France - 2012

Diane has always wanted to go to the South of France so we planned a nice long trip that included her Special Birthday

We started by spending a couple of days in Dallas with a special friend - Iris - before getting on a British Airways 747 to go to London and then on to Nice




We landed at Nice airport mid-afternoon (left Dallas mid-afternoon minus seven hours the previous day) and picked up an Avis rental for the next four weeks. We lucked into a brand new Citroen 5 which was just announced - and it has attracted attention wherever we have parked.





We had arranged a B&B in the middle of Nice. Great for walking to places, but bad for noise and awful for parking ($30/day). Our plans were to visit a couple of places over the next two days and then drive to Provence.




Our first day was driving to the East along the Corniche. This is a road that hugs and hangs from the cliff - narrow and spectacular. There are three of them - upper, middle and lower - and we started on the middle Corniche




The views were tremendous




After about 25 miles we got to Monaco. This picture shows the whole country! There are no income taxes here and as we walked around town we noticed the cars - Bentley, Bentley, Bentley, Maserati, Porsche, Bentley, Rolls, Lamborghini - you get the idea.




The main casino has a beautiful park in front of it…




…but they were preparing for the Monaco Grand Prix so there were piles of tires, crash barriers and bleachers everywhere.




The next stop, for lunch, was a major surprise for Diane. I had not told her that Italy was only another 7 miles east. The shops and restaurants were now signed in Italian but she knew we were only a few miles from Nice so she thought we were in a "Little Italy" suburb. Surprise, it really was Italy. Coming back we took the toll road - a major feat of engineering, half tunnels through the cliffs and half viaducts spanning the ravines




The next day we went to Antibes, a very nice little coastal town a few miles West. This is where Picasso spent a lot of his time




The cathedral was right next door…




…and had a fabulous main door




We spent a few hours touring the Old Town




When we got back to Nice we decided to explore the old Chateau that overlooked the town. We climbed up the hill and were astonished by the beauty of some of the sidewalks




The view from the top was fabulous over the town…




…and along the coast




That night we shopped a little and ate very well.




Next day was a travel day from Nice to our Gite about 200 miles West. We decided to go the scenic route through Grasse, the perfumery capital, and toured a perfumery




The lady guide spoke only French so we did not quite get all the finer points (!) The guy above is throwing roses into a vat where the essence is leached out over several days ready to be incorporated into perfume.




Next stop was at Verdun Gorge which is touted as the second deepest gorge after the Grand Canyon. In their dreams! However the river at the bottom is the most beautiful powder blue




Eventually, the river emptied into …




...a beautiful large lake that retained the blue coloration.


we finally got to Lourmarin which is about 60 miles north of Marseilles in the foothills of the Alpes Maritimes, met the owner of our rental and settled in



Our gite

The front of the house was a garden separated from the street by a six-foot stone wall.



Here is the view from the dining/breakfast room window




The upper storey of the house is a single living/dining/kitchen area




With a minute bathroom off the kitchen




Down the stairs…




…is the bedroom in an arched-roof cave…




… absoutely delightful




The next day was Sunday which is market day for antiques at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue so we went for a drive there, stopping on the way to look at an intriguing cemetery. It started raining.




The Isle is almost Venice-like with beautifully clear streams everywhere. We were late getting there so the market had already closed but there were many antique shops to browse.




The next two days were also rainy and cold - definitely sweater and raincoat weather. The rest of our stay in Lourmarin was almost all sunny and 90 degrees in the day falling to 60 in the evening. Beautiful weather.




But we continued to explore. Opposite our house is a fountain




Down the road is another. The -beards- are limestone deposits because of the hard water and have accumulated in the 65 years since the fountain was installed




A little further is the Chateau. The brochures were a little apologetic that it wasn't original - only built in the 1500s




We inspected a little art showing and then toured the Chateau




The gardens were nice




And the rooms were well furnished.




The view back over the village is spectacular from the top




After the tour we wandered around the grounds. The countryside is spectacular. Olive groves in this particular case.




The village has a very active Arts life. We went to a concert given by a russian Baritone, a Balalaika player and a Bayan (button accordian) player held in the local protestant church…




…and to a piano recital held in the Chateau




It also has a very large open-air market that…




…sets up every Friday




Villages and Trips

The area is quite hilly but in a peaceful way. There are lots of medieval villages. This is Bonnieux.



This is a gite just outside Lourmarin - a group of rentals.




This is a seaside village, Cassis, near Marseille on the coast




There were lots of local Catholic versus Protestant wars in the 1500-1600s and most villages were built for easy defence. This is Saignon




Most of the streets were built for donkey carts but we blithely use them for cars. Sometimes they are one way, sometimes not.This is Viens.




Oppedette clung to the cliff by its fingernails. We walked most of its streets, but after 15 villages that are all blow-your-mind gorgeous one becomes too blasé.





We ate very well. This is a restaurant in Aix-en-Provence, a fairly large Roman town half way to the coast



In Cassis we splurged on Bouillabaisse which was first created next door in Marseille. For $75 each we had a wonderful soup with not very good fish and a glass of wine. Worth at least $25!




It's my fault for marrying a Blue Ribbon Chef. We have better meals when she cooks them! Even esgargot.




The local grocery has great produce and ham, the SuperMarket in the nearest town has all types of goodies including a fine selection of wines (about half the US price for similar quality), and the local Boulangerie has fabulous bread and sweets.




We manage very well.





Only one problem - Public Toilettes. This is a normal residential toilet. But the Public Toilettes!!!There are not enough, they are really dirty, they typically have a hole in the floor with wrong-way footprints, are unisex and the men (according to Diane) don't bother to close the door when they are peeing. The better ones in the Supermarket, for example, are sort of Unisex where women walk past the urinals to get to their cubicals.



Special Places

We make a trip just about every day. One favorite was the Chapel of St Anne, built in the 11th Century at the top of a mountain with a dangerous (according to the Michelin map) road going up to it…



…at the top was also a memorial to the resistance fighters (1944). Note the female France at the base sobbing her eyes out for the dead resistance fighters…




…and a Troglodyte house. Troglodytes were a mythical people who lived in caves. The houses termed -Troglodyte houses- are carved into a cliff, in this case, probably for a religious hermit.




Another favorite is the Cedar Forest - Cedars that were imported in 1861 from the Atlas mountains in Northern Africa. They are graceful and cool in both senses. There are a couple of hour-long walks through them…




…and great places for picnicing




At the bottom of the hill from the forest is the Pont Julian - a bridge built by Julius Caesar and used for the main road until a few years ago.



Across the valley is a beautiful abbey with fantastic gardens. They have a legend of a dragon complete with "dragon eggs" in the garden, and all sorts of New Age exhibits. A strange mix for an abbey




We had one picnic by following the old road up the stream that runs into Lourmarin. We stopped by an old bridge which had a beautiful sunburst shape. The artisans hundreds of years ago had to create a right-angled turn while they were hemmed in by a cliff so they created a three dimensional arch that supports the horizontal turn as well as the vertical weight of the bridge




Another trip was to Pont du Gard - this is a roman acqueduct, probably second only to the Eiffel Tour in French images…




…and to Nimes (inventors of a certain cloth - deNim) with the most complete roman temple in the world…




..and a Coliseum that is still in use for bullfights, rock concerts et cetera.




Bouox Fort (said Bewks) is just over the hill - a relic of the 16th Century religious wars. These were early protestants. …




….It's a very high half-mile-long plateau set at a 20% grade with a complete village, church,…




…and guard shack.




Finally - The castle of Marquis de Sade with…




Beautiful sculptures…




…and a genuine stage coach. It is rumored that the Marquis wated to hire a driver. The first one drove him up to the castle with the wheels only six inches from the edge of the road. On learning of this the second driver drove within only two inches. The Marquis taunted the third applicant with these numbers and was told by the third driver that he drove as far from the edge as he could. I wonder who got the job.

The travelogue is to be continued in Part II - Burgundy and Paris.

Continue to Part 2
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