The Road To Provence
At Pont D'Ardeche bed and breakfast, the atmosphere is buzzing this fall. Aunts, cousins, sisters and friends join together in preparing a vibrantly colored celebratory feast. The Grandfather of the large family (whom turns 94 today) is smiling at all his young offspring with a shaking glass of white wine in his right hand. He makes a speech on the importance of family traditions, and afterwards welcomes me into his cozy home.
In Provence this weekend I’m witnessing southern French culture, which revolves around family, the land and food. It’s much simpler of a lifestyle than in Paris or even Normandy. Despite owning what I'd consider a mansion, families running large bed and breakfasts may not have much else besides their passed down chateau. Life is about preparing a meal, sharing it with neighbors or friends, then resting for an hour afterwards - just to start preparing the next meal again. The men work hard within their agriculture or vineyards, and women bare children and run the family. This particular gite I’m staying at stands strong after being bombed in WWII by the Nazi's. Surrounded by blood orange and brown leaves draping over the vineyards, this getaway is perfect for families, lovers or backpackers seeing Workaway experience.
The countryside this autumn has a crisp air, swirling through the fields of sleeping crops. They will arise next spring - leaving fields of asparagus, cherries and apricots on the land. In the summertime, magnificent lavender fields cover the land. At dusk, you may even hear cicadas croaking. In downtown of Pont St d’Espirit, you can find a morning market for groceries and a few small restaurants. The bar scene isn’t poppin’ per say, but you can order a traditional biere demi peche (beer with peach syrup) anywhere. Take a 30 minute walk down the main dirt road towards the neighboring town of Aigueze. You can find remains of a medieval town alongside the Rhone River and picturesque, ancient architecture.
If you’re looking for even more geographical beauty, head to Aix and it’s carved gorges into the mountains. Check out the village market, perfect for finding authentic souvenirs such as lavender, olive oil, homemade soaps as well.
Nice, Monaco & St Tropez
If flying into Nice, expect long lines at customs (2nd largest airport in France). Most of what you’ll want to see and do will be located in the city center. You can saunter at the Promenade des Anglais, near the seaside for great views. Try a typical “salade nicoise” or “pan bagnat” during your trip. If traveling with children, there are plenty of theme parks around the city too. Once you’ve tackled Nice, grab a bus to Monaco, only 30 km away. Futbol fans, catch a game in season of AS Monaco or OGC Nice. Cinema gurus, head to Cannes and the Croisette for the famous film festival (book hotels a year in advance). Yacht lovers, go to Antibes Marina and Saint Tropez to be amazed by some serious maritime luxuries. Just a reminder, St. Tropez and Monaco are two of the most expensive cities in the world. The beaches, private jet sightings and bougie yacht watching are absolutely worth it.
Known as the Pope’s residence during 1200-1300AD, you must check out the historical Palais des Papes in Place du Palais. Nearby there is a beautiful garden uphill, so I recommend wearing good walking shoes. Avignon is also known for a Theater Festival and the famous half bridge, Pont d’Avignon. The bridge is situated over the Rhone River and because it’s a historical monument, you must pay for entrance. There’ll be educational signs along the bridge for information. Sur le Pont D’Avignon is a French nursery rhyme, which children grow up learning there. Take a nursery rhyme booklet as a souvenir for young children. The Avignon Theater Festival takes place during the first 3 weeks of July. There are actually two festivals with performances. The official festival is held in the Cour des Papes and the unofficial festival is basically pop up shows taking place around the city.
Visit other villages westward such as Luberon. If you’re looking for a rental car to travel Provence, you can acquire one easily from Avignon TGV, Marseille St Charles or Marseille Airport (plan ahead for horrible traffic in the summer time). Enjoy your stay in Southern France, wherever you may go. And remember, getting lost is always a good idea.