November 22, 2010

The South of France

I have always wanted to visit the south of France, it is one of my "bucket list" items. My lovely Belgian friends, Caro and Ingrid, took me along with them on a trip they had planned. Caro’s family lives in Le Thor and in L'Isle sur la Sorgue and these are all close to Avignon, Marseilles, and Montpellier.

We drove down, narrowly escaping five days of constant rain in Leuven. Visiting a place with native speakers is one of the best ways to see a place. I am competent ordering meals, and asking simple questions which are accompanied by hand gestures, but communicating in complete sentences is much much better.

On our way down, we stopped at a budget self-check in hotel.  After exiting the freeway and following the signs towards the center,  we arrived in a small town where everything was shut down.  We found a hotel, and were able to check in through a vending machine which dispensed our room card.  None of us had used this method before so we weren’t sure what to expect of the rooms. The hallways smelled muggy and old, but to our surprise the rooms were clean and the amenities (clean bathroom, enough towels, etc) were fine. The next morning, the town was buzzing, and we stopped in a nice bakery for some croissants and coffee.

Driving through France is expensive, and most of the major freeways connecting cities are toll-roads. However, it is easy to get around and absolutely worth driving in.  We drove through Lyon, and the changing fall colors gave the city a nice glow.  I gathered that the northern part of the town is prettier than the southern more industrial part. Driving south from Lyon, you begin to notice the mountains that are probably some of the foothills of the Alps. The landscapes change a bit more and you notice the vineyards and fruit orchards that follow the Rhone river. The leaves have just barely started to change so we were getting pretty excited. The vineyards are golden.

We stayed in Le Thor with Caro’s amazing family. Each town has a city hall and a much older looking church.  The buildings are white-washed concrete with tile roofs. Le Thor is surrounded by vineyards and reminds me of the northern California chapparal. Caro’s family lives in the middle of town, and we got to explore their Saturday market (where I was able to pick up some tea, fava beans, and Provencal herbs). Her family hosted us and fed us. They were amazing.

The following pics are from L’Isle sur la Sorgue.  They had a market going on where we picked up some picnic items. I truly enjoyed being a tourist: walking around, taking photos, awkwardly standing out taking pictures of the things I had just walked past.


I warned you about the walking and taking pics. Then there was a market right next to this church...with lots of yummy finds.

The Collegiate church Notre Dame des Anges

Chevre et de Brebis

And yes I did not eat this, but I can appreciate the slow foods of it:

and these:

And how would we consume all our finds?

Finally, we arrive in Marseilles and have a picnic in the old harbor.

When we got back Caro’s family asked us how we liked it (I should mention it was my first time). I thought it was very nice, pretty, old harbor, steep but attractive streets, populated. The locals opinions differ: it's okay, but their is much more to see outside and far away from Marseilles. I learned that Marseilles is the largest French port, and is the second most populated city after Paris.

Avignon proved to be much more impressive. When you arrive, you notice that the city has maintained it’s old medieval walls.  The historical significance never gets old to me, although my awe and questions were probably annoying for my friends.  The Palace of the Popes is huge and makes up most of the old part of town. The streets surrounding the palace are narrow and cobblestoned. The main parts of town are beginning to assemble their Christmas markets and decorations.


So far, I am totally impressed with the wines, weather, and history.  My limited French is annoying, but my Dutch is improving. Because this is already ridiculously long, here are some of my faves of Montpellier. Caro’s cousin walked us around, but only after a 4 hour lunch. 

Montpellier Cathedral

Things I love about France: croissants, bread, coffee, wine, water at meals, food, leisurely meals, the countryside, the random fresh markets that are everywhere.
Things I do not love: rest stops with pit toilets (really?).

1 comment:

  1. Aw, we visited the south of France years ago and I loved it. We only spent a day there, but Marseille became a favorite of mine - it's gritty, but so beautiful and full of character!

    Really lovely pics! Makes me want to go back!