Jeff and I have been to Paris a few times (we got engaged there in fact), and every so often there is this pull to come back. It’s not the same as we feel about other places that we’ve loved visiting. We were feeling antsy for Paris last May, and we found a good price on plane tickets for this year, so we snapped them up.
Family kept asking if we’d still take our trip after the attacks in November and we looked at them incredulously. After all, we were a mile away from the marathon bombings in Boston. Anything could happen anywhere and if you stop enjoying life then all is lost. So HECK YES, we were still going to the city that is so full of light and life and beauty and history and nothing was going to stop us.
With great excitement and anticipation we packed our bags and brushed up on our French and off we went. We added two extra days to the girls’ school vacation, so that we could explore a little more of France this time. We figured that as different as Paris would be from the countryside, we were sure to love that too. And we were right.
After one jet-lagged night in Paris, our home base would be a 300-year-old house in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence for four nights before heading back to Paris for five more nights.
So off we go… This blog post focuses on our time in Provence. I’ll get back to Paris in the next post!
We woke up early our first full day, as we had a lot on the agenda. First stop, Rousillon, known for its red, orange and yellow cliffs and former ochre quarries.
While ochre is no longer mined here, visitors can take the “Sentier des Ochre” (Ochre Path), which is a truly stunning walk. It felt like we were on Mars (except for the trees). 🙂
Next we were on to the beautiful village of Gordes and we were not prepared for the absolutely breathtaking views from this little hilltop town.
Under the olive trees was a perfect spot for lunch.
Just below Gordes, nestled into the hills is the l’Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, inhabited by a community of Cistercian monks since 1148. Yes, you read that right. 1148. Had this been July we would have been treated to a lush display of lavender, but even in April it was still beautiful and peaceful. And I definitely stocked up on lavender oil in the gift shop.
On the way back, we made a quick stop in l’Isle sur la Sorgue for a snack and a drink before making our way back to St Remy.
One of Saint-Rémy’s most famous former residents is Nostradamus. We stayed just around the corner from his birthplace.
On Monday, we headed to the beautiful and peaceful Saint-Paul de Mausole Monastery. The hospital/asylum where Vincent Van Gogh spent a troubled year and painted many of his most famous works, including The Starry Night.
Van Gogh’s room at St Paul. While the museum aspect of St Paul is small and self-guided, we learned quite a bit about Van Gogh’s stay there, his inner torment, and his life in general.
The asylum property is in the countryside just outside of the center of St Rémy and we walked the grounds once we toured the inside and the gardens. One of the trails led us to this friendly little donkey.
Our next destination was the town of Les Baux. On the way, we made a quick stop at the Mas des Dames vineyard. I’d definitely move here.
And then reached the town of Les Baux. Which, these days, is primarily a tourist town. But, being tourists, we thoroughly enjoyed it and its medieval castle. Also, one not-to-miss place in les Baux is the Carriers des Lumieres. It is an incredibly unique audiovisual art exhibit inside a huge cave. I don’t have a ton of pictures of Les Baux because my camera battery died and I had forgotten my spare, but trust me, it was great.
Dinner that night was in Avignon, where I found some pretty light to photograph the girls.
Somehow we weren’t too tired to make our way to the seaside town of Cassis the next day.
There, we took a boat along the Calanques — Massive limestone cliffs along the coast between Cassis and Marseille. Can you see the tiny specks of rock climbers here? If you can, you’ll see just how huge these cliffs are!
Calanque-en-vau. To get to this beach you have to hike from a few kilometers inland. Next time we want to to do it, but didn’t have time this visit!
Back to town for lunch and a little exploring.
Aix-en-Provence was on the way back to Saint Rémy, so we stopped there for dinner. I wish we’d had more time, but we just got a quick taste of this beautiful city and enjoyed a meal on the Cours Mirabeau.
Wednesday was our last day in Provence, but we couldn’t leave without spending time at the weekly market which was just outside the house. We bought all kinds of goodies.
Look at the eyes on this little dog as he watched the people go by at the market.
This was our lunch. Bread, cheese, olives, radishes and strawberries. And some tapenade and stuffed grape leaves not seen here. And it was awesome.
After the market, we said a sad au revoir, and headed back to Paris by train.
Next entry, coming soon: Springtime in Paris.
After flying into Charles de Gaulle, we stayed one night at the Novotel Gare de Lyon and took a train from Gare de Lyon the next morning to Avignon TGV, picked up a rental car, and it was an easy (though somewhat hair raising, the way French people drive on narrow roads) 20 minute trip to Saint Rémy.
Our Air BNB:
A great little house with tons of character and really nice hosts. Maison au coeur de St Remy
Da Peppe St Rémy. Yes, we ate Italian in France, but I think that might have been the best pizza I’ve ever had. The girls had fettucini alfredo that was made in front of us inside a GIANT wheel of cheese.
Boulangerie Cambillau St Remy. For baguettes for breakfast and other treats.
Creperie Lou Planet St Remy. Great crepes served outdoors on the square. Perfect for lunch or afternoon snack and a carafe of rosé. Jeff and Grace say that they had the best vanilla ice cream of their lives here.
Un été a St Remy A great little restaurant with great service, and just two steps outside our door.
Le Riad Avignon. Very good Moroccan/Middle Eastern.
Le Grillon. Simple French food in a brasserie setting. Attentive service.
Carrieres des Lumières, Les Baux
Mas des Dames Vineyard. Between St. Rémy and Les Baux.
St Paul Monastery St Rémy
Marché de Saint Rémy de Provence. Wednesdays. Place de la Marie et Place de la République. Not to miss!