Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Tour of Southern France

 
Deb and I rented a car a week ago and set off from the harbor in VilleFranche on a drive with three goals.  
1 – Find and visit with our friends and neighbors Chris and Caroline Longstaffe.  
2 – Return to Barcelona and pick up our long term visas for Spain (green cards).  
3 – Tour a bit of inland France to see what life is like away from the coast.
 
We had a great time.  Achieved all of our goals and then some, and just recently returned to the boat in Villefranche.
 
We covered a lot of territory, and visited many many places.  Its all a bit much to summarize in one blog post.  I guess we should have updated things along the way, but we were too busy being tourists!!
 
So, a summary with lots of pictures and internet links appears below.  We will just have to hope that gets the job done.
 
We had a great time, and now tomorrow is Bastille Day, so we’ve returned just in time for another party!!
-Jim

Day 1 – Villefranche to Hotel La Begude

Hotel La Bégude Saint Pierre

We met our neighbors Chris and Caroline Longstaffe here and spent the evening catching up over local wine and dinner.  We all decided that we see each other away from home far more often then we do locally!!  We’ve met now in Europe, Hawaii, and New Zealand.

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Day 2 – Hotel Le Begude to Barcelona

Pont du Gard – Please check this link out. Built in the 1st century AD, the Pont du Gard is the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is one of the best preserved. It was added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites in 1985 because of its historical importance.
Take some time to read the background on the Pont du Gard.  The engineering and construction that went into the bridge and aqueduct will amaze you.  For example, the whole aqueduct descends in height by only 17 m (56 ft) over its entire length of 31 miles.  Even more impressive, the bridge descends by a mere 2.5 cm (0.98 in) across its span of 902 feet!!

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Barcelona, Spain

It’s amazing to consider the pull that Barcelona seems to exert on us!! 
However, this time our stay was short and sweet.  We arrived in the early evening, enjoyed a serious upgrade to our hotel reservation, went out for dinner, and the next morning finally completed the long (and expensive) process of obtaining our extended stay Visa for Spain!!! 
Then it was back to France…

 

 

Day 3 – Barcelona, Spain to Carcassonne, France


Our first stop upon returning to France was Carcassone
Carcassonne is located between two great axis of circulation linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sea.  Its strategic importance was quickly recognized by the Romans who occupied its hilltop until the demise of their western empire and was later taken over by the Visigoths in the fifth century who founded the city. Also thriving as a trading post due to its location, it saw many rulers who successively built up its fortifications up until its military significance was greatly reduced by the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
We stayed in a very nice hotel located less than a block downhill from the fortified city, waited for all the tourists to “go home” and then enjoyed a late evening visit including dinner, where we almost had the place to ourselves.  A definite highlight!

 

Day 4 – Carcassonne to Provence

Les Baux de Provence -  this is a stunning perched, medieval city, which you have to park outside and walk into.
If you visit Les Baux you shouldn’t miss Carriers Lumiere (the video show in the bauxite caves.)  The caves which were mined to provide the stone for the city (and others) are huge.  I would think it would take well over 1,000 people to fill the area used for the projection show.
Both the city itself and the show were well worth the visit.





AvignonAvignon is one of the “hub” cities in Provence.  It’s a fairly large city with easy access via car/train/bus, etc.  Normally we’d avoid the larger cities, but Avignon was worth visiting simply to see the  Palais des Papes.
How many of you knew that for almost 100 years the Popes left Rome and lived in France?? The palace is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. A one time fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century.
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 5 – Hotel St. Pierre to Luberon Valley

The section below is taken from the notes that our friend Caroline Longstaffe sent us to help us come up with our travel plans…

Luberon Valley – Home of the movie “A Good Year”/ Peter Mayle region

I am giving you the drive by tourism version and in the best order to get you in the right place to head back to the Cote d’azur! This area is famed for its beauty, the vineyards, the lavender (which hopefully would still be out) and its stunning perched villages There are many villages some really tiny but if you go to the Luberon these are the ones you should see, you can literally drive up to them and continue your journey without getting out of the car if you don’t want to!
See them in this order, you will probably be approaching it from Avignon:

Gordes – the most spectacular as you approach it, (also where Russell Crowe drove round the statue several times in the rain in his car before going to see the notaire! – Fanny’s Café (i.e. ‘fish and chips in Marseilles’ etc) is behind the chateau in the left hand corner, should you get out to explore! However if you literally want to just drive by, (it is a nightmare to park anyway) follow signs into the center, and then turn round the same Russell Crowe statue and leave on the same road you came in on.
Once you are back on the road across looking back at the town take the sharp right hand turn sign posted for Abbey de Senaque – an incredible Benedict Monastery --- the road is narrow and single track some of the way and it takes about 10 mins to drive down to, you will see it down in the gorge on the left, stunning! 

Rousillion - This is famed for its red ochre rock, mined for the textile industry from 1830’s for over 100 years, due to its amazing color is called the ‘Petite Colorado’ of Provence – again you can just drive through and needn’t stop

Bonnieux - Bonnieux is the perched village next to the chateau from the movie ‘A Good Year’ – it was filmed in a place called Chateau Carnogue, which is signposted, the other place its near is Pont St Julien (another tiny but amazing Roman bridge) the house is private but the winery is open and to get to it you drive on a driveway below the house and can see it and take pics!!
Lourmarin - Once in Bonnieux follow signs to Lourmarin, where we lived, about 10km away on a windy road but dramatic!! Lourmarin is not a perched village and is on the south side of the valley. It is worth stopping and walking the loop round the town (10 mins) and getting coffee, lunch, I can give suggestions!
From Lourmarin you follow signs for Aix en Provence and that will put you on the AutoRoute before Aix to get back toward Nice, a 3hr drive from Lourmain

 

 

Day 6 – Grimaud, St. Tropez to VilleFrance

We spent the last day of this land based tour driving home via St. Tropez where I picked up a painting that we had done for the boat!! 
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Grimaud - We also visited one last hillside town – Grimaud.  The village is dominated by its 11th-century castle (partially restored). And, one little known fact is that the Gulf of Saint Tropez was known as the Gulf of Grimaud until the end of the 19th century.
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Our most interesting find in Grimaud was the wine distributer! I’ve never seen a place where you walk in, taste a few different wines and then fill a plastic jug (large or small) from a hose that is very similar to the ones you use to fill your gas tank at the gas station!!