On the itinerary: Hiking, sight-seeing and a visit with Bono

By Peter Mikelbank Colleen Cronin
June 21, 2019 11:14 AM

Welcome to life after the White House for the Obamas: Days after youngest daughter Sasha’s high school graduation, they flew to the South of France for a family vacation, indulging in the best the region had to offer.

Former President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, their former first daughters and some friends stayed in Provence, hiking, dining out and absorbing the area’s rich culture, sources tell PEOPLE.

While the Obamas’ office declined to discuss their plans, citing their status as private citizens, the four were closely tracked by local media and the tabloid press.

According to France Bleu radio, the family touched down at Avignon’s airport last Friday. They stayed in a luxurious farmhouse on an island in the Rhone River, between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

The stay was strictly a “private and personal visit for the former president and his family,” likely including mostly sightseeing and local excursions, Villeneuve-lès-Avignon’s mayor, Jean Marc Roubaud, tells PEOPLE.

The visit and the family’s announced arrival were confirmed by the regional police authority last Thursday, according to Roubaud.

He believes the area was picked for its reputation, “its history and quality of lifestyle and proximity to a number of [historic] sites.”

“Certainly they’ve heard about the Provencal way of life and want to experience it for themselves,” he says.

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A second source tells PEOPLE the Obamas will still take their annual August vacation in Martha’s Vineyard — just before Sasha is expected to begin college in the fall. (Older sister Malia is a rising junior at Harvard.)

“There is something spectacular about seeing a new place, being exposed to new ideas and experiencing a new culture. Traveling makes you grow,” Obama reportedly said earlier this year.

“As a parent, when you are able to watch that sense of discovery in your children’s eyes? That is more special than anything else,” he said.

RELATED: The Obamas Still Have Fantastic Taste in Restaurants

For Father’s Day in France, the former president and his family toured the Palais des Papes, a medieval palace which was home to the pope in the 14th century, and they had dinner at La Mirande, a Michelin star restaurant. (It was not their only fine-dining experience: They ate at L’Oustau de Baumaniere on Tuesday — in such nice weather the president asked if they could move to the terrace, according to a source.)

Sasha and Malia also took some time to explore the market at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue before their tour of the the Palais des Papes.

Elsewhere in the week, some of the Obamas reportedly headed to the nearby Chateau de Vaudieu winery.

On Tuesday morning, they hiked in picturesque Lioux, a village of some 200 people in the heart of the Luberon

“I never thought I’d see Barack Obama and his family in my village,” Lioux’s mayor, Francis Farge, tells PEOPLE. “They hiked the 7.5 miles trail along the cliffs of the Madeleine and even went up to the windmill.”

RELATED VIDEO: Barack Obama Gets a Street Named After Him in Los Angeles

In a separate winery trip, the former president reportedly spent about 30 minutes at the Chateau Saint-Pierre. “He sat in the shade of our chestnut trees, on a bench and, sipped a little before leaving,” owner Jean-Phillipe Victor tells PEOPLE. “We spoke a little and gave him two bottles. His team bought two rosés.”

At the end of their Provence vacation, the Obamas visited Bono in Èze on Friday, according to the newspaper Nice-Matin. (The Edge also joined them.) In Èze, the family made a stop at the restaurant La Chèvre d’or.

The former president also took some time to walk the Chemin Nietzsche, a noted hike, with Sasha and Malia.

Before leaving for Bono’s local estate, Obama reportedly complimented Èze’s mayor, Stéphane Cherki, saying: “I had never seen a medieval village as beautiful and with such a fantastic view.”

The family’s trip marked a quick return to France for Mrs. Obama, who was last in the country on a book tour in mid-April.

According to Italian news reports, the Obamas are next headed to Lake Como to stay for the weekend with George and Amal Clooney. (A Clooney rep declined to comment.)

From left: Sasha, Barack, Michelle and Malia Obama.

Life has changed for the former first family since leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 2017.

Both of the girls are now out of high school, and their parents are keeping busy.

“I’ve got an initiative, I’ve got a book, I’ve got a husband I can see again,” Mrs. Obama told PEOPLE in November.

“I feel good about it,” she said of becoming an empty-nester.

RELATED: Michelle Obama Shares Sweet Throwback Photo of Pre-Teen Malia and Sasha During First Visit to Sesame Street

The former leader of the free world, on the other hand, is getting a chance to relax. (He is also working on a forthcoming memoir.)

David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama campaign and close friend to the 44th president, told PEOPLE in 2017 that he “no longer has that mortal power in his hands or the grave responsibilities. And for a guy who took those very seriously, that’s a liberating thing.”

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