Two Weeks in Provence

May 14th, 2018, 01:35 PM
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Gordes is not crowded during peak tourist season if you get there by 8:00am. Have a cafe creme & croissant, then wander around - including downhill to the base of the village - all the way to lavoire. By the time you are ready to leave Gordes - shops will start to open & the hordes will be hovering near the giant parking lot below. However - don't go on a Tuesday morning (their market day) and expect small crowds.

>>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<<

As Yogi (US baseball player & coach, and sage) stated "nobody goes there anymore because it is too crowded". When we stayed nearby in a gite for 2 visits for 2 weeks each - our garbage "recyclables" containers were actually at the back of the huge parking lot at the base of Gordes. We therefore had to pass "the view" on the way to & from the garbage dump/parking lot several times a week.

Stu Dudley
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May 14th, 2018, 01:40 PM
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Thank you geetika, TDudette and gooster

gooster, you're right about Lourmarin not being on our original itinerary. The truth is it didn't register until I saw it on the map route home. I remembered hearing positive things about it and am so glad I caught it and suggested stopping there for dinner.

Part 10

Sunday morning was cold and rainy so we took our time in getting up. I don’t know if these are normal temps for this area but it’s been cold and cloudy. The madame downstairs is apologetic about it but I keep telling her "Ca ne fait rien - nous sommes heureux" (It doesn't matter - we are happy)

We’ve maintained a cute WhatsApp texting relationship with our French hosts, a retired couple who live on the ground level below us. Anytime either of us have a question, we WhatsApp each other and get a quick reply.

Yesterday they invited us to their place for an aperitif at 6pm. We happily accepted the invitation and pushed our dinner reservation to 7:30pm.

When DH had gone to the Super U earlier in the day, he texted them with: “Bonjour, j’allez a l’epicarie, est ce que vous avez besion des choses?” (Hello, I’m going to the grocery store, do you need anything?) The errors in spelling and grammar mustn’t have been so bad because they immediately replied with “Non merci.” Then “Du Soleil”. Ha.

At 6:05 we headed down the stairs and knocked on the door. I never know when to greet people here with the French bisou kiss on each cheek or with a handshake. So when in doubt, I default to the latter, which I did in this instance. DD on the other hand always does the bisou.

(Last night in the Lourmarin restaurant, we watched a teenaged boy approach a table of 3 thirty-something couples to kiss each and every one of them on the cheeks. It was a beautiful, heartwarming sight that will always stay with us.)

Monsieur and Madame led us into a warm and cozy living room where the coffee table was set with platters of appetizers and wineglasses. Monsieur offered us the choice of rose or champagne. When I said we would be happy for them to choose, he said well we bought the champagne for you. So champagne it was, and a good one at that. We nibbled on pissaladiere and olive tartinade on French bread while we chatted and got to know each other. We instantly hit it off and feel that the connection will extend beyond our stay.

Though the visit could have gone on longer, our reservation time was approaching. I confess to relying on my more extroverted husband to carry the weight of conversing in social settings, and I was feeling drained after doing all the translating. Because my French is so rusty, the effort it takes can feel laborious.

Upon leaving, I took the initiative and did the bisou kisses. Chalk it up to the champagne followed by rose, or to it just feeling right.

We drove the 15 minutes to the beautiful and highly recommended medieval hilltop village of Le Castellet. We made reservations at Le Farigoule, which I think is the translation for organic thyme, or Provencal herbs. The restaurant has a warm, cozy, casual vibe.

Earlier in the day, I’d seen ‘tournedos Saint Jacques’ on the online menu and couldn’t find a clear translation. But when I selected images, the results showed pics of 4 scallops wrapped in bacon with a cream sauce. Yum. So that’s what DD and I ordered and it was delicious. DH ordered the fish of the day.

The waiter (and I think owner) seemed a bit surprised when we ordered only one entrée between DD, so we ordered dessert. DH and I shared a delicious and generous portion of pain perdu with apple and a custard-like sauce, and DD ordered a large pink macaron. With coffee, a half bottle of wine, and a “limonade” that came in the form of a yellow can of Sprite, the bill came to 75 euros. We loved our meal and time at Le Farigoule and highly recommend it.

We realized after we left that we forgot to leave a coin or two on the table - a restaurant etiquette faux pas we hope to never repeat.

Boots in Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 15th, 2018, 10:42 AM
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(I forgot to include...)

Part 9

Things I Would Do Different Next Time

- It’s been cold and I didn’t bring a warm enough coat. And I should’ve brought boots. This is my first time to the Cote d’Azur/French Riviera/Provence and neither were things I thought I’d wear in springtime here. Also more socks (I only brought one pair and had to borrow a pair from hubby)). FYI - the women here are wearing light ski jackets and trench coats. Many of the men are wearing light ski jackets as well.

- Bring more plug adapters. I brought 4, one of which turned out to be useless. Between DH’s two laptops (he uses one for a video lounge), his smartphone, my laptop and smartphone, and DD’s laptop, smartphone and camera battery charger, 3 wasn’t enough so we bought 3 more today – two of which will work in all countries. They were hard to find, but we finally found some at Electro Depot, at a cost of $13 euros each. They probably would have been cheaper on Amazon, where I’d purchased the other ones. FYI - they are called “adaptateur electrique”.

More to come....

Boots in Provence
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May 15th, 2018, 11:25 AM
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Part 11

After enjoying a breakfast “at home”, the three of us drove into nearby Bandol for market day. The streets were lined with vendors selling goods like cheeses, paella, herbs, Turkish towels (I forget the name for them), Marseille soaps, lavender everything, tablecloths, clothing, hats, belts, jewelry, purses, etc. I didn’t see a warm coat but bought a lightweight golden yellow cotton cardigan and a sage-colored sweater. Those will at least add a layer until I find a coat – hopefully at the market tomorrow in Sanary-sur-Mer.

After dropping us off, hubby found a table in the main square and enjoyed a café and some paella while we shopped. We met up with him afterwards and shared some yummy French fries.

It was still a bit cold but the sun finally prevailed over the clouds and provided a bit of warmth. After we parted ways with DH, we enjoyed much of the afternoon walking along the port. DD and I ogled the many yachts and joked that we needed to get to befriend one of the owners.

We eventually stopped at a bar/café called Le Nautic and ordered a salade chevre chaud and a glass of rose. And then a coffee. I asked for a ‘café Americain’ and got a ¾ full coffee in a small mug to which I could add heated milk from a small pitcher. It was some of the best coffee I’d tasted. And I love how they give you a little cookie. This one was gingerbread and I wished I would’ve taken note of the brand.

Hubby picked us up (only a 10 min drive) and once we got home I prepared dinner: a filet mignon roast of pork (I’m guessing that’s pork tenderloin) with potatoes, carrots, scallions, garlic and Provencal herbs. After putting it in the large countertop oven, I sat down to write this part of the report and DD handed me a glass of red wine. Life is good in the south of France.

Boots in Provence

Last edited by boots08; May 15th, 2018 at 11:27 AM. Reason: inserted the right smiley
boots08 is offline  
May 15th, 2018, 12:00 PM
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Boots and Mr. Boots in Gordes
boots08 is offline  
May 15th, 2018, 12:11 PM
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There are hundreds of brands of speculous cookies all over Europe. They are all delicious! You can buy packs of them at any grocery store.

And you haven't committed a faux pas by not leaving change at a restaurant. It's not at all obligatory, and no one will bat an eye. If you feel like it, it will be appreciated, but it's definitely not a faux pas.

The Turkish towels I think you're referring to are serviettes fouta or serviettes hammam. At least that's what they are here.

Yes, a filet mignon in France is almost always pork; what Americans call filet mignon is a tournedos in France.

Sounds like you're having a lovely time!
StCirq is offline  
May 15th, 2018, 02:22 PM
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Boots, Mr. Boots and "Jambon" at Le Petit Jardin in Viens
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Off to Le Petit Jardin in Viens with sandwich au jambon et beurre in hand
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Boots and DD in Gordes
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The three of us La Farigoule in Le Castellet
boots08 is offline  
May 15th, 2018, 02:27 PM
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Originally Posted by StCirq View Post
There are hundreds of brands of speculous cookies all over Europe. They are all delicious! You can buy packs of them at any grocery store.

And you haven't committed a faux pas by not leaving change at a restaurant. It's not at all obligatory, and no one will bat an eye. If you feel like it, it will be appreciated, but it's definitely not a faux pas.

The Turkish towels I think you're referring to are serviettes fouta or serviettes hammam. At least that's what they are here.

Yes, a filet mignon in France is almost always pork; what Americans call filet mignon is a tournedos in France.

Sounds like you're having a lovely time!
Thank you, StCirq - I remember seeing the word "fouta" on the signs for the Turkish towels. And good to know about the tip - I always value your expert input.

boots08 is offline  
May 16th, 2018, 12:27 AM
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Here's a pic of the "cafe Americain" I ordered at Le Nautic yesterday. The waiter gave me way too much hot milk for how little my mug was. DD said I should just order a cafe au lait next time (If there's no difference, duh me).

Also, I can see the brand name "Lotus" on the delicious cookie and will look for it at the epicerie

This is our last night here in Sanary before we head to our second home swap tomorrow in Beaulieu-sur-Mer (near Cap Ferrat and Villefranche).

We WhatsApped our hosts last night to see if they could join us for an aperitif by the pool tonight for one last visit. I will look for appetizers to serve, as well as a hostess gift for them at the market today (held every Wednesday from 8am to 1pm).

Instead of buying a new bottle of rose we will serve the one from California. They have a great sense of humor and will appreciate the irony.

A bientot,
Boots en Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 16th, 2018, 03:17 AM
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Enjoying this very much, and sounds like you have been, too
Adelaidean is online now  
May 16th, 2018, 11:40 PM
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It looks like you are having a terrific time. It's great to put some images to your excellent narrative. Sorry it seems like the weather is not fully cooperating -- normally this time of year it is much better.

BTW, they actually stock Lotus Biscoff speculous at the Costco near my regular home in Northern California -- and I of course have a multipack.
gooster is online now  
May 17th, 2018, 09:10 AM
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Everything sounds wonderful, boots08.

I found plug hubs in the hotels on my last two U.S.A. trips. Hope hotels in other countries follow suit.

Thanks for the wonderfufl photos!
TDudette is online now  
May 18th, 2018, 12:20 PM
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Part 12

The market in Sanary was much larger than the one the day before in Bandol. I wanted to take pictures of the stacks of cheeses, the paella station, the Marseille soap display but didn’t want to be an annoying, presumptive tourist. In front of the port there was a vendor selling thick red cross-section slabs of fish. I wondered what kind of fish it was til I saw the head of a swordfish on display at the end of the counter. Talk about fresh. If we had’ve been staying longer, I would’ve bought some to cook.

I finally found a warm sweater coat worth buying, nice and thick with a hood. It was 45 euros but the monsieur accepted DH’s offer of 40 (it was near closing time). The sweater is 100% cotton and aptly, the same shell pink color as the area’s many buildings.

We got the last table at a restaurant facing the port called Max Sym, beside three men, two of which smoked. A bit annoying but we had no other choice. DD and I ordered their trademark salad and some frites. We got talking to them and the one seated closest to DH introduced himself as “un architecte”, and his friends as “un artiste” and “un policer”. DH said it sounded like the beginning of a joke. We had a lengthy, convivial conversational, and at one point Architecte Smoker points to my fries and makes a joke about how they’re going to make me fat. I looked at him pointedly and said that’s pretty rich coming from a s m o k e r. He indicated that his cigarette was super slim and said he jogs every morning. Hey – whatever works for you.

He invited us to his artist friend’s house that night to watch the last soccer/football match between Marseille and Spain. We said we likely couldn’t make it because it was our last night in Sanary, and had planned a visit with our hosts before having to pack and get to bed a decent hour.

The visit with our hosts was very enjoyable. The laugh we had about the California rose was one of many we would have that night.

The next morning we had a quick breakfast, finished packing, stripped the beds, cleaned up and vacuumed. We bought our hosts a hanging flower basket, wrote them a thank you card and placed both outside our door on a little patio table.

They met us in the driveway after we loaded our suitcases and we parted ways with bisous and plans to keep in touch.

The route we decided to take to Beaulieu-sur-Mer would include some scenic roadways, with a stop for lunch in Saint-Tropez (which DD always wanted to see).

The town is smaller than I’d pictured, with a population of only 5,000. We parked in a parking garage (full of covered luxury cars and a complete p.i.t.a. to get out of) and walked throughout the small town square before deciding on Ciao Rino. DD and I split a meal salad and a pichet of rose. We were seated beside two gentlemen, one of which was aloof, the other annoying. He was enamored with DD and wouldn’t pick up on her (and our) social queues that contact would decidedly end as soon as our meal did. Ah well, I guess a man can dream.

We kinda knew we shouldn’t have but drove into Cannes – justifying the decision by saying it might be the only time we’d see it. It proved to be a traffic nightmare. We were stuck bumper to bumper around the Croisette for ages, among hordes of people (and policeman,) but we eventually got out of the gridlock and back onto the highway. It was neat to see, and was bigger and prettier than I’d imagined.

We finally got to our 2nd home swap in Beaulieu. We were thrilled to see that it was even more beautiful than the pics we saw. It’s on the fussy side (as I’m assuming most properties in this area are), well appointed, with a pool and sea view. The owners live in Belgium and arranged for a caretaker to show us around the property. It was late, we were hungry and he was lingering, offering to escort us here and there, until he finally left.

We drove into Beaulieu to find a restaurant. It's a nice little town that didn’t appear to be crawling with tourists. We found a parking spot on the street and a really nice restaurant called Aristee.

For the past week DH and I have been secretly colluding with DD’s boyfriend that would have him arrive at our restaurant of choice that night as a surprise to her. It was hard to keep it a secret but the look of shock then elation on her face when he walked in was priceless. This would be his first time in Europe and she is beyond thrilled that he’ll be here with us for the last week of our vacation.

The ambience of this restaurant is warm, chic and inviting, and the waitstaff superb. DD and I ordered the fish with artichokes and olives (delicious), and DH the calamari (very good). I highly recommend this place and would love to go back.

After a lovely dinner over DD and bf’s sweet reunion, we drove back to the villa, very tired but happy.

A bientot,
Boots en Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 18th, 2018, 12:24 PM
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My last post is missing this part:

Thank you for saying you're enjoying my report...

and thank you for the heads up on the Lotus cookies and plug converters
boots08 is offline  
May 21st, 2018, 10:23 AM
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Part 13

After the 13 millionth debate with DH on whether we should keep the rental car rather than return it, I acquiesced when the madame at EuropCar in Nice said it would cost only 71 additional euros for the 6 remaining days of our trip. Weighing that against the cost of a taxi to the airport (DD’s bf paid 60 euros), getting Ubers here and there, we thought it was a great deal. Plus the car would also allow us to venture out from the coast to do more inland sightseeing.

After signing our rental car documents, we found the parking garage in downtown Nice the madame recommended, then walked to Promenade des Anglais to meet up with the kids for a late breakfast at Villa Rina (they have an all-day breakfast menu). DD and I shared a mushroom omelet and each had a delicious croissant. Total for 4 breakfasts came to 72 euros. DD’s beau and DH agreed to split the cost so gave the waiter their cards, to which he said, “Is a 40/40 split okay?” Not sure of the procedure, they agreed. After the transaction and him bidding us a bonne journee, we realized he had just given himself a tip of 8 euros. Did he just pull a fast one on us or is this standard procedure in Nice when it comes to splitting “l’addition”? While we’re more than happy to tip wait staff, our understanding is that it’s not customary in France. I’d love to hear your comments on this particular experience.

DD and her beau branched off to walk along the Promenade while DH and I headed downtown to look around. I needed sunglasses (forgot mine by the pool in Sanary) and DH needed to find a place with wifi to get caught up on some work.

I liked Nice more than DD does – the old buildings, the Promenade, the downtown shops and numerous restaurants. Some sections and aspects of it seem a bit low-class but all in all it was nicer than I thought it would be. Still in terms of an extended stay, it’s tourist culture doesn’t create the same appeal as our recent stay in Sanary/Bandol, where the smaller, less crowded environment feels more authentically Provencal.

After doing some shopping, we found a place on a pedestrian-only street lined with cafes and restaurants called La Femme du Boulanger. Once I explained that DH needed to do some work on his “ordinateur” (laptop), the madame led us to a quiet table. We weren’t hungry yet but ordered a tartine salade with chevre. We’ve had several salades a chevre chaud on this trip, and love that each restaurant presents them differently. This one had discs of melted goat cheese on large slices of bread (tartine), dotted with golden raisins, chives, a cinnamon stick, a star-shaped spice of some sort, tomatoes on the side, topped with a section of pear and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. I would've preferred more greens and less bread but it was very good. The restaurant’s décor is quite neat and it was the perfect spot for DH to get caught up on some work and make a few calls.

^ DH on a call in his virtual office, downtown Nice

^ The kids met up with us, enjoyed some rose while waiting for DH (this time served with ice cubes), then we made our way toward the parking garage. We stopped at a pharmacy along the way where I bought a multi-vitamin, and DD some nail polish. I’ve been looking to buy some new lipstick but I've not found a store with anywhere near the multitude of choices Walgreens or C.V.S. does.

Later that night we walked down to the port in Beaulieu to have dinner. There are several restaurants alongside the port with a variety of themes. We had reserved a table at Pourquoi Pas based on reviews, and this would be our worst meal of the trip. The ambience and décor were nothing special, none of our entrees were good, and it made us wonder why the restaurant received so many positive online reviews. However our waitress was friendly and the wine was fine for the price.

After breakfast the next morning, we drove northwest to show DD’s bf a few hilltop villages. We decided on Eze Village > Saint Paul de Vence > Tourrettes-sur-Loup.

Eze is a spectacular medieval “eagle’s nest” village definitely worth a visit. Its proximity to Nice, Monaco, and other coastal hotspots means you're going to see far more tourists than you will at hilltop villages further inland.

We had the most difficult time finding a parking spot, but after circling for a long time, eventually found ourselves in line for a spot vacated just seconds earlier. This specific parking lot is immediately below the drive leading up to the main entrance and with a separate entrance/exit at each end of a very small lot, vehicles continue to enter while you're following other vehicles in a never-ending loop around the perimeter hoping for someone to exit at just the right time. Think Musical Chairs only with cars.

DD and her beau had gone up ahead of us to find a table at whatever restaurant might have seating available. They texted to say we were on a waiting list at La Taverne.

One needs to be fairly fit for Eze Village - the hike up to the top through a maze of alleys can be quite arduous. Another note to first-time visitors: it is virtually impossible to find each other by trying to describe where you are. "I'm at the corner of a small alley where it meets an even smaller alley that has stairs going up..." So we officially challenge Google to create a walking maps feature specifically designed for France's medieval villages. We eventually found the restaurant but only because we briefly glimpsed the kids in the distance at the corner of an alley where it met an even smaller alley...

The outdoor seating, convivial waitstaff, good rose and salade au chevre chaud at La Taverne made for a pleasant lunch.

Three of us topped off our meal with gelato bought from a cave-like shop across the alley. My two ‘boules’ of chocolate and pralines were so yummy!

We walked around some more, up and down stairs, through narrow alleys, then finally stopped to enjoy the breathtaking views of the coast. The vivid blue of the Mediterranean sea reminded us of why the region is aptly named “Le Cote d’Azur”.

Saint Paul de Vence is the most upscale version of the villages we’ve seen, with art galleries and higher end goods. It was very difficult to find parking and even harder to find where we’d parked through the maze of alleyways upon leaving. We met up with another couple who had the same dilemma. But it was all good in the end because it meant more walking, more exercise

Next stop - Tourrettes-sur-Loup...

Boots in Provence
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boots08 is offline  
May 21st, 2018, 11:50 AM
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THank you for the trip report. Provence is one of my favourite parts of the world. Amazing scenery, food, wine, weather, cute towns, it really has it all
Colleen is offline  
May 21st, 2018, 07:17 PM
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I haven't read all of your report yet, but I'm enjoying it very much. Lots of nice detail about your interactions with people. So kind of you to arrange for your DD's beau to visit. What a surprise for her! Thanks for writing.
Trophywife007 is offline  
May 21st, 2018, 10:18 PM
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It's so good to hear your report, through fresh eyes. I've eaten in La Femme du Boulanger, and the staff is quite nice. However, I think the waiter at Rina enjoyed having Americans -- an 8E tip is on the generous side. It's a bit more tourist oriented. The best restaurant in that little cluster is Franchin, right around the corner. In general, the restos right on the Rue de France/Rue Massena have disappointed me, but the streets perpendicular are actually much better (we are not far away), like Coco e Rico and Octopussy. And some over in the Old Town are also superior. You will also see less tourists and more locals in the newly trendy areas near Rue Bonaparte (le petit Marais) and the once-gritty Port.

Often these restos on the waterfront let service and food quality lag due to their prime location, others can rise above it. In neighboring Villefrance-sur-mer, you'll have the same experience. The best is La Mere Germaine, but the price reflects it. There are also some fine dining choices on Cap Ferrat like at the Four Seasons, with the price tags to match. However, right around the corner (or over the hill) in the Nice Port area you can find some good choices.

To buy lipstick, you might try a Carrefour Hypermarche There is one just past Place Garibaldi and near the Riquer (with underground parking), and others around Antibes and outer Nice. Since you have a car, there is also a large mall called Polygone Riviera on the road that leads from St. Paul de Vence, and another near the airport called Cap3000. However, if you end up in Nice again right on the main Jean Medicin street (with the trams) there is a Sephora and several department stores like the lower end Monoprix and the high end Galleries Lafayette plus the mall at Nice Etoile. You'll likely to head to Cannes and you'll find most of the same shops there.
gooster is online now  
May 21st, 2018, 11:53 PM
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Thank you Colleen, trophywife and gooster

Helpful tips gooster - we have to go into Nice today to buy Nespresso coffee pods (the rental manual says to buy them in Nice).

Franchin is the restaurant we wanted to eat at that day in Nice but we got there just as they were closing. We looked at their website a few days ago to reserve a table but they're closed and we leave for the U.S. tomorrow La prochaine fois!

Thanks for the shopping and restaurant recommendations, gooster. We like the idea of exploring Old Town Nice so will look around there for a place to eat.

Boots in Provence
boots08 is offline  
May 22nd, 2018, 12:43 AM
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Part 14

Well, it just figures that the village to which I feel the strongest kinship has at its beating heart a community of 40 artists, each one passionate about their own individual craft of weaving, pottery, painting, jewelry, sculpture.

I read that Tourrettes-sur-Loup is predominantly a tourist center, with an economy sustained by the sale of wares created by the artisans within the village. But this commercial side was far less noticeable than Saint Paul de Vence imo, at least in its more subdued, tasteful presentation.

Peeking through the gallery doors and windows while meandering through the narrow streets and vaulted alleys felt more like tiptoeing through the hum of a collective art studio.

Years ago I used to dream of having an apartment in Paris. That changed on my last visit after seeing the hordes of tourists. But Tourrettes-sur-Loup speaks to me – to my love of French culture, art, le calme...balanced with just the right amount of village activity and conveniences. My dream has shifted to images of spending much time here, within the walls of this quiet, centuries old artists’ commune.

I’m an avid fan of pottery and try to collect at least one small piece wherever I travel. I have been on the hunt for a cup and saucer or a coffee mug, and was delighted to come across a splash of blue pottery in a shop window.

I entered the quiet, rustic shop and barely noticed the artist/owner in the back before greeting him and ogling the wares. I asked him a few questions about the pottery, the clay, where it was from, etc. He said a place south of Paris that I’d never heard of. Sensing it was important to me, he wrote the name of the region down on a small piece of paper.

Somewhere on the road between the Loire Valley and Normandy many years ago, I bought a small collection of pottery that took on a beautiful brown color with mauve tones after firing. The artist said it was the only place in the world where that type of clay could be found.

While I examined the one espresso cup and saucer visible in the shop, the monsieur informed me that ten or so more would be ready soon after the second firing. I liked it but preferred this larger blue mug, explaining that it was more suitable in size as it would allow for the addition of milk to my coffee. He smiled derisively and said "I know how you people in the U.S. have your coffee – I had some in New York City, and it was weak." Fair enough.

I told him I’d like to buy this mug - would he be able to wrap it for air travel? He pointed to a large roll of bubble wrap in the back – not a problem. I paid him the 17 euros, thanked him and walked out with a mug, a smile, and my soul complete.

Boots en Provence, bubble-wrapped mug in hand
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