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Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

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Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

First, I’d like to thank all of the wonderful people who post trip reports and answer queries. The information was invaluable in planning this trip. Thanks also to any ChowHounds who may be reading this for their great tips on restaurants. I hope this report will be helpful to others.

The trip to Provence was wonderful and far exceeded our expectations. The people we met were friendly and very helpful, the villages were even prettier than they look in photos and the scenery was spectacular. Add great food to the mix and you have a recipe for a fabulous vacation.

This is a very long report because it’s written mainly to document my trip for my family, friends and us. I will post it in sections so it’s easier to read. Since there’s no quiz at the end you can skim, skip or ignore it – I’ll never know. But if you do read it I hope you enjoy it and that it will be of use.

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1. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Some general info on our trip:

We are retirees who have been travelling independently for the past 40 years. We used to pack the days full of activities but in the past few years we’ve slowed down the pace of the trips. We used British Airlines Frequent Flyer miles so we made most of the arrangements for the trip 10 months in advance. We had a rental car for all but the Avignon part of the vacation and picked up the car at the Avignon TGV on the way to our gite. We used the Michelin 113 zoom map and the 332 & 340 local maps and a GPS. The zoom map wasn’t really necessary but it was useful during the pre-trip prep. We found the GPS extremely useful especially in the larger towns as it was difficult to get spatially oriented since the sun was often right overhead.

The hotels, many of the restaurants and some activities have separate reviews.

The Basic Itinerary:

Avignon - 2 nights – Hotel d’Europe

Fontvielle – 7 nights – Domaine la Plantade (Lou Pastre gite)

Bonnieux - 3 nights – Le Clos du Buis (B&B)

Lourmarin - 5 nights – La Maison Rose (gite)

Avignon - 1 night – Hotel d’Europe

Paris - 1 night – Hotel de l’Universite

The Accommodations:

We were extremely happy with all of our choices except for La Maison Rose which was a huge disappointment.

Hotel d’Europe is an elegant hotel just inside the ramparts steps from the Palais des Papes and Pont Saint-Benezet. We booked directly with the hotel via email and got an excellent rate of 194€.

Domaine la Plantade (Lou Pastre) – we just loved this place. Our gite was a two bedroom stone farmhouse attached to the owner’s farmhouse. We had about an acre of private lawn overlooking several acres of fields.

Le Clos du Buis - This is a charming B&B. Our room was small but had a decent size bathroom and both rooms had wonderful views of the Luberon valley. The included breakfast was delicious, the grounds were beautiful and it's an easy, relatively flat walk to three of the best restaurants in town.

La Maison Rose (gite) – We made a huge mistake in choosing this place. We found it on TA and also saw it on HomeAway. The description of the amenities on HomeAway was misleading (if one wants to be generous) or purposely deceptive (which is what we believe). We contacted and booked with the owner via HomeAway and, my mistake, didn’t bother to confirm the amenities. The HA site lists the 2 room studio as having air conditioning, washing machine and dishwasher. It had none of these… Apparently, the A/C and dishwasher are only available in the 2 bedroom unit (which I don’t remember seeing in the listing last year when we booked) and the washing machine is only available by arrangement (also not mentioned on the site). As of this writing, the HA site still has this misinformation but I noticed that the listing on VRBO has been updated to make this clear. When I pointed out the discrepancy Rose, the owner, begrudgingly and not too nicely, offered to do our laundry and Robin (her husband) brought in a fan (since there was an unusual heat wave). We also had an issue with the fridge not working and again Rose was unpleasant about it, rudely suggesting that since I was finding fault with everything maybe I should check into a hotel.

Frankly, if it hadn’t been late in the day and their Wi-Fi had better service (didn’t work in the house but only worked in the courtyard – another problem denied by Rose) I would have looked for someplace else to go. Her husband, with better hospitality skills, offered to let us move to the other one bedroom apartment whose fridge worked. Since we had meds that needed refrigeration we switched units. This unit was much darker and the bedroom was an underground windowless cave. We purposely chose to rent the studio because I didn’t want a below ground bedroom but, at this point, we had to choose the lesser of two evils.

In the interest of fairness I must say that if price is a consideration the studio, at 100 €/day, is a good value as long as you know what you are getting and you’ve made an informed choice. For us, we would gladly have paid more to get what we needed. Also, by the end of our 5 day stay Rose was all sweetness and light although she didn’t offer to do another wash for us and we had to go to a self-laundry and spend 2 precious hours of our vacation doing a wash.

Hotel de l’Universite – very reasonably priced (for Paris) small hotel. The lobby and breakfast room are a bit basic but the room was very comfortable and the bathroom had a great shower. But the real reason to say here is Olivier, the front desk clerk, who was amazing. He let us use his cell phone when ours ran out of minutes and we needed to call the airline before the service desk closed for the evening; he made several calls for us to Europcar when we couldn’t sort out our GPS issue because I don’t speak French; and he was gracious about our on again/off again extra night reservation. He is the gold standard for customer service. Merci Olivier!!

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2. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Would love to read it. Where !?

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3. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

The meals:

With very few exceptions all of our meals in Provence were really good. The really special meals were lunch at Ousteau de Baumaniere, Bistrot du Paradou, Ferme de la Huppe and La Closerie and dinner at L’Arome and Le Fournil.

The touring:

I like to sketch out a plan for each day so that we’re assured the things we want to see are open, avoid market days when we don’t want those, balance relaxing days with more active days, etc. This way we have a plan around which we can improvise and make changes and tradeoffs as the vacation progresses. As I said earlier, I don’t fill the days too full anymore; generally, we plan to leave between 9 and 10am and get back by around 6pm. As a result, we frequently need to drive through the same general area on multiple days but the alternative, while more efficient, would be to pack a lot into a day. Since the countryside is so beautiful and there are many small roads we frequently found a new route to explore.

Day 1 (Thurs May 29) – Arrived 45 minutes early from our overnight American Airlines flight from New York. We had a 5-hour wait for our TGV to Avignon because the earlier train would have been cutting it too close (as it happens we would have made it with almost an hour to spare). We didn’t want to drive right after a long overseas flight so we planned on two nights in Avignon to adjust. We got to Avignon late in the afternoon, checked into the hotel, had a nice walk around the ramparts and ate one of the few unremarkable meals of the trip at one of the restaurants at Place de l’Horloge.

Day 2 (Fri) – It may seem a bit odd to spend two nights in Avignon and not tour the city, but our original plan had been to tour Avignon today and do a wine tasting tour on Monday but we had to rearrange our plans a bit when our St Remy apartment rental fell through. So, we will visit Avignon when we return at the end of our vacation.

We booked this one day tasting tour of the southern Rhone with Olivier Hickman of Wine-Uncovered. We had arranged for door to door transportation so that we didn’t have to worry about drinking and driving. Olivier was going to pick us up at our apartment in St Remy but when we moved our lodging to Fontvielle it was just a bit too far for a pick up. That’s why we switched the day of the tour.

This tour was one of the highlights of our trip. Olivier is extremely knowledgeable and has a great personality. We’ve done lots of tastings and wine tours in our travels but we learned more from Olivier than all of the other tours combined. His explanation of terroir was the clearest and most complete we’ve ever heard. We met up with another couple and a family of four in

Sablet and the 9 of us spent a wonderful day together. We visited four Domains and tasted about 20 wines including the ones during our excellent food and wine pairing lunch.

We bought 6 bottles of wine which we enjoyed during the rest of our vacation. I won’t clutter this TR with the details of the wines we bought but if you’re interested just send me a PM.

Day 3 (Sat) – A quick taxi ride to the TGV station to pick up our rental car and we were off to the first of many incredible lunches. We rented our automatic car through Autoeurope (we always use them for overseas rentals) who booked us with Europcar. We were very lucky to get a Toyota Auris hybrid which was incredibly fuel efficient. We drove this car for 17 days (nearly 700 miles) on only used ONE tank of gas. We averaged about 50 miles per gallon!!

This lunch at Oustau de Baumaniere was our one big planned splurge. It was fantastic! The setting at the foot of Les Baux is wonderful, the service is impeccable and the food is delicious and beautiful to look at. I hope my iPad photos were discretely taken but I wanted to show them to my foodie friends at home so I took a chance.

We had a glass of champagne each and DH had a glass of Chateauneuf de Pape (since I’m the driver I limit myself to one glass). I had foie gras followed by sweetbreads and a crepe soufflé. DH had lobster soup followed by rouget and le millefeuille. Every dish was a work of art. The two rounds of foie gras were standing up in what looked like a field of miniature flowers. The sweetbreads were accompanied by a sculpted, layered puree of peas and the soufflé crepe was gorgeous. (Pictures of these dishes are in my review). We opted for a la carte so I could have my sweetbreads and, except for the desserts at 25€ each, the prices were "reasonable" for a 2-star restaurant. The bill came to 347€.

As would be expected, this was the best meal of our vacation. But I have to say that we had a few other really excellent meals at 1/3 the price (still a bit pricey but great value). We also had some really good 3-course meals for 70 - 80€. In general, the quality of restaurant food was high and an excellent value.

Now it was time to check in to our gite. I approached the gite with some trepidation. Our original apartment in St Remy (from HomeAway) fell through 3 months before our trip (we had booked it about 10 months in advance) just when our final payment was due. Fortunately, the owner made a full and quick refund of our deposit including the PayPal service fee. We booked the replacement gite through TA’s FlipKey service the same day we were notified of the St Remy cancellation because I was going to be away without internet access so had to do it quickly. As I mentioned earlier, I am a compulsive researcher and planner and having to make a decision in one day was not easy for me. As it happens, we are extremely glad the St Remy rental fell through.

The gite was listed as being in Fontvielle but it was really closer to Paradou. We stopped in Paradou on our way to the gite to pick up milk and something for a light dinner. We just loved being in the countryside and having a garden with great views in which to enjoy our evening meal of wine, cheese, etc. after a busy day of touring and long, large lunches. And, while St Remy was interesting for a day’s visit I wouldn’t have wanted to be based there – too much traffic and nothing really scenic to look at.

We did a load of laundry while we lounged in the garden listening to the birds and enjoyed a bottle of wine and the food we bought in Paradou.

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4. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Day 4 (Sun June 1) – We had been debating whether or not to visit L’Isle sur la Sorgue on market day and I’m glad we decided to do it. We arrived at a little before 10am and didn’t have much trouble finding parking after we abandoned the idea of parking on the ring road and headed for one of the well-marked parking areas. We were lucky though because we got one of the last parking spaces. Any later and it might have been an issue.

The market at LSLS was the best we saw. The fruits and vegetables were the nicest and tastiest we bought (we never saw such beautiful lettuces anywhere else). We also bought a wonderful assortment of olives, pistachios and great cheese (we did see the same cheese vendor at other markets). We bought ½ roast chicken and the potatoes that are roasted below the chickens and had them for dinner. Yummy!!!

The antique stalls added to the uniqueness. I had hoped to find a silver-plated toast holder and it’s now next to my kitchen sink to hold my sponges. This was the only souvenir we planned to buy and it was nice getting it over with right away. (I don’t like shopping!)

We had a lovely lunch in the garden at Restaurant Café Fleurs (70€) overlooking one of the canals. I had the 3-course menu and DH had fillet de beouf.

Day 5 (Mon) – We spent a lovely day in the Camargue. We really enjoyed the bird watching and the trails around the Ornithology Park at Pont-de-Gau. We had a very nice lunch at the Brasserie de la Plage near the TI office in Les Stes-Marie-de-la-Mer. It seems they are noted for shellfish platters because they were being ordered and enjoyed by many diners, especially oysters and langoustines. We’re not big on shellfish so I ordered a Croque Monsieur and it was one of the best ever. I ordered it because I thought it was a safe choice but, in fact, all the others I had in Provence were awful. Maybe they are a Parisian thing. We walked along the boardwalk and I dipped my toes into the Mediterranean which was quite warm and we walked around the old town and the cathedral square but didn’t go inside the cathedral.

Day 6 (Tues) – Today we visited Arles. We really enjoy roman ruins so we visited the Amphitheater and the Thermes de Constantine. We also visited the Cryptoportiques and the Espace Van Gogh. We found the Thermes quite disappointing but the other sites were worth the visit.

We had a nice, simple meal at Le Bistrot Arlesien; ½ pichet of rose to share, I had the foie gras appetizer as my main and DH had le burger, with coffee and tea it was 36.80 €.

Day 7 – When we went to our car this morning, parked in our private covered car park, we discovered a crack in the car’s windshield – right in the middle starting at the bottom and moving up – so, back to the house to make phone calls to the rental company. It was going to be a hassle and days before they could exchange our car (not too many automatics available locally) so they made a note in our file and suggested we try and get the windshield repaired. A Google search found a CarGlass station just outside of Arles, about 15 minutes from our gite so we thought we might run over there sometime.

Today was market day in St Remy and we spent what was left of the morning wandering around and bought some more fruit and pistachios (not nearly as good as those as LSLS). We had a nice lunch at La Cassolette (2 glasses of rose and 2 menu for 32€).

After lunch we went to Glanum, another roman antiquities site, which we really enjoyed. It was bigger than we expected and very well preserved. We also visited the Monastere de St-Paul-de-Mausole where Van Gogh was confined. The lavender in the garden outside of his bedroom window was in early bloom. One can see why Van Gogh was inspired to paint so many beautiful pictures here.

Day 8 (Wed) – Our host had made a reservation for us to have lunch at Le Bistrot du Paradou which was literally just up the road from our gite. So, we decided to spend the morning just relaxing at the gite.

Le Bistrot du Paradou was wonderful. It’s very casual with high quality food and is an excellent value. The entrées were a choice of escargot or salade italiene, the plat was the roast Bresse chicken (no choice) which was what I was hoping for, pasta with morels, a selection of cheese which you served yourself from the cheese tray and a choice of dessert. The lunch, which includes all the wine you can drink (we barely drank half a bottle) came to 94€.

The windshield crack had grown overnight so we decided to go to the CarGlass station in Arles before visiting the Abbaye de Montmajour. We had hoped they could just close the crack with some compound (in some situations that can be done here in the states for under $100) but they said it needed to be replaced at a cost of about 800€. We decided to keep using the car and have Europcar take care of the repair. The crack continued to get longer each day but never went all the way to the top.

We enjoyed our visit to the Abbaye much more than we expected. The views of the Arles plain are lovely, the medieval architecture is very well preserved, the graves carved into the rocks were interesting and the self-tour material was well organized and informative. Michelin gives this site 1-star but we thought it deserved 2-stars.

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5. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Day 9 (Fri) – This was our last day at the gite so we took it easy in morning, did the laundry and then drove to Cavaillon to visit the Synagogue. We took a direct route there with the plan to take a scenic route back. We easily found the TI office with free parking right in front. There is a well preserved roman arch right near the TI. We had excellent salads at Brasserie le Fin de Siecle also right near the TI.

A short walk through town, seeing the Hotel de Ville along the way, got us to the synagogue about 15 minutes to the hour. We knew from the guide book that tours were on the hour so we were not surprised that the gate was locked but when the hour arrived and no one came to unlock the gate we got concerned. I tried calling the phone number on the website but no luck (I confess to have had lots of trouble using my cell phone – couldn’t figure out when to add the 0 and when not). I went looking for someone to ask for information and I saw what I thought was a souvenir shop at the corner but it turned out to be the synagogue’s office.

The Synagogue tour was wonderful. The tour guide spoke English and was extremely knowledgeable. This synagogue is the second oldest synagogue in France but it no longer has a congregation. It is in the Baroque Provencal style with lots of ornate gold painted carved wood. We’d never before seen a synagogue where the rabbi sits is in the back. Also unique was the “Elijah Chair” reserved for the prophet Elijah. We saw the same plan in the synagogue in Carpentras visited later in our trip. We were lucky to have seen the Cavaillon synagogue first since the tour in Carpentras was in French and that guide spoke very little English.

Our drive back was lovely as were all of our scenic drives. The countryside in Provence is varied and beautiful. We spent another wonderful evening in our lounge chairs listened to the birds, admiring the views, drinking wine and eating the last of our market purchases.

Day 10 (Sat) – We’re very sad to leave this wonderful gite but it’s time to move on to Bonnieux. We planned a touring drive to Bonnieux.

First stop – Abbaye de Senanque for photos. We didn’t expect the lavender to be in bloom so we weren’t disappointed (there were some pretty purple flowers blooming but I don’t know what they were) and it was worth the ½ hour stop.

Next stop – photos of the village of Gordes. The view of Gordes as you approach it is spectacular. The photos don’t do it justice. We missed the entrance of the parking area for the best photos of the village and wound up on a one-way road so we had to drive through town (interesting but it was very crowded and we weren’t enticed to look for parking and walk around). We got some nice photos of the other side of town on the way back down and then made a U-turn so that we could stop at the “official” photo area for some great pictures.

Last stop – Village de Bories. We were rather disappointed with this site. I’m not sure what we expected but it left us cold.

Just outside of Bonnieux we came across a field of lavender in full bloom so we made the last photo stop of the day before checking into Le Clos du Buis. Bonnieux is a lovely town with great restaurants and wonderful views of the Luberon valley. The streets are quite steep but our B&B was within an easy walk to the three restaurants where we planned to have dinner. We visited the upper part of town by driving our car and parking.

We had dinner at L’Arome and it was fantastic. We each had a Kir aperitif and a glass of wine with our dinner (a treat for me since I didn’t have to drive). I had the Menu Gourmand with foie gras, veal, cheese (which we shared) and strawberry tart and DH had the Menu du Marche with ratatouille, fish and pistachio crème brulee. The food was delicious and delicately and artistically prepared and arranged. At 111€ we thought it was a bargain.

Day 11 (Sun June 8th) – We had a nice breakfast at the B&B with lovely views of the Luberon valley and then it was off for the day. On the drive to Vaison la Roman we passed a small group of artists setting up easels in a field of poppies with views of Lacoste in the background so we stopped for some lovely photos. We arrived at VLR just in time for lunch which was a Kir each and salads at L’annexe Café for 23.50 €.

We spent a couple of hours touring the roman ruins and the archeology museum. We were a bit disappointed in the ruins as not much is left. As fond as we are of roman antiquities, we could easily have skipped VLR. The highlight was a parade that seemed to be honoring the US. The lead car was a jeep with an American flag, there were men in American army uniforms, a float with cowboys and Indians, and one of a saloon. It was June 8th so we think the parade may have been in honor of D-Day (June 6th).

We had planned to drive back via Mont Ventoux but we were a little late because our car was blocked by the parade. We had dinner reservations in Bonnieux so we headed back via a more direct scenic route.

We had dinner at Le Fournil which was very good but suffered by comparison to L’Arome. We thought the taste and presentation was less refined and it cost more (47.80€ vs 31€ for the 3-course menu). I guess it’s not a good idea to have two special meals in a row. I can’t be sure how we would have rated them had the order been reversed but I think L’Arome would still have come up on top. One indication of that is that while I took some discreet iPad pictures of the food at L’Arome the only picture I took at Le Fournil was of the menu so I could remember what we ate.

We each had a glass of rinquinquin to start and shared a bottle of red wine from Menerbes (hey, I’m not driving remember!) I had fresh sardines, followed by fish and crème brulee; DH had pea soup, followed by steak and a chocolate dessert for 134.70€.

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6. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Day 12 (Mon) – We had another nice breakfast at the B&B and then on to Carpentras to see the synagogue there.

The road out of Bonnieux to Carpentras is via the upper part of town so we took this opportunity to park up there and walk around a bit before driving to Carpentras. We walked around Carpentras and saw the Hotel de Ville, the roman arch and the Cathedral but we didn’t visit any of them. Our main purpose in going to Carpentras was to visit the Synagogue. As in Cavaillon, the synagogue is locked but there is no office here. There is a bell at the front door but that didn't get anyone's attention. It seems one just waits out front and the door opens on the hour and half-hour during touring times. The tour guide didn’t speak much English; however, since we knew the general history of the Jews and the layout of the synagogues during the Popes time in France it wasn’t an issue for us. This synagogue is the second oldest in Europe and the oldest in France and it was beautiful. The walls were ornately painted to resemble marble and it fooled me! Unlike in Cavaillon, this synagogue is still active. Although they don’t have a resident rabbi they do hire one for major holidays and, if I understood the guide correctly, they also have services about once a month.

We had arranged to visit a friend of a friend of ours who has a house outside of Lacoste so we plotted out another scenic route through the countryside for our drive there. Karin met us in Lacoste and we followed her to her house. We spent a lovely couple of hours drinking Kiwi juice and chatting in her garden which overlooks farmland and has a magnificent view of Bonnieux.

On the way back to Bonnieux we stopped to take pictures of the Pont Julien, the old roman bridge that was in service until about 10 years ago. It still looks in good enough condition to be in use but I imagine between preservation concerns and liability concerns they decommissioned it. It is really amazing that it held up for so long.

The B&B was hosting a jazz combo in their lovely gardens that evening to we just relaxed in the garden listening to the music until it was time for dinner. A light meal was in order and we were deciding between Un P’tit Coin de Cuisine and La Flambee. We were in the mood for a change so decided on pizza at La Flambee. The pizza was excellent!! It was as good as any we’ve had in southern Italy or notable pizza joints in the US. DH’s spaghetti carbonara was just OK. We got there just as it opened for dinner so we had no problem securing a table on the upstairs terrace with great views over the Luberon. 26.50€ for 2 Kir, pizza and spaghetti.

Day 13 (Tue) – This morning we checked out of our B&B in Bonnieux and drove to Lourmarin where we had 5 nights booked in a gite. If you’re familiar with the geography of this area you know that these villages are fairly close together and serve the same touring geographical area. You might reasonably ask why we chose to stay in two locations for this 8 night period. The answer is that we wanted to have dinner at L’Arome and Le Fornil based on TA and CH reviews and I don’t like driving in the dark and very much like having wine with dinner. Also, since we prefer gites to B&Bs we wanted to keep the time in the B&B to a minimum.

We chose a gite in Lourmarin as a base in eastern Provence to have a small town experience and because Lourmarin is flat. Also, since this gite didn’t have a Saturday to Saturday rule it fit our schedule. This and the low price should have been a clue that it was less than desirable. Instead, I assumed this was because it was somewhat off the beaten path.

We decided to drive straight to Lourmarin where our gite was located, have a relaxing lunch, check into our gite, do some laundry, unpack, have dinner and make it an early night. It was a good plan but was not to be.

We arrived around noon and, because we hoped to put some meds into the fridge, we decided to park and see if we could drop them off. The gite doesn’t have dedicated parking so we parked a little bit of an uphill walk away and walked back to see if we could find someone before heading out to lunch. We were lucky that Robin was out front and he said we could leave the meds in the fridge and, since the gite was ready, we could drop off our bags. This was an unexpected stroke of good luck since I was concerned about leaving the meds and luggage in the car while we had lunch. Robin offered to wait while I got the car because he needed to remove the driveway barrier so we could bring our car in. This was working out really well but it quickly went downhill from there. First of all, it seems Robin was meant to be taking care of things for Rose because she kept calling him on his phone and he kept telling her he was helping us out (I think that set her off a bit). Secondly, when we got to the gite we discovered that there was no A/C, no washing machine and the Wi-Fi wasn’t working. All of our pre and post booking correspondence had been with Rose so I think she runs the B&B and gite. Robin drew us a map of how to get to the laundromat about 15 minutes away and tried to help us sort out the Wi-Fi. He didn’t know much about the Wi-Fi and kept needing to get Rose’s input. After a couple of back and forth discussions, she blew up at him because she said she was busy getting lunch ready and couldn’t do everything at once. Since we weren’t really supposed to be there anyway I said we would just go to lunch and sort things out when we got back.

Needless to say lunch at Café Gaby was not relaxing. I checked the HomeAway listing and reconfirmed that the listing said it had A/C, washing machine and Wi-Fi. The A/C discrepancy I could have forgiven since that hadn’t been a priority requirement for me. I would have booked the gite even if it didn’t say there was A/C. As it happens, we were in the middle of an unusual heat wave (it was about 95 degrees that day and it was expected to be in the high 90’s all week) and A/C would have been really nice to have. However, I wouldn’t have booked a gite without a washing machine since that was one of my highest priority requirements and laundry days were planned into my draft itinerary. At this point I was annoyed but since I assumed there must be a washing machine somewhere if they were running a B&B I thought it could be worked out.

If Rose had been apologetic instead of rude about the washing machine “mix-up” and the fact that the Wi-Fi only worked in the courtyard, instead of implying that there must be something wrong with my iPad, there would have been a very different dynamic. If the fridge had worked and we were able to stay in the studio we probably would have given the gite a 3or 4-rating. Since we needed to switch to a unit we didn’t want we probably would have given it a 2 rating. As it happens it only got the 1-rating because there’s no way to give it a zero.

Enough of my rant… even I’m tired of it! There’s a small, local provider market in the town on Tuesday evenings so we headed over there to pick up provisions for dinner. A nice bottle of Cote du Rhone helped us chill out after the annoying day and get our good humor back. Unfortunately, because of the oppressive heat, we were unable to eat on our patio as was the case during our entire stay and we had to have our dinners in the dark gite.

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7. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Day 14 (Wed) – After breakfast we headed out to Aix. We took the direct route there and, after spending some time foolishly trying to find street parking, we parked in one of the underground parking garages which, just by luck, was right next to the TI. We got a map of the town and as it was noon and already about 98 degrees we decided to tour the city via the tourist trolley. We would not normal do this but it was really too hot and sunny to walk around. We knew we wouldn’t get to see much if we walked so we opted for quantity of touring rather than quality and I’m glad we did.

After the trolley tour we had a wonderful lunch at Les Deux Garcons. It’s a nostalgic, belle epoch restaurant that opened in 1792. A bit old fashioned but that’s its charm. The food and service were good and an excellent value. We had a Kir each (getting to be a habit) and the 2-course menu. I had the foie gras (2€ supplement) followed by fish and DH had salad followed by Entrecote (4€ supplement) for a total cost of 54€.

It was still too hot for us to walk around so we decided to head home. Getting out of Aix was a real challenge. The underground car park had several exits and we weren’t sure what direction we were heading when we exited. Because the sun was so strong and almost directly overhead we weren’t able to use it to get oriented and we wound up leaving the city headed south. So, back into Aix for a second try. This time we fired up the Garmin and had her lead us out.

We had another of our light dinners at the gite and then walked to the village square for ice cream.

Day 15 (Thu) – We plotted a new scenic route to Gordes for our lunch at Ferme de la Huppe. The restaurant is on the grounds of a beautiful small hotel right outside of Gordes in a lovely countryside setting. It was a little warm on the shaded terrace but with those lovely views it would have been a sin to eat inside. The food was delightful and beautifully presented. We each had a glass of champagne, I had stuffed vegetables, followed by fish with amazing stuffed zucchini flowers and a caramel pot de crème with a cake that was somewhere between an ice cream cake and a cheese cake. DH had a glass of red wine, warm goat cheese in a filo “beggars purse” (that’s not what they called it but that’s what this dish was called at Le Cirque), followed by the most wonderful and sophisticated “Sheppard’s pie” (that’s not what they called it but that’s the best way I can describe the braised pork mixed with cream and chunky cooked potatoes baked in a mold) and a trio of ice creams. (see the review for pictures of the food) 93€

After lunch we drove to Roussillon. The town is just beautiful with its colorful houses, great views of the valley and the ochre cliffs. There were several art galleries and a few gift shops and we found them interesting and didn’t think the town looked like a theme park as some posters have suggested. We thought it was a lovely place to spend an hour wandering around. Maybe because it was still early in the season and most of the time we were the only tourists around it felt more like a real village than it does when it’s overrun with tourists.

On the way back we drove through the cedar forest just outside of Bonnieux. We weren’t very impressed with this reserve. Maybe if we had taken some of the hikes we would have found it interesting but we weren’t motivated to do that.

When we got back to Lourmarin we toured the Chateau de Lourmarin which is part 15C and part Renaissance. It is an interesting building with a good self-guided tour and a nice view of the Durance Valley.

We decided to go out for dinner but can’t remember the name of the restaurant (one of the few receipts I can’t fine). It appealed to us because it has a nicely shaded back garden which allowed us to eat outside although it was still quite warm. We had pizza which was OK but nothing to rave about and a decent salad and wine. Another ice cream from the shop in the square rounded out the meal.

Day 16 (Fri) – Friday is market day in Lourmarin so we spent the morning walking through the market. This was a small market compared to LSLS and St Remy but it still had a good selection of food and clothing vendors. There was also an artisan baker with a long line of folks waiting to be served. I will almost never go into an empty restaurant nor will I pass up a food seller with a long line. So, I waited on line for at least 10 minutes and bought ¼ of a large round loaf of bread. This was, by far, the best bread I had in Provence. DH doesn’t like bread so I ate half of it myself for dinner and, to my surprise, it was still delicious at breakfast the next day.

The original plan had been to follow the Michelin Green Guide Petit Luberon driving tour this afternoon and walk around the villages we hadn’t seen yet – Lacoste, Menerbes and Oppede-le-Vieux. However, that morning we found out about the train strike and were unsure if our TGV from Avignon would be running. After some research it appeared that our train to Paris and our subsequent flight home was in jeopardy. We had planned to take the train to Paris on Monday and spend the night there before our Tuesday flight. That way we wouldn’t chance missing our flight if there were some normal train delays. However, the news reports suggested that the strike was going to last at least into Monday.

So, rather than touring the Luberon we spent the afternoon trying to organize a back-up plan. We rescheduled our flight home (change fee paid) to give ourselves an extra day to get to Pairs in case we needed to drive there. I called the hotel in Paris to see if they had a room for the extra night. Olivier, the prince of a desk clerk, said he didn’t think he could accommodate the extra night but would see what he could do and would find us another hotel if he couldn’t find room in his. This took all afternoon and required several trips to the Tabac to get refill minutes for my phone. The clerk must have thought I was crazy buying in increments of 5€ but each time I was convinced I only had one short phone call left to make.

We had another of our light dinners at the gite and this time we bought our ice cream from the shop next door to our gite.

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8. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Day 17 (Sat) – We had a lunch reservation at La Closerie in Ansouis so we plotted out another countryside drive to take on the way. We stopped at Cuceron which was a delightful small village. We wandered around, took photos and took a chance on buying some patisserie cream based pastries for tonight’s dessert at an artisan patisserie. We stored the pastries in our glove compartment along with a still half frozen bottle of water (we froze 2 bottles each night and took them with us during the day). To our delight, when we got back to our gite the bottle was still a bit frozen and the desserts were fine.

We walked around the lovely little town of Ansouis and then went to La Closerie for lunch which was another highlight meal. We ate inside even though the terrace had a lovely view over the valley but it was too hot and sunny. We each had a Kir and a pureed asparagus amuse bouche. I had the Gourmand menu while DH had veal. My menu consisted of a duck and pigeon foie gras accompanied by a small lettuce and edible flowers salad and a generous serving of white summer truffles which was delicious. I’m not a fan of truffles so DH got to eat them. My plat was fish and DH had veal with another generous serving of summer truffles. My dessert was a pastry cup filled with a whipped confection (which I can’t remember) topped by ice cream which was delicious and DH had tea (89.20 € which we thought was excellent value). There are lots of photos of food on the review site so I’m not going to post mine.

The restaurant was full of regulars who got hugs and kisses from the hostess. The only one I recognized was Peter Mayle, seated at the table next to ours, who was celebrating his birthday with his wife and another couple.

This was our last day in Lourmarin and it was time for laundry. Rose never offered to let us use the washing machine again and I didn’t want to risk another confrontation by asking for permission so we decided to go the Laundromat at the Super-U in Puyvert about 2.5km from the gite. Two hours in the sweltering heat later our laundry was finished.

We bought a bottle of wine from the wine store in town and finished up the last of our food for an interesting, odds and ends dinner at the gite.

Day 18 (Sun June 15th) – We drove to Avignon and, rather than return our car to the TGV station and take a taxi to our hotel as had been our original intent, we kept the car in case we needed to drive to Paris the next day. The hotel valet parked the car and we left our luggage in the luggage room and had the front desk make inquiries about our TGV train. Apparently, French law does not allow a complete train shutdown; even during strikes limited trains service must be provided. The desk clerk called the SNCF and was assured that our TGV was one of the 40% of trains to Paris scheduled to be in service the next day. That was great news but we didn’t stop worrying until we were on the train and it pulled out of the station.

We went off to tour the Palais des Papes. This was another of the touring highlights of our trip. We found the palais fascinating and the explanations provided on the audio headset informative without being too long winded. We had planned to buy some food for lunch at Les Halles but by the time we got there they were just closing. We had a ho-hum lunch somewhere. We walked past the new synagogue that the guides in Cavaillon and Carpentras had mentioned but it was not a very interesting building and we weren’t sorry we couldn’t go inside. Maybe because places were closed on Sunday the town had a somewhat sad feel to it and, since it was raining, we decided to go back to the hotel and relax.

It was still raining at dinner time so we went across the street and had dinner at Restaurant le Crillon. It was a nice meal of 3 Kir (2 for DH), salade caprese (DH), escalope milanaise (me) and cote de boeuf (DH) for 59€.

When we got back to the hotel I remembered that the Garmin we rented from Autoeurope was still in the glove compartment. I asked DH to remember take it out right when we got into the car in the morning so we wouldn’t forget it. We should have asked the valet to retrieve it from the car the moment it occurred to us. (Note to self – this is your subconscious warning you of impending disaster so take heed).

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9. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

Day 19 (Mon) – After breakfast we went to a small bakery and sandwich shop to pick up sandwiches for the train ride. I was anxious about the drive to the TGV and returning the car with the broken windshield so we left for the 10 minute drive to the station about 3 hours before the train. We had “driven” the route via google maps so we didn’t get lost finding the TGV. As it happens, we would have been better off getting a little lost so we would have needed the Garmin. We found the train station without any issue but couldn’t find the car return area. We parked in one of the lots because we thought it would be easier to find the Europcar office on foot. We found it but the building was empty. A few frantic minutes later we realized we were on the wrong side of the train station. Back into the car and 1€ later were on our way to the other side. The point of this boring story is to provide the excuse for why we were so distracted as to leave the Garmin in the glove compartment. At no time this morning or while waiting for the train did either of us think of the Garmin. We were about an hour out of Avignon when it dawned on me that we left it in the car (I bet you saw this coming a mile away!).

There were friendly, helpful SNCF personnel throughout the Avignon station providing information and apparently helping people whose trains were cancelled get standing room passage. We were assured that our train was one of the ones not cancelled (lucky us since the strike lasted another week) and was scheduled to be on time. We bought drinks and pastry and spent a rather pleasant few hours in the train station restaurant. There was free Wi-Fi available as long as you provided your name, home and email address. I don’t know what the point of this is since I didn’t give them my real information up as I suspect no one else does either.

There was a beautiful stretch of lavender fields about ½ hour north of Avignon and pretty countryside to look at from our upper deck seats. I don’t know how many non-scheduled passengers there were on our train but outside our compartment there were about a dozen people standing and sitting on the steps.

We had switched into “getting home” mode and couldn’t think of anything in Paris that we really wanted to see again. I’ve been there 4 times and DH once. So we decided during the train trip to try to see if we could change our flight back to the next day and avoid the extra day in Paris. We arrived at Gare de Lyon on time, found a taxi right away and made it to the hotel about 15 minutes before the BA frequent flyer desk in France closed for the day.

When we arrived at Hotel de l’Universite Olivier, the desk clerk, had worked it out so we could stay an extra night but was gracious about our decision to try and leave the next day as originally planned. He even let me use his phone since to call BA as mine ran out of minutes after 10 minutes on hold and the local airline office was about to close for the day. I managed to get our original flight rebooked (paying another change fee) and we checked into the hotel.

Olivier let me us his phone again to call Europcar to talk to them about the Garmin. I couldn’t get past all of the French prompts so Olivier called them for me. They said they would look for the Garmin and call back the next morning before we left for the airport.

We had reservations at Le Petit Zinc for dinner but when I looked in the window the place was empty. The restaurant across the street was packed and had a small line out the door. I know it’s rude to not show up for a reservation but if the place is empty it’s not like we prevented someone else from getting a reservation. So we went across the street to Relais de l’Entrecote which we discovered later is a well know steak frites place. We only waited about 5 minutes because it’s a no choice menu and the tables turnover rather quickly. Our salade and steak frites with a demi bottle of wine was 67.45€. They offer seconds and thirds on the steak and frites. I demurred when offered seconds but the waitress insisted on serving a large second helping of both to DH which he dutifully ate.

Day 20 – Breakfast at the hotel was nothing special and I made another trip to a tabac to add minutes to my phone. I tried calling the car rental office but couldn’t get through so Olivier helped out again. He spoke with customer service but they still hadn’t checked with the garage for the GPS so we didn’t know if they would find it.

We checked out of the hotel at noon and decided to leave for the airport early. If we’re just killing time we prefer to do it at our destination. Since we had time to spare we decided to visit the Europcar desk at the airport and have them call Avignon to check on the GPS. They did find it and said they would hold it for us but I would need to send them a prepaid box/envelope for it.

Our flight home was on time and only about half full so I had an entire three seat row to myself and slept most of the flight. DH had an empty seat next to him so he enjoyed the flight too.

When we got home I checked with FedEx and found out that it would cost about $150 to ship the GPS home which didn’t make any sense. TA comes to the rescue again. I posted my problem on the Provence forum. Texas-Anglophile very generously offered to pick it up and mail it to me. It’s now in the friendly hands of T-A and I hope to get it back soon.

If you made it to the end of the report you’re a real trooper. I hope you enjoyed it and that it will be helpful to other travelers

Thanks again to the TA community for all your help.

Eva

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10. Re: Trip Report - 3 weeks in Provence May/June 2014

EH10014,

What a FABULOUS and comprehensive trip report. We are going to several of the places you talked about so I have been cutting and pasting onto a word document. Enjoyed reading your report and it is very helpful.

Glad to hear the GPS issue will be resolved :) Yeah Trip Advisor! LL