I recently spent 2 weeks in the South of France, with a home base of Avignon.
I was based in Avignon since this is where I had a place to stay, with a French local friend in his apartment just behind the Palais des Papes inside the old city centre.
The weather was spotty but overall I got more non rainy days than rainy days and was able to get out and about quite a bit around Provence.
I traveled to:
Aix, St Tropez, St Remy, Ville Grimaud, Uzes, the Pont du Gard, Arles, The Luberon villages (Stopped in Gordes, Roussillon and Obed), The Abbey de Senanque, Tarascon (and the castle in Tarascon), Gigondas, and Chateauneuf du Pape.
I also spent quite a few days meandering through the streets in the center of Avignon and really came to love this little city, which is a great combination of a real city with the conveniences you appreciate in a city (markets open on Sundays, shopping areas, ATM's, etc) yet also has a very small, quaint, and old/historic feel wherever you go inside the center's walls as you are regularly on cobblestone Rues, very small streets, and there are plenty of crumbling buildings, churches, and relics. It's not a big city. The center is even smaller yet it's the only place you want to be (at least where I Wanted to be). There isn't huge industry, the apartment are still really affordable and folks know each other (take my friend who is a winemaker and who sits on the board of a local civic organization who knew someone everywhere we went). It's well located: within 45 minutes of Uzes and the Luberon villages, 30 minutes from places like Arles and Chateauneuf du Pape, within an hour and half of Aix and the coastal towns. All in all, although I stayed here because I was staying for free with a friend, I ended up being really happy with Avignon as a base in Provence.
First 3 days:
In St Tropez, Aix, and St Remy we dealt with rainy and cloudy days, the worst of which was during our day to St Tropez which in all honesty really eliminated the reason to be there. With touristy overpriced restaurants and no views we cut this part really short (after a couple of hours)and headed on back towards Aix with the intention of stopping in smaller towns where we could find less touristy restaurants and perhaps catch moments of dryness to walk around some little villages. We stopped to poke around the Ville de Grimaud in Grimaud which was a lovely little town with these picturesque ruins. Then St Remy which even in the mist and rain was lovely city, although since we traveled there on a Sunday was mostly shut town and we only spent a couple of hours here. It was nice for me to see this part of Provence, but to be honest it was the least enjoyable part of the trip as we were traveling on bad weather days, and in pretty overpriced areas, on bad days for things being opened. We spent a lot of time just trying to find a restaurant open, etc etc.
We ended up going back to Avignon early even though we had planned an extra night in Aix on the way back and my French guy was going to take me on a day trip to Bandol which I was excited about. We both got weary of driving around in the rain and storms trying to find a few, or anything open that wasn't astronomically overpriced (and below average quality food) so we headed back to Avignon, after lunch with his friends out in a small coastal town (inside their house with a roaring fire as it was a stormy day) to spend the last day of his 4 day weekend around that area.
We ended up taking a morning run near the Rhone, outside the Avignon Walls, and poking around the park on the other side of the river, and then heading to Tarascon for the day to see the castle and have lunch. We had an excellent lunch at a spot right in town that had a huge salad and seafood menu and the specialty was a big plate of a variety of seafoods with salad and wine. We had red fish, prawns, mussels, and squid with a quarter liter of Rose and this was one of our best, simplest and reasonably priced meals we had during my trip. $14 Euros a piece.
We went for drinks that evening at the theater bar just behind the Palais des Papes, where all of the people 'who think they are artists, and some who really are artists' according to Fabrice, hang out in the evenings before and after shows/foreign film showings. The wine was horrible (as he warned me ahead of time) out of a box and not from the area, but the ambiance was great. Bustling, jovial, and with that feeling of a night out in the city, yet in the comfort of our own small residential backyard just a 5 minute walk from our apartment.
I was on my own the next few days while Fabrice was working so I spent a rainy day in Avignon poking around the Palais des Papes, and walking all around stumbling upon churches, nice squares with outdoor and covered porch cafes, and hitting the big indoor market 'Les Halles' which was a smorgasbord of fabulous French meats, cheeses, breads, spices, oils, wines, produce, sweets, and anything else you can think of. I cooked lamb with Provence herbs one night (and ate a pile of the artichoke tapenade with fresh baked bread I found there which was amazing and I became addicted to) and scallops with cream sauce and a big salad another night. Loved this place for picking up stuff to cook. It's the place Fabrice also picks up cheeses and bread and charcuterie for anytime he has guests. We got our supplies here for a small dinner party we hosted at the apartment one evening for a few of his Avignon friends
I also spent a day in Arles, getting lost and ending up missing the museum I wanted to see, but got to tour the Arena which was impressive and had a great lunch at a Bistro called Bistro des Artistes. the menu was great: lots of big salads with a ton of hefty toppings, seafood options and then the big traditional plates of roasted duck, or steak and fries as well and the prices here were reasonable. Quality was high. I had a big salad with roasted potatoes, onions, ham cubes (more like bacon or lardon), olives, hardboiled eggs and tomatoes and a pichon of Rose.
We spent a night out dining and having drinks in Avignon. The restaurant we went to was average and not worth remembering but we had drinks at a must do spot: a fancy historic hotel where the drinks are incredibly over priced but you go for the ambiance. Luxurious and elegant and just one of those spots where you want to go for the experience. Fabrice made the point that you couldn't afford to stay there but you could afford to have drinks there. So we did.
Then we spent my second weekend in France, traveling to Uzes and to the Luberon Villages.
More to come
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I recently spent 2 weeks in the South of France, with a home base of Avignon.