Provence for Visitors

With its gorgeous landscapes and numerous attractions, Provence is a Mecca for tourists. French. British. Dutch. Belgians. Asians. Russians, and many more.

Hilltop Gordes -- the quintessential Provence perched village.
Hilltop Gordes — the quintessential Provence perched village.

Friends and relatives who come to visit us in the Luberon hills also enjoy the allure of Provence. Carol and Noel, friends from Germany who have retired to northern Italy, arrived in early October. Soon after came John and Mickey, VR’s (husband Vino Roberto’s) brother and sister-in-law from northern Ohio.carriers.3

We kept on the move and had fun showing off our Provence favorites. A hit with all was Carrières de Lumières in Les-Baux-de-Provence. Words fail to describe this amazing place –vast caverns, formerly quarries, where a unique multimedia presentation enthralls all. The show changes every winter.carriers.4

“Klimt and Vienna” is this year’s show, ending Jan. 4, which features the works of turn-of-the-century artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, plus Fritz carrieres.2Hundertwasser, projected on the walls and floors. Wander through the immense space, engulfed by the gigantique tableaux. Enjoy the mesmerizing musical background.

“Klimt is now one of my favorites. The show is awesome. I could have just sat there all day looking at the images,” said Carol. We, too, are overwhelmed with the production and return every year to see the new show.lesB2

The ancient town, Les-Baux-de-Provence, with its medieval château, spectacular views and boutique lined cobblestone streets, is also captivating. ”I’ve been to a million of those cutesy towns that have become little more than amusement parks. Les Baux seemed, to me, to have retained some of its soul,” commented Noel.lesbaux.

Mickey was especially intrigued with the site where the ruins of an 11th century citadel dominate a plateau perched on a rocky spur. She listened to the explanations on an audio headset at each numbered stop throughout the historic site. “I love castles,” she said.rou.fb

Carol and Noel were also impressed with Roussillon, a touristy town whose attraction is its Sentier des ocres (ochre footpath). A trail descends into a gorge of orange/yellow walls, then winds through the woods bordered by these exotic, colorful cliffs. The area was also formerly a working quarry.

Carol and Noel and Bouillabaisse.
Carol and Noel and Bouillabaisse.

Noel had made a special request . He remembers a scene in the movie, “In Like Flint” with James Coburn, during which Coburn savors Bouillabaisse, Marseilles’ signature dish. He had to eat this legendary fish soup in Marseille. I did some

Bouillabaisse is much more than fish soup. A plate brimming with different kinds of fish comes with the soup.  Carol ordered the deluxe version with lobster.
Bouillabaisse is much more than fish soup. A plate brimming with different kinds of fish comes with the soup. Carol ordered the deluxe version with lobster.

restaurant research to find a place serving authentic Bouillabaisse. Many restaurants have a version for tourists. My find, Le Ruhl, has a perfect setting on a hillside just adjacent to the Mediterranean. Great views – but the food? OK, but not great. Next time I’ll try another restaurant for Bouillabaisse

Selfie, of sorts, under the new, giant mirrored canopy at Marseille's Vieux Port.
Selfie, of sorts, under the new, giant mirrored canopy at Marseille’s Vieux Port.

Before lunch we had hoped to take a boat ride of the calanques (dramatic fjord like inlets in the limestone cliffs between Marseille and Cassis), but due to the fierce Mistral which blows too frequently in these parts, the boats were not running. We braved the winds and took a long walk through the Vieux Port, then on to the J4 Esplanade, Marseille’s swanky new addition for 2013 when the city was the European Capital of Culture. I never tire of admiring the dazzling architecture of the new Villa Méditerranée and MuCem ( museum of Mediterranean and European culture).cassis.2

Mickey and John did get to see the calanques. On a delightfully calm day we boarded the sightseeing boat in the enchanting port town, Cassis, for the excursion through parts of this dramatic coastline.   It was market day in Cassis with vendors selling clothing, food, purses and all manner of souvenirs.cassis.boats

Markets are a major Provence attraction. Mickey accompanied me to Forcalquier, a town near our home known for its big Monday market.  “I loved the shopping you did at the outdoor market,” she later said. “ I really liked that you were able to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, produce, eggs, fish and sausages direct from the farmers the same morning they were picked.   I enjoyed listening to you get a better price for the shawl/cape you purchased, especially after the seller informed you this would be the last time he was going to be at the market with his items.” (It was a coat I could have done without. But when my bargaining was successful, I could not resist.)

Although photos are "interdit" at the Vence chapel, many manage to get a shot.
Although photos are “interdit” at the Vence chapel, many manage to get a shot.

VR and I recently joined the American Club of the Riviera. Their October agenda included an event during Mickey and John’s visit I knew we should not miss – a tour of the Henri Matisse Rosary chapel in hillside Vence above the Riviera. A documentary, basically an interview by American Barbara Freed with the late Sister Jacques Marie, the nun who played a major role in the realization of this unique structure, preceded the tour. Freed has translated the nun’s book about her relationship with Matisse into English and served as director of the documentary. She was on hand with more fascinating commentary. It’s an unbelievable story – the deep friendship between this renowned artist who was not religious and the Dominican nun, and how she influenced, inspired and encouraged him on the chapel project.nice

An overnight stop in Nice, my Riviera favorite, preceded our trek to Vence. We strolled along the seaside Promenade des Anglais and wandered through Old Nice.

John, Mickey and VR.
John, Mickey and VR.

Then back into the hills to Sospel, a town VR and I had visited many times. We had even considered moving there. We became friends with Marie Mayer who

Marie and I with one of her father's sculptures.
Marie and I with one of her father’s sculptures.

runs a chambre d’hote (bread and breakfast), Domaine du Paraïs, where we always stayed. Her late father, Marcel Mayer, was a well known sculptor. She invited us for an aperitif in her living room filled with some of her father’s remarkable art works.

Noel and Carol are foodies like VR and I. ”Food, of course, is always high on our list,” Noel said. “The afternoon at the Dutch guy’s place was unforgettable… everything about that afternoon was wonderful – the intimate setting, the company and the food, which really was excellent.”

He was referring to Table du Bonheur, a special eatery in the hinterlands where we had an excellent lunch. (See previous post, Table of Happiness, Sept. 2, 2011)

Noel and Carol treated us to lunch and some fine wines at Le Bistrot de Lagarde which now has a Michelin star.
Noel and Carol treated us to lunch and some fine wines at Le Bistrot de Lagarde which now has a Michelin star.

Our food extravaganza with John and Mickey was an over-the-top meal in Italy – a lunch of multi courses at an agriturismo (farm inn), La Locanda degli Ulivi, hidden up a very long, very narrow, very windy road in the hills above Dolceacqua, a small, picturesque town just north of Ventimiglia. This was a first for me and VR. We will return, but VR said I can drive up that taxing hill next time. We must have had at least six different antipasti before two different types of pasta followed by the main course, rabbit, and the dessert. Not gourmet cuisine, but a fun experience in a livey, cozy – and very Italian — ambiance .

Clean plates after an Italian feast.
Clean plates after an Italian feast.

Throughout our drives, Mickey, who is very interested in vegetation, often asked me the names of different trees. I failed . All the lavender fields fascinated her. She’d like to come back to see them in bloom (usually July). Olive trees were another favorite.   ”The olive orchards were amazing to see.  It might be interesting to see the trees when in bloom or when the farmers are harvesting the olives.  I noticed olives were served at all the meals.”

Dolceacqua
Dolceacqua

I asked her what was most memorable about her visit. “The view of the mountains was unbelievable, and the winding roads took our breath away.   What a wonderful trip and  fantastic weather!   The sight reminded me of what heaven must be like.  Not a lot of noise, heavy traffic, or trucks unloading but just a peaceful, restful vacation place.”

Not quite heaven, but Provence has its charms.me.b.nice

Like my blog? Tell your friends. If you are not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up with your email address at upper right. Your address is kept private and never shared. Please comment, Leave a Reply below. I love feedback. Coming next: Incredible Iceland Part II –horses, fish, food, adventure. And, for a taste of fall, try my recipe for Spaghetti Squash Gratin — above right.

More information:

www.carrieres-lumieres.com

www.chateau-baux-provence.com

www.roussillon-provence.com

www.cassis.fr

www.domaineduparais.monsite-orange.fr

www.lalocandadegliulivi.com

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Provence for Visitors”

  1. Great blog entry-wonderful images and lots of enthusiasm about where we live. It’s true that October 2014 was a superb opportunity to enjoy the pleasures and sights of where we live. Pretty damn awesome and nice to have my own enthusiasm rekindled!

    Like

  2. Dear Leah:

    I just finished reading the write up you did on our trip to Provence and Nice, and trip to Maria Mayer’s B&B. Leah, you should still be working full time as journalist, you do such a wonderful job. Your write ups make it seem as if while we are reading the article we are right in that spot. The pictures you included with write up were great. I had forgotten you were taking pictures at these various places. Thank you, thank you for this wonderful article.

    Love Mickey

    Like

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