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Happy 80th Birthday Mom: Menerbes and Provence, Cassis and the Cote D’Azur

Happy 80th Birthday Mom: Menerbes and Provence, Cassis and the Cote D’Azur

Sep 30th, 2013, 08:18 AM
  #1  
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Happy 80th Birthday Mom: Menerbes and Provence, Cassis and the Cote D’Azur

I’ve been meaning to write this report for some time now and have decided that I should start it before I start on the trip I just had in Italy. I received lots of advice from everyone here and thank you all for your wisdom and patience. It was all put together to formulate a celebratory 2 week French vacation last April for my Mom, about to turn 80, and me…so thanks to you all! My mother hadn’t had a vacation for about 14 years, but had helped us out on many occasions with babysitting so that DH and I could travel so we decided to treat her to the planefare and to a beautiful place in a French town of her choosing. She chose Menerbes. I’m going to try to keep it brief, but we’ll see how that goes. ☺

We flew US Air from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, to Munich and finally to Marseille without a hitch, picked up our cute little Citroen Picassa, booked through Auto Europe, at Hertz, and were on our way. First glitch – my mom decided she wanted to stop at a soap factory in Salon de Provence on the way to our apartment so off we went. I was in Fodors mode so did it occur to me to ask if she knew where she was going? Non! Who would just drive into a city and expect to just find what you were looking for? Don’t worry – it wasn’t us. When I realized she didn’t even have an address, we abandoned the plan and continued on to Menerbes, our home for the week. We got a bit lost since we were out of the way, but finding a beautiful patisserie along the way made up for that.

And what a home it was!!! The most beautiful apartment, called Menerbes-Two, perched at the top of Menerbes, one of the ‘Most Beautiful Towns in France’. Tiny roads, old stone homes, hills, typical provencal hill town, home of Peter Mayle, author of “A Year in Provence’ and where my mother had always wanted to stay. Did I mention the tiny roads? Luckily we hadn’t booked a huge car. To get to our apartment, we had to fold in our mirrors and squeeze between two walls on Rue Cornille. Our front door was in miniature scale meaning that we had to duck to enter, but once inside, we were amazed by the décor, the layout, the views! I will let the website speak for itself – the apartment was exactly as pictured and I can’t recommend it more highly if you want a true hill town experience, with luxurious accommodations:

http://www.theluberon.com/rentals/ls...4/menerbes-two

So we unloaded and realized we couldn’t turn around in the street. We drove to the end and saw we could turn around between someone’s car, a stone lion statue and a chain blocking a private driveway. Unfortunately, there was also a huge rock next to that small area and in front of it was a steep incline. I inched the car back and forth many times until I was turned around and started to smell a slightly burning clutch. We made it out without destroying the car, inched through the narrow passageway and found a parking space which had been indicated by the owner on a map. (more on that later!)

We enjoyed our first evening with some food we had picked up along the way, marveling the view over the mountains.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 08:49 AM
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Sunday – our plans of getting to Isle–sur-la-Sorgue for the big market day were dashed when my mom had a hard time getting out of bed. No matter – we knew there was another (albeit not as extensive) on Thursday. My mom has trouble walking so we had decided I would go to get the coveted croissants every day. Unfortunately, they were not typical. Instead of buttery and flaky, they were more breadlike. That did not start the day off well, but I warded off the catastrophe. Once we were ready, we set out for Pernes-les-Fontaines, town of 40 fountains, that she had been wanting to visit. It was a quaint medieval town and nice to stroll for a while and check out the lace curtains and see how many fountains we could find. In the meantime, we heard some beautiful music coming from a church turned cultural center (Centre Culturel des Augustins) so we entered, took the elevator upstairs and were surprised to find people onstage in traditional provencal dress with olden-day musical instruments from the past – recorders and tall “tambourin” drums - practicing for a concert. We were invited to watch for a while and then returned an hour later for the performance. This folklore group played traditional songs, danced and gave a slide presentation of the region. What an unexpected way to spend an afternoon. It was followed with crepes and apple cider.

http://www.lifestejaire.fr

Although my mother didn’t especially want to go to Gordes, it wasn’t much out of the way, so I drove that way on the way home and asked to stop briefly. My brief stop turned into a wonderful shopping expedition for both of us and my mom was ready to return the next day. We also drove by the Abbaye Notre Dame de Senanque and my mom waited while I walked over to see the abbey. I knew it wasn’t lavender season, but wanted to just take a peak. My timing was perfect and the bells started tolling as soon as I walked up to the chapel. How beautiful. Luckily, my mother could enjoy them from the car. We returned to the apartment and had drinks on the porch with the sunset.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 09:22 AM
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Happy 80th birthday Mom: Menerbes and Provence, Cassis and the Cote D’Azur

Monday – I avoided Menerbe’s boulangerie today and went to the tiny market instead. Luckily, I got the last croissants and they were perfection. Happiness!

Today was our trip to Roussillon, the one place I had requested in our planning. We drove through the pine forest to see a beautiful brightly colored town sitting on red rock. There was a paid parking lot and we lucked out when a car left as we arrived. It didn’t take long to wander through the streets, but I still wanted to hike the Sentier des Ochres, a park of cliffs and hills of red, orange and yellow-hued ochre which used to be mined. My mom wanted to rest at a café while I hiked the longer of the two paths. It took well under an hour and was so relaxing. Afterwards I stopped in the cemetery which was located just by the entrance to the paths. The porcelain flower arrangements on the gravesites were an amazing way to honor the family members here. If you want a wonderful view of the town, you can’t get a better one than in here.

Next it was off to Bonnieux for lunch and to visit a store my mother remembered from 14 years ago. Now, we had had a discussion about how it’s not wise to put such hopes in things from 14 years ago, but my mom insisted it would be one of the highlights of the trip. OK. Off we went. We found parking up top so that the walk for my mom would be easier and went down until we found a café, Le St. Andre. Our waiter had been a butler in New York for 10 years and was very entertaining. He made his recommendation and I was quite happy with the special of salad, steak and the French Fries served in a tiny paper sack. The plate was artfully arranged with a swirl of (maybe) balsamic reduction and came with an apple tart. Perfect! Unfortunately, the trip to the store wasn’t so perfect. At least it was still in existence, but the son was there instead of the mother and the prices had skyrocketed. My mom was disappointed but we still enjoyed looking at the merchandise and talking to the son.

We decided to drive around some of the smaller towns near Menerbes and came across Oppede-le-Vieux perched on the side of a cliff, then Oppede. We stopped at Pizza Bella in Oppede for take-out pizza and sandwiches which were delicious. We fully intended to go back for the escargot pizza later in the week, but we just ran out of time.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 10:30 AM
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Tuesday – off to Salon de Provence to tour the Marius Fabre soap factory. My mom had visited it years ago and had just missed being there for the first tour. She’s been wanting to go on this tour for years. I researched from the apartment, knew that tours were given on Tuesdays, and got the address.

The tour, given in French only, was really interesting, at least to me, the one who didn’t really care if we went there or not. We saw the cauldrons where the product is boiled, the large trays where the liquid soap is poured, saw how everything is cut into large cubes, got the low-down on how wonderful 72% olive oil soap is for the skin, saw the drying racks, etc. The other one of us though got angry that the tour was not in English and actually stormed out of the tour leaving me behind. Well, I finished it out, feeling badly that I wasn’t proficient enough in French to listen and translate all at once. I found my mom relatively calm once again in the shop once the tour ended. I couldn’t help but think about my husband home with the kids…

We drove through St. Remy and stopped at the tourist bureau on the way back. What a good decision! First we got a blue card with a dial that we could use on the dashboard of the car to allow us to park in certain prime parking areas. Indicate the time and be sure you’re back in an hour, reset the time and back on out. A great way to avoid parking hassles! We also learned about St. Remy’s market the next day.

Wed – Back to St. Remy. We got there early and hit the market. It extended throughout the old section and wound through many of the streets and around most of the ring road. You could get anything you wanted, sausage, window cleaners, cheeses, fabrics, even mattresses. My mother remembered a cute store she had visited years ago (yes, you know where this is going) and tried to find it. The owner had died 5 months before and the shop was closed. Major disappointment again.

Thursday – Our day to go to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue! We started out at a café overlooking the river and watched some swans gliding over the water. It was all so serene. The market was not extensive, but it was fine for our purposes. We bought tablecloths and food and then went on the hunt for Croques Monsieur at any café for lunch. These sandwiches used to be prevalent at just about any café, but now there are basically none to be seen. Very strange. Could it be because they are so inexpensive and cafes prefer larger sales? We finally found one in a bakery, but it was just so-so.

We went to Tissus Gregoire on the way home, a huge fabric store in Saint-Saturnin-lès-Avignon, that my mom remembered visiting before. If you want provencal prints, this would be a good choice, but they didn’t have much in the way of lace curtains.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 10:37 AM
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Friday - we decided just to relax today, pack some things for shipping and visit the Corkscrew Museum. This was a quirky museum in a small chateau with hundreds (thousands?) of different corkscrews from throughout history. Some were funny, some were lewd - which made them even funnier. We enjoyed it, as well as the wine tasting on the way out!
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Sep 30th, 2013, 10:52 AM
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Enjoying the report kwren! And the apartment is beautiful!
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Sep 30th, 2013, 10:56 AM
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Hey low country - are you packed?
Can't wait to do my trip report on Carunchio!
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Sep 30th, 2013, 11:37 AM
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JR and I based in Aix and were lucky enough to be the only 2 people in a van tour of the Luberon area. We loved Menerbes and Roussillon. Your flat looks amazing. How far in advance did you book it?

Can't wait to "go" to Cassis and Cote.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 11:53 AM
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kwren...looking forward to your Carunchio (version 2.0) report! I have started my packing "process" still monitoring the weather websites to see what "makes the cut' into the suitcase! LOL! ;-)
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Sep 30th, 2013, 11:59 AM
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tell Massimo that Karen says hi (the Karen from "Karen-week")
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Sep 30th, 2013, 12:11 PM
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kwren...absolutely, if it weren't for you I'd never have known about the Carunchio culinary vacation...these next 11 days are going to the be longest, I want to go now! LOL!

Thank you so much for posting the trip report last year about your experience, and this trip report too! The apartment looks like the kind of place my mom and I would love to stay in!
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Sep 30th, 2013, 12:13 PM
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This apartment was wonderful - very comfortable, beautiful, fully equipped. There was a code sent to me before I left and it opened a little lock outside the door. Behind the lock were the keys to enter. The short door was cool too. there was a lock at the top and bottom of the door.

The owner left us a bottle of wine too!

Just get your croissants at the market by the post office, not at the boulangerie!
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Sep 30th, 2013, 12:28 PM
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Saturday – good-bye Provence!
It was sad packing up the car after staying in such a beautiful place. The good side is that we were going to an area that my mom had not been to so she didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what to do. I was in full-on Fodors mode!

We drove south in gloomy weather, but couldn’t help get excited as we neared the water. We entered Cassis, a cute little harbor town, but it turns out that you can only drive down to the harbor area for about 2 hours each morning, a disadvantage when wanting to unload luggage. We followed the directions to the parking garage, on a hillside and then I walked on down to our next stop – Chez Nino’s. I found Nino, the owner, and he was wonderful – he insisted on walking to the garage with me to help my mother down the hill while I waited with the car and suitcases. (Turns out she did quite well with Nino – handsome French guy really makes one feel better I guess!) He then came back to help me with the luggage. Quite the gentleman!

I have to take a moment to rave about Nino’s! Although I found them on the Internet, the only way to ask questions or book a room was to call France. I didn't want to do that at first, so I spent lots of time looking for other hotels or B&Bs. After an extensive search of places with so-so reviews in Tripadvisor, or places without all the amenities we wanted such as breakfast and parking (in the garage), I decided to bite the bullet and make the call...and boy, am I glad I did! What should I rave about first? The beautifully decorated room with refrigerator, comfy bed, balcony, awesome shower, WiFi, or the breakfast with an overflowing basket of different rolls and bread, fresh squeezed OJ, etc, or the amazing view? When I say amazing, I mean the room is directly on the harbor and faces the boats and cliffs which are topped by a chateau. As if that wasn't enough, Nino told me he 'does the maximum', and in my estimation, he did way more than that for us. He even got our car in the pouring rain for us at the end of our stay and loaded our luggage in it. Don't be afraid to book this by phone and without email confirmation. It's a well-run outfit and the perfect place to be if you are in Cassis and want an unmatched view. They all seem to speak English, so don't let that scare you from making the call. Our room was the Tramantane on the ground level with balcony (the balcony side is up a level on the port side). The other 2 rooms are on 2 levels each, one has a balcony, the other doesn't but is much bigger. Something for everyone and the rooms all look exactly like they do on the website. Just look under Chez Nino. I absolutely recommend this place - another homerun for us!

http://www.nino-cassis.com/maison_en.html
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Sep 30th, 2013, 01:11 PM
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So we got settled and debated on when to do the biggest attraction in Cassis - the tour of the Calanques, long inlets into the rocky coastline, sort of like mini fjords. Both of us badly wanted to do this excursion. As I said, it was rather gloomy out. The forecast was for possible rain either that day or the next. Since it wasn't raining, we decided to go for it and went down to the harbor. We did the 5 calanques trip for 18.50 euros and that was perfect for us. Each was a bit different - I loved the one with the tiny harbor at the end. Another has a lone tree growing at the top out of the rock.

http://www.ot-cassis.com/en/the-calanques-by-boat.html

Unfortunately, the weather grew more windy with time and at one point, it did start raining. Along the coast, we were out in unprotected water so imagine that the waves started getting pretty big. My mother is afraid of water and doesn't swim so it didn't take too long for her to start to panic and start becoming very vocal - and loud - about the need to return to Cassis, an impossibility! I calmed her down (under duress) and she sat quietly the rest of the trip, probably not remembering why she had been so enthused about this boat ride. I got wonderful pictures despite the weather and stress.

The way back was the best part of the trip (for me). We were going with the wind so the ride was smoother and we ended up in the middle of some sort of sailboat race. There were probably about 25 sailboats following and overtaking us and it was beautiful. My mother finally relaxed as we passed the lighthouse at the opening of the harbor, passed Nino's and docked.

Dinner was at Le Bonaparte and we thoroughly enjoyed it. There were bowls of olives waiting on the tables and it was fun when the waiter brought a platter of fresh fish over to show us the catch of the day. The food was delicious, but the best part was the Moules Marinieres appetizer! Tender mussels topped with a mixture of garlic, butter and parsley. Reminded us of an escargot preparation and was out of this world. We used the unlimited baguette slices to get every last bit of that wonderful topping. The Creme Caramel was wonderful too and was smooth and creamy, exactly what it should be. The only minus was the grilled fish. I had the sea bass and it tasted great, but every single bite had at least one bone in it. My mom had the sea bream and it had bones, but not as many, maybe every other bite. The owner checked on us throughout the meal, and gave us free after dinner drinks. I'm glad we made a reservation...it was packed soon after opening for dinner!
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Sep 30th, 2013, 01:43 PM
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Today was a relaxing day walking around the shops of Cassis. There were more high scale shops than I had expected...with high prices. I guess I had thought that I'd only see T-shirt and souvenir places so this was a nice change. I also bought the biggest palmier I had ever seen - it was bigger than my head!

We bought some food for lunch and sat out on our balcony to eat, enjoy the views of the harbor and chateau and play cards. Nino's is mainly a restaurant with 3 B+B rooms so it certainly doesn't look like a hotel. Can you imagine our surprise when tourists thought we were 'locals' and took our pictures??!! It happened over and over throughout the afternoon so finally we started saying bonjour to them. I wonder how many people have pictures of us thinking we were typical Cassis residents!

Dinner was at Le Grand Bleu on the harbor. It was raining again so we didn't want to go far. Again the fresh fish was presented to us on a platter, but this time I chose the scallops. These weren't what I was used to. These were 3 entire huge scallop with the orange roe sac attached over a bed of fettucini. They were really good, once I got used to the texture of the roe sac. An unusual dish I saw at a nearby table looked like a wide upside down ice cream cone with a sauce over it. I asked the waiter what it was and he said stuffed squid. Wish I had tried it.

We went back to the room to pack. Cassis was a great stop for us.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 03:00 PM
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kwren, I want to take this trip, but without my mother.

Really nice report.
tuscanlifeedit is online now  
Sep 30th, 2013, 03:18 PM
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Wonderful report especially because I've been to all those places which bring back bitter sweet memories. I'll be 80 in a week + Provence will always be my Earthly Paradise.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 03:28 PM
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As an 80plus I hope, Tuscan, your mother doesn't read your post. Some of my best and most wonderfully bonding trips have not only been with my daughters but also grand daughters. Tuscanlifeedit..bare in mind time has a way of running out!!!
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Sep 30th, 2013, 03:44 PM
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Thanks for the feedback everyone.

There were certainly some tough times, Tuscan, more than I am writing about.

Now that my mom is home, she has only nice things to say about the trip. I also made her a 60+ page Shutterfly book as an extra surprise for her actual birthday and she loved it.
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Sep 30th, 2013, 07:07 PM
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No one here knows my mother and that is a blessing to me as well as to Fodordom.

I hope kwren knows my comment was made in a spirit of empathy and yes, fun.
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