Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
While we had originally planned to spend a few nights on the Cote D’Azur, we decided to skip that part of the trip as they had recently suffered through some heavy rainfall that had resulted in unprecedented flooding and loss of human life. Why put extra strain on local resources? Instead, we spent an extra night in Torino and then drove straight through to Provence, and the little farmhouse (complete with rabbits, chickens and dogs!) that we had rented just outside of Aix-en-Provence.
It’s quite a scenic drive, even along the toll roads. I particularly enjoyed driving over the Italian-French border near Embrun, where we stopped for a simple lunch at the bakery. It’s particularly nice taking your bakery purchases and moving onto one of the many beautiful outlook points in the area to eat your sandwich – whether it’s overlooking the mountains and valleys, or to a picnic area by the serene waters of Lac de Serre-Ponçon.
As we drove closer to our farmhouse, I decided that I wanted to stop by the regional area of Valensole, which is reputed to be the home of the famous lavender fields of Provence. Of course, what I probably should have done beforehand is research the growing time of lavender…as it was, I learned when we arrived that lavender only blooms between June and August, and so we were nearly two months too late to enjoy the views! The more you know…
Still, that couldn’t spoil our stay in Provence. Our farmhouse was adorable and cooking some simple rustic stews in our little kitchen made our stay feel particularly authentic. It was also well located, with Aix-en-Provence proving to be a good base to other scenic towns in the area. I did find it hard to get used to our bio-toilet though…let’s just say that I’m now fonder than ever of toilets with flushing water. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get used to simply covering up my ‘business’ with sawdust.
So, what did we do in the area? We spent some time in the town of Aix-en-Provence, which is particularly picturesque. One of the main highlights of the town is the pride they have in their most famous past resident – the artist Paul Cezanne. There’s a fantastic walking tour (both self-guided or with a guide) that you can do through the city centre that takes you past some of the key locations of his life. His preserved studio is also available for visits, slightly outside of town.
Given that I’m not personally a fan of his post-Impressionist style, I much preferred our visit to Nîmes. About two hours away from Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes actually offers some of the best-preserved Roman architecture in the world. The Nîmes Arena is actually in such great shape that they still use it to hold concerts and other performances…imagine attending a concert in an arena that dates back two thousand years! There are other Roman buildings and ruins in the city including the Maison Carree and the Tour Magne. It’s definitely worth a visit!
In fact, the whole Provence area is worth a much longer visit than we were able to spare – with all the distinct little towns in the area each with their own personalities and attractions, you could very easily spent three weeks here. We’ll definitely have to return for a longer trip next time.
Our next stop was in Toulouse for a brief sojourn before we ventured into Spain. Particularly noteworthy for the great meal we had at Mon Canard, the rest of the town centre isn’t too remarkable or different from other medium-sized French cities – there’s a river, some bridges, old churches, town squares, etc etc. I think the main highlight for K was our visit to the Airbus factory located in Toulouse – as a designer/engineer, being able to see the assembly line for the A380 plane was a real thrill. The Airbus museum included old Concorde planes and Super Guppy cargo planes which you could enter, and is worth the additional entry fee.
And with Toulouse, we said goodbye to France and set our sights on our next destination – Spain!