Day 1: Geneva (Which is obviously not in Provence, but bear with me): After several flights (Yemen>Bahrain>Frankfurt>Geneva), we arrived in Europe. Mr.YemenEm and I rented a car (stick shift, which I don’t know how to drive, so he’s the sole driver of the trip. Yay!) and spent the day in Geneva, which is stately yet charming. We walked around and relished in being able to simply walk to our hearts’ content, after living in Yemen, where walking anywhere except around the dusty hotel grounds was not an option.
Of course, I had one thing on my mind (as is usually the case): CHEESE! And Brasserie de l’Hotel de Ville was highly recommended for its delicious vats of melty cheese. Mr.YemenEm and I luxuriated in eating delicious fondue, drinking a bottle of crisp white wine while sitting in a sunny city center, walking people and cute dogs, and listening to the locals. This meal was ridiculously expensive, but we decided that it was worth it. We were also a little drunk – on wine, freedom, seeing cute Jack Russel terriers everywhere – at that point.
After lunch, it started pouring rain and because both of us were in dire need of haircuts (and highlights for me), we spent the next few hours in a salon. Unbeknownst to me, I was in the process of getting the most expensive haircut and color of my life. We spent the night just over the French border with Mr.YemenEm’s ultimate Frisbee friends and were up early the next morning.
Day 2: Avignon: We arrived in Avignon, a Medieval walled college town with a vibrant theater scene. We checked in to the Maison Velvet B&B. The owner, Maya fled Lebanon during the revolution with her family, and they settled in France. She had a career in the music industry scouting new French talent until she retired to sun-drenched southern France, and bought Maison Velvet last year. The place was sunny, tastefully decorated and the breakfasts (croissant, bread, butter, jams, cheese, fruit and yogurt) were delicious. Maya directed us to check out a cute street a few blocks from Maison Velvet and Mr.YemenEm and I declared it the most charming street we’ve ever seen (we’re talking cobblestone and a water wheel and a tattoo shop and a bar. France is so cool). We had delicious draft beers and had pretty much this conversation for 10 minutes.
Me: This street is seriously so cute. And this beer is so good.
Mr.YemenEm: I love this street. And I love this beer.
Me: France is awesome. And how good is this beer?
You get the picture. And if you don’t, here is the picture.
We had dinner at Chez Lulu, a super cozy, small restaurant, and very reasonably priced. We split a delicious gorgonzola and caramelized onion tart and I had the vegetarian pasta and Mr.YemenEm had the duck, which is par for the course for him.
Day 3: Avignon The next day, we toured the main attraction in Avignon – The Palais de Papes, which is described as “the most important Medieval Gothic building” in all of Europe. It was the seat of Christianity during the 14th Century and six popes lived there. I’m not all that interested in religious history, but the view from the top was perfection.
Many people, especially Catholics, probably feel spiritually inspired touring through the Palais de Papes. But you know what inspired me? The tile floor in the bedroom of one of the old popes is exactly the color scheme I pictured for our apartment in Spain. I snapped a photo and will try and replicate the feel of it once we’re in Madrid.
From there we hopped in our rental car and drove to the other major tourist attraction – the Pont du Gard – which is a huge Roman bridge (and a UNESCO site). We took in the beautiful river views and wondered how anyone built anything so grand in the olden days. Assistance from alien powers, most likely.
We finished the day with dinner at The Five Senses back in Avignon where I had a fancy vegetarian tasting menu and Mr.YemenEm had scallops. Everything served was beautiful, but probably a little more creative than delicious. Dessert was a trio of sorbets that included both vegetables and fruits and I was supposed to guess the bizarre combinations of flavors. One had zucchini in it. And it was actually quite good. Full, wine-buzzed, and utterly exhausted from a day of walking, we ditched our plans to go to a bar and hear live music in favor of being old fuddy duddies and going to bed at 10pm. And we slept for 11 hours.
Day 3: The Luberon Region After a second tasty and satisfying breakfast, we checked out of Maison Velvet and drove less than an hour southeast to the Luberon region of Provence. At this point of the trip, our Garmin GPS, (which we had to buy at the airport) will, hands down, win VIP of this trip. We’ve already had some hilarious National Lampoons European Vacation style round-about experiences. One roundabout took us four tries until we got off at the correct exit. But we had a real close call when the Garmin directed us in to a wooded hiking trail and called it a road. After pointing out that I wasn’t in the mood to push our little car out of a muddy ditch in the middle of a Provencal forest, Mr.YemenEm backed up and found the actual paved road a mere 20 feet away. We checked in to the Traverse Champs B&B in the tiny village of Puyvert and then drove a few miles away to explore the more lively town of Lourmain, another Cutest Town Ever (and supposedly one of the top 200 most beautiful towns in France, according to signage).
Shortly after, we had another Garmin close call when she (because we picked the female English accent voice) directed us down a street that would be a tight squeeze on which to ride a horse. And there we were driving down it, getting sour looks from the locals as I was snapping photos. Luckily, Mr.YemenEm’s a very good driver and he maneuvered out of the teeny street like a pro. After getting out of the rain and enjoying some red wine, we decided we were craving beer and pizza, which may have been premature since we’ll be heading in to Italy next. But no regrets. It was damn good. (Pesto pizza topped with arugula. Perfect crispy thin crust).
After lunch, we tooled around Lourmarin, toured a cool old Chateau and then drank wine at our B&B, overlooking the rainy backyard vineyard. For dinner, we took our host’s recommendation and ate at a small, cozy restaurant next to a roaring fireplace. The place was run by a French Patch Adam’s like character (cooing over babies and cracking French jokes) while his wife tooled away in the kitchen. Great ambiance, although I was less than impressed with the vegetarian plate. Which was, indeed, just a plate of vegetables.
Day 4: The Luberon Region The next day we toured two nearby towns – Gordes and Roussillon. Roussillon is known for its ochre hues, the colors of which reminded me of places like Utah or Nevada, only all the houses match the color, making for a cool effect. The drive to Roussillon took us through the village of Bonnieux, which probably the best view of a town I’ve never seen. Couldn’t help but slam on the breaks to get out and take a new Facebook profile picture.
Roussillon is a great hilly, colorful town. So it was fitting we had lunch at the Cafe des Couleurs, and we sat out back, sipping a bottle of rosé and eating super fresh salads. After that, we had some tiramisu gelato and then burned that off in an hour long hike. Next, we drove to the hilly, windy town of Gordes, toured a little castle that was turned into an art gallery and drank beers by a fountain whilst watching adorable French children splash around and say cute things like “Papa!” and “Oui!” We drove back to our B&B to relax and dinner later was slim-pickings because many things in France are closed on Mondays. We settled for a just-okay place called L’ourmeau in Lourmarin.
Day 5: Aix-en-Provence We checked out of the Traverse Champs and drove to nearby Aix-en-Provence. All we knew about it was that it’s another bustling college town and that it’s known for it’s fields of lavender. It must not be lavender season, because we didn’t see any lavender. Also, after the walled city charm of Avignon, we weren’t as crazy about Aix. We checked into a kind-of-funky, but also pretty basic hotel called Hotel Artea and went exploring. Tons of stores, so it appeared to be a great shopping town. One of things about traveling with Mr.YemenEm – he hates to shop, so I don’t do much of that on our trips. In fact, I haven’t bought much of anything yet aside from some toiletries. After rambling about, we again had an amazing pizza lunch with, yep, you guessed it, a bottle of rosé. Aix-en-Provence has some great museums, so I’ve heard. And we really felt we should see those museums in the same way you really should work out and drink lots of water. Ultimately, we decided that what we really wanted to do was take a post pizza and rosé nap. And thus that is what we did. Dinner was at a vegetarian-friendly tiny little place run by one guy who both cooked and served called La Cerise Sur Le Gateau with a nice view of a charming cobblestone side street. The food was a lot like what I would make at home, which was a good thing, but it could have been a little richer. After all, I am on vacation in France.
Day 6: Aix-en-Provence The number one rated attraction in Aix, according to TripAdvisor, is Mont Sainte Victoire, and Mr.YemenEm and I really like hiking. We decided if we’re going to avoid packing on the pounds on this extended vacay, we need to incorporate exercise in to the itinerary. Once we drove to the mountain, we were anxious to get hiking, glanced at a crude map, and thought we had it figured out. What we should have done was popped in to the visitor’s center down the road. Unbeknown to us, we had chosen a path that would take about seven hours to complete. But before we figured out we were in for the longest hike of our lives, we enjoyed a lovely bread, cheese, fruit, and wine lunch at a nice lookout. Then, we climbed. And climbed. And climbed. Once we reached the summit (which was an old structure with a church, and then above that, an enormous cross, visible from miles away), we climbed back down. And climbed. And climbed. We had run out of water hours before, so we resorted to drinking wine. Which sounds fun, but really, I was just damn thirsty and cranky and wished we had planned better.
Finally, we made it to our car, and eventually back to our hotel in Aix. We felt we should reward ourselves for surviving and for actually working out on a vacation, so we ate at in the cavelike basement of Pasta Cosy. I had a decadent porcini mushroom pasta with a Parmesan cream sauce and Mr.YemenEm had risotto with scallops. And we had tiramisu for dessert, because if tiramisu is on the menu, we are unable to resist it. (Same goes for cremé bruleé, which surprisingly is not on many menus here. Perhaps it’s passé, like if American restaurants put apple pie on their menus?) Again, we told ourselves we’d be fun and go to a bar. But seriously, I climbed a mountain for seven hours, so I was asleep like 20 minutes after that last bite of delicious tiramisu.
Day 7: Cassis, Nice We left Aix-en-Provence without seeing any museums, or really doing much besides eating. We stopped in Cassis, a stunning port town, that is still considered part of Provence, but looks much more Mediterranean (what with being on the sea and all). We took an hour-long boat cruise to tour the town’s calanques or creeks. Beautiful rock formations, but it was a gray and chilly morning, and I suspected the experience might be more enjoyable with sunny blue skies. We bought some tiny local liquors to bring back (Cassis, which is black current liquor, and a liquor infused with thyme) and ate lunch (super fresh Greek salad with mint for me and spaghetti with prawns for Mr.YemenEm). And then we left Provence for the seaside portion of the trip. We just arrived in Nice and I’m typing this, looking out of our hotel onto a blue sea and rocky beach. More in a few days.
Au revoir from France,