June 2 - ahh Provence - the sun is shining,it is warm out of the wind and the fragrance of lavender is in the air - it's not blooming yet but all the dried lavender products are smelling prettily.
We arrived by train from Avignon yesterday morning and had a couple of bus transfers to our hotel in ...... Which was just over the river and up a windy road and then a 10 minute walk to les Residence des Cedres - an old mansion with small rooms in the gardens.
It hadn't warmed up since the morning and so we still had all our clothing layers on when we headed back into Avignon for an afternoon of exploration. Maybe it was the weather , but really it just seemed like another stone town - although there was an awesome quartert playing in the courtyard of the Palais du Papes. The only colour in town was the coloured wood shutters that fitted into every window.
Before this trip Kelly drank only decaf coffee and I was on a green tea kick ( with the occasional cappuccino) - here in France it is
espressos with sugar all the way! We found a great little spot in Place Didier where it was half the price for the same drink on the tourist street ( just around the corner). Promenading around the narrow streets I saw a rotisserie chicken stand and by the time we decided that we would have chicken for dinner, it took another hour or so of aimlessly wandering to find the same spot - and that was only because a fellow in a tiny corner store directed us,
Dinner back in our room - chicken, bread, pickles, mustard ( of course) and Chardonnay wine. The heater was on full blast and we fell asleep to the wind screaming through the trees. The next morning the hotel fellow said head lived in Avignon all his life and never seen weather like this.
The main reason to come to Avignon was to pick up a rental car for the next four days. We caught bus #4 to the Central Gare and the fun began. We had to catch bus # 10 to Courtine and it wasn't till some one finally spoke leetle English that we realized we
were waiting on the wrong side of the street. The end of the line for bus # 10 was " downtown Courtine" which somehow I thought would comprise of more than a grocery store and a couple of car washes! The local pharmacist used google maps to direct us over a couple of streets and there was Europecar and our Renault just waiting for us. We had made the booking on line and were told there was no drop off fee for leaving the car in Nice and I had my suspicions - but no, there were no additional charges - and we got a GPS to boot ( cos it came with the car - otherwise it would have been at an additional 15 euros a day) Now I am pretty sure that I could have navigated us by map but it was pretty easy letting "Fifi" do all the work.
If Burgundy was irises, Provence is red poppies - they were every where! I think Kelly was glad the roads were so narrow with no shoulder, so he could ignore all my requests to pull over for photo ops.
First stop was
Isla sur la Sorgue - a small town on the banks of the green Sorgue river. The river is channeled around and through the town with a series of water wheels turned by the current. Restaurants line the river and there is a very pleasant town square. The river current was pretty strong and it was entertaining watching ducks paddle furiously across. The water comes to the surface in Fontaine de Vaucluse, with an average flow of 630 million cubic meters a year and at a constant temperature of 13 degrees. We walked to the head of the river and couldn't see the spring cos the water level was so high. Both town are heavily touristy but are on the "must see" list. By the time we left Fontaine, there was not a cloud in the sky and all the clothing layers had been shed. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.
When researching destinations in Provence, the town of Gordes came up repeatedly - Internet photos looked kind of boring but we went there anyway - the first view of the hill top village from the road was stunning!. It literally was perched on
a cliff side. Once inside the village, it was one picturesque alleyway after another with great views onto the plains below.
A quick stop at Abbey de senanque (it is too early for the lavender to be blooming which was unfortunate as this is one of the most well known "lavender shots") and it was on to Roussillon, a town built from red ochre rocks - very pretty and again, worth the visit. We entered via a side road and thought the village was deserted until we came to the main square - that's where all the tourists were. The view of the red/orange cliffs was spectacular.
A lot of suggested itineraries send you from one hill town to another, but quite frankly, two cutesy wutesy towns ( one grey/yellow stone and one red stone) were enough. Our final destination for the day was the town of Apt where we were going to stay overnight. Our room at an Ibis Budget Hotel was like walking into an Ikea cube - tiny "plastic" room but very efficiently laid out. We walked into the town centre for dinner at Bistro Le France where we had the
assiette de jour - salad, fish and cheese. We thought we deserved a real meal after all the picnicking we had done.
Today we walked back into the town centre for coffee and a pastry and wandered around the old town for a bit -Seems like every town has an "old walled centre" - all very medieval and atmospheric
There was a Sunday market in Maubec and Fifi directed us right to the heart of the town which was to nothing! Kelly commented that it was like a movie where all the people in the town had disappeared - then he remarked " we haven't seen any kids either except for in Paris". Weird. We eventually found a sign that indicated that the market was actually in Coustellet, so off we went. Great farmers market where we replenished our cheese supply before setting course for the town of Loumarin.
All the roads are barely two lane, tight corners and a lot of steep up and down. There were serious cyclists ( tour de france) types everywhere -maybe this is their training ground.Our route took us through the extremely picturesque hill town
of Bonnieux and then onto Loumarin where we hoped to stop for a coffee - the place was packed, cars everywhere so we just kept on going. We figured that if we found a "non tourist" town, there would be a regular brasserie where the regular people went and we could get an espresso and the little town of Cadenet looked a good choice. As soon as entered the first narrow street we realized we had made an error in judgement. Streets barely wide enough for one car, 180 degree corners and no one around - it was Sunday after all. Fifi had a meltdown and it wasn't til we escaped the labyrinth that she responded again.
We reprogrammed Fifi for the fishing port of Cassis on the Côte d'Azur and 1 hour and 4.5 euros in tolls later we were in another world.
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