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Slow Living

Slow Living

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer – perhaps Amsterdam this year?

I recently read something that truly resonated:  “Slow travel was a trend before Covid hit, but it’s savored travel I’m seeking now—enjoying everything to the very fullest.”
Savoring, as far as I’m concerned, takes time, and that’s where Slow Living comes in: staying in a place long enough –  in a home, not a hotel –  to savor details, daily life, off-the-beaten-track spots, local tastes, a leisurely stroll, one sunset after another….what would you add to the list?
We’re savoring life in Split Croatia at the moment, in a marvelous apartment with the most fabulous view, drawing me again and again to the balconies or windows. One evening we both stopped what we were working on and just stood and watched the blazing orange ball of the sun slip into the western sea – priceless!
Over the years we’ve savored life in a Cambridge flat, a Parisian pied-a-terre, an Amsterdam canal-side townhouse,

or a Barcelona apartment, shopping the local markets, becoming a regular at the café, riding a bicycle to the park, or just sitting in the sun on a balcony.
Long before Airbnb, VRBO was our go-to site to find homes in the places we wanted to spend time in. Seduced by the idea of a place of our own, we then bought a village house in the south of France and that led to another way to live like a local in a desirable spot: Home Exchange! Years ago these sites offered only the options of Reciprocal (exchange at the same time) or Non Reciprocal (exchanging at different times) house trades, but now have a Guest Points program, which is working well for us during the time we are not allowed entry into France and can’t enjoy our places, La Belle Cour and Ambiance d’Aix  for ourselves. Several European families or couples have been in our homes for a week or more, seeking a more inviting place to socially distance, allowing us to build up our Guest Point stash for when we can travel.
Savoring life allows time to try all the bakeries in town, we hear from our renters and exchangers at La Belle Cour in Vias, to find the BEST croissant!
Living in our home in France, home exchange or rental has allowed us time to feel like a local while in a Venice apartment in a totally untouristed part of town,

to learn from a neighbor in Vias how to make a south-of-France specialty, Petits Farcis (meat-stuffed vegetables), to sample how the local wine tastes with the local food, to get a tip from a gowned student near our river-side Cambridge apartment  to try the corner coffee shop, to keep looking up and around on our daily walk and discover a new-to-us sight, to connect the dots in our current city – oh, THAT is what we see from our window!
Several things top our list of requirements in places to settle for a while: a well-equipped kitchen, a view, walking distance to sights, transport, shopping and markets, a comfortable bed, and of course good wifi.
Our top floor apartment in Split has met all of these requirements and more…I wonder where will we savor life next?

Villages and Vines in the Languedoc

Villages and Vines in the Languedoc

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  How about an unforgettable holiday with us at  New Years’ Jazz in Italy?

Our to-do list for La Belle Cour our village house near the Mediterranean in the Languedoc (recently re-named Occitanie), is never-ending – but sometimes you’ve just got to take a break and enjoy the surrounding beauty! So after a morning meeting with the water company in the village, we’re off to the arriere-pays – the lesser-known inland villages, hills and valleys of the region. From the heights of Béziers, the closest city, 30 minutes inland from Vias, our gaze encompasses vineyards, the Canal du Midi, villages and winding roads blanketing the plain to the Montagne Noir in the distance. Cazouls-les-Béziers, our first stop, is one of the many places that include the big city in their name. It’s a quiet village (we don’t see a soul as we walk around!) set in the middle of vineyards, with a pretty church, St. Saturnin.
Scents of  the garrigue – scrub covering the uncultivated hills – wild rosemary, thyme, and other aromatic herbs – waft into the car (we’ve rented a convertible for this trip – perfect weather to ride al fresco!) as we slowly meander the narrowest roads we can find, traversing vineyards, vines heavy with grapes ready for harvest.
Puisserguier is our next stop, a circulade (walled circular village) with abundant flowers throughout.
We’ve noticed several of these delightful murals in Beziers and surrounding villages – wonderful trompe l’oeil details that make you want to walk right in!
The Languedoc cross flies over the chateau, dating from the 1200s,  atop the village. We’re invited to pause for a tour, but decide to wander the rest of the village and continue on to St. Chinian, a respected wine town where we sample a few local tipples, and come away with a few bottles for our cave in Aix. The harvest is in full swing around here, and nearly everyone is out in the vineyards. Chateau La Dournie, on the edge of town, has been woman-owned and operated for six generations, and Mme. Etienne (whose daughter is the current winemaker) is kind enough to take time away from her post in the office to show us the winery, fragrant with crushed grapes. Whites and reds await the magic of the winemaker – sweet to the taste, right off the vine. Dropping a light down into a vat, she shows us the grapes beginning to bubble and ferment – on their way to becoming a valued wine.
We’ll definitely want to try one of their vintages when we return to Vias!
Last stop today is Murviel-les-Béziers, another circular village surrounded by ramparts. The elegant Chateau de Mus sits atop the town, with expansive views. Intricately carved portals, doors and mullioned windows are a testament to the importance of the town in centuries past. Today, it quietly surveys the acres of vineyards carpeting the valley of the Orb River.
We’ve had just a sampling of the many villages and views awaiting exploration in the quieter interior of our area of Occitanie – and we look forward to discovering more!

 

The “Other” South of France

The “Other” South of France

July 2017
the Languedoc region of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
Why not join us on our newest tour in September – Bordeaux and Dordogne

It’s been over 13 years since we purchased La Belle Cour in the village of Vias, in the Languedoc region, the “other south of France”.Everyone knows about Provence, on the Mediterranean Coast towards Italy, but this coastline, towards Spain, is much less on traveler’s radar…and as we pause on our drive southwest we’re inundated in a memorable sound – the cicadas of summer!

Others have been taking care of the property, a charming village house that sleeps 8, for us for a few years, and it’s time for us to spend some time there, making sure that it is still a delightful holiday rental for savvy travelers in search of a different take on southern France. We walk into the sunny “beautiful courtyard” mid-morning, drop off our luggage and walk through the property to get an idea of what we need to purchase for needed upkeep and replacement of items, then head to the waterfront for lunch.
Just east of Vias, Grau d’Agde is another pretty village, set where the Herault River meets the Mediterranean. Walking on the jetty of familiar black stone of the area (the church in sight of La Belle Cour is constructed of that same basalt from a long vanished volcano) out towards a lighthouse, we marvel at the vista – blues of all shades to the horizon and beyond, above the hazy Pyrenees near the Spanish border.A delicious lunch awaits us, water lapping underneath our feet – under 20 euros for three courses and a glass of wine. That fish couldn’t be fresher! And as we finish our dessert we see the evening meal on its way in – seagulls circling and diving above the boat as fishermen prep their catch and toss the inedibles out for the birds.
Ready to shop, we pass a roundabout with a replica of the basalt church in Agde and head for a Bricoman, where inside it’s just like being in the Home Depot down the street in Virginia – even to the orange decor and aprons on the staff! Of course it’s a little more challenging to choose the right painting and hardware supplies in french!
The next day we’re warmed by the sun as we do errands in the village – paying the water bill at the town hall, checking out shops and sights to make sure our House Book is up to date.
We sample a new restaurant, Remise de Christian, in the center of the village – a welcome pause in the hours of cleaning, repairs, multiple trips to the trash collection center, and painting.
Our friend Anne, who took such good care of La Belle Cour for a couple of years, has moved back to the area and is living in the elegant city of Beziers, north of us. Paul Riquet, the genius behind the Canal du Midi (which passes right through Vias), constructed in the 1600s to connect the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, is honored in his home town. Anne has found a gorgeous apartment in one of the most beautiful properties in Beziers – we’re so happy for her!
Wednesday’s market day, added during the season to the all-year Saturday market, and oh has the market expanded! We hear the vendors setting up early in the morning, and walk through the swimsuit and beach blanket laden stalls (the beach is about a mile away),happy to see how popular our little village is….and well-taken care of too, with some lovely additions like abundant flower boxes scattered through the lanes, and an update for the ancient market hall in the center of town.
We pick out a few lunch items to enjoy in the courtyard, then spend the rest of the day painting and prepping the house for the next renters.
One more visit to Grau d’Agde for dinner – if we had time we would join the crowds for the Sardinade, so much fun to watch as the fishermen toss down a blanket of fish on a grate, top them with another grate,

and char those sardines. They’re done in just a few minutes, shoveled off the grate onto plates handed off to the servers, and the line of hundreds inches along, balancing sardines in one hand, wine in the other.
What a pleasure to be back in the Lovely Languedoc – we look forward to returning with friends! Let us know if YOU would like to book a week or two – although La Belle Cour is full for the rest of the summer, we highly recommend a fall visit – September and October are particularly lovely, with weather warm enough to enjoy the beach too!

A French Village Beauty for You?

A French Village Beauty for You?

How about a place of your own in the South of France? La Belle Cour, in Vias, is on the market! Here – memories of our lovely haven – a post from 2011

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to summer –  why not join us on the fabulous Amalfi Coast , in Provence, or Amsterdam?

Even doing errands in Vias is fun, with those fancy fields of crimson poppies out our car window.Yesterday we were on the hunt for some flowers of our own, getting La Belle Cour (the beautiful courtyard, as our Vias home is named) even more beautiful just in time for holidaying guests. They arrive Sunday, and we’re enjoying getting everything ready, imagining their delight as they do the things we love to so – sit in the courtyard, spiral up the stairs to the balconied bedrooms, or prepare a meal in the sunny yellow kitchen.
It’s another gloriously sunny south-of-France day and we’re surprised to see how many people are in the village. Walking to the center of town, we bump into Kacem and family. The local internet guru, he’s the one who took care of switching our provider and installing new equipment for wifi and improved tv reception. They tell us that this is a two-week Easter vacation, the beginning of “the season” that brings sun-seekers to our beach-side village. And it’s almost warm enough to go to the beach today!A few things from the Spar market in the historic market hall, a fresh baguette from the bakery,
and then a stroll through the open-air market curling around the ancient church.

Here’s a colorful tumble of baskets – just 5 euros!
Our neighbors, the Brunos, always invite us to sit down for an aperitif of local muscat, so we choose a bottle for them at Cave Calmels, where a local guy is pumping his wine from the huge vats – fill ‘er up!The flowers are planted, and the courtyard is clean and ready for lunch. Just a couple of days here to take care of business – so glad we can have one meal in our favorite spot!

Goodbye Venice, Hello France

Goodbye Venice, Hello France

Monday and Tuesday, June 2-3, 2014
To France!

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on our newest tour, a Fall Musical Houseparty in France! 

We wave goodbye to fish-shaped Venice (just like all the maps we’ve perused on the ground) far below as we wing our way to France. Can you see the squiggle of the Grand Canal snaking through the city, to the left? The “tail” on the right is beyond where most tourists spend their time, the far reaches of the Castello Sestiere (neighborhood) The big square of water on the upper part of the tail is the Arsenale, where super-power Venice built a ship a day at the height of its power.

Our next couple of days will quickly accustom us to driving rather than floating, with hours on the road on our schedule. We’ve landed at Marseilles, but our first task is two hours southwest, where the jasmine is threatening to take over the courtyard of La Belle Cour!

Kirk finds his garden tools and tames the jasmine (what a difference!), as I clean the house and greet our guests, Peter and Susan. We’ve traded houses with them, and tomorrow will drive to their Dordogne apartment about 4 hours north.

Our favorite Vias restaurant, L’Amandine, is closed tonight, but Peter and Susan have found a new little place right across from the church, and greet the owner like old friends. She quickly prepares some delicious open-face toasted sandwiches and salads, and we enjoy getting to know this interesting couple as we eat. Peter and Susan are Australian, but spend half of the year in France, and often swap their home. They’ve recently been in Sausalito, California, and Spain, and have come to Vias from the St. Remy area of Provence.  Eager to see their little village, we listen as we eat to tales of how they’ve restored their home over the years.

Tuesday morning finds us on the road again, keys to the apartment in hand, and we whiz by the turreted walls of Carcassonne as we make our way north.

We get just a quick look at the pretty village of Castillonnés, since we’ve got to meet some fellow Slow Travel Tours partners for dinner tonight. We unpack enough to pack AGAIN, and hit the road.

Next stop, Sarlat, one of the highlights of the Dordogne region, a golden-stone beauty whose warm colors remind us of Aix.

Instead of driving yet 1 1/2 hours more BACK to Casti (as Peter and Susan call their village) we’ve decided it’d be wiser to spend the night in this dreamy town, and check into a hotel that is rather the epitome of an old French auberge – no air conditioning (don’t need it today, fortunately), quirky stairs heading this way and that, creaky floors, a bit shabby, but full of character – reminds us of places we stayed decades ago when we first started traveling to France.Our top floor room has great views out over the lauze – stone roofs of town.

The evening flies by, as we meet Steve and Judi of Caves and Castles, who live north of Sarlat near Montignac, not far from the famous prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux. Their tour focus and expertise is in the fascinating prehistory of the region, as well as the beautiful fortress castles that dot the area. This is an absolutely gorgeous part of France, and it’s been over a decade since we’ve spent time here, so we’re eager to explore for the next few days in preparation for a special tour in September. 
Walking back to the hotel, we feel as if we’re in a fairytale,

walking between towers and quiet lanes, mullioned windows and ancient doors. We’ll be back!


Fab Friends and Superb Sights

Fab Friends and Superb Sights

Saturday, March 30, 2013 
South of France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium.

La Belle Cour is as pretty as can be, ready for our spring and summer renters, so we’re on our way to Aix for a couple of days filled with friends, music and the delights of Provence. A quick shopping spree Saturday morning to pick up gifts, dessert for tomorrow, and that Ambiance d’Aix necessity, fresh flowers.

On the mantel goes the bouquet of sunshiney mimosa,

then we’re back in the car for a countryside drive to the lush Luberon, an hour or so north. We zig and zag up over the Combe de Loumarin,

and soon the graceful tumble of Bonnieux, our destination, appears ahead. Kathy and Charley Wood, fellow
Slow Travel Tours members, have invited us for lunch in their new apartment and we are eager to see lovely Bonheur en Bonnieux. What a marvelous setting – bakeries, cafes and boutiques just steps away, views of the beautiful countryside from every window and this inviting terrace –  a cozy and charmingly decorated two bedroom haven in one of Provence’s most delightful villages!

We love hearing the tales of finding antiques, beds, the many touches of sunny yellows and reds, dealing with France Telecom and the electric company (!!) and are reminded of our weeks of getting Ambiance d’Aix ready for renters, as the Woods have done.


Charley pours a crisp rosé to accompany Kathy’s mouthwatering quiche, followed by a board of local cheeses,

then we bundle up for a stroll through the village.

The Woods have spent many a month here for a decade or more, and Bonnieux is the base for their Luberon Experience tours, so every few feet we’re stopped with a cheery greeting from a friend.  We’re thrilled, with them, that they’ve now established a home here – what a treasure!
We complete our Luberon afternoon with a stop at what’s probably our favorite village in the region, Roussillon. You know you’re getting close when the russet cliffs appear by the road.

No matter how many times we visit, we always take more photos here than anywhere else – can you blame us?!


On the edges of town, you can still see where the ochre was harvested – scraped off generations ago – in shades from palest yellow to blood-red brick. Today synthetic paints have replaced the ochres used in times past.



Enjoy the views with us –

a rainbow row of homes,

 

an ancient arch leading to the topmost part of the village,

a valley vista,

colorful abodes,

one tucked right into the red rock,

others scattered among the cliffs.

We linger til sunset, watching the colors change,

Bonne nuit, Roussillon, it’s been a pleasure!!

The lights of  Lacoste, the ancient stronghold of the Marquis de Sade, shimmer a wink goodnight as we drive home to Aix.