Trip Report Southern France 2014
This is my first trip report. I enjoy reading others' trip reports, but I'm not sure how much detail to include. I'll try not to get carried away, but I'm happy to answer questions if people want more detail.
My husband and I went to Provence in late March and had about 12 days while on spring break. Our daughter (27 yrs.) is living in Marseille and we went to visit her and her boyfriend. Our other daughter and her boyfriend also joined us partway through the trip. Our trip was not during the season, so it had its advantages and disadvantages. While the weather sometimes wasn't great, we also avoided the crowds.
My husband and I arrived in Marseille from Indianapolis with miraculously no travel problems, met up with one daughter, and picked up our car rental. We rented through "At Home in France", and I think we got a good deal. (Except the GPS was so expensive we decided to use our phones instead.) We had a van that was just big enough to fit the 6 people we would eventually have with us.
We have had good experiences renting apartments in Europe so we did that for our 2 main destinations, with a hotel for one longer side trip. It saved money, and we always like to feel like we live in the town. The trick for us was finding places that would rent to us for less than a week (easier in off-season), and we always look for a place that is in a town rather than out in the country (although I know that can be wonderful too).
L'Isle sur la Sorgue
We drove about an hour and 15 minutes from Marseille and arrived in the picturesque town of L'Isle sur la Sorgue where we were renting a 2-bedroom apartment called Le Chat Botté for my husband, daughter, and me. It was such a cute place, and right in town. The proprietor couldn't have been nicer, and we had everything we needed. It took us some time to figure out how to turn on the heat, but that's because they don't usually rent when it's so cool. (A cool and rainy start to our week.) They have another similar apartment in the same building on the floor below.
The town is charming, with canals running through it and lots of shops, restaurants, and antique stores; and of course a nearby boulangerie for our morning pastries. We were sorry it wasn't quite warm enough to enjoy all the outdoor seating we saw, and the flowers must be riotous in summer, but we enjoyed the lack of crowds (except during the market). The day after we arrived was market day: bustling, colorful, and crowded -- virtually all French people. I bought a beautiful scarf for 15 Euros and wore it almost every day on the trip! We also bought food for our picnic lunch including Provençal cheese wrapped in leaves. (It was a little strong for me, but all our other purchases were delicious.) Otherwise we were mostly taking in the atmosphere rather than buying at the market.
Side Trips from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
We spent 4 nights in L"Isle sur la Sorgue, and from there we took side trips. After the market we went to a flower show in Maubec on the same day. It was like a flower and patio show for locals, so for us it was just interesting to walk around. It was at the base of the town so we didn't go up into the town, but it looked beautiful. From there we did go to Gordes, one of the perched villages. In both places the cold wind made it hard to enjoy too much time wandering outdoors, and in Gordes many places were closed (Sunday afternoon), but we could still appreciate the beauty of the countryside and the charm of the old stone villages perched in the hills. Then we drove to Fontaine de Vaucluse. My husband is crazy about waterfalls, and here there is one cascading down the mountain from a very still, very deep pool at the top; the source of the Sorgue River. We hiked up, enjoying the cascade, and stopped in some of the shops that line the route. Again, it wasn't crowded so that was a plus, but also the outdoor restaurants weren't open, and it was cool and rained off and on.
On another day we went to Avignon where we visited the Palais des Papes and followed the audio tour. It was interesting, but the palace is so empty it's hard to imagine what it was like in the past. I think we would have been better off seeing the Petit Palais Museum first for some context. Museum fatigue was setting in at the end of the huge Palais des Popes so we wandered the parks and picked up picnic food for lunch.
After that we headed to the vineyards around Chateuneuf du Pape to check out some wineries. We didn't really have a plan so we just stopped when we saw signs for "dégustations". Our first stop was Jacques Mousset Winery. The guy in the shop gave us some free tastes and talked about the wine in the region and the many regulations the vintners must follow, including no irrigation of the fields. The fields are covered with smooth river rocks that help retain water and also heat up in the sun and retain heat at night, making the grapes ripen faster and creating a distinct taste. Our other stop was Bouachon Winery where we paid for our tasting (8 Euros each). It was worth it because it was our own private tasting with Adeline who took her time and taught us a lot about tasting wine. While we were there 2 different bus groups came in for tastings, and it sounds like they were having fun too.
Our last side trip was to Vaison la Romaine, where we had a cooking class with Barbara of Cuisine de Provence. The three of us spent a delightful morning preparing traditional Provençal food, then ate it for lunch (sablés, tapenade, quiche, sautéed zucchini, lemon tart). Again the weather didn't cooperate so it was too cool to use the outdoor cooking area or to eat outside, but the food was delicious and we had fun. Barbara was very patient in teaching and interesting to talk to. This experience was a highlight of our trip. After lunch we drove to the upper part of the town to look for a hike towards another town. We weren't really successful in finding the path we wanted, but we did have a nice walk with some beautiful views.
Back in L'Isle sur la Sorgue we tried to see some sites but were too late to get into the church or the toy museum, so we wandered the interesting shops and narrow streets of the town. We ate delicious leftovers from our lunch for dinner that night.
Our favorite restaurant in L'Isle sur la Sorgue was Le Chineur, but we had several good meals in town.
I'll stop here because the next day we head for Marseille (and it's already so long!) I'll continue the report soon.
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Trip Report Southern France 2014