Lourmarin (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

We decided to stay on in Saint Remy and use it as a base from which to visit a couple of villages closer to the centre of Provence in an area known as the Luberon Massif. The Massif actually comprises three small mountain ranges (being Le Petit Luberon, Le Grand Luberon and Eastern Luberon) and, to start with, Vanya was keen to visit a small village on it’s south side by the name of Lourmarin.

Lourmarin is different from other villages in the area inasmuch that it is not a hilltop village. It actually sits in a valley near a cleft between Le Petit Luberon and Le Grand Luberon. This suited me because it meant we could drive up from the south and than pass through the cleft to Bonnieux on the north side of the Massif. There are many more villages to the north that I would like to see (notably L’Isle sur La Sorgue, Menerbes, Gordes, Apt & Saignon) but, they will have to wait for another Tour.

Lourmarin proved to be a small pretty village of no more than 1,000 inhabitants. Of course it is pretty; it sits within the Luberon National Park and is listed among les plus beaux villages de France. It is pedestrianised and fairly flat (relative to most other villages in the Luberon) with narrow winding cobbled streets and lanes filled with pretty flower bedecked houses, boutique shops and cafe bars. There is even a Michelin Star restaurant. I wouldn’t say it is the most beautiful of the Luberon villages and there’s not a great deal of interest there (it can be seen in it’s entirety in just half a day) but it is an easy place to relax and while away a couple of hours over a glass or two of the local wine.

Typical street scenes in Lourmarin…

with a range of boutique shops; flowers everywhere and colourful window boxes

As early as the 15th century Lourmarin was populated by a significant number of Protestants (and before then, Waldenses) but these numbers increased such that by the 17th century only 80 of the village’s 1,300 inhabitants were Catholic. It is no surprise therefore that the largest and some would argue the most impressive religious building in the village is the Protestant Temple. I think it’s ugly and, for me, it is the 11th century Catholic Eglise de Saint Andre Saint Trophime which is most attractive and 1849 Fontaine de la Place de l’Eglise at it’s front just adds to it.

L’Eglise de Saint Andre saint Trophime.

Without a doubt, the most impressive building in Lourmarin is the Chateau. Most of the existing chateau dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. It is now used for concerts and exhibitions and local events such as weddings and wine tastings. However, the building with the most character has to be the 18th century Girard Mansion. This mansion was owned by Philippe Girard (1775 – 1845), the inventor of the linen spinning mill**, and was bequeathed to the village in 1902 but I have no idea as to what, if anything, it is being used for now.

The entrance to the Girard Mansion.

Two views of the Chateau de Lourmarin

** Talking about the linen spinning mill, a certain James Kay from Entwhistle in Lancashire was initially credited with the invention in England. However this was challenged by Philippe Girard who wrote to the Manchester Guardian claiming that he and others had patented the invention in England some years earlier under the name of Horace Hall. Extracts of his letter are reproduced below:-

A few months ago, a gentleman of the name of Kay, excited a strong sensation in the trade, by announcing a new method of spinning flax, by which much finer and better yarn was produced, than by any other process previously adopted. He announced this invention not only as new, but as his own; the results of his experiments were published in many provincial and London papers; and he granted to several flax-spinners, the right of using his invention, for which he obtained a patent. The public will now hear, perhaps with some astonishment, that all this noise was made for a discovery long since published on the continent, and even patented in England twelve years ago. This new process of spinning, announced by Mr. Kay, is the same which I invented fourteen years since, and which is established, with great success, in France, Saxony, and Germany. A patent was taken out in England, in the month of May, 1815, by my partners in Paris, Messers. Cachard and Lanthois, in the name of Mr. Horace Hall.

Kay’s patent was subsequently invalidated by English courts in 1839 (and again in 1841 upon appeal) on the grounds that it was too similar to the patent lodged by Horace Hall. It appears that Girard lodged his patent in the UK under the very English name of Horace Hall because feeling against the French was still running high after the Napoleonic Wars.

Philippe Girard is not the only famous person to have lived in Lourmarin. The village has attracted numerous illustrious figures over the years, including Albert Camus, Peter Mayle and Winston Churchill. Camus the 1942 Nobel Prize Winning Author for L’Etranger (i.e. The Stranger in the US, The Outsider in the UK) lived in Lourmarin for a couple of years until his death in a car crash in 1960, aged just 46. He’s buried in the local cemetery. Brighton born Peter Mayle, author of ‘A Year In Provence’ moved to Lourmarin in 1999 and lived there until his death in 2018. Churchill didn’t actually live there but he is credited with having painted well over 100 paintings in the south of France (mostly in Provence) and is known to have painted Lourmarin during a stay in 1948.

That’s Winston Churchill standing up in the front car as his cavalcade approaches Lourmarin in 1948.

I was going to write a small piece on the villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste which we passed through on our way back from Lourmarin to Saint Remy de Provence but we didn’t get to see much of either of those two villages. It’ll wait until after our next visit.

I’ll finish with a couple more photos (of flowers); not of the lavender fields for which Provence is rightly famous (they don’t flower until late June / early July but; of poppy fields. I had no idea that poppies grew here so well. I’ve never seen such an abundance of poppies as in Provence.

Saint-Remy de Provence (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

So we finally made it to Saint Remy de Provence. This beautiful little town in the Alpilles hills towards the western edge of Provence sits among a mix of rolling golden wheatfields, lush green vineyards and gnarled old silvery green olive groves and has been on my “Must Visit” list for years. It proved a far prettier and more interesting place than I could ever have imagined.

Okay, this view of the Alpilles doesn’t feature wheatfields nor vineyards but they are around; believe me.

We were heading for Collioure in the south west of France and then across the border into Spain but with Saint Remy just 20 kms south of Avignon, we simply had to visit the place, not least because we wanted to stock up on some of the Alpilles wine we had previously enjoyed in Avignon. We parked up on the edge of the town alongside a small independent wine cave and, as luck would have it, there it was – the Alpilles Chardonnay produced by Domaine Valdition that we enjoyed so much in Avignon. There was no holding Vanya back.

Saint Remy de Provence is not a large town. It’s oldest and prettiest parts are concentrated inside what I can only describe as an inner ring road formed by three tree lined avenues – the Boulevard Marceau, Boulevard Victor Hugo and Boulevard Mirabeau. This compact centre, just 500 metres across, is entirely pedestrianised and oozes small town tranquility. It is a gem of narrow winding streets edged with honey hued stone townhouses and shops and numerous small shaded squares with fountains and terraced bars, cafes and restaurants. Pretty as they are (and some are striking), it is not so much the streets and the squares which catch the eye here; it is individual buildings, particularly shops such as Fiston and Le Cheval a Bascule. They are so full of character.

These are just two of many colourful and interesting shops to be found near the Hotel de Ville on Place Jules Pelissier.

One cobbled stone square, Place Favier, soon became a favourite of ours. It’s a quiet little square on Rue Carnot, filled with plane trees and a fair sized fountain but with room too for the tables and chairs of two small cafe bars; one of them being ‘Creperie Lou Planet’. We stopped at the creperie for a galette (mine was filled with Mushrooms, Roquefort Cheese and Sour Cream and was absolutely delicious) and then Vanya had one of her best ideas of the trip so far, suggesting we stay on in Saint Remy for a few days. I needed no persuading and ordered a second beer while she googled a place to stay in the area.

Creperie Lou Planet on Place Favier. Points of Interest: Planet is a Provencal word meaning ‘tiny square’ and this little square used to be known as Place aux Herbes.

We were soon parked in a campsite close to the town centre (Camping Pegomas) and, leaving Vanya to rest in the Van, I went off on an extended ‘explore’ in and around the town. We’d already seen various plaques around the town commemorating Vincent van Gogh’s time in Saint Remy and I was keen to learn more about this. I discovered that after cutting off his left ear (following an altercation with his friend Gaugin, while they were working in nearby Arles) Van Gogh admitted himself to the Saint Paul de Mausole lunatic asylum on the outskirts of Saint Remy. He tarried in the asylum for just over a year and whilst there produced well over 120 paintings (including some of his finest works). The town operates what they call the Promenade dans L’Univers de Vincent Van Gogh – a two kilometre tourist trail around Saint Remy and then out to the former monastery/asylum where the great artist stayed between 1889 and 1890. You simply follow a series of bronze studs in the road from one of twenty one information points to another, learning much about Vincent Van Gogh and his works during his time in Saint Remy, on the way.

Those are the bronze studs and that is a photo (not one of mine) of the monastery which is now a museum.

These are just two of the many plaques at the 21 information points along the route. Most serve to introduce the works he completed in Saint Remy.

I reproduce below three of the 120+ paintings Van Gogh painted during his stay in the asylum:- “Wheatfield with a Reaper” (One of Van Gogh’s first paintings after his admission into the asylum, it was painted through the window of his hospital room) and; “The Starry Night” (Regarded as one of his most beautiful works, this is another piece of work painted from a window in the asylum. The village is a figment of his imagination and bears no resemblance to Saint Remy) and; “Irises” (Painted in the asylum gardens, this is my favourite of all those he produced whilst in Saint Remy).

Wheatfield with a Reaper” is currently in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. “Starry Night” is held in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Irises” is currently held in the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

Just over the road from the Saint Paul de Mausole is another interesting but much older site which is well worth visiting. This is the archaeological site of Glanum. After being overrun by Barbarians in AD260 Glanum became a source of stone and other building materials for the developing Saint Remy before it’s ruins were gradually buried by deposits washed down from the Alpilles. The town was lost until 1921 when it was discovered and unearthed. Much remains to be seen but two monuments in particular (known as Les Antiques) are in excellent condition.

Les Antiques: On the left is the Triumphal Arch of Glanum which was built towards the end of Augustus Caesar’s reign and on the right is the Mausoleum of the Julii which dates to BC40.

There’s a small museum devoted to Glanum next to the Hotel de Sade on Place Favier (the museum may even be part of the Hotel) and, before you ask, yes the Hotel de Sade was previously a home to relatives of the notorious Marquis de Sade although he never lived there.

Numerous artists, writers and musicians have lived in Saint Remy over the years but the most famous person to have been born in the town is perhaps the 16th century astronomer, apothecary and seer(?) – Nostradamus. He was born there in 1503 and it is possible to visit the house he was brought up in.

Left: The house where Nostradamus was born. Right: A fountain on the corner of Rue Carnot and Rue Nosto-Damo (Nostradamus) which was built in his honour. Surprisingly, this little fountain was full of fish.

We stayed in Saint Remy for a couple more days, more often than not using the place as a base from which to visit some pretty villages over near the Luberon Massif (notably Lourmarin and Bonnieux) but always returning for dinner.

Eating and drinking in Saint Remy is easy…

… and it’s a nice peaceful walk back to the campsite… and still very, very pretty.

One of the reasons we stayed on so long was because we wanted to enjoy the Farmers Market which is held every Wednesday morning. It is held on the Place de la Republique and across much of the old town including Place Jules Pelissier and, of course, our favourite Place Favier. Large, lively and colourful is an understatement. It is recognised as one of the best of the markets in Provence.

We ended up buying two large chunks of the local nougat from that guy on the left.

There is a great deal more I could write about Saint Remy but I’ve already written far too much by this blog’s standards. So, just three quick points about events we missed out on during this trip but will want to enjoy next time:

Firstly, just a few miles from Saint Remy is the small village of Baux de Provence where an indoor quarry has been turned into a light and sound show (Carrieres de Lumieres) where hundreds of images of great artist’s works (including Van Gogh) are projected onto quarry walls and floors in an immersive art experience that has been described as “currently, the world’s best light and sound experience”. That’s a ‘must see’ for Vanya and I.

Secondly, there’s the ‘Course Camarguaise’ which is run in a number of Provence towns at various times between Spring and Autumn. It is a kind of bullfight but the bulls are unharmed. They have ribbons attached between their horns and brave, athletic men known as rasateurs compete against each other, using skill and agility, to collect as many ribbons as possible in as short a time as possible (without getting harmed).

Thirdly, Saint Remy is famous for it’s festivals. One festival which is held towards the end of May and which, I am advised, would be worth seeing is the ‘Transhumance’. It celebrates the time when sheep are taken to higher pastures for the summer and thousands of them are herded along the town’s ring road.

Next, a little bit about our trip out to Lourmarin.

Port St Louis du Rhone (Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

Port Saint-Louis du Rhone is a port annex of Marseille at the mouth of the Rhone River. It has three beaches, one of which is Napoleon Beach, and Napoleon Beach has it’s own harbour (Port Napoleon) where our friends (Jonathon and Sheenagh) had moored their boat (Options) in readiness for a cruise along the Cote d’Azur. They were waiting for us as we arrived at the harbour’s entrance.

To the left is ‘Options'(nice!) and to the right is Beanie in a craft all of his own.

We were there to catch up with our friends, view their boat and share some lunch. It was a pleasant but very short trip and there is not therefore a great deal I can tell you about Port St Louis du Rhone or Port Napoleon. However, I do know that Port Louis is the last town on the Rhone Estuary and the mouth of the Rhone itself can be accessed by Napoleon Beach. Some ten kilometres of fine sand make Napoleon one of the largest beaches on the Carmargue and it is open in summer for all manner of water sports. I read that it’s harbour, Port Napoleon, has berths for as many as 250 craft of up to 40 metres in length, a dry dock which can accommodate up to 1,000 boats and (ordinarily) all the facilities and services you would expect of a small modern harbour, up to and including ship building. Unfortunately, the harbour’s restaurant (Les 3 Voiles) had suffered a fire and was closed when we visited but we were still able to sit in the shade of it’s porch and enjoy a bottle of wine and a picnic prepared by Sheenagh and, you know what? There is something very pleasing about taking wine and food in a small harbour on a sunny day with a background sound of halyards jingling against the main masts of a hundred small boats. Wonderful and thank you once again Sheenagh and Jonathon for your invitation to join you both on Options.

That’s the local Tourist Office and a final photo of ‘Options’.

I mentioned the Carmargue. It is only right that I leave you with a brief description of the Carmargue (together with my apologies for lifting and abridging it from an Alamy site):-

The Camargue is located south of Arles, France, between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhône River delta. The eastern arm is the Grand Rhône; the western one is the Petit Rhône. It is a designated “Wetland of International Importance”; a vast plain of large brine lagoons cut off from the sea by sandbars and encircled by reed-covered marshes. It is a haven for wild birds and has been protected as a regional park since 1927. In 2008 it was incorporated into the larger Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue (home to the Camargue Bull and the Camargue Horse) and this extended park now houses more than 400 species of birds, including the Greater Flamingo. Of course the marshes are also a prime habitat for many species of insects, notably and notoriously some of the most ferocious mosquitos to be found anywhere in France – and that last part explains why I refused to visit the Camargue and have instead relied on an Alamy description – Thank you Alamy.

On to Saint-Remy de Provence.

Avignon (Provence-Alpes-Cotes d’Azur), France May 2023 (Tour 7)

It’s not often we return to a place we have previously visited. There has to be a good reason and, more often than not, the place has to have been special for us. I visited Avignon for a couple of days early in 2018 (during Tour 1) and hadn’t felt any particular desire to return but Vanya was keen to see the city for the first time. Moreover, some friends (Matt’s parents) had berthed their sailboat at nearby Port Napoleon on the Rhone Estuary (and we thought to drop in on them) and, also, we were keen to visit one of France’s most beautiful villages just south of Avignon in the Alpilles – Saint Remy de Provence. So, all things considered it seemed an appropriate place to use as a base for a couple of days.

We parked the Van on the Ile de la Barthelasse at Camping du Pont d’Avignon and on a bright sunny afternoon I took the free ferry service from near the entrance to the campsite across the River Rhone to the Papal Palaces for a little explore. You know, I really enjoyed this second visit to Avignon. Previously, I visited during a dank cold February and the town was very quiet with few bars and restaurants open and I missed out on one of this city’s most attractive features – its cafe culture. On that occasion I had taken time to visit the city’s principal tourist sites (walking for miles inside and around the beautifully preserved city walls; focusing on the Papal Palaces and the Rocher des Doms Gardens, the Cathedrale Notre Dame, Les Halles Market, the Rue des Teinturiers and of course the Pont Saint-Benezet) and I wrote about those in the 2018 Avignon blog but I didn’t take time to properly enjoy the city. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again and one of the best moments in Avignon this trip was simply sitting outside a cafe on the Place de l’Horloge over a couple of beers listening to a wonderful violinist entertain the square with an eclectic choice of music which included a pleasing instrumental version of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 ‘Hallelujah’. Brilliant!

Left: Catching the ferry across the Rhone. Centre: Les Escaliers from Le Boulevard de la Ligne. Right: Inside the Rocher des Doms Gardens

Some almost obligatory photos taken within the Papal Palace area.

In the early evening I collected Vanya and together with the dogs took the ferry over the Rhone for dinner in the city. The fact is, French restaurants are very accommodating so far as dogs are concerned. I don’t think we have ever been refused entry into a restaurant in France because of them. The choice of restaurants around the Place de l’Horloge isn’t particularly good (touristy places all offering much the same menu) and the food itself proved even more disappointing but we were introduced to a very pleasant local white wine – a Chardonnay from Domaine de Valdition which goes by the name of Alpilles (named after the area down near Saint Remy de Provence where it is produced). We made a note to try more of the Alpilles wines over the next days.

I took this photo as Vanya and I walked back to the Van after dinner. It’s a shame the Pont Saint-Benezet was lit up so brightly with that ghastly fluorescent blue light. It would have made a great photo.

The next day was about getting up early and experiencing a small street market in the old town. The ferry wasn’t operating this early in the day and so I walked into the city via the Pont Edouard Daladier and sat outside a small cafe nursing a coffee and croissant for almost an hour while the Avignon equivalent of the Albert Square Market in Eastenders went on about me. You don’t have to be fluent in French to understand much of the banter being used. It is probably the same in farmer’s markets all over the world. After my light and lazy breakfast, I walked more of old Avignon’s streets and lanes while the city gradually came to life. It really was pleasant just soaking in the mood of Avignon and not worrying about chasing photo opportunities of monuments.

It wasn’t a big market although it stretched across two or three streets but I very much enjoyed the people watching and then exploring some of the quieter streets.

And Vanya? Well, Vanya considers Avignon a pretty place and she certainly enjoyed the Alpilles wine but she isn’t really into large towns (especially when they are so full of tourists) and she thought it rather commercial. Also, she didn’t cope that well with the walks up and down the Escalier. In fact she stayed at the campsite for much of our second day in Avignon – something about a coronation had attracted her attention.

No. That is not our Van bedecked with the coronation bunting of Charles III a. There were a couple of other English people in the campsite and this belonged to them.

The next couple of days at Port Napoleon and Saint Remy de Provence should suit her better.

Baratier (Haute Alpes), France September 2020 (Tour 3)

We had two almost contradictory objectives today. One was to make some headway towards Italy (mine) and the other was to find a decent sized Lidl, Leclerc or Carrefour and stock up on Cremont Limoux (Vanya’s). In the end we managed neither. Had we travelled the southern route past St Tropez, Cannes, Nice and the like we could perhaps have achieved both objectives but that is such a tedious route.

Instead we googled Lidl to find a decent sized store and then, armed with the necessary information, made our way north through the Alpes Haute de Provence to the small town of Digne-les-Baines. A little further research and we may have discovered that Lidl had only 4 bottles of Crement left. No matter, Vanya bought them all and then we set off to a campsite she liked the sound of at a place called Baratier.

Baratier is just 40 miles from the Italian border with Italy so while neither of us had fulfilled our respective objectives we both made progress. Best of all we were each blown away by the scenery on the way across to Baratier. We took the route through Le Vernet, Seyne, Saint Vincent les Fortes and Savines le Lac (which I believe the Tour de France follows). The road winds through and over some quite spectacular mountain scenery and for a while it follows the beautiful La Durance River and along the south bank of it’s reservoir, Lake Serre-Poncon.

Lake Serre-Poncon from the south as we came over the mountains

One remarkable site we stumbled upon en route to Baratier (on the D954 in the Durance Valley near La Sauze du Lac) is a series of natural columns of earth and stone known as Des Demoiselles Coiffees; meaning, Young Ladies with Fancy Hair or a Nice Hat. Not hard to see why they were so named as each column is topped with a large rock.

The campsite? At first glance, it was very quiet and had everything we needed but it really is in the middle of nowhere and that evening we walked miles in the dark looking for a restaurant that would tolerate dogs. The only open restaurant we could find was a hotel restaurant and they wouldn’t admit dogs. It was back to the Van for cheese & biscuits because we hadn’t defrosted anything in the freezer.

The Campsite Pool looked good but we decided to move on

Moustiers Ste Marie (Alpes de Haute Provence), France September 2020 (Tour 3)

Talk about being blessed. If La Vogue was an amazing experience, the next stop at Moustiers Sainte Marie was out of this world.

We took our time over the 85 mile journey, avoiding all toll roads and driving across the Valensole Plateau. For miles in every direction there was little else but large fields of Lavender interspersed with the occasional olive orchard. Unfortunately the Lavender was not in bloom (we’d missed it by a month) but it wasn’t difficult to imagine how magnificent these fields would have looked just a few weeks ago. Beautiful.

Moustiers Ste Marie is a small village of some 700 people in the Natural Parc Regional du Verdon. Dating back to the 5th century it is perched in a semi circle of rocky cliff at the entrance to the Gorges du Verdon (the largest canyon in Europe) and it’s setting is as attractive as the place itself with spectacular views as much from the foot of the village looking up as from it’s heights looking down over the rooftops and across the Maire Valley.

No photo can do this place justice – It is breathtaking

It is another plus beau village du France (that’s two in one day); full of charm, narrow streets, little squares, faience workshops, cafes and restaurants; all dominated by the 12th century four storey bell tower of the Notre Dame de l’Assumption Church (which sits in a pretty square in the centre of the village with an unmissable fountain). It’s very much a tourist town now and busy.

Fountain outside the Notre Dame de l’Assumption

The whole town looks a bit like a nativity scene with a 1.25 metre gilded gold star suspended by a chain high in the sky above another religious monument sitting in the cliffs at the back of the village. This is the Chapel of Notre Dame du Beauvoir. There is a legend concerning the star which was related by the poet Mistral. He tells of a knight of Blacas who after being captured by the Saracens in a 12th century crusade swore that if ever he managed to return home he would hang a star up over the chapel in honour of Saint Mary. So it came about.

The high spot of the village for me (and please forgive the pun) is this small chapel. It’s a beautiful little chapel in its own right but the views over the Maire Valley and down on to the village are equally special. It takes only 15 minutes or so to reach the chapel from the village below and it is well worth the effort. I took the left hand path up, passing the Grotte Saint Madeleine on the way and came down by the right hand path. If you’re nervous about heights you will probably prefer to use the right hand path for the ascent and descent but there is no real exposure on either route.

First sight of the Chapel

It was first built in the 9th century but the oldest part remaining today is the nave which was built in the 13th century. It was a popular pilgrimage centre in the Middle Ages and in the 17th century was known as a chapel where still born children would return to life for the time it took for them to be baptised and their souls could go to heaven.

Before tourism, Moustiers was largely about pottery. It is famous for it’s Faience Earthenware. There’s an earthenware museum in the village holding a collection of this fine glazed earthenware some of which dates back to the 17th century. Faience Pottery is made to this day with the village operating 14 workshops and 22 sales outlets. Vanya gave the museum a miss, preferring to visit a workshop and buy some new Faience Pottery rather than just look at the old stuff. And what did she buy? A glazed wine cooler. What else?

We returned to the village early that evening so as to be certain to get a table in a restaurant (like I said, the place is busy) and thereafter enjoyed a lovely meal on a packed restaurant terrace – the wine was cheap and the food was good; mine was a Wild Boar Stew cooked in Lavender Honey. We were pretty much the last people to leave. Nothing wrong with that.

Avignon (Provence), France – Feb 2018

The journey from Taradeau was fine (mostly motorway) until I reached the walled city of Avignon itself. The campsite I was heading for is just outside the walled city on the Ile de Barthelesse and my (not so) trusty sat-nav insisted on taking me through the walled city with all it’s narrow lanes. It wouldn’t have been so bad and I could perhaps have made it except that it was Wednesday and much of the city is closed to vehicles on a Wednesday (or at least on this particular Wednesday):

After driving around the narrow lanes for a while (using bus lanes when I ran out of road) I gave up on the sat-nav and followed my instinct (and a road sign) to the Ile de Barthelesse. For all it’s smug superiority and foreign languages, the sat-nav cannot recognise the days of the week. Hah! One up to me.

Avignon is lovely. France is lovely.

Avignon on the Rhone. The (part) bridge is the 12th Century Pont St Benezet (sometimes known as the Bridge of Abignon). 18 of it’s 22 spans were washed away in the 17th Century and it has been left that way

Crossing over from the Ile de Barthelesse (using a more complete bridge), the most prominent of all the buildings in the old town are the two standing alongside each other on the Place du Palais; the Cathedral Notre Dame des Doms with it’s guilded Virgin Mary  and the 14th Century Palais des Papes (another Unesco World Heritage Site) built to accommodate  the pope and his entourage after the newly elected pope Clement V chose to stay in his home country rather than move to the (then) wholly corrupt city of Rome:

… above, the Palais des Papes (plural because a number of subsequent popes, another 6 I think, preferred Avignon to Rome) and, below, it’s immediate neighbour the Cathedral of Notre Dame des Doms with the guilded Virgin Mary watching over Avignon…

Views across the city from the Palais…

There are other impressive churches to see in Avignon; principal among them being the Basilique Saint Pierre d’Avignon, the Eglise St Didier and the Protestant St Martial Temple but I had seen enough churches in Italy to last a lifetime and the rest of my day in Avignon was spent perusing Les Halles (a large covered market with just about every food you could imagine – local chefs attend the market every Saturday morning and give free cookery lessons) and sitting outside a cafe doing what should be done when the sun is shining namely, drinking coffee and watching people go about their daily life. You can’t beat it.

Having said that, I’m going to make an observation (in the form of a question). Has anyone ever had a decent cup of coffee in France?

Taradeau (Provence), France – Feb 2018

I left Sestri Levante intending to make one further halt in Italy, 120 miles away in San Remo, either for a late lunch or even to overnight depending on what San Remo has to offer. After a straight forward journey in wonderful sunshine I arrived in San Remo as a thunderstorm started. When moments later it started to hail, I set off towards my fall back destination, Monaco. It was snowing as I drove through Monaco and I didn’t even pause for a coffee – do you blame me?

Into France, past Nice and Cannes where there was heavy rain, westward towards the blue sky. I even passed Antibes without stopping and that place was one to visit for the Absinthe alone. To get to my age and never have tasted Absinthe is not right.

… San Remo and Monaco – I’ll let you know. I remember the days in the Balkans and in Greece when I would simply move the Van to where the sun was expected to be

Anyway, I stopped at Taradeau in Provence, a town of less than 2,000 people, and there’s nothing there to talk about (although the Provence countryside is beautiful and the people very friendly) except; the sun shone and I chilled for the best part of 2 days. I tell a lie – there was a Hyper U Supermarket and lots of other shops; probably the best range of foodstuffs I have seen in months. I grabbed a supermarket trolley and I was like a kid at Christmas.

The food that first night was tremendous. Lots of little hors d’oeuvres, a full plate of fresh prawns the size of small lobsters and then, best of all:

… Toulouse Sausage in a French Stick followed by Pecorino cheese with a fine Chianti Reserve

Nothing else to report because I have done nothing but sit outside in the sun. I head off to Avignon tomorrow.