Finally, finally two weeks into our trip to France, we arrived in Provence, and encountered sunshine and warmer temperatures. It was even hot one day. Ahhhh. That felt good.
The best thing about staying in self-catered accommodation is the freedom it allows. Once settled into our little stone cottage overlooking a vineyard, we could wake up a bit later; unlike staying in a B&B, we didn't have to present ourselves for breakfast at the agreed upon time, or pack the car and get on the road for our next destination. We could make a pot of tea, go for a morning power walk on the unpaved roads that snaked around us, all the while trying to surreptitiously peer through the gates our neighbours' properties to see how the other half of Provence lived, and return "home" to shower and decide our plan for the day. And maybe have another cup of tea.
Each day we set off to explore Provence. The old walled city of Avignon, with its ancient Papal Palace...
... up stone steps to the top of the village
... where we could look out over the vineyards and across hazy mountains.
Then we descended back down to the heart of the village and stopped into a wine tasting shop. We sampled a few varieties of the red wine Chateauneuf du Pape is famous for, and selected a couple of bottles to take home. Along with a wonderfully aged black olive saucisse. Ugly to look at, kind of shriveled and covered in white mold...who knew it could taste so scrumptious. Perfect with sliced tomatoes and fresh bread for lunch.
A couple of days later we set off early in the morning for Arles. This was a wonderful day. We explored the winding streets of Arles, once a thriving Roman settlement. We gazed up at Roman columns and sat in the Roman arena where they still hold bullfights in the summer.
Later we drove out to the coast, through the marshy flatlands of the Camargue where they breed the black bulls and the creamy white horses that have become synonymous with the area. We arrived at the seaside town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, parked the car and carried our picnic cooler down to the beach.
Finally, I could wiggle my toes in the sand of the Mediterranean Sea. Cool. Well, actually... that sand was pretty darned hot. We ate our lunch behind a windbreak since the day had become very, very windy. Sand blew around us, into the cooler, and down our necks. No need for salt on those tomatoes...they were liberally sprinkled with sand before we could gulp them down. Still it was sunny and the sky was a brilliant blue. And it was France. What's to complain about, eh?
Our last day we visited the Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard, near Nîmes. Hubby remembered visiting here in the sixties with his parents when his dad was stationed in France with the Canadian Air Force. Long before access to the site was as closely controlled as it is now, they camped near the foot of the aqueduct and he and his little brother climbed to the top of it one night.
We would have to be content with crossing the bridge at the lowest level and scrambling up the path that snaked through the trees overlooking it. What an impressive sight.
We were definitely Roman around Provence. Ha. I know, really bad pun. Sorry.
Although you can't tell from our pictures, the famous mistral winds had started blowing the day before when we were in Arles. I must have found a calm moment to take that shot above because my hair seems to be not standing on end for a change. And like in Mary Poppins, the change in the wind meant we would be moving on.
Tomorrow we'd be packing the car and saying farewell to our cottage. With a little over a week left in our trip, we were headed back north. We'd spend a few days in the Parc National des Cévennes, and then move on to the Loire Valley. I was excited for the Loire and chateau country. But France had a few surprises to throw at us before we reached there. We'd seen some historic and famous places while in Provence, but the Languedoc was soon to remind us that often the best moments when you travel are the unexpected ones.
But what about you, dear readers? Are you getting tired of hearing about France? Maybe I should take a break and write a fashion post. Huh?