Two Weeks in Provence

May 11th, 2018, 03:59 AM
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Two Weeks in Provence

Part 1

My husband and I (mid-50s) and daughter (30) flew from JFK-BRU-MRS for a two and a half week home swap on the French Riviera. The first property is in Sanary-sur-Mer, and the second in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.

After the 6.5 hour flight on Delta, (a last minute re-book after an Air France strike cancellation), we arrived in Marseilles around noon on Sunday weary and jet-lagged. There was a very long wait in a slow-moving lineup to get through customs, but we finally retrieved our luggage and made our way to EuropCar to pick up our car.

The young lady who served us spent a considerable amount of time trying to sell us upgrades. "Instead of a compact, we can rent you an SUV for only 50 more euros per day, in the end you'll save money on the diesel fuel etc, etc." Did she really think an additional 500 euros would be considered a bargain by people who booked an economy class vehicle? Merci Mademoiselle, but we will do just fine with our little Yaris on southern France's narrow, winding roads.

We punched in the address of our home swap and began the one hour drive to Sanary. The route through Marseille was rather industrial but the scenery improved when we drove into Cassis to check for restaurants. We caught glimpses of the Calanques and saw many beautiful vineyards through winding roads, but the town is small and dense and didn't seem to have many eateries. On to Sanary...

A description of Sanary-sur-Mer from wikipedia:

Sanary-sur-Mer is a commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France. It is located in coastal Provence on the Mediterranean Sea 13 km (8.1 mi) from Toulon and 49 km (30 mi) from Marseille. It can be reached from Paris by TGV train in less than 4 hours. Sanary has a beautiful coast line with small beaches; unlike most small towns on the Mediterranean coast it is an active village all year round. Sanary-sur-Mer is probably the sunniest place in France, with an average of only 61 days of rain, mostly in winter, and solar radiation (6156 MJ/m2/yr), comparable to Sicily. Sanary is regularly swept by the Mistral, a strong wind coming from the Rhone Valley, which brings low humidity around 20%, gusts up to 130 km/h (81 mph), very cool temperatures, sun and deep blue skies. Wind is near gale force or higher on average 115 days per year, and storm force 8 days per year, making Sanary a favorite destination for windsurfers.

We drove through Sanary's countryside and many roundabouts before we got to a small unlocked gate where our hosts were there to greet us. At their request, we had alerted them of our ETA through WhatsApp and would continue to use the app for future communication. We love using Whatsapp abroad and were happy they used it as well.

Until recently the villa apartment had been available to travelers as a vacation rental. Ironically this home swap would be a first for all of us. The apartment is on the second floor of a large, traditional stucco villa (a Provencal "mas"), pretty in peach with periwinkle shutters. It is surrounded by beautiful grounds that encompass a plethora of olive trees and large patio area with saltwater pool. Even though it's situated about 10 km inland, we were delighted to see that the huge window over the dining room table offered up spectacular panoramic views of Bandol Bay on the Mediterranean.

The villa apartment is quite charming and decently appointed. I'm not sure why, but the beds were made up with only a fitted sheet and the top sheet was folded up at end of bed. There were no blankets to be seen, however I found some in plastic bags in a closet and draped them to air out.

After a quick inventory check (no bathroom tissue!?), we headed off to the SuperU Marche, only 5 minutes away. Though we were in a state of zombie-like tiredness, we managed to find bread, eggs, coffee, tea, Stevia, sugar cubes, cream, butter, peanut butter, cheese, crackers, charcuterie, sardines, olives, olive oil, fruit, dark chocolate, a few non-food items and of course, wine. Total bill was around 90 euros. I always enjoy this part of the journey - picking out grocery items in a store where everything is gourmet and of superior quality.

We'd decided in advance that we were going to push through the day without taking a nap - more easily said than done but worth it in the end. DH always complains and wants to hit the sack as soon as he sees a bed, but ends up thanking me the next day for enforcing that tried and tested travel rule.

We are now hungry and ready to have dinner. The madame's friend at our villa told us that most of the restaurants were closed on Sunday but recommended one in Bandol, only 10 mins away. We found a parking spot and made our way down an alley parallel to the main street until we arrived at a small restaurant called Le Scotch. The weather was nice enough to dine outside but the cozy decor of brick, ocher-colored chairs and white tablecloths beckoned us inside.

DD and I shared an entree et plat (appetizer and main course) of salade chevre chaud and gambas (prawns), and a small 37,5 cl carafe of red wine, which gave us one glass each. DH ordered the same with lemonade and our bill came to 63 euros. We very much enjoyed the meal and service and agreed to return.

Though our request to share a meal was frowned upon in Paris, it was accommodated here. DD and I have small appetites so one meal is always plenty for both of us. And it's not like the local culture condones taking the unfinished portion home in a doggie bag the way we do back in California.

I speak Canadian French well enough to get by but decoding the menu is a real challenge. No idea what 'gambas', 'seiches' and 'pave' de something are, but thankfully Google Translate does.

We made our way back to the apartment, stayed up a bit longer unpacking and getting settled, then went to bed around 9:30pm. DH and DD slept right through til 8am. I woke up at 2am but was eventually able to fall back asleep. After those long hours of travel, it was a delight to wake up to the sound of songbirds and the most charming views of rural Provence.

To be continued.

Boots en Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 08:04 AM
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I was still groggy but managed to make eggs with sliced tomatoes and toast for breakfast. The coffee maker they provide is a Nescafe pod model, slightly different than our Keurig. DH loves cream with his, so he had bought what he thought was the kind of solid cream we'd been served with our coffee years ago in Paris. It came in a little square plastic tube thingy with a screw cap. Well this couldn't have been what we'd had in Paris because it didn't dissolve when we added it to the coffee. We stirred and stirred until the lumps were at least small enough to make the coffee drinkable.

After breakfast my husband drove my daughter and I into town so that we could attend the last day of the Just Rose festival, an annual tribute to this area's famous rose wines. The main street had several tents set up for wine tasting, and the small alleys were decorated with pink flowers, streamers and other pink decorations. My daughter was in heaven as she loves both wine and the color pink, and in fact wore a shell pink coat and shoes for the occasion. She fit right in with the pink theme and more than a few people complimented her on the chic outfit.

When the merchants started tearing things down, we walked around looking for a place to sit and have a drink. And walked and walked. The town was packed with people and the only available outdoor table we found was at a rather plain looking restaurant on the main street called Le Sport. We were hungry and thirsty and hoped they had something decent on the menu to hold us over until DH could join us for dinner.

We ordered a half bottle of rose wine and the only item on the limited sandwich menu that looked good to me was a "tartine"? with ham, fig jam and chevre. Well it turned out to be delicious! The place is by no means fancy but it does have the classic French cafe table and chairs and a friendly wait staff. We plan to return to enjoy that particular delicious appetizer.

We lingered there for some time, chatting with a local couple seated next to us. The friendly woman owned the shop next door and as a loyal regular, sang Le Sport's praises.

When it was time to find a place for dinner, again we walked and walked and found that all of the nicer looking places were booked solid with reservations. We were told more than once that the earliest availability would be 9:30pm – way too late for us to eat even by France standards. Finally we stumbled across a little corner spot called l'Evidence. Nothing fancy and a choice of only two meals on the final day of the Just Rose theme menu. DH ordered the wok with gambas (prawns) and DD and I shared a fish called Loup with a white sauce. The meal was decent but there was nothing special enough about the experience that would warrant a return visit. Total bill with a small pitcher of wine and a glass of lemonade came to about 64 euros.

Part 3

We woke up a bit earlier, still groggy, and after we had our coffee I made us all an omelette with charcuterie meat, olives and a soft cheese called "Bethmale Vache".

My husband works virtually for a California-based company and because he didn't take vacation time, he works throughout the day, taking breaks to sit by the pool or go into town with us for lunch, etc.

During this time I am puttering, cooking and cleaning, researching restaurants and excursions, and spending some time by the pool with my daughter.

We didn't have all the groceries required to make dinner so we decided to head into Sanary. It was raining and we had no umbrella to walk around the streets with after parking so my husband Whatsapped the hosts downstairs to see if they had one we could borrow. Three minutes later the monsieur knocked at the door with one, apologetic about not having an additional one, and after we thanked him, he returned only minutes afterward with the madame's raincoat - a very nice hooded Burberry that kept me dry while DD and DH huddled under the umbrella.

After walking the main street looking for an available table (when are we going to get with the program and actually make a reservation??), we found a small, casual restaurant by the pier named Quai 16. The waiters were super friendly and accommodating, genuinely thanking us for making the effort to order our food in broken French. A few seemed a bit tipsy but what odds, they were fun and attentive.

DD and I shared a half bottle of vin rouge, a salad chevre chaud (not quite as good as Le Scotch's) and our plat was fish with saffron and pesto sauce, served with a broiled tomato and small salad. DH was happy with his salmon dish. The food was good and reasonably priced. I'll check with DH to see if he remembers what the bill came to, but we enjoyed our dinner and will likely return.
boots08 is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 09:56 AM
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Part 4

Today was another leisurely breakfast and pool day. We've enjoyed le calme here, reading while observing the local wildlife - doves and pheasants flying to the water's edge to take a drink, a little lizard scurrying across the clay tiled roof below the dining room window that hubby named Bandol Boy, and a white cat in the backyard who, in DD's words, "takes off in a gallop" when we approach. We've thus named him/her Seabiscuit.

DH made a quick trip to Le SuperU to pick up a list of items, then while he worked, I prepared dinner: roast chicken with potatoes and onion, accompanied by steamed asparagus. I didn't have all the ingredients I would've liked (rosemary and garlic for instance), but the 'thym' and paprika I found in the cupboard gave the organic chicken a nice flavor. I'm sure there was wild thyme growing somewhere nearby but I don't really know how to identify it, and I didn't see that Madame was growing any herbs on our side of the property. By all accounts our first home-away-cooked dinner was a winner, in both the 'taste' and 'sea-view' categories.

Side note from DH's trip to the grocery store: having become a raving fan of rose a day earlier at the Just Rose festival, I had scratched 'bottle of rose' at the top of our grocery list. Here we were, living in a French Villa, surrounded by hillside vineyards, with the unique opportunity to savor wine from grapes grown right here in the most famous rose region in the world. As DD and I excitedly unpacked the bags in search of the bouteille, our glee quickly turned to uproarious laughter. Clearly marked on the label were the words "made in California". Note to self: next time, in block caps, include the word LOCAL!

We watched the sun set over the mountain while enjoying a patisserie and a cup of tea on the patio. I noted that there were no flies or mosquitoes. At this time of year in Canada (where we're originally from), sitting outside at dusk in May would have meant getting eaten alive.

Needless to say, we are thoroughly enjoying the rural bliss of our Provencal villa.

Off to town for a nice dinner - thanks to our proactively having made reservations

Boots in Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 11:37 AM
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I’m really enjoying your report- thank you!
zoecat is online now  
May 11th, 2018, 03:23 PM
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Thank you zoecat - that means a lot! Writing doesn't come easy to me and it's encouraging to know someone is appreciating my efforts.

Part 5

After cleaning up and doing a load of laundry, and hubby finished up his work, we headed into town to meet up with DD for dinner. She had spent the day shopping and hanging out at cafes. She bought soaps made in Marseille (3 for 6 euros), some rose-scented hand cream and a mug for me that said “Ma Maman c’est la plue Belle”, and on the back “Pour de vrai”. Coffee will never taste better than when served in that mug.

Well, I can understand why you need reservations at L’Endroit. Everything we tasted tonight was top notch. I ordered the “entrecote avec sauce poivre” (steak with pepper sauce), which came with delicious French fries and arugula salad; hubby had the loup fish with roasted carrots, zucchini and potatoes in a lemon sauce, and DD had shrimp in a pastis linguini. Who would’ve thought pastis would give the pasta such a nice flavor!

The last couple of times I ordered a steak in France they were very tough and almost inedible. It made me hesitant to order one tonight, but this one was tender and juicy, and the pepper sauce it came with made it all the more so.

They don’t do medium-well here, the steak temperature I prefer, so I took a chance on “saignant” and it was fine. I’ve gone from well-done, to medium well and am slowly working my way down the scale.

DD ordered some silky, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate mousse that came in a little jar, and there was just enough for DH and I to steal a few bites. Total bill with a 10 euro half bottle of wine came to 85 euros – the most we’ve spent on a meal so far but worth every cent!

We’d had trouble deciphering the menu items (entrecote, roquette, cepes, etc.) so asked our server if they had wifi. She said sorry they didn’t, but then came back a few minutes later with a code to connect to a server. This is the second time this has happened – where the restaurant doesn’t officially have wifi but then will discreetly slip us a piece of paper with a code. Maybe they changed their mind when they realized we needed it to decode the menu rather than for hacking someone’s bank account.

When we got home, it was late and I was tired but had to take all the wet clothes out of the washer and be very creative with where to hang them to dry. We’d mistakenly thought the washing machine doubled as a dryer like the one in our Paris rental but not so. Ah well, it felt good to put a dent in the laundry.

We were going to head out to the Camargue tomorrow for my love of horses, but upon learning that there’s no guarantee of seeing any, we might just do Aigues-Mortes and Aix-en-Provence. I have a note in Evernote titled “France Cities, Towns and Villages” where I’ve compiled descriptions of different places based on the input of many Fodorites, and those two places sounded interesting to us.

However, we are open to other suggestions. We would like to head west, and maybe drive two hours at the most, distance wise as opposed to in total. We have all day Saturday and Sunday for sightseeing. (We will be exploring the eastern region later next week when we stay in Beaulieu).

Thanks for reading my report,

Boots in Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 03:42 PM
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Sounds lovely.
Adelaidean is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 03:44 PM
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Doggie-bags are de rigeur in France these days. In fact, there are new laws that require restaurants not to throw out food but to offer doggie bags or make restaurants give their leftovers to charities.
StCirq is offline  
May 11th, 2018, 10:15 PM
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Thanks for your great reports. It's wonderful to see the adventures through a new set of eyes! If your french is not up to booking a restaurant over the phone, The Fork/La Fourchette is relatively active in the larger towns, especially as you head east (booking engine -- but definitely less used rurally).

In addition to google translate, you can use Reverso (there is also an app) to get the meaning of words in context. Sometimes a direct translation in limited, especially with turns of phrase used in menus and the colloquialism. Oh, and loup is sea bass, and pave is a term for "thick slice or slab", as in pave de bouef or pave de saumon.
gooster is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 01:50 AM
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Originally Posted by StCirq View Post
Doggie-bags are de rigeur in France these days. In fact, there are new laws that require restaurants not to throw out food but to offer doggie bags or make restaurants give their leftovers to charities.
StCirq, are you saying it is now acceptable to ask for one? If so, how would I say it in French?

Est-ce je peux avoir...?
boots08 is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 02:00 AM
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Originally Posted by gooster View Post
Thanks for your great reports. It's wonderful to see the adventures through a new set of eyes! If your french is not up to booking a restaurant over the phone, The Fork/La Fourchette is relatively active in the larger towns, especially as you head east (booking engine -- but definitely less used rurally).

In addition to google translate, you can use Reverso (there is also an app) to get the meaning of words in context. Sometimes a direct translation in limited, especially with turns of phrase used in menus and the colloquialism. Oh, and loup is sea bass, and pave is a term for "thick slice or slab", as in pave de bouef or pave de saumon.
gooster: I'd forgotten about The Fork - thank you for the reminder. We use OpenTable frequently in California but it's pretty much useless here.

And I just downloaded Reverso - what a great app! A perusal of a restaurant menu on The Fork mentioned "souris d'agneau", and it instantly gave me a clear translation. It'll no doubt greatly reduce our ordering time.

Merci a tous!
Boots en Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 02:40 AM
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Grocery/Epiceries Talk

We are impressed with the price of food items here.

The exchange rate is 1 euro = 1.20 U.S. so we have to add very little to the price in our calculations.
  • the two mini baguettes we bought were only 34 cents each!
  • a wheel of Coeur de Lion creamy cheese 1.20
  • any of the wine we bought was under 5 euros
  • butter was much cheaper than what we pay in California - 1 euro for a half brick
  • the yellow chicken I roasted was 5 euros
  • the most expensive item was a small bag of almonds from Marseille - 6.50
On our first shopping trip, the madame at the cash handed the bags of fruit back to us and told us we had to go weigh them ourselves. I felt bad because there was a lineup behind us and said never mind about the fruit, but she insisted it would be fine for the people to wait. So DD and I each ran to the weigh scales with a bag each. We figured out to put the produce on the scale and select the corresponding photo. A little sticker appears which we affixed it to the bag and then ran back to the cash. I apologized to everyone in line "C'est notre premiere fois ici..." and they were all so kind and patient. There were no clerks in the store when we needed help to find something, so any time I asked a local for help, they were super kind and more than happy to assist.

We had a hard time finding good peanut butter, (a breakfast staple for us). DD mistakenly chose a gingerbread spread that looked exactly like peanut butter, shelved beside the only other choice - Skippy (no thanks). On DH's next visit to the store he asked for natural peanut butter. He said, "Avez-vous du beurre d'arachides naturel?" His French is basic, his accent not great but most French people can understand him. The mademoiselle had no idea of what he was talking about and said no. We later learned that he should have said "cacahuetes" for peanuts, a french word rarely used in Canada. Yet the label on the bag of almonds from Marseille mentions that it could contain traces of "d'arachides", and some candied peanuts I bought were called "arachides sucrees".

C'est curieux.

Boots en Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 04:33 AM
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Thanks for taking the time to tell us about your experience Boots. We're leaving for Paris and Provence a month from today, though we will be staying a little further inland, near Avignon. So this sets the tone...
geetika is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 03:31 PM
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Peanut butter is purée de cacahuètes in France. The Québecois call peanuts arachides, but that is the name of the plant - arachide - not the peanuts themselves. The French make a distinction, calling actual peanuts cacahuètes and the plant itself arachide - hence huile d'arachide.
StCirq is offline  
May 12th, 2018, 07:37 PM
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Enjoying the report!
russ_in_LA is offline  
May 13th, 2018, 07:46 AM
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Thank you all !

Apologies in advance if there is bad formatting below. I wrote my entry in a Word document and there were spacing problems in the preview after I copied and pasted.

Part 7

We woke up (a bit too late), and over a petit dejeuner of homemade omelette et cafe, discussed which route we'd take to see some of the hilltop villages in the Luberon. After scanning maps, referring to Stu Dudley’s itinerary, reading trip reports, and consulting my Time Out South of France guide, we decided on Aix-en-Provence > Viens > Gordes > Menerbes > Bonnieux. I would've liked to include Avignon but hubby wisely said that would be too much driving for one day, especially given our late departure of 2pm.

Up to this point, we paid for DH to have data on his phone whereas DD and I made do with turning off global data, setting our smartphones to airplane mode and using WiFi where available. We both turned our data on for the day, at a cost of $10 U.S. ea, our cell provider’s International all-in plan.

We made our way towards Aix, and though we’d originally planned to have lunch there before heading to the mountains, we just weren’t hungry enough so just drove through. For those of you who don't know, Aix is pronounced EX, as in "My ex wouldn't take me to Provence."

There was quite a bit of construction going on as we entered the citybut what we saw of it was quite nice. Beautiful plane tree-lined streets, parks, squares, statues and fountains. Some have aptly referred to Aix as a mini Paris. We took a few wrong turns and ended up on some extremely narrow back alleys but the beauty and charm of the city made the whole adventure a pleasurable experience.

Our car had only a ½ tank of gas so we pulled into a gas station to top it up just outside of Aix. While DH tended to that, DD and I checked out the goods in the store. I bought 3 bottled waters and a little Michelin Cote d’Azur-Alps-Provence map (3 euros), and DD bought a donut with pink icing and sparkles. It was rather stale but she couldn’t resist because of how pretty it was.
Some time after departing Aix, the scenery started to get interesting when we began the climb up the winding roads, through fields and pastures with cows and sheep. It was too early for lavender blooms but we saw plenty of ‘coquelicots’ (poppies), wild roses, and blue irises. When we drove through charming Cereste, I wished I was more hungry for Scaramouche’s artisan ice cream but tant pis - la prochaine fois. We arrived in Viens, and this would turn out to be our favorite stop of the day. Viens is a small, medieval hilltop village not far from Cereste and on the way to Gordes. The steep drive took us up through a narrow, stone-walled road leading to a wider central area where we found a place to park. We walked to Le Café Petit Jardin, I think the only bar/restaurant of the village, where 4 old men sat at a table outside the door, politely sizing us up. We were able to extract reluctant smiles after greeting them with a Bonjour.

The madame behind the counter inside told us she wasn’t serving food but that we could get something to eat at the boulangerie up the road and bring it back there to have with wine - a proposal you’d never hear in California!

The village is a relaxed place to stroll about with huge plane trees lining the wider street at the top of the hill. On our way to the boulangerie we saw a number of locals, about a half-dozen tourists, and three cats.

The boulangerie had bread aplenty, a few small square pizza/galette slices, and a sign that said “sandwich 3.50”. Though DH very much is, I’m generally not a sandwich person but I thought how bad could it be if it’s made with French bread? The madame told us the choices were “jambon et beurre" or "saucisses et beurre” – ham with butter or sausage?salami? with butter. I was intrigued by the inclusion of butter which isn’t served with French bread in restaurants here. We chose two hams (DD and I would share one.)

We thought it would be nice to have some cheese with the sandwiches so while the madame was in the back preparing them, I walked to the épicerie a few doors down, greeted the storekeeper (we strictly adhere to this cultural necessity) and spied the cheese selection. The one that looked good was a little disc wrapped in brown paper. But the madame informed me it was a soft cheese that wouldn’t be ready for consumption until next week (I’d forgotten about the waiting-for-cheese-to-ripen ritual in France), however the cheeses on the shelf below were ready to go. I asked did she have one that’s not too ‘cremeux’ and more on the firm side, with the aim of tearing pieces off without having to ask anyone for a knife. She pointed to one that fit the bill – a small white disc with a cluster of red peppercorns on top (2.50 euros).

We walked to the restaurant with wrapped sandwich et fromage in hand, smiled again at the monsieurs outside, and were directed by Madame out to a patio where we could choose our own table. She came back shortly afterward to take our drink order: “Une demi bouteille de vin rouge, et une limonade s’il vous plait.”

She brought us the wine in a bottleneck carafe and both DD thought it was superbe. The sandwiches were the best basic ham and butter sandwiches I'd ever tasted. They certainly didn't need any cheese as the big slabs of butter were so flavorful! Regrettably I ate more than I should have and this would establish a pattern any time I am in the vicinity of a baguette.

At our little cafe table, DH kept looking around and saying, "I have so many questions." (He always does.)

This morning, I asked him to jot down his thoughts so that I could add them to my trip report. This is his contribution:

I notice that dogs are tethered but cats roam free. We’re sitting in the outdoor patio of Le Jardin, wondering what kind of narcotic the madame at le boulangerie snuck into our ham on baguette sandwiches besides locally churned butter, when one of ‘les chats’ coils it’s way under the ancient wooden gate, ambles over to our table, sits directly between my feet and stares up longingly into my eyes as if to say ever so slowly in his Provencal accent, “Monsieur Tourist, do you have any idea all that I’ve seen and experienced in this 1,000 year old village? Yes you, tourist man, I know you’re dying to grasp the history of my city. Well today, in return for just one hunk of the meat in your baguette, I will regale you with anecdotes that will curl your wife’s pretty blonde cheveux, stories not even our local humans are aware of, tales passed down to me alone for 10 centuries?”

The truth is, le chat has read my mind. Although my senses are tingling with wonderment at the sheer age of everything around me, I’m mainly overwhelmed by having so many questions. I’m stressed by not having the time to keep track of them in my mind...

- Who lives here?

- Might those guys sitting in front of Le Jardin have been born and raised here?

- Are there more ‘come-from-aways’ than those born and raised living in Viens?

- Who cleans the streets?

- Is there a Mayor and City Councilors?

- What do they discuss at Council meetings?

o Agenda Item #1 – Roads. A pompous American tourist driving an enormous SUV, knocked 7 ancient stones out of the wall at the corner of Rue d’Anciens and Rue de Bievre. Questions for consideration: Who will be assigned to repair the damage, Gaston or Luc? How is our stockpile of mossy ancient stones which allow us to repair this kind of damage and retain the wall’s 1,000 year-old appearance?

- At the Council meeting does one Councilor stand up and say “we need to increase our marketing budget to attract more tourists” only to have another Councilor stand up and shake an angry finger at the first Councilor, “Mais non! We already have too many tourists walking all over our town, gawking in our windows, why just look at the broken wall …”

- Where is the hidden wine cellar where only the most revered patriarchs of Viens go to secretly imbibe in the very best of what the local vines have to offer?

- The locals eyeing us right now, do they like the roaming cats? Or do they detest them and thus despise tourists who keep the feral annoyances hanging around by feeding them chunks of ham off baguettes they bought at le Boulangerie and then so rudely sat to eat at Le Jardin?

- In 957-AD was there a Ministre de Construction for Provence who had a mad obsession that resulted in a region-wide decree whereby anyone considering the idea of raising a new municipality must comply with an architectural design requiring cramming the entire town onto a half-acre parcel of land atop a small mountain, or face the guillotine?

Clearly we will have to return to le Luberon and schedule enough time to sit with a local historian and have these and so many other questions answered.

Clearly he will have to brush up on his French so that I'm not saddled with translating these ridiculous questions.

More to come...

Boots and Mr. Boots in Provence

ps - we nicknamed the cat "Jambon"
boots08 is offline  
May 13th, 2018, 08:54 AM
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Sanary-sur-Mur sounds lovely, boots08, and the swap as well. What fun to food shop. Thanks for EX. My Greek French teacher pronounced it AYS and I spent many years feeling superior in error. I loved your husband’s questions and your flights of possibly not fancy! More please asap!
TDudette is online now  
May 14th, 2018, 06:10 AM
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Part 8

Our next stop was Gordes, and one immediately sees why this “plus beau village” with its castle and ancient stone houses is such a draw for tourists.

All of the hilltop medieval villages are special in their own way, however Gordes just happens to offer a specific vantage point that provides a unique photo op that captures the incredible architecture and design that went into the formation of these villages over a 1,000 years ago.

Ironically, I hesitated to go because of it being such a tourist mecca, but lesson learned: don’t be put off by a destination’s popularity.

Another way to put it:

Ignore the hordes and go see Gordes! (ha)

My husband is currently reading A Year in Provence so we enjoyed the drives through three of the quaint places that figure prominently in his story, Menebres, Lacoste and Bonnieux, before stopping at Lourmarin to find a place to eat.

Lourmarin is a picturesque village with a flatter layout than its hilltop village counterparts, and despite its population of only 1,145 had a large selection of restaurants.

On the Saturday night we were there, food trucks were parked outside, circling the parameter of the main square, offering up various meal items (there was a long lineup for french fries). There was even one truck displaying a variety of cheeses, set up like its own petit fromagerie on wheels . DH wanted to eat there but it was chilly and, regrettably, I didn’t bring a warm enough coat on this trip. Many (of whom seemed like local) families dined outside with bottles of wine at their tables, enjoying their preferred meal a la carte, serenaded by the soft hum of cheerful conversation. If this is regular Saturday night thing, I’d like in on the next one.

We headed down from the main square onto Lourmarin’s cobblestone streets lined with quaint restaurants. The mood here was relaxed sophistication.

After perusing 4 restaurant chalkboard menus, we chose Cafe de L’Ormeau when an earnest young waiter beckoned us inside to a warm, cozy atmosphere of white linen tablecloths, small chandeliers, and luxurious velvet chairs upholstered in varying shades of green. The perfect levels of dim lighting and pleasant dinner music (beautiful french covers of popular American songs) enhanced our dining experience.

Again we had trouble translating the menu, even with our newly installed Reverso app; but between my decent French and his very limited English, our friendly waiter took our order: DD and I would share a mixed greens salad with some sort of phyllo pastry-enveloped cheese packet (delicious) and lobster ravioli (good) and half bottle of red (excellent). DH ordered the ribeye (delicious). When we were finished eating, we were each given a lovely, peachy pink after-dinner cocktail on the house. We told our waiter “Compliments au chef”, who then said he would bring him out so we could tell him ourselves. As we raved over the details of our meal, the chef (probably in his 40s) very modestly accepted our praise.

The online reviews for L’Ormeau are mixed but we really enjoyed our meal, the waitstaff and the ambience, and wouldn’t hesitate to dine there again.

It was late when we drove back - too late. Figuring out routes and which exit to take on the numerous roundabouts in the dark, in a state of tiredness, wasn’t the best way to end a wonderful day of exploring. However we kept our sense of humor while DD navigated, and made a pact to head out much earlier next time.

Boots in Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 14th, 2018, 07:58 AM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 862
Am enjoying this so much Boots, can't wait for the next installment....
geetika is offline  
May 14th, 2018, 08:42 AM
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 23,028
Continued bravas, boots08. A year in Provence is such a nice read. May he rest in peace. Our guide said that Mr. Mayle ended up in Loumarin. Too many tourists dropping by! More please.
TDudette is online now  
May 14th, 2018, 11:32 AM
Join Date: Mar 2018
Posts: 139
Another great report! I had to chuckle about your comment on Gordes -- so many people are dissuaded by reports of overrun destinations, but in most cases, the place is so crowded because it is a wonderful place to visit. We did a short break away from our place in Nice to Luberon in April -- the places were blissfully free of the hordes, even the great market in the town square. I'm also happy you were able to stop by Lourmarin, I didn't see that on your original itinerary.
gooster is offline  

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