In the South of France

Taking a quick break from Paris… (Don’t worry! I have plenty more to say, but Martin says I have to get caught up on everywhere else, too. 😉)

June 10-15

We took the TGV—Train à Grande Vitesse, the high-speed train—from Paris to Marseille on Saturday morning. Marseille wasn’t our final destination: We were just picking up a rental car and then driving through the countryside to a small town a bit north of Aix-en-Provence. Having previously taken the loooong train from Paris to the southern part of the country, I much prefer the TGV; it takes a little over three hours to cover almost 800km and the pastoral hills and lavender fields turn into an Impressionist painting as you whiz by. Plus, it was only 2€ extra to get first class on our train so it was a calm and quiet ride.

Someone I know through my former job had generously invited us to come visit him and his wife in Provence, so we made plans for a bit of a layover there before continuing farther south to Morocco. We spent an incredibly relaxing and wonderful five days with our gracious hosts, exploring the area, eating good food, and drinking rosé.

We were staying in Lourmarin, a small town at the foot of the Luberon mountain range in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. The town is quaint, lovely, and stereotypically Provençal: narrow streets, stone buildings, olive and fig trees everywhere, everyone knows each other and stops to talk in the road (think, the opening song from “Beauty and the Beast”). The surrounding countryside is composed of red poppy-filled wheat fields, olive orchards, and vineyards. There are a fair amount of ex-pats living in the area, notably Peter Mayle who wrote A Year in Provence. Also, the French writer Albert Camus lived in the town and is buried there; his daughter still lives in the area.

Martin has already described our time in the outdoors while in Provence (read about it here!) but we did fill our time with other activities as well.

One morning we drove to the Camargue, a region just south of Arles famous for its salt, its horses, and its flamingoes. After driving past salt pans and rice paddies, and getting the closest thus far to the Mediterranean Sea, we wandered around the bird sanctuary under the broiling sun. I could have watched the flamingoes for hours. They so entertaining and fascinating! The Camargue is home to more than 400 species of birds and we saw quite a lot of them, but the flamingoes were definitely the highlight. As they daintily pick their feet through the marsh they appear to be only a pale pink all over. But when they open their wings to take flight you see a brilliant flash of bright pink as they flap away.

We met our hosts for lunch that day in a lovely little restaurant near the Rhône on the east side of the Camargue. After our meal, I enjoyed wandering around the restaurant’s garden and seeing all of the succulent produce and bright flowers.

Any time spent just driving through the countrysides of Provence is time well-spent. The hills are gentle and rolling, and then they become ragged and imposing. Passing by cliffs, the towns on top seem to have sprouted upwards from the rock-face, with small windows indicating the troglodyte homes in the cliff-faces themselves. There are the carefully planned rows of grapevines and lavender bushes, the wild fields of dried grasses spotted with hundreds of bright red poppies like a Monet painting, and the orchards of ancient and gnarled olive trees. The towns are few and far-between, and my favorite way to pass the time was just sitting on the patio, listening to the birds chirp and watching the bees in the lavender, not at all missing the sounds of a bustling city.

We enjoyed living the Provençal lifestyle: simple breakfast in the morning, lunch and wine around 1:30pm, aperitif outside around 7:30pm, and dinner from 8:30pm until late. We certainly indulged ourselves, but when you have access to some of the most delicious fruits and vegetables, the best olive oils and wines, and the creamiest raw-milk cheeses in the world, it’s hard not to indulge.

A huge, heartfelt thank-you to our amazing hosts for welcoming us into their home and showing us an amazing time! I loved our time in Provence and it certainly whetted my appetite to explore more of its hillsides and towns.

And then, we headed to Morocco…

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