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    by mkataoka Fodor's Editor | Posted on Nov 28, 16 at 01:31 PM
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Trip Report South of France November Trip Report

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I recently spent 2 weeks in the South of France, with a home base of Avignon.

I was based in Avignon since this is where I had a place to stay, with a French local friend in his apartment just behind the Palais des Papes inside the old city centre.

The weather was spotty but overall I got more non rainy days than rainy days and was able to get out and about quite a bit around Provence.

I traveled to:

Aix, St Tropez, St Remy, Ville Grimaud, Uzes, the Pont du Gard, Arles, The Luberon villages (Stopped in Gordes, Roussillon and Obed), The Abbey de Senanque, Tarascon (and the castle in Tarascon), Gigondas, and Chateauneuf du Pape.

I also spent quite a few days meandering through the streets in the center of Avignon and really came to love this little city, which is a great combination of a real city with the conveniences you appreciate in a city (markets open on Sundays, shopping areas, ATM's, etc) yet also has a very small, quaint, and old/historic feel wherever you go inside the center's walls as you are regularly on cobblestone Rues, very small streets, and there are plenty of crumbling buildings, churches, and relics. It's not a big city. The center is even smaller yet it's the only place you want to be (at least where I Wanted to be). There isn't huge industry, the apartment are still really affordable and folks know each other (take my friend who is a winemaker and who sits on the board of a local civic organization who knew someone everywhere we went). It's well located: within 45 minutes of Uzes and the Luberon villages, 30 minutes from places like Arles and Chateauneuf du Pape, within an hour and half of Aix and the coastal towns. All in all, although I stayed here because I was staying for free with a friend, I ended up being really happy with Avignon as a base in Provence.

First 3 days:
In St Tropez, Aix, and St Remy we dealt with rainy and cloudy days, the worst of which was during our day to St Tropez which in all honesty really eliminated the reason to be there. With touristy overpriced restaurants and no views we cut this part really short (after a couple of hours)and headed on back towards Aix with the intention of stopping in smaller towns where we could find less touristy restaurants and perhaps catch moments of dryness to walk around some little villages. We stopped to poke around the Ville de Grimaud in Grimaud which was a lovely little town with these picturesque ruins. Then St Remy which even in the mist and rain was lovely city, although since we traveled there on a Sunday was mostly shut town and we only spent a couple of hours here. It was nice for me to see this part of Provence, but to be honest it was the least enjoyable part of the trip as we were traveling on bad weather days, and in pretty overpriced areas, on bad days for things being opened. We spent a lot of time just trying to find a restaurant open, etc etc.

We ended up going back to Avignon early even though we had planned an extra night in Aix on the way back and my French guy was going to take me on a day trip to Bandol which I was excited about. We both got weary of driving around in the rain and storms trying to find a few, or anything open that wasn't astronomically overpriced (and below average quality food) so we headed back to Avignon, after lunch with his friends out in a small coastal town (inside their house with a roaring fire as it was a stormy day) to spend the last day of his 4 day weekend around that area.

We ended up taking a morning run near the Rhone, outside the Avignon Walls, and poking around the park on the other side of the river, and then heading to Tarascon for the day to see the castle and have lunch. We had an excellent lunch at a spot right in town that had a huge salad and seafood menu and the specialty was a big plate of a variety of seafoods with salad and wine. We had red fish, prawns, mussels, and squid with a quarter liter of Rose and this was one of our best, simplest and reasonably priced meals we had during my trip. $14 Euros a piece.

We went for drinks that evening at the theater bar just behind the Palais des Papes, where all of the people 'who think they are artists, and some who really are artists' according to Fabrice, hang out in the evenings before and after shows/foreign film showings. The wine was horrible (as he warned me ahead of time) out of a box and not from the area, but the ambiance was great. Bustling, jovial, and with that feeling of a night out in the city, yet in the comfort of our own small residential backyard just a 5 minute walk from our apartment.

I was on my own the next few days while Fabrice was working so I spent a rainy day in Avignon poking around the Palais des Papes, and walking all around stumbling upon churches, nice squares with outdoor and covered porch cafes, and hitting the big indoor market 'Les Halles' which was a smorgasbord of fabulous French meats, cheeses, breads, spices, oils, wines, produce, sweets, and anything else you can think of. I cooked lamb with Provence herbs one night (and ate a pile of the artichoke tapenade with fresh baked bread I found there which was amazing and I became addicted to) and scallops with cream sauce and a big salad another night. Loved this place for picking up stuff to cook. It's the place Fabrice also picks up cheeses and bread and charcuterie for anytime he has guests. We got our supplies here for a small dinner party we hosted at the apartment one evening for a few of his Avignon friends

I also spent a day in Arles, getting lost and ending up missing the museum I wanted to see, but got to tour the Arena which was impressive and had a great lunch at a Bistro called Bistro des Artistes. the menu was great: lots of big salads with a ton of hefty toppings, seafood options and then the big traditional plates of roasted duck, or steak and fries as well and the prices here were reasonable. Quality was high. I had a big salad with roasted potatoes, onions, ham cubes (more like bacon or lardon), olives, hardboiled eggs and tomatoes and a pichon of Rose.

We spent a night out dining and having drinks in Avignon. The restaurant we went to was average and not worth remembering but we had drinks at a must do spot: a fancy historic hotel where the drinks are incredibly over priced but you go for the ambiance. Luxurious and elegant and just one of those spots where you want to go for the experience. Fabrice made the point that you couldn't afford to stay there but you could afford to have drinks there. So we did.

Then we spent my second weekend in France, traveling to Uzes and to the Luberon Villages.

More to come

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    You covered a lot of ground. I am enjoying your impressions of Avignon; I stayed there a few years ago in a quirky hotel across the place from the palais des papes. Name of posh hotel for drinks?

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    I'm following along with much interest. I hope we hear that the weather got a bit better for you. Cold is one thing but lots of rain is a downer for sure.
    Your lunches in Tarascon and Arles both sound lovely. A perfect way to enjoy the area.

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    >>Then St Remy which even in the mist and rain was lovely city, although since we traveled there on a Sunday was mostly shut town<<,

    I've always wondered if St Remy's shops shut down on a Sunday in "off" season, like shops in many other towns/cities do throughout the year. When we were there a few years ago in June on a Sunday - most of the shops were open.

    >>anything open that wasn't astronomically overpriced (and below average quality food)<<<

    Assuming you didn't dine at these restaurants because of the prices, how could you tell that the food was below average?? Did you try La Ponche in St Tropez?

    Stu Dudley

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    Totally enjoyed this first person review and looking forward to more of your experiences and what you did on this trip. I am planning a tour next fall so am taking note of your likes and dislikes too.

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    BROOKE_HERRON, enjoying your trip, even in the rain.Great to have a local as your friend/guide. I did see several of those spots in sunny May a few years back.

    Will follow along...

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    kerouac- we did drive to see the view of Les Baux de Provence but my French host told me it was too touristy and that he thought I would much prefer to see St Remy and other places. This is what happens when you have a local guide :) Much of what I wanted to see was 'touristy' to him! He also chose the visit to St Tropez as we were visiting friends of his near there. It wouldn't have been something I would have paid to take a long train ride to in November, but as it was part of his weekend plans for me (which were foiled by the weather and he was really put out about that) I was along for the ride!

    CathinJoetown- there is an uber Posh hotel just behind the Palais du Papes called Hotel Miranda. Pricey cocktails wine and beer but served in an atmosphere of quiet-historic luxury. The bar rooms are cozy and warm with rich decor and the dining room looked like a fabulous place to dine if you have the budget for it. My host loves this place for a nice drink after dinner. He says he only ever has one drink there due to it being overpriced but he loves the ambiance and the crowd. When we were there we heard a group of wealthy Americans checking in for a wedding party, sat next to a group of Brits who were hashing out details for their design company and noted some Austrian engineers a couple of tables over as well. All in all a lovely spot-not your every night cocktail place though :)

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    TPAYT- the weather DID get better, yes!

    I thoroughly enjoyed my next week in France. My second weekend there we decided that, despite the weather forecasting rain, we'd head to Uzes and the Luberon (this was my choice this time-I was intent upon visiting the Saturday market in Uzes as I wanted to pick up some stuff to tote home, and also had been told by many friends I just couldn't miss seeing the Luberon villages).
    We got lucky! The rain was light, and seemed to fall at just the right times (later in day when we were almost done sightseeing, or when we were inside eating dinner) and the forecast kept everyone else off the roads.
    After picking up some boots I was having re-soled at the local cobbler's, we headed to Uzes early in the day on Saturday at
    Fabrice's insistence as he said we'd want to get there and get a parking space 'before the crowds'. It turned out we didn't really have to worry about crowds too much that day. While a bit grey, the day still started out lovely, the pale light was beautiful on all of the grey stone buildings lending to getting some wonderful photographs.
    Uzes itself was as picturesque a town as any I've been in in France. I found it charming, quaint, beautiful, and with plenty to see and do and eat to boot.
    The market was great. Anything you'd want to pick up in Provence was there: myriads of soaps, spices, salts, nuts, cheeses, breads, meats, olives, scarves, etc etc
    We walked around a bit and as it got a bit drizzly we decided to have lunch and see if it cleared up while we ate.
    We found a lovely little spot on a small street, I can't remember the name but to be honest it wasn't anything to write home about which is probably why. But it was nice, a warm cozy spot, and the food was decent.
    After lunch, we found a spot on the main square (they had cleaned up the market mostly by this time, and there was just a lone street sweeper left getting the last few remnants)and just sat and had a couple of coffees each so that we could enjoy the clear weather and our choice seats (that Fabrice said would have been very hard to get during busy season).
    We wanted to see the Pont du Gard on the way home, and before dark so we walked back to the car, which we had parked in the lot outside the Uzes Cathedral. The views from the Cathedral, of the city, and from the city, of the cathedral I thought were amazing. The town was one of the most picturesque places I've been in France and as we left I was definitely dreaming of renting a house there some summer or Spring and just hanging out, cooking with what I could buy at the market and driving around the lovely surrounding areas.
    The Pont du Gard was next on the agenda. If I knew now that it was not only just the Pont du Gard but also a place with a wealth of trails, and parks, and stairs, and paths to follow I would have spent at least a half a day there. A lot of people were biking or hiking or running along the paths that flanked the water, and it looked like one could spend a day hiking around, etc.
    The Pont du Gard itself was impressive. I'm really glad we made the stop. I hadn't realized just how many varying types of sights there were so close to Avignon. In one day I felt like I saw so much worth seeing, and even got to do it at a relaxed pace. It started raining as we were taking photos of the sunset at Pont du Gard, so we headed back to Avignon for dinner at home.

    The next day (Sunday):

    We had the Luberon practically to ourselves. Fabrice took me first to the Abbey de Senanque (absolutely gorgeous) where we popped out and walked around the grounds and took photos at our leisure. He was shocked there weren't cars lined up behind us (he's a bit dramatic about how touristy the Luberon is), then at my request, to Gordes (which he assumed would be overrun by crowds and we wouldn't be able to stop for a photo coming in, but he was wrong....!). The view coming into the town was spectacular. We stopped for coffee here and to see if anything was appealing enough to convince us to stop for lunch early. We saw a crowded coffee shop and then turned round a corner to see a more basic spot that looked like a counter coffee/tabacco place, it was called Cerce Republique. When we got inside we realized we had hit the jackpot and come to the cafe with the best porch seat in Gordes. Outside the main room, there was a small porch in a V and we had our cappuccinos at the table just in the center of the V, literally hanging over the rails above a view of the entire valley.
    After Gordes we drove through or past LaCoste and some other villages and to Roussillon where we stopped for lunch at a place I can't remember the name of but is on the main square in the middle of two other restaurants and there were only two spots open in town so we picked the place we liked the look of better. The food was good, prices reasonable, the table wine was decent, the owner was warm and friendly (he looked Southern Italian with dark hair and dark eyes and a nice tan but he's from that area. just in case you pop in and know you are in the right place because of my description. He does have some quite charming dimples as well :)) and we ended up chatting with him over Pastis and coffee after our meal.
    Then we went onwards to Opped, which was where Fabrice wanted to go to get sunset photos. This was his favorite Luberon village he said in large part because it's so small it gets less crowds. There are the ruins of the old town up above the new town and we drove up and parked in the lot at the bottom and walked up pathways to get into the town. There was only one thing open, a cafe in what I think was the center of town. We got some lovely photos heading up the old streets and stairs to the church at the top of the hill and again, were the only tourists out and about. We did see an old man walking his dog, presumably local but really no one else.
    We finished off our day in The Luberon with coffees and a chat with the cafe owner who said he was from the Loire but had moved to Opped with his family 20 years ago (the things you learn over coffee!).
    After that it was time to head back to Avignon and cook the dinner I had planned with the stuff I had picked up at Les Halles that morning in Avignon before we left: lamb w herbs de provence, vegetables, roasted potatoes, artichoke tapenade and fresh bread washed down with Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc.

    The next few days were my last, and I spent the day time alone so I did a bit more relaxing in Avignon. I sat and had long coffees on the different Plazas, perused the shops on Rue St Agricol (the fancy shmancy street with designer stuff and fancy chocolate and pastries and teas, etc) and searched out the restaurant I wanted to have dinner at our last night, and made reservations.
    Heading back to the apartment after a bit too much walking (had some pretty big blisters at this point) I found my favorite meal of the trip (completely unassuming little place off beaten track) on Rue Tenturiers called 'Shus Calada'. The owner's name was Hubert. Prices were low. Quality was really high, and the ambiance was just my style (3-4 table restaurant on a small cobbled street across from some gardens). I paid 13 euros for a gorgeous plat du jour of poached salmon atop a bed of perfectly grilled rounds of eggplant, a salad of fresh arugula, garnished with a small omelet of sorts that had cheese and marinara, and a pichet of Rose. It was all cooked to perfection and perfect in it's simplicity and good quality ingredients. This is how I like to eat in Europe and I was sorry I hadn't found Hubert sooner as I would have liked to eat there again before leaving.

    That night we hit a bar a bit later in the evening at the theater behind the Palais du Papes, but did little else as Fabrice had an evening class and I cooked for myself at home (or more aptly, ate the amazing cheese and gf bread I'd picked up at Les Halles that afternoon)and read the books I'd queued up on my Kindle.

    My second to last day in France I took the train to Marseilles. While it was an interesting and picturesque city (particularly near the water and with the early opened Christmas market) for me it didn't hold the charm that the smaller cities and villages do. But this is a testament to my own personal preferences and nothing against the city. I took a very long walk up to the Notre Dame du Gard stopped for mussels and pomme frites at a harbor side restaurant (always a mistake but I was lost in this big a city) and then sat at various waterside cafes having coffees until it was time to catch my train. Being in a big city alone for me, just isn't as fun as being in a very small town but I'm sure others would do Marseilles much more justice than I did.
    will say though, that The train station in Marseilles and the view from it is spectacular. Particularly at Sunset. Probably the pretties train station view I've seen!

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    You done good! This has been an unbelievably rainy year in Provence which all but ruined the olive crop. We have been in The Luberon off and on, for the past 3 months, and the rain has been particularly bad but the temps have been mild. We did have a mistral, but I think you missed that.

    I was concerned without a car you'd have a hard time seeing the places you were interested in but you managed quite well.

    You'll have to come back again, there is so much more in the way of tiny villages and hidden treasures in The Luberon.

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    kerouac- thank you! yes I'd love to spend more time in Avignon even though I already spent so much (to me spending more than a few days is a lot) but would like to get back to Uzes even more... :)

    DebitNM- yes I got really lucky! While our St Tropez and Coastal weekend was all but ruined due to weather, at least I got my Luberon and Uzes weekend in with mostly sun :)

    I also forgot to mention the day I spent borrowing Fabrice's car to drive around Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas while he was working. That was my last day in town. Things were mighty quiet in both Gigondas and Chateauneuf du Pape. I mostly just drove and took photos of the beautiful fall vineyards, and then ate my picnic lunch on a park bench in Gigondas (literally only 1 restaurant open, and not even a coffee shop open the day I was there) in the sun, and then stopped in the tasting room that has all of the producers in one room (at least 50 of them, totally unassociated with each other) and bought a few bottles to take home to friends. Then walked around Chateauneuf du Pape to the ruins and had coffees and such before picking Fabrice up from his winery and having our last night's dinner at L'essentiel (a Michelin starred restaurant Fabrice had recommended since I wanted something a bit posh for the last night). It was a lovely dinner, but not my most impressive Michelin starred meal, I felt it was a bit heavy for my taste but all in all still a very good meal and the prices were not outrageous.

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