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Bandol port of call

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Good morning, everyone --

DH and I are taking a cruise with our grown children this June from Monte Carlo to Barcelona. Our first port of call is Bandol, on Monday, 27 June from 8a-6p. We are fairly well-traveled, so we generally don't take shore excursions from the cruise line and instead explore on our own.

From what I've read on the forum, Bandol is nice enough, but we might have a better time if we spent the day somewhere else. In your minds, what are other feasible options for the day?

Spend the day in Aix-en-Provence?
Is it possible to see a lavender field in bloom given our time and location?
In the past, we've really enjoyed poking through local markets -- how do we find our what markets are where on that day?

Thanks in advance for any advice!

Cheers,
Annette

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    Lavender is over end of june
    Bandol is very nice. I would recommend two excursions in the neighbourhood :

    Le Castellet - a charming small village overlooking the valley - probably 20 min from Bandol
    http://www.ville-lecastellet.fr/

    or the extraordinary calenques de cassis (some kind of fjords, for want of a better word). 30 min from Bandol.
    http://www.lavisitedescalanques.com/fr/grand-public/

    Aix is great too obviously. But I'd do these excursions instead.

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    I thought the port area of Bandol was pretty drab & boring. Inland in the vineyards is much more enjoyable.

    Monday would not be a good day to visit Aix. Many of my wife's favorite shops will be closed - but some will open in the afternoon (after 3PM),

    Lavender ends around late July. You might be able to see some in late June if the weather is "normal" in the spring. Best place to find it close to Bandol is in the Valensole Plateau. That's what I would do.

    You can decide if you want to get off a boat and then on a boat to visit the Calenques - which are very interesting - but you may be close to them coming from Monte Carlo.

    Here is something I wrote about visiting the lavender fields around Valensole:

    Valensole Plateau, Lavender & Poppy fields, Riez, & Moustiers allow a full day

    This excursion can be a day trip from either Aix-en-Provence or from the Luberon. The highlights of a drive through the Valensole plateau are the lovely lavender and poppy fields. We drove this route one year on June 14 when both the lavender & poppies were in full bloom, and again on June 24 in '14 - but the poppies were gone. I would only recommend this trip if you are visiting during the lavender season (mid-June through July).

    Leave Aix north on the A51 and get off at exit # 19 – just east of Forcalquier. If you are departing from the Luberon near Apt, go east along the D900 which becomes the D4100 as you travel into the Haute-Provence Dept. (it's the same physical road). Continue on the D4100 to Forcalquier. However, if you are doing this visit on a Monday - you will have great difficulty driving through Forcalquir - it's their market day and one of the largest in Provence. We actually visited Forcalquir on Monday for the market, and drove through it another day to get to the lavender fields.

    Forcalquier* is a very interesting town to explore. My wife's very favorite home decorating store in Provence is here - called La Terraio. There are two locations - one on Rue Plauchud near the Fontaine Renaissance, and another smaller shop just around the corner on Rue Merciere. Even if you don't want/"need" to shop, this store with its maze of "rooms" is captivating. The perched village of Lurs* (just north of Forcalquier off the D12) is another very cute hilltop village worth exploring.

    From the #19 exit off the A51, take the D4B through Oraison and then the D4, and then the D15 towards Valensole. About 1/3 of the way on the D15 to Valensole, there is a fantastic view - look for the view icon on your 334 map. Most of the D15 up to this point and a few Ks past the "view" consists of forest & not that scenic. About 3/4 of the way to Valensole on the D15 - be prepared. In '14 there was one of the most spectacular lavender field we've ever seen. There was a human traffic jam out here in the middle of nowhere - people taking pictures of the field and the cars parked every which-way. This field is best viewed in the morning. This field and for the next hour of driving, you are going to see the best lavender fields we saw in Provence in '14.

    Continue on the D15 towards Valensole. Just before you get to Valensole, you'll encounter a right turn on the D15 - directing you to the town of Valensole. Don't turn right towards Valensole. Instead go straight - look for the small sign directing you to Digne. You'll immediately drive past another wonderful lavender field. This Valensole "bypass" is parallel to the D8 going northeast, and will shortly connect with the D8. Along the D8 heading northeast there are more & more & more & more spectacular lavender fields. Soon you'll hit the D953 and turn right/south towards Riez - and more lavender fields.

    Stop & visit Riez*, which has a wonderful Saturday AM market. As I have stated before, it took me about 15 years to realize that it’s never smart to visit or even drive through a town on a Sunday, Monday, or during the lunch closing (12:30 to 3:00 or so), because the town will be all “shuttered-up” with those ugly aluminum shutters & the town will look like it’s preparing for an invasion. We drove through Riez on a Sunday in ’99 & the town had no appeal at all. When we were there in June ’03 on a Saturday, the market was going strong, people were having coffee at the cafés under the plane trees, and the shops with their attractive window displays were open – quite a contrast from our prior (’99) Sunday visit. Explore Riez – see the Green Guide for a map (if you’re visiting during the Sat market, you can park in the large lot along Ave Fr. Mistral, just before you cross the river). Walk east along Allee Gardio to Place de la Colonne (where the fountain is located), and then turn left (west) & try to find City Hall (Hotel de Ville) in a lovely courtyard – poke your nose inside the Hotel de Ville a bit. Continue west along the narrow R Basse, which has some outdoor restaurants. When you hit the Church, curve right & go east on Grand Rue – which parallels R Basse. There are a lot of medieval mansions than have been turned into residences along this street. In '03 there were a lot of renovations going on. When we returned in '14 - there were still lots of renovations - and the town didn't seem to have "progressed" much since our '03 visit. Aside from the commercial streets, things seemed a bit desolate.

    Head east on the D952 to Moustiers** and get the cameras ready. In the afternoon sun, the view of Moustiers from the west is spectacular. Explore Moustiers – it’s not only a very cute village, but it’s one of the most famous faience (pottery) centers in France. My wife enjoyed the Musee de la Faience (I waited outside), and we also climbed up to the church. Wander around town & enjoy the shops, but beware of the lunch closings.

    After Moustiers, retrace your route on the D952 to Riez, and then on to Greoux les Bains.

    If you are returning to Aix, get on the A51 heading south. If you are returning to the Luberon, drive through Manosque (somewhat difficult navigating, and there is lots of very ugly commerce to drive past).


    Stu Dudley

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    Thank you all! Now comes the hard part of narrowing down how we want to spend the day.

    Over the course of our trip, I think we want a few days of being active, and I found some kayak trips to the calanques that look very tempting.

    Seeing lavender fields in full bloom would be a bucket list item for me, though. Is there a website I could check as we get closer to the trip to find out if the lavender is indeed in full bloom when we're there? I haven't found anything in my web searches.

    Cheers,
    Annette

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    It will be in bloom in the Valensole plateau. It was quite robust both times we visited it in mid June and in late June. Not always robust in the "other" lavender area around Senanque Abbey and Sault. It is a "different" kind of lavender in the Valensole Plateau - that blooms early and is a little more purple.

    Stu Dudley

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    Here is my wife's Shutterfly photobook of our trip to the Cote d'Azur & Provence in 2015

    https://stududley.shutterfly.com/28

    Click "full screen"

    Go to page 70 & 71 to see what the lavender looked like around June 25 then on the Valensole plateau.

    Because of Shutterfly software problems, many titles & captions are missing or truncated.

    Stu Dudley

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