Saturday, August 17, 2013 Roussillon, France
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear fromyou! Join us on our fall tour – delightful Bath for the Mozartfest!
After a couple of days of dedicated work on Ambiance d’Aix and La Belle Cour, we’re rewarding ourselves with a relaxing weekend in the Luberon before flying back to Virginia. Passing the ancient walls of Avignon as we drive across the south of France, we’re remembering our May visit to the Papal Palace as we toured Provence and the Riviera with our wonderful guest Steve. I usually like to unpack and get our “nest” prepped when we check into a hotel, but today both of us are eager to get out beside the pool and just chill…we slip on our bathing suits, bring our own chilled rosé and a few nibbles, and sink into comfortable chaise lounges on the lush lawn of Sables d’Ocre hotel on the outskirts of one of our very favorite villages, Roussillon – aaaah!
Next on the itinerary – dinner on the terrace below our room,
where we watch the intriguing globes, white during the day, gleam with colors as dusk falls.
Kirk tries something new – a foie gras burger – as a starter,
and the relaxed pleasure continues from one course to another in this lovely place.
The globes, on the lawn and even up in the tall pines, vie with the nearly- full moon for romantic effect.
It’s just a ten minute walk to the village, dreamy at night…
each photogenic corner demanding a snap just as in the daytime,
with the added mystery of lamplit shadows – love this place!
Monday, May 13, 2013 Delights in the South of France Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear fromyou! Join us on a summer tour on the Amalfi Coast, in Provence, or in Amsterdam/Belgium.
Our fellow Slow Travel Tours members, Charley and Kathy Wood, have invited us to join them for a day of their Luberon Experience tour, and it’s just a gorgeous day to explore this enticing area with them.
We’re staying in Lourmarin for a couple of nights, and buzz by the elegant chateau on our way to meet the Woods in Bonnieux.
After zig-zagging our way up and over the Combe de Lourmarin, we come out above the valley and snake down through upper-town Bonnieux to meet Charley at the Clos de Buis below, which they’ve filled with Luberon Experience guests for the week. Several of the group are hiking with Kathy across the valley to Lacoste, crowning the opposite hill, and we’ll meet them there later.
Our first stop is the peaceful Abbaye St. Hilaire, where Charley points out the WC – carved into the adjacent cliff!
The Abbey, with origins in the 1300s, was abandoned for decades, and is now being slowly and carefully restored by a family who is also living there.
We enjoy the views of farms below and cliffside gardens,
then pile back into the cars to meet the rest of the group in Lacoste, where we begin our tour above the town at the chateau, now used as an exhibition venue, that was the former abode of the Sade family…
yes, THAT Marquis was chased out of THIS town and imprisoned in the Bastille. Across the valley you can see Bonnieux to the right.
Beyond the sculpture, gleaming white-topped in the distance, is Mont Ventoux, a yearly fixture on the Tour de France.
Kathy shares the history of this now quiet and peaceful place, and we walk down through the town, which is mostly inhabited by students and faculty of the Savannah College of Art and Design… not even a bakery is here any more.
The Wood’s favorite Provencal artist, Francoise, whose shop is just on the left as you enter the village, shows us her work, and at least one Luberon Experience guest takes home a beautiful painting!
I love her patio – what a perfect place to sit and be inspired!
We’re all roussillon colored as we sit down for lunch in Cafe des Couleurs,
then take time to stroll the lanes, a photo op at every turn, from the tower
to a poppy strewn cliffside.
A couple more stops with the group – the graceful arch of Roman Pont Julien,
and a hand- picked- by – Kathy poppy field, just right for a scarlet- surrounded photo. Once again, Mont Ventoux gleams in the distance.
Thanks so much, Kathy and Charley, for generously sharing a Luberon Experience day with us!
We take off on our own for a few more Luberon sights, such as Gordes, another of France’s official “most beautiful villages” ,
and leave time for a wander around Lourmarin,
where our chat with a sidewalk guitarist leads us to his shop – he’s also an artist! And while we browse and buy he entertains us with a Johnny Cash tune or two.
Each day’s proving even better than we could have imagined – one unexpected surprise after another, with gorgeous weather as a perfect backdrop.
Saturday, March 30, 2013 South of France Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear fromyou! 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,
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.
Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you! We’ve got the car for the rest of the day, so let’s explore more of this beautiful area, filled with some of our favorite south-of-France places.
Just down the road from Carpentras is the colorful town of Isle sur la Sorgue, where we found many of the lovely antiques for our Aix apartment. It’s also the first stop on our Music and Markets Provence tour... an antiques markets to start the week.
Today, Friday, the town is quiet and none of the antiquaires are open, just a few of the local shops.
Without the distraction of beautiful old pieces,we can better notice the charming corners of town.
One lovely spot after another in this little collection of islands in the Sorgue River.
The historic Cafe de France , where we sit and sip a cafe creme under the plane tree outside in the summer,
beckons us inside for a warming vin chaud.
The town became prosperous generations ago because of the silk weavers, whose factories were powered by the water wheels throughout the town.
Then on the to the Luberon, stopping first at the colorful village of Roussillon, with its cliffs of ochre used for paint in the past, before synthetic colors were invented.
Can’t resist this door – we take a photo EVERY time, I think.
We never get tired of this town of many colors.
The Friday market of Lourmarin is our next destination, and on the way there we toss out the idea of Petite Maison in Cucuron for lunch. Kim, of Dine by Design loves the idea, and while she and Kirk look around the village, I find the phone number and call the restaurant. One little table left – can you get here in 15 minutes? I scurry through the charming village and find Kirk and Kim and in a few minutes we’re on our way.
It was a year ago when we enjoyed a fabulous truffle meal here, courtesy of the
Fastiers and today the charming staff presents us with another stellar meal.
beginning with an unusual combination of mussels, mushrooms, avocado and grapefruit, every bite bringing an ooh and aah from the table.
The main course is a shank of veal served with pumpkin puree, garnished with kumquats and toast topped with sweet and mellow marrow.
Not one, but two desserts – first a baked apple almond-crusted tart with tangy green apple sorbet, then a trio of profiteroles with chocolate – leave us eager for a walk around the town before we head back to Aix. Sweet Kim has grabbed the bill before we realize it – merci madame!! What fun it has been to share the day with her, exploring new places and showing off some of our old favorites!
Knowing that Karen plans to sell this house and we’re not likely to ever return to this memory-packed home of our friends, we took a long last look and lots of pictures. Maybe if we return to the area and tell the new owners that Vic is “buried” under the olive tree, they’ll let us stroll through and pay our respects if we promise not to pick any pears in the garden.
Our first stop is at Gigondas on our drive to Marseilles. We pull in the driveway of the Domaine de Tourelles and find out why the two towers are on the bottle. The chateau on the edge of town looking west over some of the Rhone’s best vines is framed by two cylindrical 40 foot stone towers topped with inverted cones. We followed the signs to the retail shop and rang the bell, but the vignerons must have been in church. So, though we’d rather buy a bottle from the vineyard, we settled for the wine shop about 100 feet away in the heart of Gigondas.
From Gigondas, we went in search of Venasque, heading southeast through Carpentras. Ensemble Morandi, the string quartet whom we’d heard Friday night at the Domaine de Mourchon in Seguret had a concert Saturday night at the Auberge de la Fontain in the center of Venasque, so we thought we’d check out the venue. We’d heard the name before but have never been there. When we were about a mile from the village, we could see it was dramatically topping a very high hill. So from the foot of the mountain we zigged then zagged while we salivated thinking about the views we’d enjoy from the top. We parked French style (wherever we wanted to) by the fountain and Kirk stayed with the car while Anne and Jill got a tour of the hotel’s concert venue.
We’d never driven north to south through the entirety of Provence like we were about to today. We usually either spend all our time in the haute Provence or below the Luberon mountain range; but today we’re going to connect some previously unconnected points. From Venasque, we emerged from the forest at the Abbaye de Senanque, about a month away from any lavender blooms, but we could use our imagination to see the purple rows, hear the near roar of the bees, and smell the fragrance rising in the valley.
Within minutes, another photo-stop at Gordes. The hilltop villages of Tuscany have nothing on these high altitude villages and Gordes is one of the most picturesque.
From Gordes, looking almost due east we could see our next stop, Rousillon, the village beside the multicolored cliffs whose rocks were crushed, sifted, and sold as pigment for paint for all the famous French painters. The pigment was also used for coloring plaster and almost every house in Rousillon is one shade or another of the ochre/rust still visible in the cliffside adjacent to the village.
We had a quick salad lunch on what used to be a home’s patio then drove past a poppy field and the hilltop town of Lacoste, crowned with the fortress/castle of the Marquis de Sade, to Bonnieux.
Between Bonnieux, and Lourmarin we stopped for a half kilometer hike down a path beside an old mill trace to a stone bridge built by the pre-Luther Protestants called Vaudois. They leftItaly where they were known as Waldensians and where they developed considerable skill as stone masons. This low, short bridge over the insignificant Aigue Brun stream has as an anchor on the right, a stone concave fan. Those Vaudois cut and laid those stones with such skill that the bridge still stands after about 500 years.
Loumarin is always worth a stop and walk around. Lots of other people had the same idea but we pushed through the upscale crowd to get a Loumarin specialty, Le Gibassier de Lourmarin. It’s about a foot long and looks like a fougasse – a hand-shaped flat bread – but is sweet like a cookie. It contains lots of olive oil which makes it sweet in a sophisticated sort of way. We also stopped at the wine shop and got a couple bottles of rosé from the region to fill out our six-bottle Styrofoam case.
From there the very familiar drive south through Cadenet and Rognes to Aix en Provence. We did an informal high-level tour of Aix for Jill and took a little break in the lobby of the Hotel des Augustins before dinner at Jacqu
es le Croquant featuring specialties from southwestern France. After duck, goose and rabbit, we drove south to turn in the rental car and check in to the airport hotel at Marseilles. We reluctantly asked for a Monday morning wake-up call for our early flights to Frankfort and Paris then on to Dulles by mid afternoon.
As always, we’ve gotten more than we had hoped for in a short week’s visit – some planned adventures, and some wonderfully serendipitous surprises! We can’t wait til the next time!
Slip into the window seat in our aisle and join us on our search for a symphony of views, flavors, culture, sounds, and friends. We'll let you know when we hear the harmony we seek - whether in a WOW classical concert, an awesome night of jazz, a magical vineyard or olive farm, or an outstanding bistro, trattoria, wine, garden, or experience. From our delightful maison de village near a Languedoc beach* to a canal-side string ensemble in Amsterdam, you'll read and feel like a real local.
The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we're interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We've visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and in the the south of France. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with you.