A Week in Nice, Provence and the Occitanie to Make You Jealous! PART II
I hope I made you very jealous with yesterday’s Nouvellettre® because you didn’t join us last week in Nice, Provence and the Occitanie!
As I explained, it had been quite a week. So to read the rest of the story, just sit back and relax, you’re about to get a “glimpse” of what it was like to participate in the five-day tour to Provence and the Occitanie. Today’s Nouvellettre® is PART II of the recounting of the tale…
TOUR DAY ONE: AIX-EN-PROVENCE
The morning started off by climbing onto a big motor coach with a woman driver, named Emilie, wearing a beautiful dress, in high heels. Pauline was our tour guide at her side and I sat on a front-row seat with an incredible view of the road ahead. We watched Emilie pile our bags into the bottom of the bus awed by her strength and femininity. The drive to Aix-en-Provence, one of the region’s most beautiful and elegant cities, was only two hours, first along the A8 Autoroute then turning northward.
Aix is a young and vibrant town, as well as highly cultured. That being said, we managed to arrive in the midst of a garbage collectors’ strike against the pension reform. Piles of garbage were everywhere. It didn’t deter us, however, from taking in the absolute beauty of the town, knowing that eventually the strike would be over and the garbage would be cleaned up.
Our first stop was a copious and delicious lunch at the Hôtel de Caumont Centre d’Art, one of the most stunning “salon du thés” in France, followed by a tour of the current exhibition—Zao Wou-Ki’s works, “Il ne fait jamais nuit” (on until October 10th). This is one of my personal favorite luncheon spots in Aix and was a special request of mine to bring the group there.
Non-stop, our own consultants, Jennifer Parrette and Ella Dyer, came to Aix by car to arrange for us to visit several properties for sale in Aix. Ella had her Chihuahua puppy, “Simone,” in tow. The group, having split into smaller groups, visited as many as they wanted or could, navigating the narrow streets to find these centuries-old and quirky apartments recently placed on the market. We have several clients buying or renting in Aix-en-Provence—a great alternative to Nice if you want to live in the south of France, and be in an active city with great TGV service to Paris.
Checking into the Hôtel de France, a boutique hotel located very conveniently just at the Cours Mirabeau and the Fontaine de la Rotonde, became a bit of a struggle when the elevator stopped working just before we arrived. With my experience climbing stairs carrying luggage, I helped the rest of the group roll the bags up like I always do. It is an important lesson to learn: when you live on high floors, even with an elevator, when the elevator is out of service, plan on walking up! It was a small price to pay for a nice hotel in an amazing location. No one seemed too bothered by it and in spite of the inconveniences in Aix-en-Provence, the city still managed to make a good impression.
That evening, we landed in a Corsican restaurant, Lu Casa, at the Place Des Cardeurs (sometimes called Forum des Cardeurs). Located in the center of the city, just behind the town hall, on the site of the former Jewish quarter of the Middle Ages, the enormous Place is a forum of restaurants (about 20) filled with young people. That’s because Aix has seven important universities including Aix-Marseille University, Arts et Métiers ParisTech, Sciences Po and others.
TOUR DAY TWO: LOURMARIN, CHATEAU DE FONTENILLE, ROUSSILLON, AVIGNON
Our stay in Aix was short-lived as the group climbed back on the motor coach to head to Lourmarin, a village in the Luberon, that has a wonderful Friday morning market, impressive château and to visit a beautiful house we’ve had for sale, Les Olivettes. First we toured the market under the rows of Plane Trees, then Jennifer and Ella led the tour to the house, even though it’s currently under contract and will be soon sold. The new owner will be happy to learn that it impressed everyone, who said the photos on our site don’t do it justice. (They rarely do!)
Back on the bus, we traveled only a few minutes to Lauris to the Château de Fontenille, an authentic, family-run wine estate, a luxury family hotel with two gourmet restaurants, a landscaped park and heated swimming pool. First we tasted six of their wines (two whites, two rosés and two reds), got tipsy (at least I did), before walking up to the manor house where we sumptuously dined in the open air adjacent to the gardens. We thought we had died and gone to heaven, then realized we had spent four hours indulging on the fruits of the region.
Our elegant woman driver, who knows the region like the back of her hand, made a point of taking us via Gordes to Roussillon, along the narrow winding roads of the Luberon so we could see a breathtaking view of the perched village. Taking a bus of this size along these roads is a major challenge, but her expertise had our jaws dropping in awe and we applauded her capabilities. If we had had more time, we would have visited more of the hilltop villages, but the ochre town of Roussillon was all we could fit in to our challenging schedule.
Ranked among the most beautiful villages of France, Roussillon finished in third place in the famous show “The Favorite Village of the French” by Stephane Bern in 2018. The facades of the houses covered in yellow, orange and red totally distinguish Roussillon from the other villages of the Luberon. It is the only village where dry stone does not dominate the landscape. It is here that the biggest ochre deposit in the world is located.
Exhausted and still full from lunch, we hopped back on the bus to head to Avignon, where we unloaded our luggage and checked into the Hôtel Cloître Saint Louis, a charming and beautiful four-star hotel in the heart of Avignon, very close to the SNCF train station, “combining respect for history and modernity.” We felt we had seriously stepped back in time as we wound through the stone-walled halls, all overlooking a beautiful calm courtyard of Plane trees.
Patty Sadauskas and I crashed at our new hotel room, soaked in the big bathtub and called it a day, finally getting a full eight hours of sleep before starting off on day three of our tour.
TOUR DAY THREE: PONT DU GARD, UZES, NIMES
Bright and early we set out to visit the Pont du Gard with our guide, Edith, who lived in Nîmes and knew the region well. The Pont du Gard is a first-century AD Roman aqueduct that was built over the course of 20 years to bring water to what is now Nîmes, then called “Nemausus.” It’s the highest of all Roman aqueduct bridges and is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites. It’s actually in the neighboring region of the Occitanie, very close to Avignon that sits on the border of the two regions.
I remember when one could drive right up to it, swim in the river below, but not now. One must get tickets to enter, take a lovely path down to see it and then from there explore as you like. Thanks to Edith’s advice, we discovered a path down to the beach from which there is a view that rivals all others, especially because there was not a soul in the river stirring the waters, creating a perfect reflection of the bridge. If the skies had been bluer, it might have been more beautiful, but drop dead stunning is what I’d call it even against the cloudy backdrop. We posed for pictures on the beach we knew we’d remember forever.
Next was an excursion to the village of Uzès. That turned out to be a big surprise because we hadn’t quite planned for landing in the middle of one of the Occitanie’s largest open-air markets. The town of about 8,500 population swells to what seemed like double the size (maybe three times!), all in the city center as the Place aux Herbes was wall-to-wall with fresh produce stands, and stands selling Provençal specialties along with hordes of shoppers.
In the midst of what seemed like chaos, I was shocked to hear my name called out by our client and friend, Jim Lesser, who is in the process of buying a house in the area. You may even remember one of my Nouvellettres® telling the story of his experience. What a wonderful surprise to run into him and his friends at such an unlikely spot. That’s when I know I’m in the right place at the right time!
We all came back to meet up again with the group carrying goodies from the market feeling very accomplished and satisfied. The day had barely begun, as we filed into the Midi à l’Ombre restaurant, just steps from the city center, with a lovely courtyard for dining. We had not stopped dining well on all that France has to offer throughout the entire trip, from the fresh-baked breads to the well-prepared dishes to the aromatic wines. This was no exception, in the quiet courtyard away from the hustle-bustle of the market.
So-long, Uzès…our next stop was Nîmes, what was an important outpost during the Roman Empire. It is known for its well-preserved monuments, such as the Arena of Nîmes, a two-story amphitheater built in about 70 A.D., still in use for concerts and bullfights. The Maison Carrée, a white limestone Roman temple, is about 2,000 years old, as is the Pont du Gard. Edith took the group on a tour of the town, while I settled in at a café next to the Maison Carrée to work on this Nouvellettre®. Patty, who had lived in Nîmes for about two years, met up with a friend from the town for a drink of rosé while perched on the top floor terrace of the Carré d’Art-Musée d’Art Contemporain overlooking the Maison Carrée.
If you didn’t know this bit of trivia, Nîmes is historically known for its textiles…as “De Nimes” or “denim,” as we know it today. The blue dye used to make the fabric used in jeans, was imported via Genoa, as “Gênes” in French, which later became “jeans.”
TOUR DAY FOUR: LA FONTAINE-DE-VAUCLUSE, ISLE SUR LA SORGUE, SAINT-REMY DE PROVENCE, CARRIERE DES LUMIERES
On route to the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, there was a road block because French President Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche party officials were on our same road headed to Avignon. We stopped at the road block, and a policeman came on board to check us out. Thanks to Emilie, our driver, and Pauline, our guide, they explained that we had a bus load of Americans here to buy property. In their eyes, we were VIP’s and offered up a police escort to get us to our destination without being stopped again! There we were, on the road, with not a single car going or coming!
As it turns out, Macron’s party, En Marche, gathered this weekend in Avignon at the exhibition center to launch his presidential campaign for re-election, with 20 ministers on the campaign trail. We had the good fortune of being, once again, in the right place at the right time. What luck we had!
At La Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, at the very end of the walk that leads you to the water falls and the caverns, I heard my name being called…again. I turned around and in front of me was Deborah Ritchken, literary agent for the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, who I have known for many years, and who has a house in Cavaillon. What a shock for both of us!
“WTF are you doing here?,” we both exclaimed at the same time. “Deborah, now I know I’m in the right place at the right time,” I further added and together we walked back down the patch to briefly catch-up on all we’ve missed without contact these past few years. These kinds of synchronistic events happen to me almost daily…and yes, that’s how I know I’m supposed to be here doing what I’m doing. Let me tell you…life in France is a forever adventure.
After, at Isle sur la Sorgue, amidst the Sunday market that lines the edge of the river and into the town, we found a nice café on the edge of the water. I watched the ducks swim by and was reminded of when, once a few years ago, I watched a family of ducks slide down a small waterfall on the river, only to swim back up to the top so they could slide down again. We laughed as we watched them do this several times. Isle sur la Sorgue is well-known for its many antique shops and antique market on Sundays—a perfect spot to shop to furnish and decorate your Provençal home.
We had time for a brief interlude at Saint-Remy-de-Provence before making a visit to the Carrières des Lumières, a digital art center that projects immersive exhibitions, located in a natural quarry in Les Baux-de-Provence. It’s managed by the Culturespaces company which also manages the Hôtel de Caumont Centre d’Art in Aix-en-Provence. The sound, image and light show inside the massive quarry is well worth a special visit.
The current exhibition is of Cézannne’s works as well as Kandinsky’s. I am not a fan of Cézanne, but Kandinsky is my number one favorite artist. Being fully immersed in his paintings was absolutely thrilling and exhilarating for me—I felt like a kid in a candy store. Plus, the space itself is overwhelmingly large and impressive. If you are ever in the area, be sure to add this to your “bucket list.”
We arrived back at the hotel just before the skies opened up and torrents of rain came pouring down. The weather had held up perfectly throughout the trip—it couldn’t have been more perfect and we felt very blessed indeed. We could hear the pounding of the rain on the rooftop as we held a farewell dinner at the hotel for the last night, although this morning we’ll be touring the Palais des Papes in Avignon before hopping back on the bus to head home to Nice. Not everyone is joining us—some going in different directions.
The dinner took place at the hotel, in perfect harmony with our need to relax and just have fun together as the rain came down. Many new friendships were made and we vowed to start a Facebook group so we could stay connected. Most of the group will likely become residents or part-time residents of France. They learned something very important from our time in the countryside: live in a part of France that has the best transportation access and where there is a large expat community…then visit the rest. One of the group members claimed they had been “Adrianized,” meaning moving one’s thinking from the romantic dream to the practical reality.
No one wanted to say their good-byes, so we just didn’t. We know we’ll see each other again…here in France.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian with Emilie, the Bus Driver
P.S. Barb, Jamie, Patty and I are already talking about when we’ll do it all again…so stay tuned for an announcement or write us now to be put on a special mailing list to be notified when we do. email us today.