Obviously it’s been quite some time since Jen and I returned from our trip to France. A lot has happened since then – big projects at work, other trips, Jen’s school, and a ton of house stuff that is sure to be discussed in our future posts. In an attempt to wrap up our 3 week adventure in France, I will pick up where Jen left off in Lyon.
After our one night stay in France’s 2nd largest metropolitan area, we caught the TGV south to Avignon in the region of Provence. Jen had gotten into a good study routine on travel days, while I scoured the guidebooks for things to do in our next destination. The lush green landscape of northern France quickly begins to look a lot like California’s foothills in the Spring. We arrived at the TGV station, walked through the wall that surrounds the “old city”, and a few short blocks to our hotel, Le Colbert. It was a very unassuming façade on a narrow side-street with a small, unlit sign. Upon stepping inside, we were greeted by bright Provençal colors and the friendly man-and-wife proprietors, Patrice and Annie. They explained the hotel logistics (which we were very used to at this point) but caught our attention when they mentioned breakfast – the 3 course meal was home-cooked and served by Annie. We gladly accepted the offer for the following morning and were showed to our room. It was bright orange and decorated with very interesting art – definitely the coolest room up to this point.
We unpacked and headed north up the main drag, Rue de la Republique. There were some really good bakeries and candy shops along the way and we stopped in for some treats at Peches Gourmands. At the end of the street is the main square, Place de l’Horloge, filled with bistro tables, gigantic shade trees, and artists selling there creations. We bought two small water colors from a lady named Catelia (will include pics of these in a later post). We continued up to the huge square in front of Palais des Papes (Pope’s Palace) and saw the immense building that once housed the Catholic Pope.
Beyond this , on top of a large hill, was a beautiful park that overlooked the Rhone river and the surrounding area of Avignon.
We spent the rest of the day walking around town and exploring the many narrow streets and shopping alleys. There’s a huge indoor farmer’s market called Les Halles – it wasn’t open until the following day, but after seeing the whole building covered in vines and other greenery, we knew we had to come back to check it out later.
We ate dinner at Le Caveau du Theatre. This was our first experience with Provençal cuisine and we were very excited. Jen’s appetizer of avocado, tomatoes, cottage cheese and strawberries sounded odd but was really good!
We hit the sack early that night after a long day of travelling and walking around. The next morning was the homecooked breakfast at our hotel. Fresh croissants, a pot of coffee, milk, OJ, sundried tomotoes, a spinach quiche, and finally a baguette with homemade jam was easily the best breakfast of the trip.
Instead of planning to walk around for the whole day, we headed over to the tourism office and signed up for a driving tour of the Luberon area of with Provence Panorama. Our goal was to see some of the famous hillside villages and blooming lavender fields. With a few hours to burn, we again hit the streets of Avignon. We relaxed in a very lively square hidden amongst the winding streets, joining the locals in the favorite pastime of people-watching. We also wandered over to a famous street market known for unusual vendors, but found it fairly dead at this time of day.
It was now time to meet our tour guide that would drive us around Luberon. She ended up being a really cool lady that could talk and drive 100mph at the same time. We stopped in Gordes, at Abbaye de Senanque, in Rousillon, Lacoste, and Menerbes. We got to spend about 30 mins in each small town, wandering the streets and taking pictures.
It was a great whirlwind tour of an area that we’d both like to return to and spend a lot more time in. The day ended with a stop at a wine tasting in a very cool building in Menerbes. It was basically a wine market where local vintners bring their offerings to be tasted and purchased. At this point I’ll mention that we were on this tour with a newlywed couple from China. They were both about our age and only one of them spoke English, and neither any French. They seemed unsure about tasting wine in the middle of the afternoon but I tried to persuade them otherwise, not wanting them to miss out on some great wines. Mainly, they seemed concerned about getting too drunk. I thought this wasn’t possible with only 5 “tastes” of wine, but soon after the tasting on the ride home they were both acting pretty goofy for a few minutes, and then were both asleep. Good times.
We got back into Avignon, just in time for our dinner reservation at La Cuisine du Dimanche. We had read great things about this place and dropped in before taking off for the tour to make a reservation. We arrived there expecting it to be packed, but found that it was only to be us and one other table for the entire meal. I have no idea why it was so empty, because this place was special. The man-and-wife team were very friendly, talkative (mostly French, which Jen and I were both getting a bit more fluent in), and made excellent food. The flavors were really bold and all of their vegetable were purchased at the Les Halles market that same day.
A lot of garlic, a lot of basil, and a lot of love. We stayed to talk with the owners for quite a while, learning that they were falling on hard times and looking to move to another city for new opportunities. After spending a solid 3 hours at their restaurant and eating some of the best food of our trip, we hope that they are doing well. If anyone reading this is going to Avignon, this place is a must.
The next morning, we took off for the Riviera. We left knowing that Provence is a special place. If there was one area in France I could see myself spending a lot of slow-paced time in, it would be here.
Check out our 3 Weeks in France page for a full summary of our trip!