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Tag Archives: Provence

The cherry farm I got lost in

So I haven’t written anything since I left for Europe last year, I want to catch you up. Alot has happend! Traveling, my amazing family, and friends took up my life for 2 months of bliss. Provence was amazing, after flying from Cameroon I took a train from Brussels to Avignon and rented a car, GPS and bought a guidebook to start my trip off right. I am so happy I rented a car, I would never recommend trying to huff it on public transportation in this part of France. Half the fun was getting sent on incorrect routes by my GPS. At one point, straight into a private cherry farm/dead end (I ate some cherries off a tree and proceeded to back my car 1/4 mile down the grassy hill I drove up). It was a freeing experience to feel completely independent with no right or wrong itinerary to follow. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous to travel alone, because that would be ridiculous. I love traveling with people and sharing the experiences and making memories, but at this point in my life I feel like if I have the opportunity to do something, I need to grab the bull by the horns and get the courage to face it. What if I don’t get another chance? During this week I went to 9 different villages met many people, smelled real lavender, saw beautiful sites and ate amazing food before meeting up with friends and heading to the Riviera and up to Paris for a week. Before I let this get too far behind I’ll start with Provence…

Hill top town of Les Baux de Provence

1. Les Baux:

Les Baux was the 1st stop on my adventure. You cannot really stay in the village of Les Baux. There are only 2 hotels there, and they both fill quickly. So, I stayed right outside the city. I was exhausted from traveling, and decided to ‘eat in’ at the hotel restaurant the 1st night. This was my first experience with amazing French cooking; my little inexpensive simple hotel served the most amazing duck and goat cheese salad. Heaven. Next day I woke up at 9am.. no one in France wakes up that early so I had a solid two hours to stroll around the village virtually alone. A medieval city that once ruled over 900 villages Les Baux is a fortress with remnants of medieval architecture set inside cave-like stone slabs. I was able to tour Upper Les Baux where I learned about the fortress and how it functioned as a city containing many types of buildings and homes. I then went down to the lower part of the city for lunch. I honestly feel like the food in France made this trip. Yes it was gorgeous and amazing, but man their food and wine even beats Italy (and that’s a BIG statement if you know me and my Italy obsession.) While looking over the valley and sketching, I ate steak, fries, salad with a ‘petit’ bottle of wine..there was no wine by the glass. What is a solo traveler to do? Build up her alcohol tolerance.  Afterwards I walked a.k.a. hobbled around the shops, I was able to use my French to talk with the store clerks (French is much easier to speak in France comparatively to Cameroon). I bought an artisan necklace, a bouquet of lavender, and a silk scarf, went to the Museum of Satons where clay figurines are made look like specific types of people (famous to this part of southern France). Afterwards stopping for a scoop of lavender gelato before heading to the ‘Carrières de Lumières’ set in a former bauxite quarry. Here images of french paintings are projected on 40 foot walls in complete darkness. A Pretty amazing start to my trip.

Church of St. Michel in Rousillon

2. Rousillon:

Rousillon is a small village in the Vaucluse known for its location above the Ochre cliffs. At one time, it served as a quarry for dye (the ochre color). At first I thought of using this as my base town but thankfully decided not too for more than 2 nights. The town itself is oh so small and oh so high with next to no parking and a very windy road to get there. Yet, it is quite beautiful and quaint with a spectacular view of the cliffs and valley. The Church of St. Michel is the highlight on the tour of things to see, with winding streets with many buildings tinted orange or pink. It was a nice place to relax, my ro0m at ‘le Clos de la Glycine’ had a a cute sitting area with fantastic view of the cliffs.

Abbey Senanque right outside of the hill top town Gordes

3.Gordes:

Gordes is a hilltop town, and once again I woke up early arriving before every other tourist. I took a look at its pretty view above the valley and proceeded to try my hand at boutique browsing. Linen is very famous here. I went on market day and bought a hand woven straw bag locals typically use when food shopping.  After walking around a bit I found a seat at a small cafe with a view of the central square where the market was set up. I sketched and drank Café au laits, the second just to give me more time to observe the people. I  left with my basket of goodies and proceeded on to  the most interesting part of my visit, the Abbey Senanque, a small very modest functioning monastery below the town. There is a tour of the monastery but I skipped it because of a timing conflict. I walked around the grounds and got to sit in on part of a Catholic mass the monks were giving. The church inside is grey stone and plain but the echoing voices on the cool walls gives you an otherworldly feeling and calmness. Afterwards I walked through the lavender fields they grow and found a shady bench to eat the lunch I bought at the Market of fresh multigrain bread, green olive pate, lavender cookies, and strawberries!

I stayed in the tiny town of Lourmarin for 5 days as a base it was perfect.

4. Lourmarin

Ah Lourmarin, what a wonderful village to call home for 5 days. I used this town as my ‘base’ while traveling to other places and rented a room in a house where an artist lives. My room, was extremely relaxing, and had huge wooden doors that opened to a view of the Chateau de Lourmarin. It was surrounded by a garden and gated in with a communal balcony for breakfast.  Lourmarin is sort of an in between size compared to the other villages I visited. Not as famous as Les baux but more restaurants, shops, and parking then Rousillon. Lourmarin is known for its friday market, taking up the whole town selling everything from frozen fish to handwoven panama hats. I was able to come back after a long day of traveling to get lost in the winding streets and order a beer at a local cafe where everyone is french, no American to be seen for miles. The last night I was there I ventured out to a pizza place that was highly recommended by the people I was staying with. To get there, I went the quick back way and had to crouch through small hidden tunnels next to local homes and gardens to end up in a small square already packed with dining locals. Afterwards I walked home following the lit up Chateau. Such a peaceful experience.

St. Remy de Provence famous town market!

5. St. Remy

St Remy is large and very popular with tourists. Lucky for me I was there in early June, which is actually off season for Americans. I was surrounded by older french tourists whole like me enjoy sitting and observing. When I got there, not early enough this time, parking was a nightmare. After an hour of driving around I found a spot, this ended up being great because by time I got out of the car I knew a lot of the street names and locations. I hit up the market first. This market unlike any other it is so popular they have 2 a week. One for Antiques only, and the other for… everything else. It took over the majority of the streets this small city. I was on a mission to… of course find lunch, but an olive wood cooking spoon for my mom. SO many choices, there were at least 4 stands for every one type of item.  I found the spoon and beautiful olives and cheese for lunch. But before trying to see the sites on the map, I sat with my older french comrades and drank coffee and watched people. The cafe I chose was fantastic, my favorite memory of the trip actually. I had a full view of the market, and street. I was sitting up high on a bar stool and shared a table with an older gentlemen who thought my sketchbook was fabulous, I was drawing people that were sitting at the table in front of me. I couldn’t understand him, but he kept giving me the thumbs up. A woman was singing old french tunes in front of the cafe and every one was singing with her. Songs you’d hear in romantic comedies (which is sort of my impression of france, one big setting for the perfect movie). I actually sat there for 2 hours nursing the same 2 cups of coffee and eventually caving for an orange juice. After deciding I needed to try and see something on the map, I pried myself away from the cafe and headed to a cultural museum where I learned about their history of making linen and proceeded on a route to Glanum a ‘grand’ celtic ruin on the edge of town. I only headed back to my car when I felt like I might collapse from walking.  I stopped to buy fruit off the side of the road to take home for dinner, I swear I could taste lavender in the apricots and cherries.

Arles, my favorite lunch place of the whole week. Cold Rose`, a salad with crispy pancetta, a fried egg, with a curry balsamic dressing. The owners golden retriever even sat next to my feet the whole time.

6. Arles

A city best known as Van Gogh’s inspiration was a stop I had to make. When I was in high school Vincent Van Gogh was my favorite artist.  Here, I got to walk the streets and see what he saw on a regular day. Arles is large enough to get lost in and I needed to follow a map. I walked to most of the spots he observed while painting, my favorite being the Starry Starry Night by the river. Along the way I shopped, stopped at their big cathedral in the center piazza and paid entrance to walk through the tunnels of their small coliseum where they still have bullfights. After a perfect Parisian lunch on a side street off the main sites I started to walk back towards the car and decided to take a breather before the hour drive back to Lourmarin. I took a short cut through a park and sat on an empty bench and decided to draw some flowers and a tree stump. On my way out I noticed a plaque with a Van Gogh painting. Turns out Van Gogh stopped there often to paint too.

Lacoste and its lovely winding romantic streets

7. Lacoste

At the foot of the palace of Marquis de Sade, home to the author of erotic novels, Lacoste echoes very very quietly. Going here was a last minute decision. Savannah College of Art and design owns most of the town using it as a study abroad extension, but it was off season. Off season is my new favorite term for what’s great about Europe. I walked through the empty winding streets, brown cobblestone making up every wall, and saw my reflection in the empty windows. I spent time taking photographs of the sculptures that filled the empty corridors, and of the views you could see peaking through the buildings that stood looking out to the perfect view of the valley.  I didn’t go into the palace although it was interesting with grass covering the now ceiling-less walls. They wanted 7 euros to enter, A bit ridiculous, so I continued to wander.  My walk ended at a cafe on the cliff side of town where I had my very first goat cheese omelet while overlooking my next village ‘Bonnieux’.

The view of Bonnieux from Lacoste, looks like a fairytale.

  8. Bonnieux

I was first told about Bonnieux through a Fodor’s blog. I was looking for a base town and one of the woman swore this was the best place to stay when traveling.  I chose not to stay there based on an article I found later describing it as interesting but ‘a large uphill town with few restaurants.’ Saying this town is uphill is an understatement. Every street you turn is a ‘switchback’. When walking you need to use stairs to get to the next street over. I parked at the top and walked down through the residential area, got lost in the beauty of this fairytale like atmosphere only to realize I had to walk the 10 minutes back at a steep twisting incline. It is a town made up of ancient stone structures uniform in style only unique in shutter color and flower pot choice. There are few restaurants but many galleries I went into at least 5 on the two ‘business’ street blocks. The art wasn’t very exciting but there was a great impressionist influence, many tributes to Cezzanne. Before heading back to Lourmarin, I stopped and bought lavender honey to bring home as a souvenir and an Orangina to cool off. I sat and watched the sunset before finding my way up to my car with which I drove the wrong direction home… This was the town that sent my gps on a tangent insisting the way home was through the cherry orchard. So, I still feel like I made the best decision by choosing a day visit.

Paul Cézanne’s Art studio

9. Aix en Provence

Aix is definitely not a small town. Even a little over whelming after being in such small villages for 5 days. But its beautiful, and I got over that feeling quickly. When I first started planning this trip I  wanted to come here for 5 days. The pictures looked so romantic and the streets like a ‘miniature’ paris. I love ‘strolling’, window shopping, and sketching. Here, it was much easier to blend in and feel like I belonged. One of the days I sat in a a cafe killing time for 2 hours drinking rose` and painting in my sketchbook.  Later that afternoon I walked out past the boarder of the center of town to a residential area known for Cezanne’s Art studio. Every 1/4 mile or so I’d see a sign letting me know I was headed in the right direction until I reached a line of people in sneakers and fanny packs. The grounds were small. A wall kept a small chunk of forest attached to the modest two story home. Below you paid the fee to walk up the stairs, to a one room studio with 9 foot ceilings and 5 foot windows. A lot of the people I came in with said ‘this is it for 4 euro?’, ‘no museum or library?’, ‘you can’t even buy a soda’. Of course I can understand why people like to have ‘extra’s’, I mean I enjoy the MOMA in NY and they have 2 different restaurants. But this felt like a tomb, preserved from the moment he left. It was so great to try and imagine what it would have been like to work in that room with those items around me and with a view of those trees. My friend Elizabeth was meeting me the next day but after being alone for a week I was getting a little desperate for something to distract me and headed to a movie theater. After being in Cameroon where there aren’t any movie theaters this was exciting. I saw ‘Prometheus‘ in 3D and English, I got out around 12 and was met by a festival in the street celebrating the history of Aix. Talk about sensory overload. I went from a plot about the future and aliens to a whole village of real people dressed in period clothing. They Danced circles around each other while a band lead by 18 yr old fluters was bizarre. In the states it wouldn’t be considered cool to go dance with my friends and grandparents at a local renaissance festival. But here it seemed like an honored tradition that everyone enjoyed. I watched for about an hour took videos and clapped along.

To be continued… look for France Part 2: The Riviera and Paris

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