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14 days and countless croissants...winding our way through Provence and environs

14 days and countless croissants...winding our way through Provence and environs

Oct 14th, 2019, 09:58 AM
  #1  
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14 days and countless croissants...winding our way through Provence and environs

Good morning!

I returned days ago from 2 beautiful weeks in Provence and surrounding areas, with a day at the end in Nice. I'd love to share some of it with you, as you helped so much in guiding the way. It's been years since I've done a trip report, so I'll do my best. Please feel free to ask anything you'd like.

Outbound
I flew Economy Plus, using United miles, choosing to break up my flight LAX-ORD-CDG. I used the first leg to study my Michelin Green Guide on Provence, and brushed up a bit on my very rusty French with an old French phrase book. On the second leg, I slept a solid 6 hours, with the help of 5 mg. Melatonin and a very sturdy neck brace. On arrival, I was ready to rock and roll.

I had pre-booked a cheap (15e) OUIGO train from CDG to Aix-en-Provence, leaving myself what I thought would be leisurely time to claim baggage, clear customs, and get to the train station. I am happy to say that the process was very fast; from deplaning to arrival at the train station took only one hour. Unfortunately, I had another 3ish hours to wait. I filled the time sampling different croissants (this is, after all, a major reason why I visit France), drinking lots of coffee and walking in circles.

When the time came, I boarded my train, proudly with only my strategically packed carry on suitcase and purse. On board, I was surprised to see a number of larger sized bags, as I had been lead to believe that was taboo. Anyway, I remained proud of my packing prowess.

The train ride took about 3.5 hours and was comfortable and uneventful, with one stinking exception. Though the loo was kind of nasty, it became a necessity. When it came time to end the transaction, the toilet exploded up onto my Longchamp tote! The smell that I had to carry away was unimaginable. Thank goodness for the Longchamp store on the Cours Mirabeau in Aix, a mere stones throw from my hotel.

Next up, my time in Aix-en-Provence
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 11:22 AM
  #2  
 
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Off to a rousing start! May things go better from here on and may there be many croissants in your TR.
Coquelicot is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 01:20 PM
  #3  
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2 nights in Aix
I took a 35e taxi ride (why are all of the taxis in Provence Mercedes?) from the Aix TGV, past an exciting but brief view of the Montagne Sainte-Victoire (I swear I recognized it from a Cezanne painting!) to my hotel in old town, Hotel des Augustins, where I had booked a superior room for 169e/nt. The hotel is situated in a very old convent. The lobby is beautiful, with stained glass, lots of old, authentic stone, vaulted ceilings, tapestries and a winding stone staircase. The front desk staff was always cheerful, engaging and helpful. The room itself was drab, pretty clean and of sufficient size and I had a beautiful view of the Eglise Ste-Marie-Madeline. The hotel offered breakfast for 10e, which I never took. It was about 6pm, so I dropped my bags and headed out to explore.

Aix had been billed to me as a "mini Paris." It did not remind me of the Paris I know! There are two main sections of the touristic part of the city; the bustling old town and the quiet Quartier Mazarin, separated by the Cours Mirabeau, a lovely avenue lined with nice cafes and shops, old mansions and plane trees. I started my exploration at one end of the Cours Mirabeau, where probably everyone else does as well, at the Fontaine de la Rotunde. It is large, grand and beautiful and used to serve as the entry to the city. My photos couldn't possibly do it justice, though I gave it the old college try.

Speaking of college...I walked a short distance back to old town and began winding my way through its crowded narrow streets and beautiful squares teeming with shops, bars, restaurants and tons of college students! Yes, Aix is a college town, and it was happy hour, with college students doing what college students do. Frankly, it was a little off putting. After about an hour of sleepily walking and exploring, I settled into a small, quiet restaurant which was called Le Bistrot des something (?) and ate duck. This is another reason why I come to France. By 9pm I was ready to call it a very long day.

Unlike at home, breakfast in France is my favorite meal of the day. I can happily power through more than my share of croissants and baguettes without a single ounce of guilt. And of course, there's coffee. French coffee is another reason why I visit France. Do you see a theme developing here? Anyway, I walked until I found a nice outdoor spot for breakfast, and began to load up on carbs and caffeine. I enjoyed watching the street drama unfold between a woman seemingly challenging a man sitting in the street drinking a brown wrapped something or other, and then set out on my way.

I had but one full day to explore Aix, and it was market day! I enjoyed this market because it is spread out well through the Cours Mirabeau and beyond. I didn't get the claustrophobic feeling that I got at the market in Uzes, which is held primarily in the main place.

I chose to follow the walking tour in my Green Guide, and interspersed the sights I saw with some market stalls and photos. Some of my favorite sights were the old mansions along the Cours Mirabeau, the squares, the Hotel de Ville with its clock tower and the Ancienne Halle aux Grains, which I believe may now house le Poste. I also LOVED the quietness of the Quartier Mazarin, with its stately old mansions, fountains and churches.

I made my way back to the Cours Mirabeau, and poked into the Longchamp store. I am not a big shopper on vacation, but needed to replace my tote which had been fatally fouled. On exiting the store, purchase in hand, I found myself almost in front of the Hotel de Caumont, a beautiful mansion dating from 1720, which was housing a wonderful temporary exhibit: the Thannhauser collection, on loan from the Guggenheim. It included works of Manet, Picasso, Degas, Gauguin, Cezanne, Van Gogh and Matisse., many of which were returninng to the region of their creation for the first time since leaving. Though hugely crowded, it was a spectacular exhibit. It included a history of the Thannhauser family and how they and their collection left Europe bit by bit to escape war. I felt so lucky to find the exhibit, as it was only going to be there a few more days. It did, however, cause me to skip the Musee Granet and the Musee des Tapisseries, both of which I had intended to see.

A simple crepe dinner at La Crepe Sautiere and a nice evening walk and that was it for me. I do want to mention a wonderful bakery I ate at the next morning, La Picholine. Really good carbs (i.e., croissants, baguettes and sweets) served on a silver tiered tray outdoors while most of Aix was scurrying off to work.

Next up, making my way to Uzes.
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 04:04 PM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
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I can't believe what happened to your tote!!! You have a very good attitude. Travel includes all sorts of surprises, right??? We have to take the good with the bad.

I love Aix En Provence. My oldest daughter lives in Provence with her French husband and children. When she first moved to France, she lived in Aix, so we visited there quite frequently. It's such a beautiful place for leisurely wandering with its many fountains, squares, beautiful architecture and markets.
KarenWoo is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 04:21 PM
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Maybe I should have done this first, but I'll post the cities/areas we visited, so you can decide what you might like to read or skip.

Aix-en-Provence
Uzes
Aigues-Mortes
Camargue
St. Marie-de-la-Mer
Arles
St. Remy
Les Baux de Provence
Mausanne les Apilles
Eygalieres
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Gordes
Rousillon
Bonnieux
Loumarin
Saignon
Buoux
Sivergues
Auribeau
Nice

And now, for my top 10 list:

Best croissant - I did a lot of research and have to give it to the breakfast at the Hotel Gounod, St. Remy

Best hotel - hands down, La Ressence, a small chambre d'hote in an old mill house half way between Bonnieux and Loumarin

Best shopping - clearly, Nice, with honorable mentions to Aix, the boutiques in Uzes and the antique shops in Isle sur la Sorgue.

Favorite area - the beautiful Luberon. Stayed an extra day.

Favorite village - the tiniest in the Luberon

Took my breath away - Arles, Carrieres des Lumieres in Les Baux

Best night time activity - a piano concert in the Chateau de Loumarin

Best meal - Le Bec a Vin, Uzes (thanks MaiTaiTom)

Prettiest restaurant - L'Arome, Bonnieux (thanks MaiTaiTom)

Best surprise - just how beautiful the village of Eygalieres is





iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 05:24 PM
  #6  
 
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Hope you will be posting pictures too.
Debbielynn is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 05:31 PM
  #7  
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Coquelicot, the whole trip was wonderful! Even the parts that weren't!

Karen Woo, I can't put my finger on it, but I didn't love Aix. I liked it, but liked plenty of places more.

Debbielyn, I never thought of that. I used to post trip reports on Fodor's many years ago, and I don't think it was an option back then. I will be more than happy to post pictures! I took thousands.
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 05:43 PM
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[color=left=#323232]"Best surprise - just how beautiful the village of Eygalieres is"

So happy and surprised that you visited Eygalieres!. I don't think it is on the beaten tourist track. We have visited Eygalieres quite a few times because our daughter lives not too far from there. We frequently go on Friday mornings for their market, and we have had lunch or dinner at several restaurants, and have always had an excellent meal. I don't think we have ever heard English spoken when we visited. Most of the people at the market are French locals. I do remember talking to some Dutch tourists one time who sat next to us at a restaurant.

You definitely saw a lot of places. I like your top ten list. I will make note of the restaurants for our trip in April/May.

Eygalieres doesn't get hordes of tourists, like other places. We had dinner there in July on a weeknight, and it was pleasantly quiet, and seemed to be primarily locals at the restaurant. [/color]

Last edited by KarenWoo; Oct 14th, 2019 at 05:47 PM.
KarenWoo is offline  
Oct 14th, 2019, 05:54 PM
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Karen Woo, one of my very dear old friends lived in Germany for many years, and vacationed often in Provence with his young family. He rented a villa in Eygalieres one year, and encouraged me to base there on this trip. I am disappointed that I didn't. I was hesitant because, not having been, I didn't think there would be enough restaurants for evening meals. Boy, was I wrong. It is clearly an upscale, non touristy village, with lots of upscale dining. There would have been plenty of choices for a several day stay. His favorite, in case you want it for your next trip, is Bistro L'Aubergine. We decided not to eat there because it was not yet open for the evening and we didn't want to drive back to St. Remy after dark. How funny! On our return to St. Remy, most of its restaurants were closed, as it was Wednesday! Have no fear, we did find a nice meal that night at Antico Mulino, a casual Italian restaurant with delicious food. I do recommend it.

Last edited by iregeo2; Oct 14th, 2019 at 06:02 PM.
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2019, 07:59 AM
  #10  
 
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I'm loving your TR thus far, iregeo2, and am eager to read further on your investigations of croissants in Provence. Pictures, please?
Trophywife007 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2019, 08:42 AM
  #11  
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Pictures of Aix. Not the best, but I promise they got better as my trip progressed.









iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 15th, 2019, 01:04 PM
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I love your photos of Aix, especially of Place d"Albertas and the markets. Brings back fond memories for me!
KarenWoo is offline  
Oct 15th, 2019, 04:40 PM
  #13  
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Thank you Karen Woo. I took about 3500 photos over the course of the trip! Will post more of each town as I do the report.
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2019, 08:21 PM
  #14  
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Ugh. I just spent way too long doing my Uzes installment, only to somehow lose it. I hope you will bear with me. My next installment is coming soon. For now, I'll post Uzes photos.
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2019, 08:32 PM
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Pont du Gard






Last edited by iregeo2; Oct 16th, 2019 at 08:37 PM.
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 16th, 2019, 08:41 PM
  #16  
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Uzes













iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 17th, 2019, 08:50 AM
  #17  
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This trip was born for me when my friend/neighbor Randi asked if I would be interested in traveling in France with her. I, like you, am the kind who never sleeps with her passport too far away, in case I have to make a quick getaway. Of course I wanted to go to France with her! Though my husband has known Randi for 20+ years, I have only known her for 2. What's funny is, prior to spending 2 weeks joined at the hip in France, we had never even shared a meal. We knew that we would come home either sisters, or never speak again. I am happy to have gained a sister.

She started her trip spending a week in Paris with her husband; I, with my short stay in Aix. It was time to start our journey in earnest!

On to Uzes

The TGV from Aix to Avignon is a brief 20 minutes, and about $25 (advance purchase on SNCF). We arrived at nearly the same time, and immediately went to retrieve our rental car, a compact, automatic Citroen 2008, rented through Europcar/AutoEurope. Easy to find, great service. We even got a free, built in GPS. I was pleased.

Once we had FiFi, (first two letters on the license plate were FF) we hit the road. We had decided to skip Avignon on this trip and headed straight toward Uzes, stopping along the way at the Pont du Gard. What is there to say about the Pont du Gard? We marveled at its sheer size, and imagined its function back in the day. We photographed it from every which way, but just couldn't do it justice. We wanted to picnic, but opted for a quick sandwich at the cafe, as the hour was getting late, and MaiTai Tom had scared me enough to believe I would not eat after the bewitching hour of 2pm!

A short 25 minutes later we were pulling up to La Maison de la Bourgade, a beautiful maison d'hotes in Uzes. I LOVED this place and highly recommend it. The owner, Elisabeth, is an elegant woman with a magnificent home. She greeted us warmly, showed us to her garden, and offered us refreshments of our choosing. We felt at home at once. She made recommendations, reservations, and excellent company. She served an incredible breakfast in the garden each morning, with butter croissants, chocolate croissants, baguettes, jams, cakes, yogurt, meats, lots of coffee, and the most delectable creme caramel I've ever had. Yep! Dessert for breakfast. I'm in. As good as breakfast was, it was so much fun to break bread with her other guests, from all over the world. But here I am again on breakfast...

Though Elisabeth offers several individual rooms (I peaked in, theyíre really pretty), we opted for her 2 bedroom apartment. We dropped our bags, and headed out to explore.

Uzes is stunning! Like many old French villages, it has narrow, winding streets, pretty squares and breathtaking (some medieval) architecture. Unlike many old French villages that I saw, much of Uzes is completely renovated. Also, it is so clean, I think you could eat off the ground. I suspect there is a lot of money here.

We had no idea, but were so lucky that there was a special sort of art fair in town for that evening only, called ďUzes Minuit Blanche.Ē After we ate tapas at Les Terroirs and people watched on the beautiful Place aux Herbes, we meandered through the streets for hours, stopping at various venues to see all forms of physical and performance art, even sculpture made entirely of lights set to music. Such a lovely evening. We returned to the apartment to catch up, and called it a night.

The next day, after a delightful breakfast in a delightful garden shared with new friends, we set off for market day. It was my experience that most of the products were the same or similar to those I saw at the market in Aix, however, it was so crowded with people that it was more difficult to enjoy. After hearing such great things, I guess I was a little disappointed.

Once the crowd cleared, we ate a very nice lunch in the square at Le Pítit Coffee. Best nicoise Iíve ever had. Our afternoon was spent meandering the streets, shopping, taking photos, and seeing the major tourist sites. My favorite was the Medieval Garden, with its 12th and 13th century towers. Climbing to the top offered an expansive, panoramic view of the village.

Dinner that night was on the patio at Le Bec a Vin. I highly recommend. Turned out to be one of, if not the best meal of my trip. Thank you MaiTai Tom!

Thatís it for Uzes. So glad we included it. I would return in a heartbeat.
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 17th, 2019, 09:04 AM
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Hello- It looks like a great tour. Can you please tell us how you traveled from one town to the next? Thank you, Humphry
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Oct 17th, 2019, 09:07 AM
  #19  
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Hello humphry. I'm not sure what you mean. We traveled from town to town by car. Do you mean what route did we take?
iregeo2 is offline  
Oct 18th, 2019, 08:57 AM
  #20  
 
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Trippin'

Hello Again,
The thread you posted answered my question. You drove FiFi.
Thank you, Humphry
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