It's only the end of June, and already it feels like we've had a packed summer. It began with the incredible (and unusual) summer-like weather we had in April and May and continued with a slue of great travelin' when my parents came to visit us in early June. Since then, we've traveled to Portugal for a week, hosted an orchard tea party, and are now in last minute prep mode for our Independence Day bash. But before sharing these wonderful experiences, we must first complete Part II of the Catlins trip.... Provence!
|Start of lavender blooms in Les Baux. Lavender is in full bloom in late June - July|
After a few days in the Netherlands, we ventured to the south of France to experience the Provençal way of life. On my "must see" list, I have wanted to visit this area renown for its lavender fields, excellent wine and cuisine, and an overall typical glimpse of French country life. The three jam-packed days of sight-seeing and village hopping did not disappoint, despite the weather, complete with high-intensity Mistral winds on the first day and intermittent rain the next two days. Our adventure began in the town of Arles, once a key stop on the Roman road from Italy to Spain, with numerous impressive Roman ruins. This arena was once used as a stage for gladiators and the ruins of the classical theater once seated 10,000.
|Roman Arena of Arles|
|Monkeying around on the Roman Arena in Arles|
|Roman Arena in Arles|
After pondering the ancient Roman life in Arles, we stumbled upon the Roman Aqueduct of Barbegal while driving to Les Baux. This aqueduct stretches across a country road and although is today nothing more than craggy rocks, it was incredible to see something this old and once a major source of water nestled in the French countryside.
|An aqua-duck on an aqueduct|
|Roman Aqueduct of Barbegal|
|Roman Aqueduct of Barbegal|
|Roman Aqueduct of Barbegal|
We continued to the hilltop town of Le Baux where we enjoyed meandering through the cobbled streets of this once medieval city. At the top of the town lies the castle ruins or, "Dead City," a once powerful town of 4,000. The views from the top were incredible and although we were almost blown away by the Mistral wind, we managed to tour the entire hilltop complex and imagine what life must have been like for those who lived among this fortified city.
|Les Baux cobbled streets|
|View from the top of the castle ruins in Les Baux|
|View of the Lower Town of Les Baux with the rugged Alpilles Mountains in the distance|
|Lower Town of Les Baux|
Our Provencal country experience was enhanced even more by the opportunity to stay in an 100-year-old French farmhouse. It was absolutely beautiful, located about 10 minutes from l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, with beautiful decor, spacious lounges, a courtyard, and family-style dinners each night. The first night, we enjoyed an amazing meal with a group of Germans also staying at the hotel. And, no French meal is complete without a round of cheese before dessert.
|Jon doing his best "snooty French" face|
Our second day, we visited the nearby city of Avignon, home to the Palace of the Popes. During the 1300s, Avignon starred as the Franco Vaticano until 1417 when the Vatican resumed its role. Unfortunately, there was a rose festival taking place there, so we were not able to enter, but still enjoyed visiting the Avignon Cathedral and wandering through the Parc de Rochers des Doms to spectacular views of the mighty Rhone River.
|Overlooking the Place du Palais in Avignon|
|Parc des Rochers des Doms|
From the top of the park, we had great views of the Rhone River and St. Benezet Bridge that crossed the entire river until 1668 when a flood destroyed half of it. Now it hangs out halfway over the river as a reminder of history and inspiration of a French nursery rhyme. We clambered down the ramparts to a street-level view of the "bridge" that today looks like an ancient dock for oversized boats jetting out into the river like a hang-nail.
|View of St. Benezet Bridge from the Parc de Rochers des Doms|
|Ramparts of Avignon|
|St. Benezet Bridge|
Being a large city, the street atmosphere was quite active, and we enjoyed walking around the city, browsing in shops, and eating lunch in the lively square.
|Place de l'Horloge|
|Posing between raindrops at the Avignon Waterwheel|
The 'awe factor' of the trip came during our visit to the mighty and majestic Pont du Gard. This perfectly preserved Roman aqueduct was built as the critical link of a 30-mile canal that, by dropping one inch for every 350 feet, supplied 9 million gallons of water per day to Nimes. This is the second highest standing Roman structure, second only to the Colosseum. Ninety percent of the aqueduct is on or under the ground, but a few river canyons like this required bridges. This truly is a magnificent sight and one can't help but feel so small when under it, and wonder in awe at the ability of these Romans to build such a precise engineering feat in ancient times. When Jon learned the aqueduct was over a river, he expressed his interest in swimming in it. I thought that surely when he saw that no one else was swimming on this rainy day, he would change his mind, but as I should know by now, when he says he's going to do something, he's going to do it!
|Pont du Gard|
|Jon swimming at the Pont du Gard|
|Pont du Gard|
To round out our site-packed day, we drove in to the village of l'Isle sur-la-Sorgue, just a short distance from our accommodation. This sleepy town in the Luberon Hills is considered the "Venice of Provence," as it's situated on the Sorgue River. Walking along the river as night fell was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Our last day in Provence was spent exploring the Luberon hill town of Roussillon and the Cote du Rhone area, famous for its wine. Situated on a hilltop with ochre-colored buildings, Roussillon did not feel like the rest of the Provencal villages we had visited with stone buildings and various shades of blue on the doors and shutters. This village is surrounded by lush vegetation and built from rustic red stones from the nearby ochre deposits and seemed more like it belonged in Costa Rica than southern France. It was a completely charming village and the colorful buildings were a welcome change from the typical Provencal design.
After a morning in Roussillon, we took the scenic route to the Cotes du Rhone wine region crossing through a vast national park area. The scenery was breath-taking and eventually we made it to our destination of Gigondas, a small village that produces the regions best reds. We enjoyed a fantastic picnic overlooking the village and savoring all things French. Afterward, we stopped by the Domaine de Durban to purchase their popular Muscat de Venise, and stopped in the nearby town of Beaumes-de-Venise for some souvenir shopping. It was the perfect relaxing day and culmination to our action-packed few days in France - exploring all things Provencal in this French countryside paradise.
|Provencal picnic in Gigondas|
|A final farewell in Beaumes-de-Venise|
Thank you for taking part in this wonderful journey with us, Lar and Charm. You are greatly missed and we can't wait to travel with you again!