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Sadly,  I have to report that I did not win the week in Le Petit Bijou, St Remy de Provence, which was generously given away by Vicki Archer to celebrate five years of blogging. I was pretty keen to win it as I have wanted to visit St Remy since reading Vicki’s book French Essence. Gladly however, I can also report that I think I shall get to see it anyway…. oh yes people, planning for the trip to France is hurtling along like the TGV to Avignon:

There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment and sense of anticipation when you have finished planning your travel itinerary, and have made your firm bookings. I spent much of my spare time in the evenings over the last ten days or so, poring over maps of France, looking at websites, Trip Advisor reviews, and sent endless emails to our very patient and knowledgeable agent at Eurovillas and Tours (EVT), and to our travelling companions who are based in LA.

I have burned the midnight oil, reading, comparing, calculating costs etc.,  and finally managed to put together, in consultation with our LA friends,  what we think will be a wonderful trip, beginning in Paris next year.  However, apart from my own research, EVT have been invaluable. Being able to speak to the agent and ask advice about details such as proximity to towns, parking etc, has helped to crystalize the route we should take, the accommodation we should chose etc., simply because she has done it all herself.  She is passionate about the destinations offered and regularly travels to meet with owners and operators of the properties promoted, ensuring that the information provided is current and relevant.

We found this combined approach to planning worked brilliantly on our trip to Italy and France last year – i.e. personal research combined with first hand knowledge gleaned from our trusted travel company, Rick Steves, and experienced  friends, in tandem with reviews on Trip Advisor. Ultimately though, the best part about having finished planning on paper, was being able to hand over the full itinerary to EVT, who then do really the hard work, contacting owners, confirming availability and a host of other details – all we have to do is say book it and pay!

It is pure relief, combined with elation, at having it sorted and knowing that the best is to yet to come. During the planning phase, I realised that that there are so many wonderful boutique hotels, guesthouses, B & B’s etc, run by people who obviously care about giving their guests the best experience they possibly can.   And what a wonderful array of places we have to stay – from a cool hotel on the Left Bank in Paris, to a Manor house in the Loire, a chateau-style place in Beynac in the Dordogne, an enticing boutique-style B & B in Pezenas in the Languedoc, and  finally, an hotel with amazing views in Nice. The piece de resistance will be an 11 day stay at beautiful villa in Callas, Provence,  So there you are  – sorted! and I am already daydreaming about our forthcoming “Tour de France”.

And here are some of the reasons we want to go back – and maybe even see some of these Provencal places again, while looking forward to exploring so many more places for the first time: