Day 1 ~ Aix-en-Provence
Chris and I traveled in November from the warmth of Malta for five spectacular days together in the South of France.
We left the Marseille, France terminal to find cool temperatures and sunshine. However, the country side was still beautiful and green, dotted with orange-hued sycamore trees.
As we hopped off the bus in Aix-en-Provence, we had a short walk trailing luggage (thank heavens for wheeled luggage) to the Renaissance Aix-en-Provence Hotel, a Marriott property.
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Though it was only noon, our room was ready and we were able to check in.
Then, off on a ten-minute walk to the old town and the rotunda (the central fountain). Chris read self-guided walking tour narratives from a travel book as we wandered through the old town. I was happy to keep my camera busy snapping away.
Cours Mirabeau, the main street off the rotunda, had once been a dividing line of class—the poor on the left side of the street, the rich on the right side. At night the gate to the poor section used to be locked so that no one could sneak out!
We happened upon the Pavillon Vendome, a folie that had been donated to Aix-en-Provence in the 17th century.
A folie is an attractive, non-functional building constructed solely for decoration.
We paid 7 euro for both of us to visit the Pavillon Vendome and there were maybe five rooms total. Not quite what we expected from a museum experience. Definitely a folie!
However, the grounds were lovely and wide open for picture taking.
We walked along the Cours Mirabeau after dinner where workers were assembling the boxes for the upcoming Christmas Market. The market was set to open on the evening of the November 21st. We were leaving in the morning of the 21st; I was sad to miss out on such an iconic experience.
Day 2 ~ Luberon Valley
We had a lovely breakfast at the hotel and then chatted with the concierge, Fredrik, about our plans for the day. He informed us that there would likely be protests throughout the day (protesting high fuel taxes and toll fees among other things), and recommended that we stay off the main roads to avoid any difficulty or delay.
Fredrik even let us borrow a huge hotel umbrella(affiliate) for our day trips to go along with the small one I had packed in my backpack.
Chris used the WAZE app which handily routed us around any traffic disturbances on the secondary roads. That was perfect as the scenery was magnificent along these tree-lined roads.
Apparently, Napoleon had been instrumental in having the trees planted many years ago to provide shaded relief for his soldiers as they marched. These trees were now stately and graced long sections of road. We were happy to enjoy the view.
Our first stop in the Luberon Valley was Lourmarin. It was just a lovely little village with the cutest shops. I was telling Chris that the French really know how to create a vignette to draw you in to their stores, as well as vignettes as you drive to make the passing countryside even more beautiful.
Since we were visiting the South of France late in the season, there were a lot of shops and restaurants that weren’t open. Of the shops that we did visit, we were always welcomed in with a cheery “bonjour”.
The Luberon Valley was about one hour from Aix-en-Provence and offered one little town after another of picturesque beauty. As we drove, we enjoyed the beautiful vineyards with yellow changing leaves, olive gardens, apple orchards, and rolling hills.
We made a few stops throughout the day in Bonnieux, Lacoste (the castle here was purchased and was being renovated by Pierre Cardin), and Roussillon. We made a quick stop at Pont Julian, a small Roman-built bridge that had survived and was used as a main thoroughfare through the area up until 2005.
Roussillon was outstanding for its red rocks. After a cold bit of touring the city, we stopped at one of the only open cafes, Bistrot de Roussillon, for hot chocolate and a respite from the weather.
While we were spending five spectacular days in the South of France, it was November and chilly.
The concierge suggested that we might also like to visit Colorado Provençal not too far from Roussillon and outside the village of Rustrel. It was somewhat similar to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but on a much smaller scale.
Day 3 ~ L’Isle sur le Sourge, Gourdes, Abbey de Senanque, and Goult
We encountered more yellow vest protestors today.
What had been planned as a one-day protest was gaining steam because it had been perceived as successful. I didn’t understand that the very thing the people were protesting about—high gas tax—was causing slow downs for their own people and causing them to use more gas as they had to sit in traffic.
Not only was the protest gaining popularity, but it was also becoming more intrusive with each day. The protests in Paris were much worse, so we were glad we weren’t visiting there.
The one positive from the protests was that they were also against the high toll fees and had closed down all the toll booths, funneling all cars and trucks in to one lane around the toll plazas. We didn’t have to pay tolls for a couple of days.
Our plan for the day started with a visit to L’Isle sur la Sourge (still in the Luberon Valley). As we drove along the country roads, the sun was shining promising a lovely day.
Parking was crazy to find in L’Isle sur la Sourge as it was market day. We enjoyed exploring the different booths and shops selling flowers, antiques, clothes, produce, lavender, and olives.
We bought some fruit for lunch. A quick stop at the grocery to pick up bread, sandwich meat, and cheese made for a perfect picnic lunch under the sycamores along the roadside just outside of Gourdes.
We packed the lunch items in our cooler bag(affiliates) and drove outside of town where we found a lovely spot along the country roads for a picnic lunch.
Gourdes was another spectacular Luberon Valley town in the South of France. The town itself was built in to the hillside with stunning views of the whole valley stretching for miles beyond. Chris and I were content to walk around, marveling at the ingenuity of those who had built the town.
We wandered in to the court yard of a museum and the two French-speak ladies there tried with great effort to teach us about the vintage emergency vehicles on display. With Chris’ limited French, their creative pantomime, and lots of nodding we began to understand.
The ladies encouraged us to visit the World War I section on the third floor of the museum. As Chris and I climbed the three flights of stairs, we were met with a closed door looking into an area where we thought maybe a meeting was in progress. We didn’t want to interrupt.
Turns out it was just the workers chatting, but our two French lady guides were soon at the top of the stairs ushering us in.
The museum employees conveyed their message very well about the evolving bicycles of the era, the instruments of war, and the youth involvement in training.
When they were unable to make us understand about the ineffective bullets that had been utilized and then recreated, they had another man come over and through his crazy pantomime of a soldier falling down and then hopping up laughing as he pointed to the first set of bullets, and then of a soldier falling dead as the guide’s head rolled, we soon came to understand that the first bullets used were ineffective in actually killing people in the war.
A new type of bullet was created. We were glad that we had stopped to visit, if nothing more than to learn from the guides.
Many people suggest that the French are a stoic, unfriendly sort of people. Our experiences showed us otherwise. They were always willing to help and many smiled. It is the custom to call a greeting as you meet people or walk in to shops.
Doing that, with my obvious American way of messing up their language, still garnered kindness, and often a switch to their broken English to communicate.
Outside of Gourdes, lived the Abbey de Senanque. In the summer time, it was surrounded by fields of lavender, brilliantly purple and aromatic.
Unfortunately the lavender in fields and throughout the valley surrounding the Abbey, had long been harvested. It would have been stunning I am certain.
We had to drive a narrow two-lane road (really, we would think of it as a one lane road) toward the Abbey in the valley below Gourdes. As we came around a corner, we slowed as a man up ahead began to wave at us. Luckily there was a pull out where Chris parked and went to investigate.
Another car and some motorcyclists continued past us but quickly realized that their progress was impeded as the man ahead had been in an accident with the stone wall.
Apparently the sun had blinded him as he came around the corner coming up the hill from the Abbey. He had hit the wall with his front tire and totally bent the tire on the frame. The roadway to the Abbey remain blocked.
While disappointed that we couldn’t visit the Abbey, Chris was able to help with the crash.
I got a few photos of the Abbey from our vantage point.
After leaving the crash, we headed back up the hill toward Gourdes and continued on our way.
We came around the bend on the narrow two-lane road and voila, right off the side of the road was Moulin de la Badelle. With the sudden intake of my breath, Chris simply pulled to the side of the road, and we both hopped out of the car to explore.
Our last stop of the day was in Goult. Oh, I wish we had been there sooner and that I could have taken more pictures in the light of day.
Chris and I stopped at a cute little shop—Les Angels D’Alma—and chatted with the owner, Alma. She was from Britain and was simply happy to talk and share her story.
There was a windmill in Goult, but since it was dark by the time we came upon it, the photos weren’t so great.
Day 4 ~ Cassis
Today we were off to Cassis (Cass-ee). Again, we used WAZE to avoid the crazy traffic which appeared to be backed up for hours at the toll plaza. Following the advice of Fredrik, when we arrived in Cassis we headed down to the harbor to buy tickets to visit the Calanques (calancas).
“The Calanques are a series of rocky cliffs and bays between the city of Marseille and the town of Cassis, in the south of France. They’re essentially inlets that have been formed in the limestone cliffs, leaving behind a series of beautiful little bays.”Theculturetrip.com
Unfortunately, the ticket office had decided to change the advertised time from noon to 11:45 am and we were about ten minutes late for the early boat tour. So, switch to plan B for a short drive up above the harbor to Cretes.
As we parked close to the top of the mountain, only a 20-minute drive from town, the aroma of the lilacs wafted around as we opened the car doors. It was a lovely smell and view with purple tufts of lilacs dotting the mountainside.
We walked close to the edge and the view below was impressive, clear blue water and dramatic cliffs. We drove for an hour, stopping every so often to enjoy the view before returning to Cassis.
Lunch consisted of a baguette and croissant from the boulangerie and pattisserie—an impromptu lunch of cheese, bread, and meat before boarding the Moby Dick III.
The boat was fairly full, most of the people chose to sit up front in the open air. They sat there, until the sea got a little crazy, and a few of the people were dowsed by a great wave.
Three women came staggering back inside the boat, soaked and laughing. Chris and I had a great seat by the open window inside the boat and stayed dry.
Our tour had us visiting five calanques; the roughness of the seas grew throughout our tour.
One of the three girls who had been soaked by a rogue wave, made her way to the back of the boat where she proceeded to hurl over the side of the boat until we were back into port. My stomach was feeling rather queasy.
As the water got rougher, Chris and the girl behind him struggled to close the plastic window covering. Good thing since our side of the boat got an equal amount of spray and splash back. I did my best to keep my face close to a small stream of air to keep the nausea at bay.
Once safely back on land, Chris and I walked around the town a bit. Though cute, Cassis was a lot more touristy than we preferred.
We drove to Le Castellait. It was beautiful and once again I was disappointed that we had arrived so late in the day. The sun was beginning to set so we did our best to see as much of the little village as possible. There were a few stores open, but not much in the way of food.
Once it was dark, we were off again, following WAZE to stay off the main freeway. Apparently so were a lot of other people, as the small roads were crowded with cars, even semis, trying to avoid the protestors. It took us an hour and a half to go only 45 minutes.
As we arrived back in Aix-en-Provence and looked for something to eat, we found a place called Taco Loco in the student area of town. It was cheap, tasty, and quick.
Day 5 ~ Les Baux-de-Provence and St. Remy
Les Baux-de-Provence—what a delightful fortress—if a fortress can be delightful. Chris and I toured the castle ruins at the top of the hill for a couple of hours, having the place to ourselves for much of the morning.
It made my photographer heart happy. I took picture after picture with my camera without worrying about having to wait for tourists to move out of the way.
Les Baux-de-Provence was nestled in to the Allpes mountain range. I loved it.
We left the castle after our tour and stopped for lunch at a restaurant where the one and only person in South of France to give us some attitude was not pleased that we opted to share a pizza instead of buying one for each of us.
For the most part, the French people were wonderful and friendly and helpful.
There was a cool light show in a rock quarry not too far from the castle and we walked partway down the hill to see it. Carrieres de Lumieres.
We entered the quarry and found ourselves in the most amazing venue. The walls were tall and the many cameras throughout projected artwork by Picasso and other artists on the wall while music played over the loud speaker. It was fascinating. If you have the chance, I highly recommend this venue.
We made a quick stop in St. Remy, but it was getting cold and dark. We were ready to head back to Aix-en-Provence.
Final Thoughts on 5 Spectacular Days in the South of France
We were grateful to have had a rental car throughout our visit and the access to so many wonderful towns of Provence. It was magical as we spent five spectacular days in the South of France. We would go back in a heartbeat.