A Week In Provence

by Johnny

We just wrapped up the most amazing week exploring the Provence region in the south of France.  Here’s a day-by-day account of the awesomeness:

We bid farewell to Beaune and after three too-close-for-comfort train connections we arrived in a rain soaked Avignon, our home base for the next week.  Wait, I thought Provence was supposed to have 350 days of sunshine a year…what’s going on here?  Our cabbie told us that after two straight months of 30°C weather (whatever that means), the rain was a welcome sight.  Fair enough.  We navigated some damp cobblestoned streets to the apartment we rented, and thus began the awesomeness.  The apartment was absolutely incredible.  In the shadow of Avignon’s most famous site the Palais des Papes, we felt like we were living in medieval times (only with a fully-stocked kitchen and flushing toilets).  Since we were a little pooped from the travel day, we picked up some pasta, tomatoes, onions, garlic and all the €3 Cotes du Rhone wine we could find and whipped up an amazing dinner.

Home Sweet Home Not a bad view out the living room window
Cobblestoned lane out our front window Steady with that pour, Big Pete!

We spent the entire day exploring Avignon, and after only a couple hours we knew we picked a great spot for a home base.  We started the day with a visit to Les Halles, the city’s covered market (and Johnny’s new happy place).  Picture your favorite farmers’ market.  Now picture your favorite farmers’ market on steroids…organic steroids, of course.  Now add a few groups of weathered Frenchmen drinking red wine, smoking cigarettes and playing cards at 9 a.m.  And voilà, that’s Les Halles.  Rows and rows of vendors selling seasonal produce, cheeses, breads, seafood, meat, wine, herbs and spices.  We picked up some more pasta, some pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and a fresh baguette for dinner that night.  In the afternoon we leisurely walked around the city’s narrow streets and discovered its numerous hidden squares.  We also walked up to Rocher Des Doms which had amazing views of the city and the Pont D’Avignon, its famous destroyed bridge.

Even the outside of Les Halles is green MMMMMMMMMMMMMM
One of Avignon’s million squares Avignon’s bridge to nowhere
Dinner courtesy of Les Halles

We took a 17-minute train south for a day trip to the city of Arles, famous for its Roman ruins and Vincent Van Gogh history.  We wandered around and saw one of the best Roman arenas outside of Italy as well as several of the sites that inspired Van Gogh’s most famous works.  Arles was a little rougher around the edges than Avignon, and even though it was a solid day trip, we were happy to come back to our apartment…especially since we had reservations at La Vache à Carreaux that night.  Literally half a block from our front door, the restaurant specializes in cheese and wine.  We had a fantastic charcuterie plate, jambon wrapped goat cheese, a goat cheese baked with honey, almonds and apricots, and a camembert melted with white wine and garlic.  Wowzers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011 had been marked on the calendar for a while now.  This was the day we were taking an Avignon wine tour with Avignon Wine Tour (not just a clever name), and it was Anna and my Christmas gift to her parents.  We had been talking about it for months so I was feeling a little pressure, but our day lived up to the hype and then some.  Avignon Wine Tour has a different tour every day, and on this day we toured some towns and tasted some wines from the Luberon valley, southeast of Avignon.  We visited Menerbes, Bonnieux, Lourmarin and Cucuron (nowhere to be found in most guidebooks), and each one gave us a “oh my god, let’s move here” moment.  This wasn’t your typical “let’s go to Temecula and see how fast we can black out” wine tour.  Each tasting was preceded with tons of info about the region, soil, grapes, winegrower, etc. and followed by long walks through the towns and espresso breaks.  Our guide Francois was full of surprises, jokes and fun facts about the region, and he had a soundtrack full of killer French tunes and Puccini operas.  Lunch at Cafe de la Gare, a 100+ year old restaurant near the abandoned train station in Bonnieux, was definitely a highlight.  We had a buffet of all-you-can-eat regional specialties, pasta with veal and mushrooms and all-you-can-drink local wines for €14.  We all decided that we learned more and had the most fun on this day than any other wine tour we’d ever been on.  All in all, a perfect day.

The gang in Lourmarin
Our lunch spot in Bonnieux View from our lunch spot
These broom flowers smell mighty fine Pretty ladies in Menerbes
A perfect square in Cucuron shaded by sycamore trees

Wednesday and Thursday
We spent the next couple days in Avignon fully slipping into the Provencal lifestyle.  We’d sleep in, have long breakfasts, take more visits to Les Halles for picnic supplies, pop our heads into the city’s many Artisinal shops, have afternoon espresso breaks, cook dinner and end our days with ice cream in the main square.  I could get used to this.

Anna and Susan’s favorite store Espresso break
Pick an oil, any oil Dinner is served
Fou de FaFa – Home to Anna’s favorite salmon ever Nighttime at Place de L’Horloge

Well, we had such a good time on our wine tour on Tuesday that we ended up booking another one for Friday.  Imagine that.  This time we’d be touring the towns and tasting the wines of the Les Baux de Provence region.  It was another amazing day filled with good wine, good food, picturesque scenery and tons of laughs.  I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.  A perfect end to a perfect week in Provence.

The picture perfect garden at Domaine de Valdition
Springtime in Provence Vineyards at the foot of Les Alpilles
Barrel room built into the mountain at Chateau Romanin
Provencal smorgasbord Our lunch spot in Eygalières
View from Les Baux de Provence View of Les Baux de Provence
A break from wine tasting to sample the market at Eygalières

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