From the Marseille airport we skin over to the Hertz car rental. It’s 32°C and there are 18 people in line before me, all wanting vehicles.
It took over an hour before we got our car, a brand new Golf VW, with only 1400 km. After some help getting the nice french lady in the dashboard to speak english, we’re off to “Hotel de France” in Aix-en-Province.
The trip goes well until we are a few blocks from the hotel …… construction and roadblocks everywhere. Not the roadblocks you are use to back home, but actual, locally imposed and controlled hydraulic metal pillars* at least 30cm (~12 inches) thick – you need a special card to gain entry. Guess what, we don’t have one, so we had to backup, turn around or go the wrong way down one way streets. Did I mention most of the streets are one way ….. usually in the wrong direction!
After going in circles for what seemed like hours, we finally saw a sign to the hotel ….. and ended at an intersection with a pillar in the left and forward roads.
The road back was too restricted to back up and the right one was free … but there directly in front of us, on the other side of the pillar was our goal! Hotel de France – executive decision – let Gerda go in to get instructions (and drop off the luggage), while I maneuver the car into a position so other vehicles can skin around us – extremely tight.
Gerda came back with a map and instructions to parking, which I proceeded to get wrong by turning left instead of going straight – backup ….. turn, crank the wheel ….. repeat and finally get back on track. Piece of cake after that ….. park in the 4th level underground stall 1119 easy (remember that). The hotel is considered a three star, but was quite comfortable – one of the better rooms (best washroom) to date.
* We saw a tourist try to follow a local vehicle into a restricted area. The metal pillar came up through her radiator ….. Everyone watched in horror ….. not something you want to happen or expect to see!
After a rest, we did a tour of the area and were pleasantly surprised at the diversity of cafes, shops, people and architecture. Despite the problems getting here, great choice for location to Gerda.
We had a good dinner and then continued the walk-about, and realized that there were multiple gathering hot spots …. we counted at least 5 within an 8 square block area. Each one different ….. very interesting – but time to head back for sleep.
Lourmarin, France – Day 2 (July 1):
After a leisurely breakfast, we checked out of the hotel to head to Lourmarin our next stop. We are to meet the VRBO owner Mireille at 3:00 …. leaving at 11am should be plenty of time ….. so we thought. I head over to the car park, while Gerda watched the luggage. By taking a short cut, that the hotel clerk had pointed out, I quickly found the parkade and went back to help Gerda wheel the luggage over.
Four levels down and go to the stall number 1119 ….. except we can’t find 1119. Back and forth, from one end to the other ….. not there – and it is as hot in the underground parkade as outside! After 45 minutes, Gerda catches a young passerby who tries to help and finally takes us to the control center. They check their records and tell us no vehicle entered the parkade when we said we had. The manager rechecks and tells us we are in the wrong parkade …. there is another larger one to the north! Wow! Totally unexpected …. so we exit and go there blocks north, enter the other parkade and find our car within 5 minutes! Who would have thought that parkades could cause so much angst.
Back on the road and finally moving forward to the next adventure.
We arrive at Lourmarin about 2:30 so lots of time. Actually we’re now on “beer time” until Mireille shows up. Wait, drink and people watch – cause we don’t know what she looks like.
Around 3:20, as I enter the condo block, she comes out. We get instructions on the whole suite and surrounding area ….. very happy with the accommodations. This will be the first time we can clean some of our clothes ….. they seem to always be damp from sweat.
Once she leaves, nap time again before doing a village tour. Just on the edge of the village is a castle – everything larger than two stories and with no attached buildings is called a castle, where we would call it a chateau or larger house. Interesting structure, with a well groomed landscape ….. but not opened to the public at this time of day.
Dinner at 7:45, is late for us but early for local, who don’t dine until after 8pm. So we get a good table location. The meal is good, simple and cheap. When we finish we wander …. but most everything except the cafes & restaurants, are closed …. so back to the suite for a goodnight rest.
Lourmarin, France – Day 3 (July 2):
Up late – 8am is late for us – shower, shave, a change of clothes, breakfast and we’re off again. Gerda wants to find fields of lavender. We head to Sault, Gordes and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Lots of forests, very hilly, with twisty, narrow winding roads – up, down and hair-pin turns. Not a lot of traffic, but the road never seems wide enough ….. and the locals drive these roads between 80 & 90 kmph or faster. Gerda tried to take a video, but gave it up cause she was getting motion sickness. After driving for 45 minutes we saw a field of lavender beside a vineyard. We deeked right to a dirt road and Gerda got out to take pictures. I decided to turn the car around.. what an experience! The car has collision sensors all around. The road had high weeds all around. Everytime the sensors detected the weeds, it would beeped and then engage the brakes. Unfortunately I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off ….. so slowly back n forth, until the car was finally pointed in the right direction. Now we could get our pictures.
From there we continue on to Gordes where there is supposedly more lavendar. Again I proceeded to get lost in one of the small villages. You say how ….. well most of these villages are on rough, rocky hills and built when transportation was by horse and cart ….. so everything is narrow and one way …. and there is no routine update when they do construction or block a road. I am surprised we made it out. The GPS lady was pretty good but also annoying – continually tell us to backup or do a u-turn when none was possible. What an experience but we made, although taking twice the time a local would!
On the way up to Sault, we came across a field of poppies where two ladies were posing and taking pictures of each other. We offered to take their picture together and they did ours.
They highly recommended we go to Gordes to the “Abbaye de Senanyue”. So we turned around, punched in the destination and let the nice GPS lady tell us where to go. On the way we came across an unusual landmark – a windmill.
It was hard to get a good picture and in the process Brian got other pictures of the town, church and ancient castle (a real one).
The view from the other side of the windmill was stunning – the church and castle on top of the hill, were joined by massive walls. We weren’t sure how you would access these structures.
From there we moved on through the twisty roads, with hundreds of meters of shear cliffs to the Abbaye de Senanque. Extremely old and beautiful!
Next stop Fontaine-de-Vaucluse …. an oasis of water. We have a meal by the water and admire the plants and waterwheels.
One of the sites we visited in Fontaine is the “Moulin a Papier Vallis Clausa” that produces handmade paper with the methods developed in the 15th century.
The area is a magnet for people wanting to escape the 32°C weather.
The following video shows part of the ancient method of making paper.
Time to return to home base ….. to shower and eat …. and maybe watch football (soccer).
So it’s down to the piazza. Pick a good table to view of the large screen TV – every restaurant seems to have one outside their doors. With World Cup games on, the tables fill quickly – it’s a communal social event. There obviously are delays in the signal received at each restaurant – you can hear the shouts of joy or frustration as a favorite team scored or conceded a goal! Some come sooner or later than others. Kinda-like Rider games, except they happen every day from late afternoon to late evening – sometimes as late as 12 midnight.
Finally the game is over and so we can retire (you become a part of the community by staying to watch-participate).
Lourmarin, France – Day 4 (July 3):
With a late start to the morning, we went to Cucuron before noon to see their open market. They have everything that can be made locally by hand … and more.
We were tempted to buy so many things but realized we had no way to take them with us.
Afterwards we go to Bonnieu to have a light lunch, it’s 3:00pm and then drive to “Chateau la Canorgue” to take pictures and buy some wine. Gerda loved the movie “A Good Year”, with Russel Crow.
The chateau was one of the main sites featured in the movie. Unfortunately the owners are tired of inquisitive fans invading their property to request tours ….. so we’re content to take pictures and buy a red & a white wine to drink with the Grads in Italy.
Gerda reviewing and selecting the wines to sample or purchase.
Back to base to freshen up and rest before going to dinner in Cucoran. Yes the same place we had visited for the open market.
We ordered a vegetarian and a fish dinner. The food was probably the best meal of the trip so far!
During the meal we chatted up 3 retired British gentlemen, who were doing a cycling tour through southern France. It was entertaining to hear their stories. They still had three more days of cycling before they take the train back to London. We quite enjoyed the banter.
Back to our base and pack so we are ready to go back to “Aix en Province”. Our flight leaves from Marseille airport at 6:00am, so we decided not to drive during the early morning, through territory we don’t know well – to many risks driving at 3:00am.
Lourmarin / Aix-en-Province, France – Day 5 (July 4):
Last day in Lourmarin ….. time to do one more tour of the village. Each day we seem to find more interesting shops. Gerda hasn’t even been in a “catch and release” mode for the first two weeks, so I expect there will be a few trial “catches” and then her & Christa will do some major “deep sea trolling” in Venice …. we’ll need a new suitcase to bring it all home!
I was right – Gerda did manage two major & one minor catch on her third shop. So more to pack, as we prepare to leave.
We finished packing and head back to “Aix en Province” …. much fast trip this time as we are now use to the car and local roads.
Once we get to Aix en Province we head for the main centre. This time when we park we make sure we have the location down pat. After wandering for an hour we suddenly realize that our original hotel, “Hotel de France”, was only two blocks away from the center. How ironic that we didn’t know.
After a quick refreshment, we head to the airport hotel to get rest before our 4:30am check-in with Volotea airline to go to Venice. The flight leaves at 6:00am with us landing at 7:20am. Any other mode of transport gets us there much later – trains 10 hours, taxi/limousine 7 hours, major airline 6 hours (cause you have to fly to Paris or Lyon before going to Venice).
Regardless next stop …… Venice!
Travel day (July 5): Marseille to Venice
We had a taxi scheduled to take us from the IBIS airport hotel to the airport at 4:15am ….. not cheap – one kilometer 25€ ….. they know they have you ’cause you can’t walk across the highway. Oh well, we are on holidays ……………. and we don’t need to sweat at 4am!
Check in for Volotea was straight forward, however everyone in front of us who walked into the entrance for the gates and security came walking back out. We finally got it straightened out, only to have the security personnel tell Brian to go back three, because he forgot to remove his tablet from the backpack.
Once we were through check in, check up and checkout ….. it’s an hour wait to board ….. and then smooth sailing so to speak.