Subject: Two and a half weeks in Provence
Hello Fellow Ziners,

This is a travelogue of the trip my daughter and I took to Provence in April. If you are going to Provence, I hope you get some ideas from it.

Regards, Nancy in Bowmanville, ON

Day 1 We flew from Toronto to Paris and on to Marseille. After considering alternatives--TGV, renting a car in Paris--we found this way to be most convenient and still be economical. We were on the road by 1 p.m., and since it was less than an hour's drive to our chambre d'hôte (B&B), we took our time and stopped anywhere that looked interesting. Our first stop was Château Vivant, a large cave et moulin d'huile (winery and oil mill), sampled some oil and walked around. They press their own olives and also those of other farms around.

At St. Chamas we stopped and walked around a cemetery for a while. The graves had raised stones, like Portugal, but they also had porcelain 'bouquets' on the stones. This was quite different but a good idea. They were colourful and some graves had several--from relatives and friends.

I had read about an artist, M.Bayol, who had a lovely garden just outside St. Rémy, so we looked for it. We found his house, up a long lane, but the garden wasn't open this early in the year. His paintings were lovely--very Provence. There were some new wooden caravans in a clearing where we parked and his wife told us that their son builds them.

As we drove along we saw a sign about santons for sale, so we turned off. I had read about these little figures but wasn't prepared for what we saw. The man was very interesting and he told us that santons were the second most popular souvenir from Provence, after wine. A little house with a lot of little figures on it caught my eye and the sign said "29 euros seule". At $1.66CDN per euro that was a lot to spend on myself especially on the first day, but after agonizing over it, walking to the car and then back in the rain, I decided to splurge. I thought the sign meant "only 29 euros" but it turned out that it meant "29 euros for the building only" and then each santon had to be bought separately, which made it over 100 euros, so it wasn't difficult to resist.

At Chateaurenard we got a map at the tourist office and found our chambre d'hôte with no trouble. Chantal, our hostess, had told me by e-mail to phone her from the town hall and she would come to lead us there--just one example of how kind and accommodating she turned out to be--but we didn't want to bother her so we were glad we could find it ourselves. The house was 200 years old and she and her husband had been renovating it for 4 years. Our room was lovely and spacious. We each had our own bed, the toilet was in one room, and the shower and sink were in another, all in our suite--all this for 48 euros per night. She had brochures and ideas for us, and talked to us in French. She speaks English but both in emails and in person she encouraged us to speak French.

Day 2 We had a lovely breakfast of brioches, jam, museli, and yogurt, and then left for Avignon, only about 10 km away. Chantal told us where to park, just outside the walls. Right inside the walls people were setting up a food market with lots of interesting things. They had the cutest little melons. Farther along booksellers were putting out their books. We walked all day, took a 45-min. ride on the 'petit train' which is a tourist train that goes all around the city, winding through the narrow streets, and is well worth the price, visited the food market in Les Halles and the flower market in Place des Carnes, and finally the Palais des Papes and Pont de St. Bénézet. There were lovely squares where you could sit for hours and watch the people. We saw Smart Cars for the first time. They can park perpendicular to the curb, 2 cars in the space of one regular car. What a great idea for city driving, especially with the price of gas and the narrow streets and shortage of parking spaces.

We stopped at a boulangerie in Chateaurenard for a square of pizza, cheese in flaky pastry for Susan, and she surprised me with a tartelette with a chocolate top. We ate it in the garden at Chantal's and then took a long walk on the country roads nearby. You will see as we go along that eating isn't a high priority with us. With breakfasts at the B&B, we ate as we went, stopping at boulangeries and patisseries. Chacun à son goût!

Day 3 Another delicious breakfast and chat with Chantal, then off to L'Isle sur la Sorgue for the market. It was a beautiful day and although there were lots of people there already, we were early and found a parking space not far from the market. It was very large, along both sides of the river, and all over the island and we stayed a long time. By the time we left around 1 p.m. you could hardly move because of the crowds. A lot of visitors brought their dogs, and a lot of vendors did too. These weren't just little dogs--Bernese mountain dogs and Golden Retrievers were out too.

Then we drove to Fontaine la Vaucluse, another popular and interesting Sunday destination. We walked a long way to the fountain, visited the paper mill, and bought a delicious ice cream cone.

The weather was warm and sunny with blue skies all the time. Easter school vacation goes on almost all month, and so there were a lot of French tourists too.

As we were driving along I noticed Village des Bories on the map so we headed there. The stone buildings were similar to the Gallarus Oratory in Ireland and were lived in as recently as 150 years ago. On the way back to the main road Susan noticed several others in the fields and we got out and walked around one with no one around. They were used by shepherds for storage and shelter when they were away from home grazing their flocks on the hills.

Working our way back home we saw a sign to Oppède-le-Vieux and decided to go there. It was a medieval hill town that was being rebuilt and repopulated, and was very interesting. A long time ago the people moved down to the plain, because that is where they worked and farmed, but now it seems to be fixed up by artists. Way up the hill on narrow roads there was a house with an SUV-type car parked at it--you can't escape them anywhere you go. We got there very late in the evening and it was getting dark, but we climbed up stone steps to the church at the top and the view was spectacular. After continuing down in a big circle, we stopped at a little outdoor cafe for supper. Whenn I ordered 'vegetable soup' I didn't expect it to be puréed, but it was very tasty.

Day 4 We set off to see Pont du Gard in the morning, because the sun goes around to the other side before noon. It is on the other side of the Rhône, in Languedoc. I hadn't realized that 'Gard' is the name of the river. There weren't too many people when we arrived but lots by the time we left. We walked across the bridge for a better picture. It is amazing to think that the Romans built this huge aqueduct 2000 years ago and it is still standing. I couldn't imagine the scale of it until I was finally there in person. An old man started talking to us and he said that he lived around there and was out for a walk. He told us about a big flood 2 years ago, in which the water came up to within one metre of the bottom of the lowest arch. It did a lot of damage to the restaurants, and you could see the work that was being done to fix things up again. He said that they weren't going to rebuild the restaurant on the right bank. We walked around quite a while, but the museum wasn't open until 2 p.m. so we left.

On Monday a lot of places are closed or only open half days. On the way back we stopped at Villeneuve-les-Avignon, across the river from Avignon. In the time of the popes, cardinals and other important court officials had their residences here. We walked around the abbey and up to the fort but the abbey gardens weren't open on Mondays so we didn't go into the fort. It was worth the walk for the great view over to Avignon, though.

Since it was still early we crossed the Rhône and drove north to Chateauneuf-du-Pape for wine-tasting. In the first place they had a very nice white wine, which I sampled while Susan pumped the lady for information. We stopped at a chocolaterie with 'direct from the factory prices', but they were still very expensive, and no samples either.

On to a winery in a beautiful château. It was a modern building in an old style. A large dog lay on the floor and the lady said jokingly 'he's drunk' when we came in. He didn't move a muscle as we stepped over him on the way in and the way out. Susan pumped this lady with more questions and learned a lot about Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Côte du Rhône wines and AOC rules. One more winery, more questions. I had to have a taste at each place but we didn't buy anything. Thank goodness it was so late or I wouldn't have been able to walk. They are very generous with their tastings. Our last place was in the town itself, down a few steps into a cellar--the home of very expensive wines that had won many international prizes.

Day 5 Today we went to the Camargue. It was the coldest, windiest day yet but it warmed up later. We drove through Arles to the Parc Ornithologique. A lot of birds from Africa winter here, and many stay all year. It was fun to watch the pink flamingos, but it was so cold and windy that we weren't inclined to walk the nature trails. They had a lot of information about the ecology of the Camargue and the birds and animals that live there.

Because we had quite a bit of time before our reservation to go horseback riding in the afternoon, we decided to go to Aigues-Mortes, a walled city on the salt flats. The wine produced in this area is called "Vin du Sable" because the grapes are grown in sand. We walked around the town but didn't have long enough to make it worthwhile paying to go up on the ramparts, unfortunately. That would have been fun and given us great views of the surrounding area.

Off we went at top speed to get to Méjanes by 2 p.m. This is a working ranch, with black bulls and white horses of the Camargue. This was the only place that we saw brochures for, but as we drove around the Camargue, we saw many places where you could go riding. When we got there we found that we could only go on a 1-hr ride in the afternoon and would only be walking. The 2-hr. rides are only in the morning and they trot and canter. We were disappointed that we hadn't known this, because we would have gone in the morning, but the ride was quite pleasant. The day had warmed up and was hot and sunny. All the riding horses were white Camargue horses, 10-12 years old. We passed through a field of horses and one had a bell around his neck. He was the leader. Later when we passed the black bulls, we saw that the leader also had a bell.

After the ride we headed back towards Arles around the Etang de Vaccarès and decided to go to the salt pans and factory in Salins de Grimaud. The wind was fierce and it was very cold, and it was especially bad on the hill that they had built so that people could get a better view over the very flat land. I guess the wind is good for drying up the seawater, but Susan went back to the car while I took pictures of the salt pans and the huge mounds of salt..

We went home via St.Rémy and walked around for a while. We found ourselves in front of a creperie I had read about in some travel guide, so we had supper there. I enjoyed my chocolate banana crèpes. On our walk around town we came to a chocolate store that I had also read about, so I couldn't resist. They had 26 flavours and each chocolate had a letter on it, so that you could select them from the printed list and then know what you were eating. Very nice.

To be continued.