines that burst into autumnal-hued, Titian splendour when the year draws to a close.

As the plants transition from verdant foliage to shards of flame post-harvest, sunshine gilds the Provençale landscape, trailing blonde leaves glowing like the flesh of plump golden sultanas in its wake as the vines stripe the fields, Breton jumper-style.

Of course, colours come whatever the season – in March and April cherry trees carpet the terrain in swan-feather white, in May to June it’s the rich red of poppies and in late summer an egg-yolk daub of sunflowers – the panorama punctuated year-round with cypress trees spiking the sky like alert cats’ tails. “Provence always has something to show!” locals enthuse.

provence bike ride

By bike is an excellent way to explore Provence’s town and villages.

E-bike to ensure the hills (not your thighs) come alive

To get out amongst this Cézanne-scape (and work off the – strictly non-blended – wine) hop on an electric bike. Tackling the steep, windy roads is as easy as slicing through gooey camembert with the added pedal power – but note only kids aged 15 and up can cycle (France has strict insurance rules on e-biking littlies but tots can always go in a trailer).

From your wheels à deux you’ll not only soak up the spectacular countryside but you can also visit the small and picturesque towns that stud Provence.

rousillon red cliffs

Roussillon is famous for its ochre earth

Which Provence Hilltop towns are best?

The Luberon region is home to the clifftop outpost of Roussillon. Considered one of the most beautiful villages in France it boasts a Farrow & Ball-worthy autumnal palette thanks to the 17 shades of ochre coating the jostling buildings, their forget-me-not-blue shutters vibrant against the clay’s russet tones.

Roussillon’s attractiveness runs deeply (pardon the pun) – its quarry was one of the most significant ochre deposits in the world in the 19th century and legend has it the rubicund earth is the blood of a young damsel who threw herself off the cliff upon hearing of her lover’s murder.

If you’ve got time the pretty medieval hilltop villages of Goult and Lacoste are also worth admiring – and stories are bountiful here too. The latter is the erstwhile home of the infamous writer Marquis de Sade whose ruined castle (the site of many a mass orgy) still stands.

Avignon Palais des Papes boy

Under eights go free at Avignon’s iconic Palais des Papes

Feel very small in the city of Avignon

For more, shall we say, child-friendly history, Avignon and its 14th-century Disney villain-esque Palais de Papes cannot be missed (literally – it’s enormous at the equivalent of four Gothic cathedrals).

All tickets (€45 for a family of four – under eights go free) include a HistoPad digital tablet which brings to life rooms in full papal pomp via augmented reality and there’s even a treasure hunt taking children back to a whirl of 1367 intrigue.

To enjoy the palace – the seat of pontifical rule for a whopping seven decades – without overwhelming little ones, consider joining a family-friendly guided tour. Did you know, no women were allowed inside the fortress? Or that food was positioned under sharks’ teeth hung from coral trees to check it wasn’t poisoned before being served? (The teeth would vacillate if venomous, apparently).

coquillade provence pools

It’s easy to kick back and enjoy the views at Coquillade Provence hotel

Stay at Coquillade Provence hotel for ultimate R&R

Provence also does très bon relaxation. For parents, there’s, wine, well, everywhere. At divine Relais & Chateaux hotel Coquillade Provence, where we spend the weekend, there are 800 vins in total.

The quick-let’s-Instagram-it hotel sprawls across a collection of bastides within a restored 11th-century hamlet and, while adults stock up on, erm, antioxidants, little ones can spend hours splashing around in the family pool or powering through the action-packed kids club schedule in the summer months (€35 per child half a day).

Rather akin to a Gallic finishing school, the programme serves up visits to the La Coquillade vegetable garden, fresco painting, dance classes and even a ‘naval battle’ for ages 3-10, while for youngsters aged 11-15 there’s evening entertainment to be had with challenges, improv and mime.

coquillade provence pool family

Children can attend the kids’ club or enjoy the family pool

Wellness caters for all members of the family

The spa also caters for children with a penchant for pampering thanks to a selection of special treatments (€80 for a 30-minute body massage for ages 2-15) and the huge indoor pool (accessible to kids in the morning) proves a welcoming space for families.

Mums and dads be sure to slope off to the thermal area (reserved for guests aged 16 and over) for some me-time if you can. Packed with all the usual wellness accoutrements there’s also a superb sensory shower which takes you on a meteoric journey overflowing with thunder, rainforest sounds, evocative music and lights, like a very wholesome micro disco. For fewer bells and whistles, the alfresco jacuzzis overlooking the hotel’s own vineyards offer the sort of bubbly break your GP would actually approve of.

coquillade provence jacuzzi

Coquillade Provence’s jacuzzi area comes with lovely vineyard views

Remember to swot up on the local plonk

If you fancy learning more about the winemaking process beyond the grape oil used for massages in Coquillade’s spa (and to avoid embarrassing yourself in front of the sommelier) take a tour of the on-site winery. Although unless you’re raising a budding chemist it’s not particularly suitable for little ones. Even I struggle to keep up with all the fermentation-this, acid-that – I only came for the wine tasting.

It is surprising how much the process can apply to our own lives, though. “Nature tells us what to do,” our guide intones in a thick French accent, like a trans-Channel Attenborough. At other moments, he’s Supernanny. “There is no defect, you just need to wait,” he explains as a sample of a not-yet-ready wine is (finally) handed out. Does he know the same moody teenagers I do?

Not that I see any poorly-behaved children when I visit during the local school holidays. Apparently what they say about French kids is true – they all deftly use cutlery at adult mealtimes, make polite conversation and rarely make inroads into the kid’s menu (which, in classic French fashion isn’t even printed – one has to enquire, possibly in hushed tones).

I bet they’d never consider using a blender for wine.

How to plan a family holiday to Provence

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Marseille, from 2 hours

Marseille to Coquillade Provence, 1 hour

Where to stay

Coquillade Provence offers rooms from £643 per room, per night including a welcome gift, a minibar selection, breakfast, spa access, fitness classes, and Aureto Winery access

Book your stay at Coquillade Provence