|Subject: Travel to Provence|
Welcome to the Travelzine. Last summer I visited
Provence for the first time and here are some of my
observations that may be of interest to your upcoming
trip, and questions you posted on the travelzine
concerning finding the best location,etc:
1. I visited all three locations that you described you want to visit with your friends.( I did not however rent a house even though I think that is a great idea,and I did get the book on renting homes for 1,2,3 weeks from the French Tourist Office in NYC. They have great pictures and descriptions of all the rentals at different prices. Next time, j'espere.
I arrived in Paris and took the Express train to Avignon where I picked up the car I first rented here in the US from AutoEurope. AutoEurope is a great web site to rent a car prior to getting to your location. In fact it would be recommended that you rent here in the US and pick up the auto at your destination. I picked up the car right where the train arrived in Avignon. On renting cars I did have a small surprise. As you might already know, most rentals in Europe are all manual shift. You can rent an automatic for nearly double the price, and with several people this might be best. I say this since I was not prepared to know that the reverse shift (gear#5) in the European cars are different from the US model. You need to actually first depress a level on the gear to move into reverse. I have driven shift all my life in the US and never had this unique method of moving into the reverse gear. Don't say I didn't warn you. In any case, after stopping at least three French men one of them finally showed me how to operate the reverse gear so I could get out of the parking lot!
Avignon. Avignon is a beautiful walled town right out of the medieval times, with a great castle to visit that is now a museum. If you locate in Avignon understand that there is really not too much to do every night except if there is a festival going on. You can travel however directly into the Provence area such as Carpentras;l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and on to Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, Gordes,Rousillon,Apt,and return to Avignon all in one day. Rousillon is a very beautiful town, and the view is outstanding. This is the area where the pigment Yellow Oche used in paints is actually found in the hillside, and you will see hills of this bright yellow pigment surrounding Rousillon. These towns are basically still Medieval towns, mostly on tops of hills overlooking vallies. They are retreats from an urban society and the traffic sounds that stain every city. Of course the side roads takes you into the country side of Provence. If you select Avignon as a base, then there is a great deal of car traveling you will enjoy to see the rural and countryside of Provence. There are several lavendar fields and sunflower fields in this area.Avignon is not an urban city,but still maintains the countryside outdoors type of activities with limited things to do at night. The city is an historical landmark, and great churches and palaces to visit.(Secondly, you can also take a boat from Avignon down to Arles for a day also. The tourist office is excellent in Avignon. )
3. Apt. Here you are in the center of rural Provence in the country and with the least of night time activities. If you want to miss the traffic, crowded avenues, and find a village as a retreat this is the place for you. Time stops here. However, during the day you can visit Avignon and just reverse what I described above in paragraph2 and visit Avignon,etc. Good travel companions are a must especially if you do not speak French. Most French people still refuse to speak English once outside of the major cities of France. Even in Provence, not many French people will go out of their way to speak English in complete sentences. Make sure if you are going to stay in Apt you know a few phrases in French . If you enjoy the isolation of being in the country side day and night,and have friends with you that are fun to be with then you may really enjoy Apt as a base for exploring the small villages and towns of Provence.
4.Aix-En-Provence Aix is a cosmopolitan town that will never leave you wanting for something to do. There are different sections of this beautifully designed town and you could eat in a different small restaurant every night and enjoy both the old village style or modern style bistros. You can walk through the town and never get bored. There are many side trips you can take by car and even visit Avignon, and the towns of Provence including Apt in one day as well. There are museums,and especially the actual studio of Cezanne where everything was left intact when he died in the early 20th century. His jacket is still hanging on a coat rack, as well as all the objects he used in his paintings to see. It is really miraculous. I actully walked thru the town from the Center to his studio and this one walk really was wonderful in speaking to store owners,and asking directions,and getting that unique sense of the French experience. I drove at least three times to see Mount St.Victoire outside of Aix. This is the famous Mountain he painted over and over. In Aix of course the one draw back is parking. Most of the parking lots are underground, and you need to know that you have to pay first before you leave the underground parking lot or the gates will not open. There are many hotels at different prices. I stayed at the Hotel Cezanne which had the best breakfast since they gave you a full cup of coffee a la American Style. From Aix you can actully drive all the way down to Monte Carlo for a great one day of visiting Monaco, Cote d'Azur, stop off in Cannes, visit the homes of Bonnard,Renoir,Matisse etc. I recommend that you visit St.Remy de Provence and follow the road to Arles and the southern towns as well.
In any case you choice is really how much do you all want a rural experience as compared to the to the more cosmopolitan one, and how well you estimate you can get along if there is little to do at night.
In any case, my best words would be: DO IT.
J'espere qui vous vous amuse dans Provence, A bien tot: Larry