Trip Report Provence in April, 2014

Apr 27th, 2014, 12:45 PM
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Trip Report Provence in April, 2014

Trip Report Southern France 2014

This is my first trip report. I enjoy reading others' trip reports, but I'm not sure how much detail to include. I'll try not to get carried away, but I'm happy to answer questions if people want more detail.

My husband and I went to Provence in late March and had about 12 days while on spring break. Our daughter (27 yrs.) is living in Marseille and we went to visit her and her boyfriend. Our other daughter and her boyfriend also joined us partway through the trip. Our trip was not during the season, so it had its advantages and disadvantages. While the weather sometimes wasn't great, we also avoided the crowds.

My husband and I arrived in Marseille from Indianapolis with miraculously no travel problems, met up with one daughter, and picked up our car rental. We rented through "At Home in France", and I think we got a good deal. (Except the GPS was so expensive we decided to use our phones instead.) We had a van that was just big enough to fit the 6 people we would eventually have with us.

We have had good experiences renting apartments in Europe so we did that for our 2 main destinations, with a hotel for one longer side trip. It saved money, and we always like to feel like we live in the town. The trick for us was finding places that would rent to us for less than a week (easier in off-season), and we always look for a place that is in a town rather than out in the country (although I know that can be wonderful too).

L'Isle sur la Sorgue
We drove about an hour and 15 minutes from Marseille and arrived in the picturesque town of L'Isle sur la Sorgue where we were renting a 2-bedroom apartment called Le Chat Botté for my husband, daughter, and me. It was such a cute place, and right in town. The proprietor couldn't have been nicer, and we had everything we needed. It took us some time to figure out how to turn on the heat, but that's because they don't usually rent when it's so cool. (A cool and rainy start to our week.) They have another similar apartment in the same building on the floor below.

The town is charming, with canals running through it and lots of shops, restaurants, and antique stores; and of course a nearby boulangerie for our morning pastries. We were sorry it wasn't quite warm enough to enjoy all the outdoor seating we saw, and the flowers must be riotous in summer, but we enjoyed the lack of crowds (except during the market). The day after we arrived was market day: bustling, colorful, and crowded -- virtually all French people. I bought a beautiful scarf for 15 Euros and wore it almost every day on the trip! We also bought food for our picnic lunch including Provençal cheese wrapped in leaves. (It was a little strong for me, but all our other purchases were delicious.) Otherwise we were mostly taking in the atmosphere rather than buying at the market.

Side Trips from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
We spent 4 nights in L"Isle sur la Sorgue, and from there we took side trips. After the market we went to a flower show in Maubec on the same day. It was like a flower and patio show for locals, so for us it was just interesting to walk around. It was at the base of the town so we didn't go up into the town, but it looked beautiful. From there we did go to Gordes, one of the perched villages. In both places the cold wind made it hard to enjoy too much time wandering outdoors, and in Gordes many places were closed (Sunday afternoon), but we could still appreciate the beauty of the countryside and the charm of the old stone villages perched in the hills. Then we drove to Fontaine de Vaucluse. My husband is crazy about waterfalls, and here there is one cascading down the mountain from a very still, very deep pool at the top; the source of the Sorgue River. We hiked up, enjoying the cascade, and stopped in some of the shops that line the route. Again, it wasn't crowded so that was a plus, but also the outdoor restaurants weren't open, and it was cool and rained off and on.

On another day we went to Avignon where we visited the Palais des Papes and followed the audio tour. It was interesting, but the palace is so empty it's hard to imagine what it was like in the past. I think we would have been better off seeing the Petit Palais Museum first for some context. Museum fatigue was setting in at the end of the huge Palais des Popes so we wandered the parks and picked up picnic food for lunch.

After that we headed to the vineyards around Chateuneuf du Pape to check out some wineries. We didn't really have a plan so we just stopped when we saw signs for "dégustations". Our first stop was Jacques Mousset Winery. The guy in the shop gave us some free tastes and talked about the wine in the region and the many regulations the vintners must follow, including no irrigation of the fields. The fields are covered with smooth river rocks that help retain water and also heat up in the sun and retain heat at night, making the grapes ripen faster and creating a distinct taste. Our other stop was Bouachon Winery where we paid for our tasting (8 Euros each). It was worth it because it was our own private tasting with Adeline who took her time and taught us a lot about tasting wine. While we were there 2 different bus groups came in for tastings, and it sounds like they were having fun too.

Our last side trip was to Vaison la Romaine, where we had a cooking class with Barbara of Cuisine de Provence. The three of us spent a delightful morning preparing traditional Provençal food, then ate it for lunch (sablés, tapenade, quiche, sautéed zucchini, lemon tart). Again the weather didn't cooperate so it was too cool to use the outdoor cooking area or to eat outside, but the food was delicious and we had fun. Barbara was very patient in teaching and interesting to talk to. This experience was a highlight of our trip. After lunch we drove to the upper part of the town to look for a hike towards another town. We weren't really successful in finding the path we wanted, but we did have a nice walk with some beautiful views.

Back in L'Isle sur la Sorgue we tried to see some sites but were too late to get into the church or the toy museum, so we wandered the interesting shops and narrow streets of the town. We ate delicious leftovers from our lunch for dinner that night.

Our favorite restaurant in L'Isle sur la Sorgue was Le Chineur, but we had several good meals in town.

I'll stop here because the next day we head for Marseille (and it's already so long!) I'll continue the report soon.
mhutch196 is offline  
Apr 27th, 2014, 01:47 PM
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What a great report! We are headed there next summer and I appreciate all the tips! I would love to hear more about your meals.
willowjane is online now  
Apr 28th, 2014, 05:07 AM
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I'm along for the ride. We spent some time in the area plus I'm taking notes on new places for us.
TPAYT is online now  
Apr 28th, 2014, 07:02 AM
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We just got back as well. fun to read your takes on the areas too. sounds like fun! I tried to do a cooking class but it didn't work out. glad you had fun.
boxcox is offline  
Apr 28th, 2014, 08:03 AM
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I have enjoyed other people's slideshows so I made one too. I haven't reported on all these places yet!
mhutch196 is offline  
Apr 28th, 2014, 05:13 PM
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I loved your photos - thanks so much for posting!
kelsey22 is offline  
Apr 28th, 2014, 05:51 PM
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Boxcox, I'm enjoying your report too! You have some good advice.
Willowjane, at Le Chineur we had a fixed price menu. My notes say "filet, scallops, creme brulee and mousse tartine, all very good." We also ate at an interesting Vietnamese restaurant called Rose d'Asie in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
mhutch196 is offline  
Apr 29th, 2014, 09:34 AM
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Enjoying your report! Looking forward to more.
joannyc is online now  
Apr 29th, 2014, 02:40 PM
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Off to a great start! As much detail as you care to offer will be fine! ;^)
ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Apr 29th, 2014, 02:54 PM
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Loved the pictures! I've been to many of the same places, and for some reason that makes me enjoy them more. Looks like you had a great trip -- nothing like traveling with family.
Celiaanne2 is offline  
Apr 30th, 2014, 05:15 AM
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More soon, please!
TDudette is offline  
May 1st, 2014, 01:19 PM
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Marseille Part 1
You all are such a nice audience, I hope that's not making me get carried away, but here's my next installment. It's fun to relive it!

We drove back to Marseille, which took about 1 1/2 hours. As usual driving wasn't a problem until we reached the city. I wish we could have figured out a way to ditch the car while we were in Marseille. The parking was expensive and getting in and out of the city was often harrowing. I told my daughter more than once that if she valued her dad's and my marriage, she would sit in front and navigate. We had the car so we could make day trips from Marseille, where my daughter is living, and there didn't seem to be a way around it. She lives on the peninsula of Malmousque, which is about 15 minutes away from the old port. It was an easy bus ride along the sea to get there and back to and from the apartment we rented near the old port, so we only used the car when we went out of town.

I found the apartment through Homelidays. In the photos I loved the tall ceilings and big windows of the Haussmann architecture, and it did look like that on the inside. The outside and the corridor were a little rougher looking than the inside, with graffiti and crumbling tiles. (I accept that as part of the Marseille experience.) There was an elevator, and that's what helped me choose this 4th floor apartment over another on the 5th with no elevator in the same convenient area of town.

We really feel Marseille is underrated. My daughter especially loves it. (Keep in mind that we're from Indianapolis.) She likes to say that when she walks 4 minutes from home in 3 different directions she's at the Mediterranean Sea! She can walk, ride a bike, or take public transporattion wherever she needs to go. (By the way, she takes gorgeous photos and posts them on Instagram if you want to follow her. She is Natattack3000.)

The city is beautiful and the people have been very nice. It's a big city and big cities can be exhausting; and it's not what you think of when you think of charming, quaint, Provence. But it's beautiful with the sea and the gorgeous southern France light, and the multi-cultural vibe is so interesting. Here's how Julia Child described Marseille when she lived there: “The air was brisk and breezy, and the harbor was redolent of sewage and decaying fish. There were mobs of sailors, soldiers, Arabs, gamins, whores, pickpockets, shopkeepers, tourists and citizens of every shape and size, all moiling and shouting.” (She loved Marseille.)

After meeting up with our other daughter and 1 of the boyfriends (one was working), we checked into our apartment then headed for (what else?) food! We ate crepes at La Crepe au Carré, a rustic-looking creperie on the Place aux Huiles. The square crepes were great, especially my Nutella one for dessert. Then we caught the tram that goes from the old port up to Notre Dame de la Garde, the church at the top of the hill seen from all over Marseille. It is topped with a golden Mother Mary and child, or as the recorded English commentary on the tram said, "Mother and kid". The commentary was a little quirky, but we really enjoyed the ride up the steep hills, and when we got there the views of Marseille were spectacular. I would have liked to have more time to explore the church, but the tram was heading down in 25 minutes. (Maybe it's possible to catch a later tram?)

We relaxed at the apartment with a little pastis, wine, and wifi. At dinnertime we didn't really have a plan, but we walked around and found a menu that looked good. We ate at Bar XO, and we all liked our food but I don't remember it very well. We often get the "menus" with 3 courses (good excuse to get dessert; see a pattern here?). We sat at a big square table for 6 on a patio protected from that good old Provencal wind. It was fun to all be together.

More to come!
mhutch196 is offline  
Aug 10th, 2014, 02:16 PM
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Very nice slideshow - tks for doing it.
donw is offline  
Aug 11th, 2014, 03:57 AM
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Glad you enjoyed Marseille. We made it a day trip from Aix. You were brave to drive it IMHO. When did TA start doing filmstrips?
TDudette is offline  

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