|Subject: Two and a half weeks in Provence--part 3|
Hello Fellow Travellers,
Our last installment left us in La Garde Freinet, near St. Tropez
Day 12 We went to the big market in St.Tropez today with Frieda Lekkerkerker, who often contributes to TheTravelzine. It was certainly nice having someone who knew the way, because the traffic was heavy and you can drive around a long time before finding a parking spot. We walked around the market and bought ingredients for a vegetable soup, sat for a while in a cafe, and then she gave us a quick tour of the town. We took the car to Port Grimaud and walked around there for a while. This is a new development--very expensive--but people can take their boats through the waterways right up to their docks. There was a very simple church with small windows, and with the music playing it was very peaceful to sit inside. It holds Catholic and Protestant services at different times of the day. The man responsible for the idea and for draining the marsh and building the town of Port Grimaud died a few years ago and is buried in the church.
Day 13 Off to Colobrières through more steep and winding mountain roads. We completely missed signs to the monastery that Frieda told us about and the roads were so winding that we decided not to go back. Colobrières is the chestnut capital of France. These are not the horse chestnuts that we are familiar with, but an edible variety. I bought a chestnut ice cream cone and then went back and bought another after our walk, because they were so good. It was a nice little town and we walked around the streets for a while, then sat down at an outdoor cafe and had coffee and chocolate.
We drove on through steep mountain roads and took a little walk at Col de Babaou, where there were lots of wildflowers to see. It wasn't easy to stop on those roads if you saw something to photograph.
We arrived at Bormes les Mimosas near the Mediterranean but there were so many cars that we couldn't find a place to park. Once we were through it we decided to go back and look again, because it was a pretty town and there was a little market being held. People park everywhere so Susan pulled in to a spot marked for buses. When we were ready to eat we found that many shops close on Wednesday afternoon. We continued on to the coast and turned east, looking for a boulangerie that was open, but no luck. They were closed until 4 or 4:30.
At Le Rayol we found the Mediterranean garden that Frieda told us about, but it was 2 p.m. and they were closed until 2:30, so I went for a walk, trying to find a beach to get close to the Mediterranean. I was so proud that the people I stopped to ask for directions understood me, and I understood their replies. The beach was very small but there were a lot of people, even though it was cool. When the gardens opened I wandered around for an hour and it was very pleasant. They had plants from similar climates all over the world, and acres of property with trails through them. It still wasn't time for patisseries to be open so we drove to Cavaliere-sur-Mer and headed to the harbour. The drive along the sea was very pretty.
Day 14 When the rain stopped we headed for Ramatuelle on the St.Tropez peninsula. The traffic was bad, as usual, as we got close to St. Tropez and it started to rain again. It stopped, we found a parking spot and walked through the small street market that was set up. We saw a flyer for "Santons et Couleurs de Provence" exhibition and thought it sounded interesting, so we tried to find it. The signs were misleading and we ended up going the very long way around, but finally found it. The crafts were very well done, and the place was full of wonderful santons in different sizes and styles. I could have spent a fortune-they were like miniatures, the best handmade ones were very expensive. It was fun to look though.
Then we drove up and down mountains to Gassin, another `village perchée' on the St.Tropez peninsula. It seems unusual that these two simple, country towns are so close to St. Tropez, and the land in between hasn't been built up with villas and condos. Gassin was in a beautiful location but it was very cold and windy today. From the terraces you could see St.Tropez and the bay, and on the other side you could see the Mediterranean and the area of Cavalaire-sur-Mer. At least it wasn't raining. We walked around the streets but the restaurants were expensive and the patisserie was closed. Our last stop was another hilltop village, Grimaud.
Grimaud was a lovely town. We climbed up to the castle ruins for a terrific view and then walked through the streets. The wisteria was out everywhere and some looked very old with thick twisted trunks. One patisserie was closed but Susan spotted a man eating something and asked him where he got it. We each got a dessert and bought 3 small quiches for supper. It was nice to find a place open in the 1-4 p.m. period. We walked around some more and then went home.
Day 15 Unfortunately it was very cold, windy and rainy all day as we left La Garde Freinet and headed west towards Aix-en-Provence. We were driving through more mountains but you couldn't see the tops. I thought we were finished with the winding mountain roads, but we had lots today. Finally we got to our chambre d'hôte in Pont des 3 Sautets. We had a very nice room in a part of the building that looked as if it was fairly new, with a fridge, microwave, hot plate, table and dishes, and even a heated towel rack in the bathroom.
Breakfast was only juice, a long hard baguette, and jam-no yogurt, brioches, or croissants. We had been spoiled. We get a little lost going south of Aix instead of north but we took an exit off the Autoroute and started driving through the countryside. A `route des vins' sign appeared and we followed it. It was only about 10 a.m. but I did my part and tasted some wine so that we could choose one. On the way back to Aix we saw an aqueduct coming down a mountain road, so we wanted to find out more about it. In Ventabrun we got information about the Aqueduc de Roquefavor. It was built to bring water to Marseille from the Durance River to the north. When we got to it I was amazed to see that it is much bigger than Pont du Gard and is only about 160 years old. We walked around trying to get a good angle for photos. Even after 2000 years, the Roman design hasn't been improved on.
We found our way into Aix and at the tourist office near Cours Mirabeau we discovered that there was a 2-hour walking tour in English at 3 p.m., so we walked up to St. Saveur in the meantime because I wanted to see inside the church. I had seen a postcard of the cloister and it looked beautiful. The tour was very interesting, and ended up at St. Saveur with a tour of the cloister. The guide moved right along and we heard a lot of history and saw the old part of the city.
Day 16 Our first week was beautiful weather--blue skies, warm temperatures, although a little windy. The last week was much cooler, wetter and windier. I know that you can never tell about the weather, but you would expect better in the south of France mid-April. We heard that it was going to get better, starting the next day when we were leaving for home.
The sun was shining and the sky was blue on our way to Cassis, a beautiful town on the Mediterranean. It looked like a perfect day. I tried to get us there without going on the Autoroute but we ended up on it anyway. We were early so there was space in a parking lot not far from the harbour. We walked around the port in Cassis and were thinking about taking a boat ride along the coast to see the calanques (like fijords) but all of a sudden the blue sky was hidden by heavy grey clouds and that was it for the day. We sat for a while eating and watching a white mime-statue, hoping that the weather would improve before we went for a walk around the calanques. It didn't so we went anyway.
We took a really long walk and the calanque was impressive, but not nearly as nice as if the sun had been out and the water that beautiful blue-green. Back to the car and off to the Route des Crêtes, towards La Ciotat. What a spectacular road across the crests! I would love to drive it on a clear, sunny day. We returned to our B&B to pack and go to bed for an early morning flight.
It was a wonderful trip. I hope anyone who has read this far has enjoyed it too.
Regards, Nancy in Bowmanville