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South of France Trip Report Juan-les-Pins/Luberon/Camargue

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Oct 16th, 2008, 12:12 PM
  #1
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South of France Trip Report Juan-les-Pins/Luberon/Camargue

Firstly, thanks to all the great Fodorites (too numerous to mention) who helped in the planning of our week-long trip to South of France in late September. We flew in and out of Marseilles and had to fit in 2 nights at Juan-les-Pins for a family event, Provence, and the Camargue. I wish we had more time, but we didn’t…so this is how we did it.
We picked up the rental car in Marseilles (long line and each person appeared to have trouble with the reservation – one had a credit card they didn’t accept, another ordered automatic and got manual etc). Anyway we wanted to get to Juan by the quickest route and took the highway straight there ( about 2 ½ hours). Checked in at the Hotel Juan Beach (very pleasant although small rooms, great location), rested and then went to the first dinner, a wonderful meal and atmosphere at La Pinede restaurant on the beach.

The next day was Saturday and we planned to visit the Picasso museum in Antibes and the market. We found out there was a free bus to Antibes, and I stupidly assumed I would know when to get off (first rule- always ask the bus driver to tell you when to get off). We were calmly sitting on the bus when we realized we had left Antibes and were out in the suburbs somewhere! It took us over an hour to get back (no taxis, no people, just a bus stop with no bus). By the time we got to the museum and stood waiting in the long line it was well after 11 am. An attendant came out to say we wouldn’t have time to see the museum before it closed at noon, and suggested returning after lunch. I was pretty annoyed at myself, but no choice…we went off to look at the market and meet our cousins. In the end I never got back to the museum. Our cousins were planning to walk around Cap d’Antibes back to Juan, approx 3-4 hour walk, so we decided to join them. We had a beautiful walk along the coast, with a picnic lunch picked up at the market. Picasso will have to wait til next time. We just got back in time for a short rest and to get ready for the big party at Hotel Belles Rives…a wonderful evening (even the rain couldn’t spoil it).
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Oct 16th, 2008, 12:15 PM
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Sunday morning – Provence here we come. We had a full day to get to our B&B in the Luberon (Le Mas Perreal – more about that soon…) and originally I wanted to drive through the Gorges du Verdon, Corniche Sublime, but the time and the weather changed my mind, and we took the upper road (D952) from Castellane to Moustier, then Riez, Valensole, Manosque, and on to Apt. It was a beautiful drive, even though it was Sunday and most of the towns were shuttered up as we drove through. We left Juan at 11 am and rolled into Le Mas Perreal at 6:30 pm after several stops for sightseeing and lunch.

And now, literally, for the cherry on the cake (although the cherry trees were not in bloom!). What can I say about Le Mas Perreal that hasn’t already been said on this forum? And it is all true. The location is perfect and the property and rooms are beautifully set up. But it is the hosts, Kevin and Elisabeth that make this the most amazing place to stay. Kevin was an enormous help both before and during our stay. In spite of my constant planning, I found I wasn’t sure what to do each morning and I would bring the maps down to breakfast and get the best advice. And the breakfasts – almost a ritual in culinary delight – and different each day. The first day Kevin suggested the Colorado de Provence, as an alternative to the ochre quarries of Rousillon. I absolutely loved this place and found the red ochre formations to be an amazing contrast to the lush green surroundings. And the trails there were a perfect way to walk off the sumptuous breakfast. We then spent the rest of the day driving through the fascinating villages of Saignon, Bonnieux, Menerbes, and ending with our favourite – Oppede le Vieux.

Tuesday was market day in Gordes and unfortunately was my only market (apart from Antibes). I loved walking around the stalls and made a few purchases (luckily there is an automatic teller machine right in the market for extra cash). Then, with some extra special help from Kevin we drove around the area to look at the bories (stone huts used by peasants and shepherds) and enjoy the surroundings. There really is no wrong turning as you drive around these little roads. In the afternoon we hiked up the Perreal mountain, rising just behind Le Mas Perreal-a lovely walk with outstanding views of the countryside, especially from the top. Then we drove to Rousillon, intending to see it at sunset and have dinner there. But we were early, and as in most places, the restaurants only open for dinner at 7:30 pm. There were so many tourists there (late September…I hate to think what it is like in August) that we decided to leave and have dinner elsewhere.

Wednesday, and we have to leave this little heaven. I hope to be back one day. And another change in plans. I had intended to drive via St Remy and Les Baux to the Camargue, but people we had met at the party invited us to visit them on their property outside Pertuis (near Aix-en-Provence), so we went that way and had an interesting time at their place before we drove on south. St Remy and Van Gogh will have to wait with Picasso for my next visit.
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Oct 16th, 2008, 12:16 PM
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Camargue – I read many reports for and against Camargue on this forum (mainly against), and it is easy to agree with them all. I would summarize and say that if you are looking for a holiday by the sea and a beach-town atmosphere, or are particularly interested in horses, horse-riding, bulls and birds, then you can enjoy this area. My husband wanted to see the famous white horses of the Camargue and he loved it. We stayed at Hotel de Cacharel (on Kevin’s recommendation) and it was a typical, Camargue establishment, clean, simple and very adequate. We finally found a jeep safari with an English-speaking guide (well he sort of spoke English) but this was nothing to rave about. He did not take us to many places we couldn’t have reached on our own, although there were a few, but he was a character and told many stories, so all-in-all it was OK. However, we did enjoy the Ornithological Park and had a pleasant hour or so walking among the ponds with masses of flamingoes and other birds. Then we had a lovely drive around the Etang de Vaccares (D37 and then D36B) before crossing the Rhone at Salin de Giraud on our way to Marseilles.

For our last night I had reserved the Ibis hotel at the airport so we would not be hassled by traffic for an early flight. I had also reserved Chez Fonfon for a long awaited boullabaise dinner, so after checking in and showering we were on our way again. After a nightmare trying to find parking, we ended up about 2 k’m from the restaurant and ran there – afraid that our reservation would not wait for us. We panted up the stairs to find a smiling maitre d and our table just waiting. My husband really wanted a typical fishermen’s restaurant where the locals go…but I couldn’t find one and everyone recommended Fonfon, even our new (local) friends in Pertuis. The restaurant is set in a beautiful little port past the main drag, but it is not a worker’s restaurant, and the bouillabaisse is 46 euro per person. We were so set on this dish that I didn’t even look at the menu, and I was sorry about this when I saw several great-looking dishes leaving the kitchen. If I ever go back (not likely) I would order one different dish at least. Anyway, I really enjoyed my bouillabaisse and the ceremony that goes with it. However, after all that effort and expense, I didn’t know if to be flattered or annoyed when my husband said he likes the bouillabaisse I make better!!!

And then began another nightmare. What could be easier than getting back to our hotel right at the airport? Well, it would have been easy if the turn off to the airport highway wasn’t blocked for roadworks! We were diverted to a side road and had no idea of how to get to the airport. Marseilles at 11 pm at night has some scary neighbourhoods and I think we toured all of them. There didn’t seem to be anyone to ask, and at one point I saw someone sitting in a car and went over to get directions. The guy opened the car door to get out to explain to me and I nearly ran when the scariest looking 10 foot high (slight exaggeration) drunk guy gets out and towers over me trying to explain. After about 90 minutes of driving around we found another access road to the airport highway and we were on our way. I was very glad this didn’t happen just before a flight.

So our fantastic week ended, with an uneventful flight and lots of memories. Thanks again to you all.
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Oct 17th, 2008, 06:34 AM
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ira
 
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Thanks for sharing, kat.

I have put Colorado and Oppede le Vieux on our schedule for our upcoming visit to Provence.

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Oct 17th, 2008, 07:36 AM
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Thank you Kat, I've been in your footsteps so you're bringing up alot of memories. Sorry you were disappointed in Chezfonfon. It is one of the few places that makes an authentic version, which means using the racusse fish that is so important in the taste. The restaurant that sits nearby jetting over the ocean charges, a higher price as does the place in Golf Juan
and another nearby Nice.
Roussillon! I hope you wore old shoes, walking that ocre trail can get them nasty. Next time you visit,
mustiers is a town full of pottery and some good restaurant and the drive around the Grand Canyon of France the Verdon is spectacular.
I'm, a Camargue fan and we always took time to dine at one of three restos there. The first time I saw a herd of wild horse racing across that land was a "rush"
The pink flamingoes, we saw and the bulls.
Kevin, as you say, is a charmer!
We met him a few years ago at a GTG in Provence.
Mimi, whose heart lies in Provence

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Oct 17th, 2008, 02:05 PM
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Thanks for replying. It makes it worthwhile posting a trip report if you think it will help someone.
Ira, make sure you follow the signs to Oppede le Vieux...and not just Oppede. It is an ancient village on a hilltop that is slowly being restored by artists who are buying properties there...but most of it is still in ruins.
Cigalechanta, I remembered your posts on Chez Fonfon and Camargue, and thought of you while I was there. I think my husband's expectations were too high, but we still enjoyed it. Also, he wasn't feeling so great after our 2 k'm sprint to get there before our table was given away. But nothing could spoil the charm of the place and the end of our perfect week.We did drive through Moustiers on our way to Luberon, but it was Sunday around 1 pm and the place was so packed that we could barely turn the car around and drive out. Yet another place that will wait to be discovered hopefully in a future visit.
all the best
Kathy
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Oct 19th, 2008, 12:20 PM
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KatPen-

Thanks for the kind comments and sounds like you had a interesting end to your trip discovering some of Marseille's finer quartiers ! All the best.

Like Mimi, I'm a big Camargue fan - it has admittedly a more subtle kind of beauty than some of the more dramatic scenery elsewhere in Provence. But when you get out (either on foot or horseback) and get a chance to take it all in, it's pretty amazing. And having tried just about all of them, I say the best beach in Provence is at Les Saintes.

To Ira:

Sounds like you may be in the neighborhood. If so, feel free to email or call and maybe we can get together. Would be nice after all these posts to put a face to the screen name !

-Kevin

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