Sunday, 20 October, 2019

The wonder of Provence


Discover something about Provence that pulls me back, time after time, year after year. It can difficult to put my finger upon exactly what it is. Those incredible azure skies, perhaps? That unique, extreme light that so captivated Vehicle Gogh and Cezanne? The areas of lavender and sunflowers…. the particular olive groves…. the vineyards…. the particular terracotta rooftops…. the pavement cafes…. that long-anticipated glass of pastis…. the first dish of little dark olives….?

Whatever it is, it’s amazing. And very soon, before I know what I’m doing, I’ve booked another holiday in yet another little gite or even apartment or hotel in an additional charming town or village within the Var or the Vaucluse or the Bouches-du-Rhone….

It’s the hinterland that entices myself. The trendy, glittering, sophisticated accommodations along the coast hold little attraction. It’s good to visit them every now and then, but the hype and the superficiality (and the prices! ) soon begin to pall. Inland, the pace of a lot more slower. The prancers and posers are fewer. Tourists are welcomed, but the locals have no intention associated with sacrificing either their way of life or even their heritage for the dubious joys of accommodating and entertaining them.

If you want to experience the real Provence, here are a few (highly subjective) suggestions:

Take a short break in Avignon, preferably out of the high season. After you’ve fulfilled your touristic duties and taken in the Popes’ Palace and the famous pont, discover the back streets and little pieces off the main tourist trail. Take a coffee or a glass of wines in the place Crillon. Explore the particular wonderful indoor market. Spend an hour or so or so in the Musée Angladon, which usually (astonishingly) houses the only original Vehicle Gogh in the whole of Provence. If money is no object, book the table for lunch or dinner at Alfredia Etienne’s lovely restaurant overlooking the place des Papes….

Visit the charming little market town of St-Rémy-de-Provence (barely half an hour’s drive from Avignon) on a Wednesday or Sunday morning, when the market takes over the entire centre of the town and the sounds and scents and colours are intoxicating…. Wander through the quaint labyrinthine backstreets…. Take a look at the house where the well-known prophet Nostradamus was born…. Then pay a visit to the nearby asylum where the work Vincent spent some time immediately following the particular infamous mutilated ear incident…

Invest half a day (or more) in the great cultural centre of Aix-en-Provence. Visit Cézanne’s studio, do the Cézanne tour, then grab a pavement table at the famous literary café Les Deux Garcons and watch life go by along the recently resurfaced Cours Mirabeau…

Drive to the summit associated with Mont Ventoux (pausing to pay your respects at the monument to British cycling hero Tommy Simpson) and marvel at the incredibly clear vistas stretching out over the whole from the Vaucluse…

Take in some of those incredible Roman monuments: the majestic amphitheatres in Arles and Orange; the mind-boggling Pont du Gard; the reconstructed Roman township at Glanum, simply outside St-Rémy….

Get to Les Baux-de-Provence early in the morning or late in the evening (to avoid the tourist rush) plus meander through the narrow winding roads leading up to the citadel….

Drive to the town of Lourmarin in the Luberon.
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Wander through the narrow streets, have a drink at one of the rather fashionable cafés and then, if time enables, spend a few contemplative moments at the graveside of Albert Camus, the charismatic, Nobel prize-winning writer and philosopher who died so suddenly and so absurdly in a car crash almost fifty years ago….

Visit the Camargue, that fabulous, untamed area at the Western edge of Provence: a land of wild bulls, white horses, pink flamingos and gardians upon horseback…. Take a quick look round the walled town of Aigues Mortes as well as the pleasant seaside resort of Saintes Maries de la Mer, recognized for its annual gypsy pilgramage as well as its Da Vinci Code connotations….

Continuing the seaside theme, spend a day in the lovely, bustling little interface of Cassis and enjoy the peaceful, laid-back atmosphere…. Hop aboard among the pleasure cruisers in the harbour and take a tour of the calanques, individuals incredible little inlets set in to the limestone cliffs between Cassis plus Marseille…. Have lunch or dinner at Nino on the quayside and try one of the fragrant, fruity local white wine beverages….

And finally – and perhaps best of all — just turn off the main road, recreation area up in some shady spot, and simply stroll au hasard through slim country lanes, listening to the constant sound of the cicadas, taking in the fragrances of wild herbs or lavender, looking for that perfect sun-dappled spot to stretch out, unwrap the fresh bread, the local goat’s cheese, the marinated olives, the ratatouille or tomates provencales, uncork the bottle of nearby wine that you picked up direct from the vineyard that very morning, and let the pressures and stresses of everyday life just fade away….

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