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2 Weeks in France - Paris and Provence - Trip Report

2 Weeks in France - Paris and Provence - Trip Report

Old May 23rd, 2011, 01:08 AM
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Provence Day 1: Getting There
We got up very reluctantly at 6 am. The streets that had always been so full of laughter and Vespa roaring were quiet except for the morning garbage truck (no wonder the French streets are so clean..the garbage truck comes every day!) We took one last look at our apartment that had really become home and Sam got in a workout carrying our luggage down the stairs. We took a cab to Gare de Lyon, the train station, for our train to Avignon. The "gates" don't show up on the board until about 20 minutes before the train is scheduled to leave, similar to how it is in the States. But when ours showed up with a number, we were confused because all we saw were lettered aisles, but eventually we found the numbers downstairs and boarded the train. We found our seats easily, up on the top level. Luckily I had remembered to print our train tickets at home before we came, since I had done the print at home option, but we had no printer in the apartment. The train does go very fast, and runs exactly on time to the minute. I love it.

When we arrived in Avignon city center, we exited the train and looked for Europcar car rental where we had reserved a car. No sign of it, or any other car rental for that matter. Hmmm...odd. We saw a sign to a shuttle to the "Avignon TGV station." Wait...suddenly I started having memories of booking this train and car many months ago and there being TWO Avignon train stations. Of course I thought we had booked a train to arrive at the station where the rental cars were, but maybe not. Anyway, we figured it out. We took the shuttle to the other station and found our car, and even got upgraded to a Mercedes cross-over type car. We decided not to drive into Avignon and tour there as we were eager to get out into the countryside.

We drove south and stopped in St. Remy for lunch. We had thought about staying here so I was curious to see the town. It is nice, and rather large, and not particularly charming so in the end I was glad we hadn't decided to stay there, although it is centrally located in the region. We had lunch at a Cafe, I don't remember the name. I ordered a goat cheese salad, thinking it would be relatively healthy. But unlike in the US where you're lucky to get a small morsel of cheese on your salad, here I was actually wishing for more lettuce! The cheese was delicious though, and topped with a warm combination of fruit jam and honey I think.


The specialty of this restaurant seemed to be beef tartare, as they had five different kinds, and Sam ordered the Provencale variety. As if raw beef isn't enough, it has a raw egg on top. We also enjoyed a chilled Rose with lunch, which is definitely becoming a habit now.



After lunch we drove South a bit more to Les Baux. We didn't actually walk around there but we got some pictures of it. We also stopped at an olive oil farm(?) and tasted some oils, some of which had a surprisingly bitter after taste.


We then drove north east to St. Saturnin les Apt, the small town outside of which are B&B is situated. The drive was beautiful, although I must confess I napped through part of it.

The B&B, Le Mas Perreal, is beautiful, although a little difficult to find. It is situated on 17 acres of vineyards, and run by an American man, Kevin, and his French wife, Elizabeth, who are both lovely. Our room is simple but charming and elegant, and the bathroom is HUGE, especially after Paris, and has a large soaking tub in addition to a shower. There is a small pool and lots of lounging chairs and trees for shade. We felt immediately relaxed.

For dinner we drove into the small town of St. Saturnin, which is delightfully un-touristy. We wanted something simple so we settled on La Restanque, whose specialties are pizza and galettes/crepes. The Galette is basically a savory open faced crepe, which I had topped with amazing Provencale vegetables, and Sam had a basil pizza. We shared an ice cream sundae for desert. It was perfect.
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 02:05 AM
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Correction: At Gare de Lyon, the numbered aisles for the trains are not downstairs, they are just down a hallway on the ground level. We just got confused and thought they were downstairs at first.
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 02:27 AM
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Provence - Day 2: I really can't do justice to this without the pictures, so here's a link to my blog. This covers the Isle Sur La Sorgue market, Gordes, and dinner at Les Voyageurs in Saint Saturnin.
http://eatdreamtravel.blogspot.com/2...came-from.html
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 02:51 AM
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Great report and now great photos - thanks.
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 06:01 AM
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Just when I thought it couldn't get any better... PHOTOS! ;^)
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 06:56 AM
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YUMMM to the food photos!
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 07:55 AM
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Cute couple. Great photos. This is a daily treat!
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 08:19 AM
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sharbear, you made me hungry for both the food and Provence.
I met Kevin a few years ago in Provence at a Slowtrav GTG.
He is very nice!!
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Old May 23rd, 2011, 11:38 AM
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sharbear, just wanted to say thank you for the fun report! I just got back from Italy and, still in travel mode, am trying to decide what I want the next trip to be... Paris and Provence definitely crossed my mind. Eagerly awaiting more!
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Old May 24th, 2011, 11:32 AM
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Provence Day 3: Laziness (With photos: http://eatdreamtravel.blogspot.com/2...-laziness.html)

We started the day with another scrumptious breakfast - the main thing this time being an apple crepe. Then we hung around the B&B for a bit, reading by the pool and just enjoying the grounds and relaxing.


Eventually we headed into Apt to taste some wine at the co-op there, where our B&B owners sell their grapes to. The woman working at the counter spoke absolutely no English, and I tried a little bit of French, but she answered me so fast it was quite a challenge. I finally got across that we wanted to taste some wines and cheese, but didn't actually want lunch. The wines were ok, nothing really special though.

Then we drove to Roussillon, a nearby town that gets its name from the ochre in the earth that makes the cliffs a bright red color. It is really quite stunning to see. The town itself is cute, although I hate to say, looks a lot like all the other towns we've been to. We didn't feel like a long lunch so we just grabbed sandwiches and walked around a bit.


Then, per the title of this post, it was back to the B&B to rest and read by the pool again.

We were very excited for dinner that night at Le Sanglier Paresseux in the small town of Casseneuve, about 20 minutes away. Kevin, the B&B owner, said it was one of their favorite restaurants. To start with, the view of the sunset from the restaurant was absolutely breathtaking, and we spent the whole dinner watching the sun slowly slink down behind the mountains, taking all the pictures that we could.

The food was incredibly flavorful and creative, much more refined than the previous night's dinner. They brought us an amuse buche of guacamole with breadsticks and a pea soup shooter. I then started with a lentil cream soup that could be one of the best soups I have ever had and Sam had a trio of asparagus.

My whole menu was called the "market menu" and just shows how the chefs here really take the food straight from the market onto the plates of their customers. We both had a fish dish for the main course. The fish dish was supposed to have shellfish in it but when we explained we didn't eat it, he said the chef would change the dish for us (and yes, this conversation was in English). And so it came instead with shell shaped pasta!! So nice and so thoughtful! The dish had so many different components: a small cast iron pot of red mullet, tomato sauce, and pasta; an elegant version of ratatouille, a fried mashed banana, mashed potatoes w/candied oranges....I'm not sure that it all worked together, but each part was tasty, and the fish was so fresh tasting.

For desert I had the strawberry creation, which basically tasted like deconstructed strawberry shortcake in a bowl. Amazing. And Sam had "tout de chocolate" - everything chocolate - a chocolate mousse and ganache. The food, service, and view combined for an incredible evening.
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Old May 24th, 2011, 12:15 PM
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ADDENDUM: Wow...so my brain must really be addled by my cold. I can't believe I called that post "Laziness" and forgot we went on a hike up Perreal hill. We never quite made it to the summit. We are quite nervous about getting lost on hikes ever since we got seriously seriously lost in California once (it had a happy ending since it led to our engagement, but it was still really scary). So we went up and up the hill and then we saw about ten different paths and none of them were clearly the right path so we got nervous and turned around. But we had nice views up there and it helped us justify all our eating!
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Old May 24th, 2011, 12:28 PM
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Please keep it coming. I couldn't get your photos this tine. Looks like the close paren is getting included in the link.
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Old May 24th, 2011, 12:31 PM
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Sorry about that! http://eatdreamtravel.blogspot.com/2...-laziness.html
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Old May 24th, 2011, 12:32 PM
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Provence Day 4: Uncovering the Mystery of "Terroir"

Photos included at: http://eatdreamtravel.blogspot.com/2...ystery-of.html

This morning we tried to get up early because we had a long day of stuff we wanted to do, but I have been getting a cold and this morning it definitely caught up with me. Of course on the day we had plans to taste wine. So we set out a bit on the late side for the scenic drive to the southern Cote du Rhone valley. First we drove north towards Sault, which in another month or so will be covered in lavender - we have to come back one day and see that. But even without the lavender, it was beautiful, winding through the mountains (kudos to Sam for all this not so fun driving). We stopped in a small town, Brantes, that Kevin recommended for the view. It sits right at the foot of Mount Vetoux.


We continued on, intending to visit a few towns like Sablet and Gigondas but we realized time was running out, so we stopped in Vaison la Romaine for a quick lunch. The Tuesday market there was just finishing when we got there. We only had a half hour, which is nowhere near enough time for a sit down lunch in France but we crazily tried it anyway - and succeeded! I think our 25 minute lunch set the French record! We had delicious salads and a plate of french fries. Yum.

Then we continued to Chateauneuf-du-Pape to meet up with our guide for a wine tour, Olivier Hickman, whose company is called Wine Uncovered. We got very lost, and our phone ran out of minutes, and it was a whole adventure but eventually him and the rest of the tour group found us. We drove to our first stop - Domaine Roger Sabon. We visited the cellars where Olivier gave us a very interesting explanation of French wines, especially the Cote du rhone wines and how they are different from wines elsewhere with the emphasis on the unique "terroir" - the soil in which the wines are grown - which is why the winemakers here don't focus so much on the vintage or the type of grape but rather exactly where the grapes were grown. They also don't do as much "winemaking," basically they don't mess with it as much, because that would cover up the unique terroir. The wine is generally not aged in the normal small oak barrels here either - the big ones don't impart much oaky taste.

We tasted many different wines and tried to tell the differences between those grown in rocky soil vs. clay, for example (a little hard for me with a stuffed up nose, but I tried). We then moved onto another "domaine" where we first went to teh vineyards to see the rocky soil and the baby grapes starting to grow, before we moved on to tasting.

We really liked all the wines in both places - it's rare for me to like reds so much but they are a majority Grenache which is a medium bodied grape that I really like, and Sam even liked one of the Whites (which they don't make much of here). We bought a few bottles.

On the way back we got lost a few times. It is always a struggle to decide whether to trust our GPS, which likes to take us on tiny back roads instead of main roads when at all possible. We stopped at a supermarket to get some more dinner picnic supplies to add to some stuff we'd picked up at the morning's market in St Saturnin, which I forgot to mention. Our picnic consisted of: a whole grain baguette, comte cheese, cherry jam, a spreadable goat cheese, eggplant tapenade, breadsticks, wonderful small melon from the market, and almond cookies. Sam opened one of our bottles from the day's visits but I was saving myself for some antihistamine later.

Then we strolled the vineyards at our B&B to catch the sunset.

There's a weird animal outside our window that makes a very regular beeping noise like a car backing up. Here's to hoping it's too tired tonight to beep.....
Tomorrow: Off to Aix-en-Provence for the next 3 nights!
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Old May 26th, 2011, 08:34 AM
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Don't know if anyone is still reading at this point, but here is some more. Also at: http://eatdreamtravel.blogspot.com/2...ust-right.html

his last part of our vacation may just be the nicest. Maybe that's because we are in a place that combines the best of Paris and the best of the countryside. Or maybe it's because we are both tired of "seeing" things and are taking full advantage of the pool and spa at our hotel (Aquabella). Or perhaps it is just that we are savoring every moment of the trip as it nears its end.

A little background on why we came to Aix-en-Provence, which is a small city in the south of France. It is south of the Luberon region and about an hour from the Riviera. It is home to a French university. All my life I have heard my mother talk about Aix, as she spent a summer here in high school. (In fact, she couldn't quite believe I was coming here to visit before she had had a chance to return.) I think over time Aix took on an almost mythical quality to me, and I was old enough to figure out it was not X like the letter. While I did debate whether it made sense to come here for several nights or just a day trip, I knew it had to be a part of any trip to France. Some on the travel blogs and message boards I read don't seem to have nice things to say about Aix, but I don't understand why, and we are very glad we chose to spend three nights here.

Our hotel is right on the edge of the Old Town, which consists of lots of narrow partly-cobblestoned streets lined with stores, restaurants, and cafes. I would say that maybe one of every five businesses in Aix is selling some kind of food - whether it's a bakery, a pastry shop, a crepe or fresh fruit juice stand, a bar (which looks the same as a cafe until you see the menu only has drinks), a cafe, a bistro, or a fancy restaurant. Sam remarked that bakeries in France are as ubiquitous as Starbucks, and we keep popping our heads into every one. There is a special cookie apparently made and sold ONLY in Aix that my mom asked me to bring home to her - the Calisson d'Aix. I had an ice cream with that flavor, and it was a complex combination of almond flavor with a hint of orange.

Provence, and Aix in particular, seems to put fresh fruit in everything. It's awesome. From the strawberry sorbet to the fresh squeezed carrot/orange/lemon juice. And all dinners come with fresh eggplant and tomatoes from the region. The fruits and veggies don't taste like anything you can get at home, and apparently we are at the end of strawberry season so I'm glad we didn't miss that. You at least feel a LITTLE healthier here than you do in Paris. Or maybe not, when you eat them with cream and a Pistachio cupcake.....

South of the Old Town you come to the main street in town - the Cours Mirabeau - which ends in a traffic circle and fountain.

That main street is also lined with Cafes. The French people have so much energy, especially the young people. On a random weekday afternoon in some places almost every table is full with people talking animatedly, laughing, gesticulating, drinking, and often smoking. There is just so much life here. I wish I could capture this in a picture, but I'm still trying.

As you can probably tell from these random musings, we haven't done a whole lot since we got there. The drive here was not too long, and part of it was beautiful, driving up and over the Luberon mountains. We've walked around the town a lot and done a little shopping. We've also discovered the joys of sitting in the pool area in our hotel, a calm oasis in the busy town. Bordering the pool are the remains of old Roman ruins, which I think used to be some sort of bathhouse - which makes this a very good location for a spa. As guests of the hotel we have access not only to the outdoor pool but also to the steam rooms, sauna, jacuzzi, etc. Especially since I have a cold, this has been perfect for me. The sun has been shining every day and we've been soaking it up. Well, Sam soaks it up and I hide under an umbrella.

The funny thing about the pool/spa here is everyone gets a robe and slippers in the room and you HAVE to wear them. So at the nice restaurant patio at lunch everyone is eating in their robes! So un-French.

We visited the Aix market this morning. There were separate areas in a few different large plazas - some focused on food, others on clothing. The clothing is frustrating for me because I like a lot of it but there are no sizes and usually nowhere to try stuff on, so I hesitate to buy. It was a good market, but not as good as Isle sur la Sorgue, in my opinion. Or maybe we are just starting to see a lot of the same stuff. There was also a flower market here, which I hadn't seen before.

Last night for dinner we ate a very typical place, Le Piston - Sam had lamb chops again and I had chicken. And of course there was cheese involved in the meal, and sorbet. For breakfast we had a vegetable goat cheese tart from the market. There are lots of non-French ethnic eateries in Aix and I am eager to try one, as I am a little tired of French food, so it might be Lebanese food for dinner tonight...
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Old May 26th, 2011, 08:39 AM
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I'm still reading! And still enjoying it!
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Old May 26th, 2011, 09:14 AM
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Me, too!
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Old May 26th, 2011, 09:19 AM
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Thanks guys!
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Old May 26th, 2011, 09:21 AM
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Moi aussi!!
Am intrigued--will go to Aix while "based" in St Remy de Provence in a few weeks.
Funny image of people in their robes. Not the same image as the itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis that one has seen on photos!And bravo to the robe rule!
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Old May 26th, 2011, 09:24 AM
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I'm getting on a plane to France in 7 days and your report is making me very excited!
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