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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. 







First the Market, then the Music

First the Market, then the Music

The South of France
Sunday, August 19, 2012

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!  Why not join us in Bath, in November, for the Mozartfest?

Yesterday we participated in  a yearly French experience, although not by choice. The last two weeks of August are the high point of the the grand exodus to the south, when the toll roads are bumper-to-bumper with vacationers. Our journey took us merely from southeast to southwest, but we got caught in periodic bouchons (traffic jams, literally, corks!) all along the normally two- hour route from Aix to Vias.

With a short window of time to take care of some business in Vias in between rentals, we watched the minutes tick by as the two hour trip turned into three, then nearly four, with delays along the route in unexpected places, and loooong waits at nearly every toll booth, whether to pick up a ticket or to pay. We finally made it, arriving in Vias as the Saturday market was in full swing, with not a parking spot to be found. We waited in a lot until someone left and grabbed their spot, and walked to La Belle Cour through more market stalls than we’ve ever seen. We’ve been here in the summer before, in between rental guests (this year it’s booked solid), but the market has definitely expanded since we spent time here in the high season. Jaunty flags draped the lanes – the whole town’s a party in the summer! It took us nearly as long to get back to Aix – we felt like we were driving all day – guess we almost were!

So Sunday we’re happy to stay close to home, walking to church, enjoying a quiet afternoon in the coolness of our apartment, Ambiance d’Aix, before driving north for an evening concert of the Luberon String Quartet Festival  in the cloister of the 12th century Abbaye de Silvacane.


In years past our favorite quartet, the Fine Arts, have played here and we hope to hear them here again in the future. This evening the Debussy Quartet delights us with an eclectic program of Haydn, Smetana, and Ravel.

While I sit under the shaded arches of the cloister,

Kirk strolls in the cool empty spaces of the ancient monastery as he listens.

During intermission a local vineyard, Chateau Paradis, hosts a tasting of their rosés, reds and whites.

This peaceful stone haven is such a wonderful place to enjoy a concert, and brings to mind our very first Music and Markets Tour, right here in Provence in 2003, when we first heard a quartet here. These marvelous and memorable historic venues – an ancient cloister, an elegant chateau or majestic castlewere part of what triggered our desire to share such wonderful music and places with others. That continues to be such a great pleasure today, nearly ten years later.

Ups and Downs in France

Ups and Downs in France

Thursday, May 3, 2012
Vias, 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 Amsterdam!

What’s most important when flying? Arriving safely, right? So that’s definitely an “up” because here we are at La Belle Cour, safe and sound. Smooth flights from Dulles to Brussels, then on to Toulouse, then a two hour drive to Vias, with the opportunity to discover a new-to-us place on the way.  We stop in Castelnaudary, whose claim to fame is the Languedoc specialty, cassoulet. As we drive up to the old part of town looking for an interesting restaurant we pause with a WOW at this towered arch.
The town is also a starting point for Canal de Midi boat rentals, and just beyond this charming old bridge is a wide basin with several boats moored, several with luncheon-of- the- boating – party scenes on this sunny day.
What’s the “down”? Well, our luggage did not arrive in France with us. Never a happy occurrence, right? We sat on the runway for an hour before taking off from Dulles, leaving us with just over an hour to connect in Brussels. Kirk and I made it with no problem, and even had time to dash to the Star Alliance lounge for a cappucino and pain au chocolate, but for some reason the luggage did not make it. So we filled out all the forms in Toulouse, warning the agent that we would be staying a long way from there, and for just a couple of days. “No problem, it is the airline’s fault, and they will get the bags to you”.
We’ve rented the smallest car for this trip, and had talked about where we could stop for lunch on the way to Vias, knowing that our pile of luggage would be too big to stay hidden, so we couldn’t consider leave the car unattended while eating (how many tales have we heard about car windows being broken to get the valuables inside? It’s never happened to us, thankfully). Well now we just have our two little carryons, nicely tucked in the trunk, so we can stop anywhere we want – look on the bright side, right?!
Lunch is an I- know- I’m – in – France moment, with a Salade de Gesiérs (Gizzard salad)  for me – not something I can get in the States, unless I bring back a can of Gesiérs Confit and make it at home. Kirk’s bountiful salad, with a multitude of cheeses, from goat to cantal to roquefort, is another delicious taste of France.

It’s been a month since we were in the south of France, and it is, of course, much greener now, with vineyards sprouting with spring growth, fountains of golden broom  and poppy strewn fields delighting our eyes as we drive.

Within the hour, Kirk’s painting the white borders around the doors and windows along the lane, the job he couldn’t finish when we were last here due to rain. We’ve been praying for good weather this time so he can get this done before the spring/summer renters come to enjoy our place!
I’m doing indoor chores, and calling the airport to see if our bags have arrived on later flights. No answer in Toulouse, so I call the United 1K baggage number, and they confirm that our bags are in Toulouse, having arrived on two different flights, two different airlines – who knows why??! I keep trying to get an answer at Toulouse, and finally do. Yes the bags are there, but since we are more than 150 kilometers away they will be sent by Chronopost, and not delivered to the door as we expected. And the Chronopost pickup is not until Friday night at 6, so we should get the bags by 1 pm Saturday, IF they arrive on time via Chronopost, which in our minds is NOT a sure thing. Well we have to leave early Sunday for our Music and Markets tour in Barcelona. So what if they arrive after we leave? Whose responsibility are they? United says they’re now Brussels Airlines problem (so much for the premier baggage service for 1K customers…) Brussels Airlines says they’re Avia Partners problem, and when they’re picked up by Chronopost the responsibility will pass to them. This is definitely not reassuring… so we come to the conclusion that we’ll have to take FOUR hours out of our already very full day Friday to drive to and from Toulouse to get the bags ourselves. You can imagine how we feel about that!
Let’s just put it out of our mind and enjoy dinner. Vias’ best restaurant is Le Vieux Logis, in the 13th century volcanic stone townhome of the ancient lords of the Agde bishopric, tucked inside the sole remaining gate, also of volcanic stone from Agde, of the walls that ringed the village in the 1200’s.
Stuffed oysters for Kirk, and a melt- in- your- mouth confit duck leg for me, accompanied by some good Languedoc wines, do a good job of filling our minds with good things as Vincent, the owner, smilingly serves his full house.

The huge fireplace of Le Vieux Logis is a listed historic monument – I’m sitting beside a treasure of our little country village!
Lost luggage and lost time are minor problems – we have so very much for which to be thankful!