Encore Provence

We used up one of our last long May weekends for a return to Provence.  Not because we hadn’t been there yet.  Because we had.  And we loved it.  It was one of our ultimate favorite places in Europe.

Renovated old farmhouse in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
Renovated old farmhouse in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

So on a sunny Friday in late May we drove down and found our digs for the weekend – an updated old farmhouse in the tiny village of Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.

Farm living, or not.

The place was plenty spacious and comfortable.

Country kitchen
Country kitchen

Patrick, the owner, was a chef in a Michelin star restaurant so naturally the kitchen was pretty well appointed.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to eat at his resto.  Not that we ate badly though!  Being late spring in one of the most fertile areas in France, the fresh produce was amazing.  Roadside stands were everywhere selling melons, cherries, strawberries, vegetables, olive oil, lavender, and everything else you could imagine that grows in the dirt.

Patio in the sun
Patio in the sun

There was a sunny patio with a big sliding glass door off the kitchen and we didn’t waste much time before checking out all the flowers in bloom.

Blooming Jasmine

There was a huge blooming Jasmine vine growing up the upper porch support and it smelled amazing!

Poolside in Provence
Poolside in Provence

There was even a shallow pool to float in when the weather got hot.  Sarah was the only one to try it though.  It was still a little chilly (and unheated).

Laundry basin a la Sorgue
Old laundry basin a la Sorgue

The next morning we strolled upstream along the Sorgue river into the village.  The Sorgue flows out of the base of a 700′ cliff  just above the village and at 630 million cubic meters/year it is the largest spring in France and the 5th largest in the world.  This close to the source the water was crystal clear and cold.

Fontaine-de-Vaucluse
Fontaine-de-Vaucluse

The village today is mostly tourism driven and there where little shops all over the central square selling local products and apparel.

Local hooch
Local hooch

This shop sold lots of flavored Pastis and liqueurs and oils.  I wasn’t brave enough to try any of them though.

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Green river grass growing in the Sorgue

The river grass was abundant and bright green and it made the water look almost Emerald in the sun.  Later in the afternoon Sarah and I rented kayaks and paddled 4 or 5 miles through the forests and farmlands.

Hilltop Menerbes
Hilltop Menerbes

On Sunday we got up and drove over to another small hilltop medieval village, called Menerbes.  We parked the car and walked through the narrow streets and alleys admiring the stone architecture and all the flowers.

Poppy fields in Provence
Poppy fields in Provence

Along the drive we passed field after field blooming with poppies.  We tried to capture the colors but the camera just doesn’t quite do it justice.  Unfortunately it was too early in the season so we didn’t get to see any of the fields of purple lavender in bloom.

Retirement villa?
Retirement villa?

I’ve mentioned it before but after visiting I truly understand why all the Brits want to retire here.  After all the clouds and rain the Luberon valley must seem like heaven!  After a picnic lunch we hiked up the south side of the valley to the village of Oppede le Vieux.  We had been there on our first stay in the area and apparently I didn’t take any pictures this time.

Riverside dining on the Sorgue
Riverside dining on the Sorgue

That evening we had dinner stream-side back in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse.  The weather was beautiful and the food was very good.

Sarah's Lait Froid Gourmet
Sarah’s Lait Froid Gourmet

I have to digress here for a minute.  Most anywhere in France one can order Cafe Gourmet for dessert.  Cafe Gourmet is basically a shot of espresso and a small sampling of all the desserts that are on the menu that evening.  Great way to try a lot of stuff, if you like coffee.  So after three years of dining out Sarah finally figured out that she could simply order the Cafe Gourmet without the Cafe!  She called it Lait Foid (cold milk) Gourmet.  Good stuff!

Roman gardens in Nimes
Roman gardens in Nimes

Sunday we headed home via an alternate route so we could stop and spend a few hours in the ancient city of Nimes, knows as “the French Rome.”  Signs of human settlement in Nimes date back to 4000 – 3500 BC and during the Roman Empire the population is estimated at 50,000 – 60,000 people.  The Roman “Jardins de la Fontaine” remain a popular place to visit and relax to this day.

Temple to Diana in Nimes
Temple to Diana in Nimes

We strolled through the gardens and explored the remains of an ancient temple to the goddess Diana.  There was some sort of boat race/parade/contest going on in the canals around the perimeter of the gardens but we couldn’t see much for all the spectators.

Temple ruins in Nimes
Temple ruins in Nimes

In fact, there was quite a lot going on all over the city.  Seemed like quite a turn-out for a Monday (albeit a holiday).

Street band playing outside the Maison Carree
Street band playing in a plaza

We kept running into bands playing all over the downtown area and there were tents and tables set up everywhere that seemed to be getting more and more crowded as noon approached.

Maison Careee in Nimes
Maison Carree in Nimes

Besides the Roman gardens, several other large Roman monuments and structures survive to this day, including the Parthenon-looking Maison Carree (square house).  Built in 4-7 A.D., this building dedicated to the grandsons of Augustus Caesar, is the best preserved Roman temple facade that exists anywhere in the former empire.

Payella lunch at the Maison Carree plaza
Paella lunch at the Maison Carree plaza

We stopped at a tent in the plaza adjacent the temple for a feast of Paella and Sangria.  Paella is a dish found throughout Spain and other parts of southwestern Europe consisting of sticky rice heaped with fresh steamed seafood.  Sarah is still trying to figure out how to eat the huge gambas (large shrimp) with a knife and fork like the natives.  They’re always served with the heads, tails, and shells still on…

Bull fight pre-contest celebrations
Bull fight pre-contest celebrations

Finally as we were leaving our lunch feast we figured it out.  There was going to be a bull fight in town this afternoon!  THAT’S what all the partying was about!

Bull fight spectators in the streets.
Bull fight spectators in the streets.

And what a party.  It just got bigger and bigger as we approached the venue.  What was the venue?  Why, a well-preserved Roman amphitheater of course.  What else?

Roman coliseum in Nimes
Roman amphitheater in Nimes

We didn’t have tickets.  Heck, we didn’t even know it was happening until we stumbled across it.  So we walked around the perimeter of the arena and took in the crowds and the vendors and the party.

When in Rome - or Nimes!
When in Rome – or Nimes!

Sadly we had quite a drive ahead of us and didn’t get to spend as long as we might have liked in town.  The drive back was uneventful and even the traffic wasn’t too bad as I recall.

Chillaxin’ in the Luberon Valley

We loved our weekend getaway to the south of France.  We were rapidly running out of them as summer and our departure from Europe approached.

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