Ever planned a European trip in a week (well 8 days to be exact)?! Well we did. The Hubster had last minute work come up and I have a strict never say no to Paris clause (ok I made that up – but I stand by it). So we got busy planning, on what was arguably already a very busy week. We left for Paris with only an inkling we might end up in Provence, France.
So, we really went by the seat of our pants and adjusted as we went. When we flew to France, we only had accommodations arranged for the first 7 nights of our 18 day excursion. That was a first for this planner, since the days of back packing around New Zealand at 18. Spoiler alert – I am definitely not 18 anymore. But a little spontaneity was in order!
Not having an exact plan in order meant we had to spend some of our vacation, and supposed down time, arranging and planning. It also meant readjusting our plans a few times. We planned out traveling Northern France by car, only to learn renting a car wasn’t an option. So we pivoted and decided to take the train south instead to Provence (Avignon and Arles), then Nice and Monaco. And boy am I glad we did. The things we got to experience and the sights we saw (not to mention the food we ate) was incredible!!! Things I had always wanted to see, but had not dared to hope I actually would in this lifetime. I got to see and do things I had only dreamed of until this point! So here are some highlights of the trip to Provence, France.
Saturday morning we were Provence bound! We loaded and maneuvered our luggage onto the RER and headed to the train station. Hello fast train from Paris to Avignon. And hello unbearable motion sickness, gravol and holding my husband’s hand like a baby. So, other than the fact that I survived, I can not relate much of the train ride. But once I was steady on my feet again, it took only moments of catching sight of the city walls to fall head over heels in love with Avignon. What a place!
Our adorable hotel, full of character was right in the heart of town. Arguably the best location to be had! Hotel de L’Horloge is located directly in the main town square, I’d say it’s pretty hard to beat that. Add to that the charming solarium full of natural light and delightful French breakfasts. It was easily our favourite hotel of the entire trip!
Wondering around this place was lovely and I believe I could have easily spent a week. I also wished dearly I could have shared it with my kids, as I am fairly sure they would have adored the tiny provincial streets and beautiful sights and eats as much as I did. If I get the chance to return, I most definitely will.
This was the city of the Popes. So, during Avignon Papacy from 1309 – 1377 it was not technically part of France. In fact it didn’t become part of France until the French Revolution in 1791.
Avignon is full of fascinating history and of course the very famous Bridge of Avignon itself. Neither disappoints. Plus the hill, garden and walk up from the Palais de Papes to the bridge were delightful in themselves. Add in the hill top secluded garden cafe for lunch and you have yourself a perfect day.
There is no denying my fascination and penchant for medieval architecture, history and ruins. And boy did I get my fill with Avignon!
Pont Du Gare
However the following day lead to my first time experiencing Roman ruins. The Pont du Gare – the largest Roman aqueduct! We took a very pleasant city bus to reach the aqueduct, which allowed for a delightful and yet inexpensive tour of the surrounding Provence area.
The aqueduct itself was awe inspiring. It didn’t hurt that the day was absolutely perfect as well. We took our time hiking around, taking a picnic and appreciating it from every angle! We were both giddy. Well alright, to be honest, no one was as giddy as my bridge building enthusiast of a husband, in all his Roman ruin appreciating glory!!! Again, I would return to this sight in a heart beat.
I would have liked longer in the actual museum, but alas we had a bus to catch back to our hotel to gather our luggage and carry it down the cobble stoned streets (it sounds quaint – but in reality – a noisy, carpel tunnel inducing feat) for the train to our next adventure.
Now Arles was next on the itinerary. This was a city with some serious grit. Though it was my least favourite of all the places we visited, it was not without its charms. We had a beautiful apartment, in a walk up, rather than just a hotel room. But to get in the front door on a winding, main street without a sidewalk was a somewhat harrowing feat in itself. However the apartment was large, gorgeous and in a good location!
Here we enjoyed one our most memorable meals from a young couple running a fantastic fusion restaurant called Metronome. It was also where we experienced the most English speaking people interestingly.
Basically the entire Roman part of town is all within walking distance, but somehow I found it confusing and kept finding myself turned around. The Roman ruins were rather disappointing to me as a whole. It’s not that they were unimpressive in themselves, but they were not well labeled (sometimes hard to find and difficult to know what you were in fact looking at) and literally still part of daily life and city.
I am still very glad I had the experience to see them, I just was not expecting that the arena was still operating as a working arena (for bull fighting no less), and therefore had metal bleachers built over the ancient, original stone, and little history available without additional research. Still we enjoyed exploring and visiting all the sights we wanted to see in a single day because of such close proximity (and the purchase of the sightseeing pass).
We ran into trouble when we tried to see any of the surrounding famous sights. What had been no problem at all, with multiple options in Avignon, didn’t seem to exist here. Though Arles was not a favourite, and I would feel a little nervous taking kids here, the photographer in me would of course return for their world famous photo festival if ever given the chance.
This fantastic hilltop medieval village (with only 37 current residents) was an adventure in itself to get to. We ended up having to hike the roads on foot, an hour up the mountain, from the nearest town after taking a city bus there from Arles. But it was entirely worth it in every way.
Though I have read this village can be a tourist trap and wall to wall people, we barely saw anyone else there until the afternoon. And it filled my medieval castle loving heart! I had stepped back into time and to a fantasy world.
Topped off with the best cheese I have ever had and a patio lunch overlooking the valley. I loved every second and could have spent from dawn to dusk here!
Then we explored our first ever art gallery (and moving art installation) in a quarry. A simple walk down the hill. The very quarry that the town was built from, filled with music and VanGogh’s famous paintings projected on the carved out walls. It was fantastic and terrific and we wished we had several more hours to stay and appreciate this unique venue. The concept seemed cheesy, but it was WOW!
Once again we found ourselves at the mercy of our quick moving travel itinerary and needed to head back for our train headed for the coast.
But our time in Provence France would not be forgotten! The sights, the history, the food, the narrow streets and views were incredible.
Make sure to follow along and keep and eye out for my upcoming post on Nice and Monaco!
Missed the post about our previous week in Paris?! Then check it out here.
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