Just returned from our trip to Provence

Old Jul 10th, 2006, 09:06 AM
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Just returned from our trip to Provence

And what a trip it was thanks to great advice from friends here at Fodors.

Stayed 3 nights in Nice, 5 in the Luberon near St. Saturnin des Apt, 3 in St. Remy, and 1 in Aix-en-Provence.

Although I'm glad I finally saw the Mediterranean and the Cote d'azur, Nice was probably my least favorite part of the trip.
It was terribly hot, really hot for us, and we're from Texas. Enjoyed our hotel - Les Cigales.

The highlight of Nice was taking a train to Antibes for the day - loved that place. Oh, and watching the French go hysterical over the World Cup Soccer games.

My favorite stay was at Le Mas Parreal in the Luberon. Too too wonderful. It so far exceeded my expectations. The Luberon did too. I just can't get over the stunning landscape, the mountains, the vistas, the lavendar, the golden fields, and the vineyards.

The best part of that stay for me was our day trip to Sault. Unbelieveable. Words cannot describe the splendor. The colors were stunning. Makes a painter want to paint.

St. Remy was OK. The town was a bit touristy for me, but we really enjoyed our day trip to Les Baux and all the little towns around there. Loved our trip to Arles and visiting the place where Van Gogh painted the Night Cafe - totally happening spot. Really really liked our hotel there - Sous les Figuiers. Enjoyed the pool and the nice cool and spacious room and our little patio. The breakfast was a ripoff at 11 euros so we just went to the bakery. Didn't have one good meal in St. Remy. Really it was all substandard and we were paying upwards of 30 euros apiece without wine.

Next time I will definitely station in Aix for while. Pretty town with lots of art. Really enjoyed the Cezanne exhibit eventhough I like Van Gogh so much better. HAd a delightful little hotel - Le Mas Escuriels (squirrels). If it had been closer to Aix it would have been ideal with a nice pool, big balcony, AC, and bathtub. Lovely staff and nice restaurant.

Most wonderful surprise - the pure beauty of the landscape and dramatic terrain.

Next greatest - how easy it is to drive a standard and find one's way around there. The signage is superior to signage here. Loved our rental car- a Renault.

Biggest dissappointment - the food. Except for our B and B in the Luberon which had delightful breakfasts and plenty, we found the food to be just OK what little there was. My daughter about starved to death, and we went to some of the top places. Really didn't like La Serre in St. Remy at all. Le Mas Torteron was just OK but not even slightly inspired in my opinion. Our favorite meal was at a place we stumbled upon in Apt (I never got the name). That's OK. I've had a lifetime of great food memories in Paris.

Really enjoyed the markets in Provence. I adore my Provencal linens (three pillows and a tablecloth with a gold background and red poppies). But the luscious scenery, the planetree-lined avenues, the cigales, the cherries, the white peaches, and the azure skies - those will sing in my heart forever.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 09:29 AM
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So glad you had a wonderful trip, Mariacallas. Thanks for posting the info. You have just confirmed my decision to take our week vacation next April, rather than July - considering the heat. We, too, live in Texas and adjust to the heat but I find it saps my energy so...April, it is. I'd love to hear more about where you stayed in the Luberon. I'm having trouble getting a handle on Provence - where to go, where to base, etc. Any insight you can provide will be much appreciated.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 10:14 AM
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DFMom,

The huge trade off is missing the lavendar. Huge trade-off.

Not sure when the poppies bloom. Did I mention the huge field of sunflowers? No wonder Van Gogh was so smitten.

Doing it again I would not search out gastronomic delights-rather elusive IMHO. Leave that for Paris. My kids didn't like those long uneventful meals.

And yes, it was terribly hot - really hot. Here we stay in the AC or swim in that kind of heat. No wonder Van Gogh went a bit daft (if he wasn't that way out the chute).

Main thing is to stay at least three days each stop. Do rent a kickA car. Do explore the countryside.

And get someone to help you navigate. I left that to my son who's too young to drive (explained it as a necessary skill of driving).

And do put in the time for research but then relax your itenerary to save time for impromptu discoveries.

The Luberon was by far our favorite place but we also really loved driving between St. Remy and Aix. I'd probably stay in Arles rather than St. Remy.

And definitely plan your trip around the market days. they're a nice diversion if you're inclined to getting there by 8 am and leaving by 10:30.

And study french before you go. It's totally worth it and necessary still in my opinion.

And do take an extra suitcase for stuffing with olive oil, fabrics, and other lovelies.

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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 11:23 AM
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You nearly starved to death, I suspect, because you ate at other than ordinary restaurants. The "foodie" places feature small portions, especially by American standards, but at bistros you get plenty to eat.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 11:42 AM
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I was about to say the same thing as Underhill. The last time I was in Saint Rémy, I just ate in one of the restaurants on the central square and had excellent grilled salmon with rosé for something like 12 euros.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 02:48 PM
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Somehow this was left off my original posting, but the the most memorable thing we did was to pick cherries with Kevin in his garden. They were so warm from the sun that it was like cherry cobbler fresh from the vine.

Cherries are now my daughter's favorite fruit. As we were picking, I said that was probably what we would remember most. Such a sensory experience, the hot sun, the fragrant fruit, the intense blue sky, and the chorus of cigales. All good and firmly planted in our memories.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 03:07 PM
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Maria...have to agree with other posters...the little "mom and pop's" in St. Remy and all over Provence, the Luberon, etc. were excellent..nothing fancy, but good Provencal pickings.
Stu T.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 03:20 PM
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Although I usually research restaurants diligently, that gave way to more pressing last-minute duties this trip. And I really didn't know how difficult it would be to find restaurants.

I wish I had known where to look for the mom-and-pop spots you're referring to. I just didn't see them, and we sincerely tried.

All the rest more than made up for it.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 03:41 PM
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Thank you for your report. My 12 year old and 16 year old can starve in many places, they are so incredibly picky. How old is your daughter?
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 03:57 PM
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She's 14 and very easy to please. My son, the pickiest eater in the world, seemed to really enjoy his meals.

Next time I'll be more diligent in choosing restaurants. Or maybe we'll stay somewhere where we can cook.

La Mas Parreal had lovely huge breakfasts - thank goodness for that. Otherwise, I was shocked at the prices of food in Provence - most dinners averaged $100 US for three with no wine. I'm not saying this to negate Provence, only to share our experience. Apparently I'm in the minority. Not sure how all these reasonably-priced places eluded me.

That said, our visit was hugely rewarding in every other way.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 04:12 PM
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One more interesting note - how everything closes down mid-day. My son said "Don't they realize that we want to eat and shop right when they close down?" However, given the heat and that most places are not air-conditioned, I can't blame them one bit.

We found the secret is to go early and get everything done by 2pm, then lie low until 7:00 when the restaurants reopen. That's where having a pool was invaluable.

In the little towns even the bakeries were closed midday, so we usually picked up sandwiches on our morning run to the bakery and kept bags of fruit handy through the day because teenagers are constantly hungry. My son relied on a steady supply of baguettes and nutella!

I suspect that bigger cities are better suited to traveling with teenagers and their steady appetites. Or maybe the answer is to rent an apartment or gite so that you can keep more food handy.

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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 04:15 PM
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That's Europe! We couldn't find a drugstore open in Sierre on a Saturday. We were in Switzerland where everything except lunch restaurants are closed from 12-2. Even the bus service takes a 2 hour break in the day. Americans work many many more hours and take far fewer vacation days than Europeans.
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Old Jul 10th, 2006, 04:18 PM
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I agree with Kerouac...a stroll around the oval "square" in St. Remy would have uncovered a half dozen hole in the wall mom and pops. In fact one was a "mom and a son"..La Gaulois"..an eight-seater that served mom's lip-smacking delicious food...our bill for two with wine and dessert was around $36. We also had dinner at our hotel across from the Van Gogh anitorium..Villa Glanum, next door to
the Roman Glanum ruins....entrcote and fries and canneloni...with wine and dessert...a very acceptable dinner...at under $45 for two.
Stu T.
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