Provence Trip Report - Finally

Jul 5th, 2007, 01:33 PM
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Provence Trip Report - Finally

Finally I am starting this report. Thanks to all of you who gave me ideas and help. I want to begin with a few preliminaries. First, I do not plan to proofread carefully. This may be too long of a report anyway.
My husband, son and I traveled to Provence the end of May. I "cheated" somewhat by using an agent to book our car and hotels. I did give her A LOT of input which I got from you all. Some places I wanted to stay were already booked. I prepared envelopes for each day of travel including what I wanted to see, maps, etc. The agent also sent me maps. I was the planner, my husband drove, and my son navigated and interpreted. He had lived in France for a short time and speaks French.

In Aix we stayed at Hotel Cezanne; Joucas, Hostellerie Le Phebus; Saint Remy, Domaine de Valmouriane. We had 10 full days of touring plus our travel days.

Our car was a Citron - large with a trunk and automatic transmission. My son thought it was too large for France but it was comfortable and worked out well. It had a GPS which we did not take time to try to learn to program (don't even know if we could), but it was a HUGE help at times showing where we were and what the next intersection was.

We flew British Air because of cost factor. All in all, it was good, but we had a very LONG layover (plus a delayed flight) in London. They also will not allow coach to bookseats until 24 hours
before leaving.
This worked out for us as we had a most helpful man at our hotel when we needed to book the seats. I can see that this might be a HUGE problem though when you are away and have no immediate access to online into.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 01:41 PM
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Day of arrival - Aix
We stayed at Hotel Cezanne. This was perfect for our needs. Parking is in a garage nearby - you have to pay. Our rooms were good, the beds were great! Location also great!
On the recommendation of Brice at reception we walked to dinner at La Brocherie - 5 rue Fernand Dol. I had a whole list of places to eat but it was quite late and we were very tired and hungry so we went with his suggestion. This is a small place with Provencal dishes. I ordered one pastis to taste and share as I had never had one. Actually I was surprised that I liked it. Of course, a lot of water was added. The sea bass was wonderful. It was served with delicious mixed vegetables and scalloped potatoes. To start we shared mozerella and tomato salad. Son and I had white wine and husband, red of "house." Too full for dessert. We walked back to the hotel by way of Cours Mirabeau and I was so happy to finally be here.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 01:49 PM
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Aix - first full day:
Breakfast at hotel very nice - there was even eggs and bacon.
We are off and walking down Cours Mirabeau to see the market, fountaines, and make reservations at Deux Garcons. The hotel said we did not need them but I remembered Stu
Dudley's strong advice and did what he said. We also bought the map of Provence Michelin 113 Stu said to get. Thanks, Stu!
Walking we went to the Hotel de Ville, St Sauveur with the Baptistery of Cathedrale (the Burning Bush Triptych is gone for restoration). Musee des Tapisseries was closed so we had to be content to see the exterior of the Archbishop's Palace. We were in several markets. Place Richleau we bought cherries and apricots. Pl des Precheuers had wonderful spices.
Lunched at Deux Gardons. Son had wonderful cold tomato soup to start. All had quiche which was ok. The main purpose for our eating here was of course historical.



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Jul 5th, 2007, 01:58 PM
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Aix - continued
Then we were off to Cezanne's studio by cab. The "tour" in French was by a nice young man who also repeated his comments in English when he determined that a lot of us did not understand French. The studio is just as Cezanne left it. Aren't we fortunate the owner after him kept it that way.
On leaving the studio we walked up the hill to the terrace of painters to see the view of Montague St Victorire. Great view here where Cezanne painted.

On the walk back we saw the bus we wanted to take. Our son waved and it stopped.We were not at the bus stop. This was amazing to us. This saved us a long walk back.

Went by Holy Spirit Church which is still used and is the most active church there I believe.

Supper on Brice's (from hotel) suggestion was Les Agapes - 11 Rue des Bernardines. Husband had red pepper with goat cheese; son, grilled eggplant with cheese; and me, stuffed mussels for starters. Son had grilled lamb; me, lamb on skewer; and husband, prawns. Dessert was chocolate fondant and cream caramel. This meal was good but not as good as last night and it was probably my least favorite of all.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:06 PM
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DRIVE TO THE LUBERON:
Our first stop was Abbaye Silvancane. Thanks to Stu and AnselmAdorne for suggesting this. We arrived just at opening time but the person in charge was a few minutes late. This is special because of its romanesque architecture and being built on different levels. Our son especially liked the manuscript room with the fireplace - where manuscripts were copied.

Next we drove to Lourmarin and toured the Chateau. We parked at the entrance to town and walked but there was parking right by it. They had a special exhibit while we were there of "handwork quilting" display of through-the-Bible stories done by women in countries in Africa. My son and I spent a little extra time examining this exhibit. I thought this most worthwhile.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:11 PM
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ttt
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:11 PM
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Drive to Luberon continued:

We had lunch at Le Moulin De Lourmarin. I had read it was on par with Bastide de Capelonge in Bonnieux but less expensive. It was right down the street from the Chateau. We were certainly not disappointed in our meal. We all had poached salmon. It was a suggestion for the day. To start we were brought something like a zucchini chilled soup in a liquer glass. It was wonderful. For dessert our son had sorbets or ice cream and I got cream brule (it was green) with milk soaked cake. Everyone ate and enjoyed my dessert the most. This meal was about 95 Euros including wine and one expresso for my husband. This was one of our favorite meals. This was definitely a place where knowing some French was beneficial. Thank goodness for our son!
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:19 PM
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Nice work, Mimi. Looking forward to reading more. And really missing France

And also LOL at the statement "Our car was a Citron." I know you meant Citroën, but citron means lemon in French, so it was funny......
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:23 PM
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Drive to Luberon continued:
Now we are on to Bonnieux. We stopped for a picture where Stu had said to. It was a little dangerous as there was traffic. Our problem in Bonnieux was no parking. There was construction and we had a difficult time turning around. My husband really wanted to give up but kept on and finally at the very top we found parking. We saw the old church and a great view of the village below from a lookout point. By now we had already done a lot and my men were getting tired so I decided not to push to walk into the village. We went on to Joucas and saw lovely scenery on the way. We had a little difficulty leaving Bonnieux and finding the right way. Poppies were blooming all along the way to Joucas.

Our hotel, le Phebus, was VERY nice. We were greeted with a warm welcome and a cold drink. Our rooms were quite large , both with balconies with seating. Since we had a little time before dinner we went to their lovely pool, just briefly getting in and then resting in lounge chairs. Most relaxing after a busy day!

Dinner at the hotel was gourmet. The chef is Xavier Mathiev. We began with melon champagne aperitif on the terrace by the fountain. In the dining room for dinner my son and I had white fish (caprete?). It was great. My husband loved his lamb. For starters my son and husband both had escargot with "green soup" and I had foie gras. All were great and the presentation lovely. We had dessert but it was not as good as the creme brulee we had for lunch. The wait staff here was superb. This was a VERY expensive meal.
The beds are most comfortable but maybe not as wonderful as Hotel Cezanne's.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:26 PM
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Hi StCirq,
Remember I told you I was not being too careful with spelling and proofreading. Also, I just don't want to take time to check everything. Maybe you will all get more laughs that way. We did remark while we were there that citron was "lemon". Our car definitely was NOT a lemon!
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:44 PM
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LUBERON VILLAGES:
We began with a great breakfast at 8 am. Breakfast was included at all our hotels. Today we ate outside on the terrace. They served a boiled egg with a slice of bacon, fruit, fresh orange and grapefruit juice, creme with caramel, breads, yogurt and cafe au lait. All of this was served in small cute dishes and cups. We are suffed (again) even though most of the portions were small.

Today I considered Stu's itinerary and the suggestions of my agent. Our waiter/maitre'd at breakfast had told us Roussillon was perhaps his favorite village and I knew it would take some time. (PBProvence had also said this). Already I thought we would take most of Stu's itinerary in reverse. So we began with Roussillon. Its village was most scenic. I don't think it is medieval like most of the others but it is great. We had a little indecision on what to do first but after going back and forth decided to begin with the village itself and go to the high point for the view. We walked throught most of the village and took a "comfort break" with those "medieval" toilets for which I was grateful. Then we walked through the ocre fields. This was really beautiful even if we did have yellow socks and shoes. I would probably not do this again but I am so gald we did it once.
Back in the village I bought a painting of a house with poppies in the fields from Francoise Valenti. Her work made me feel happy. She was interesting and we all enjoyed her gallery and visiting with her. She has been to Texas (where I live) and painted in the hill country. She has clients and friends in Texas and the USA.

We finally found the Charles DeGaulle plaque. Our son, of course, had to interpret. It was an emotional tribute. We wanted lunch and considered eating there in the square but it was crowded so we found a pizza place, Le Val des Fees. The pizza may be the best I have ever had. We sat on the terrace and it was so nice.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 02:52 PM
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Luberon Villages continued:
Next we drove to LaCoste. There did not seem to be a lot of parking there but we found a place and walked up and up and up to the Chateau Sade. We did ask along the way and an American art student pointed out the way. (Lots of art students there.) This is the place being restored privately by a designer - can't remember at the moment who. After getting to the top we saw that you can drive up there, however, we would have missed the climb and the little village itself.

Next we drove to Menerbes and walked through. We viewed the town hall on clock square and the church and castellet (fortress). It was afternoon and not much seemed to be happening. This village was high on my list because of Peter Mayle but it was not my favorite.

My men were getting tired but I still had a lot on the list. So we are off to Oppede le Vieux. We hiked to the top and the views along the way were great. We almost stopped at a small church thinking that was the top but went on a little further and saw the larger church and the ruins at the very top. It was hot and we were tired but I am so glad we did this. On the way down we stopped in the little village and bought expensive water. If you do this, be sure to take plenty of water with you or pay up.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 03:03 PM
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Luberon villages continued:
By now the men want to call it a day but I still have Villages les Bories, Gordes, and Abbaye de Senanque on the list. We all agreed to Village les Bories (they agreed just for me) and to save the rest for another day. Villages les Bories did not take very long but the road getting to it was VERY narrow. We thought it was one way but part of it was two way as we soon discovered. The bories are interesting as there is no mortar and the stones are stacked tightly.

We were headed back to our hotel when my son suggested that we go to Gordes, see it and then eat dinner. I was elated. Driving up to Gordes was most impressive. I believe it was my husband's favorite village. I will have to disagree with Stu here - I liked it from near and far. After walking around and seeing a lot, we tried to eat dinner. Too early! So we had Perrier, made reservations, and walked around some more.

We ate at Le Cuisine des Chateau which seems to be one kitchen for more than one area. Our meal included a Greek salad, speghetti with meat sauce and a carafe of red wine. The food was simple but just what we needed as I am sure you have noticed by now we are always eating too much. But hey, this is France! I think it was expensive for what we had but I am sure that was because of location. I had tried to find Le Clos de Gustave as it was recommended by a Fodorite and saw their sign but gave up on finding the restaurant. Oh yes, we parked at the bottom of Gordes and walked up - an easy walk.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 03:24 PM
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DRIVE TO SAULT AND GORGES DE LA NESQUE:

Today we began our drive toward Sault following Stu's itinerary. Of course, we were leaving from Joucas. The large sheared rock referred to can actually be seen from our hotel balcon. I looked and looked for the Chateau mentioned thinking we had missed it, but finally there it was. There were quite a few bicycle riders along the way. It was interesting to watch them as we were often behind them. At one point, I believe on the Gorges area, there were two in perfect harmony with one seemingly riding on the wind of the other.

Our plan was to drive by Sault and stop there on our way back. We were headed toward Montbrun. We had noticed a detour sign but did not think it applied to us. Well, it did and the road was completely blocked so we had to turn back. At this point we decided to go back to
Sault and see it. There is a good view of Sault on the way back. Sault is really a nice village. We made a few purchases. Our son had seen a creperie and wanted to at least have a dessert crepe. After checking out menus at a few places close to the terrace view area we decidefd to eat lunch at the creperie. We ate at La Moisson Creperie. My husband and son had ham and chees crepes and I had duch breast Rodez with walnuts, roquefort and creme fresh (sp). We were wanting to share a dessert but there was on lady doing everything. She told my son there would be a long wait so we decided to go on our way.

Having spent so much time in Sault the decision was made not to drive by way of the detour (wherever that would lead) and just continue on the Gorges drive. This was a lovely drive. My husband was happy to be on the inside of the road for most of the drive.

We headed to Malmort since it was on Stu's list. We actually stopped here for a while walking around and taking pictures. There were children playing ball in the lot where we parked. Also here were pleine trees lining the road. These trees were other places as well like on the way to St Remy. For some reason I thought they were special to the Cours Mirabeau in Aix. (Duh)

Our next stop was Venasque. It was lovely on the approach. I, once again, pushed my men onward and we stopped in this village. We found the Baptistery and I wanted to go in. They did not but said they would sit and wait for me. The baptistry seems to have been a pagan temple originally. There are Roman columns. The font has eight sides which is a symbol of Easter and the Resurrection. When I came out and told my son about this, he decided to go in. While he was viewing it I went into the church connected to it.

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Jul 5th, 2007, 03:33 PM
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Sault and Gorges continued:
On the way back to Joucas I knew we would pass the Abbaye de Senaque and hoped we would go in. We did park, but a nice French woman leaving confirmed that the tour was only in French and would take at least an hour. We entered the gift shop, looked around, and our son walked way around to see the church area. We took some exterior photos. The lavender was everywhere but of course not in bloom. Rain was starting and I was content with seeing the exterior.

We now headed back. We had dinner reservations at La Ferme de la Huppe. Our meal was yummy and we had a great waiter as well. He told us how everything was prepared and helped us with our cheese selections (all in English). I think there were two options for dinner. We began with aperitif of peach champagne. This was followed by the chef surprise of snow peas in a sauce. Then came fish with asparagus and lima beans. We all choose veal with peas for our main course. This was followed by the cheese selections. Then came the small dessert of cherries with a cake-like pudding (yum). The main dessert was a rhubbarb dessert. Last came almond wafers. Is this a meal or what? We had red wine letting the waiter choose. This was actually a good value meal. I had originally wanted to stay here but you have to include dinner each night with your room. We did want the option of eating elsewhere. I do think reservations are necessary.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 03:52 PM
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Hi mimipam. I'm so glad you enjoyed Abbaye de Silvacane.

Very nice report; you're making me want to go back.

Looking forward to the rest.

Anselm
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Jul 5th, 2007, 05:13 PM
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Hi Anselm,
You are actually the main reason I decided to go to the Abbaye instead of stopping at Jas Bouffan. Stu had first suggested it and you sort of reinforced the idea. I think it was the right choice as we had seen Cezanne's studio. Then we had variety - the abbaye and the chateau. Poppies were blooming at the abbaye. Thanks.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 05:40 PM
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CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE, PONT DU GARD, UZES

Today the original plan was touring wine country with stops at several vineyards like in Gigondas, Vacqueyras, etc. and ending with Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Shortly before our US departure I considered trying to book a tour of Beaucastel. However, I waited so long this did not work out. After consulting the "wine man" at our hotel I decided to begin at CdP. Upon his recommendation we went to Chateau des Fines Roches and the Domaines Mousset. The plan now was to reverse the itinerary. After our tasting experience at Domaine Mousset with a less than encouraging (rude at first) vintner (or maybe he just worked there), we decided we did not want to spend our whole day like this. We did buy a couple of bottles of wine and were given one good tip - do not drink the wine for at least two months to give it time to settle down after the plane ride.

I had always had it in the back of my mind to change this day up as our son would miss Pont du Gard on its scheduled day. The men seemed happy to go on to Pont du Gard even though there would be a lot of driving. We missed a turn and ended up too far north. After a couple of stops in a parking lot and circling the round about a few times we were finally on our way. There is construction around CdP.

Pont du Gard is quite impressive. We had sandwiches in the cafeteria there for lunch and walked on to the site. We viewed it from both sides and walked up a path above it for a view.

Next we went to Uzes. My husband would have gladly skipped this but we were so close and I really wanted to go. Upon arrival we did not know where to park but really lucked out in finding a spot by a cathedral. You were supposed to pay but the parking meter for the area did not work so everyone was just parking anyway. One of the main things I wanted to see was the Tour Fenestrelle. When we walked around the church to see the view, I realized we had parked by Cathedrale St Theodorit and there was the tower. We did a quick walk through of Uzes. Of course, I could have stayed longer to see more but we did have to drive back to Joucas.

Leaving we found a gas station and got in the credit card line but it was not for our credit card so we had to change lines.

Driving back we had to go by way of Avignon. We came on the outer loop--Chas DeGaulle and drove by the TGV. This was good as we would be going there later for our son to get the train. Some of you will remember me asking for help in driving to the TGV.

Back at le Phebus I called Le Clos de Gustave in Gordes which had been recommended by TC. They took our reservation but said we might have to sit outside. It was cold and windy and looked as if it might rain. Upon our arrival we had a choice to sit at one end of a long table which we would share with others. We gladly accepted. Our aperitif as a rose with almond and a raspberry. The food was very good. We all had salad with garlic. My husband and I had roasted guineas, mashed potato with olive oil and zuchinni casserole. Son had tuna with peppers. Last I had goat cheeses and sone chose assorted dessert of choc cake and strawberry soup. They were very slow bringing the check after we asked but his was a very good restaurant.
I think we were fortunate to eat here. I am glad I called ahead. There were several who came in and were turned away as there was no room for them. If you want to eat here, make reservations and I think a few days before at least. We may have been just lucky to get in.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 06:00 PM
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L'ISLE SUR LA SORGUE, FONTAINE DU VAUCLUSE

Stu had said to get to L'Isle sur la Sorgue early to park but the man at our hotel desk said we were leaving too early. We did delay somewhat but left sooner than he recommended. Well, when in doubt, take Stu's advice. I think it was between 9:30 and 10:00 when we arrived and parking seemed a problem. Streetside was full and the first lot was also. Our son asked the man at this lot for additional parking sites. Here is where my husband and I would not have done well alone. It was a hurried conversation in French. Thank goodness again for our son. We took the directions and found a spot.

This was one of our FAVORITE days. The market was quite busy and got more so with time. The toilets here were not very clean. I bought a tablecloth. The seller wanted me to know it was water repellant and told me so in French. Of course, I did not understand so he poured water on it to show me. I did go into the home furnishings store, but of course did not even consider buying due to shipping the goods home.

We had lunch reservations at LePrevote for 12:30 but decided we would want to leave earlier than planned. We found the restaurant and our son cancelled. He said they were appreciative he had come by to cancel.

Our son wanted to buy lunch from the market so we had the MOST FUN shopping for food. We purchased roast chicken, cheese, olives, bread, wine, a cheap opener and knife. The wine was Domaine de Berane from Mont Ventoux region. We walked through pressing crowds back to the river, found a bench (how lucky is that) and sat down to eat. By about noon we were ready to leave.

Next we went to Fontaine du Vaucluse and parked up from the town after driving thru. Since it was afternoon, the car parks closer in were full. This was a lovely town and the walk up to the spring was nice. The spring was not active. Still it was worth seeing for me. I would have always regretted not walking up there if I had skipped it. Also, there were plaques with pictures showing how it could be and markers showing the previous height of water.
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Jul 5th, 2007, 06:04 PM
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Just as a side note here. I was disappointed at first we could not be in Provence when the lavender was in bloom. I do hope to go back one day to see it. However, the end of May seemed a perfect time. As you can determine, there were times we had to "hunt" for parking. I can only imagine how difficult parking is later when there are so many more people. And the poppies were lovely!
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