On Christmas eve we spent 9 hours in the car zooming down the highway and paying highway robbery size tolls to (hopefully) find sun in Southern France.
First stop- Aix-en-Provence (2 nights)
This city had a Christmas market that we strolled along at night with lights all around the city. It was very quiet on Christmas day and we had the whole place to ourselves to tour the beautiful architecture.
Can you find Ethan?
This is my new favorite statue.
Warm water from a natural hot spring fills this fountain
So as usual, we found our way to the outdoors for some hiking. The region south east of Marseilles is a rugged coastline formed by glacier movement (fjords) also known as Calanques in French. We hiked to Calanque d'en Vau and saw a few other calanques along the way.
Ethan was not a fan of the cliff edge.
Can you see the face in the rock?
The town of Cassis was the starting point for the calanques area and had a beautiful boardwalk that went out to a lighthouse and looked back on a castle on the hill. The castle is now a hotel.
Next stop- Moustiers-Saint-Marie (2 nights)
This was supposed to be a 3 night stop but every single one of the 25 restaurants in the town was closed for the week between Christmas and New Year. This made it difficult to find food! Also, the owner of the B&B we stayed at smoked inside, so we had to get out! We spent our first day there sipping wine on the patio and enjoying her incredible view of the mountain and olive grove and then checking out the little town built on the hillside. We walked up to the church at the top and had a great view of the town.
Random town along the drive to Moustiers with an incredible old gate.
The neighbor's curious deer.
Views of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie
We spent the second day hiking in the Verdun gorge (which is a major attraction of the area).
A little town on the way to the gorge.
Dinner that our hostess made for us. She was a good cook; good thing, because we had no other option!
Since we skeedaddled out of there early, we had a little bit of a car ride to our next destination. Quinn let us catch up on some zzzzz
Third stop- Arles and Uzes (1 night)
The city of Arles. I have been wanting to check out this city for some time because it has a very famous coliseum. We had the best meal of the trip in Arles. We also pretty much had the place to ourselves. I really love the French style
Our friend Jeremy convinced me to buy this red coat when he came to visit over the summer. I am glad he did. It is fun to wear red in the winter.
Door to a kitchen of a restaurant. Who doesn't cook in a cellar?
We didn't take many pictures in Uzes but it is one of our new favorite towns. It is very quaint and we are looking forward to seeing it again in summer.
Over the summer we bought some wine that we love from an Inn where we stayed. We went to the winery where it is made to buy more but no one was home! We were so sad. The winery is a small one and I think they are in the process of renovating this property. It is going to be so cool one day.
Fourth stop- Perpignan (5 nights)
When we arrived at our rental apartment we were quite surprised to learn that we would be staying in a senior center! They rent out empty units to travelers and are very inexpensive. It was well decorated and so spacious and it was really fun to interact with the seniors as we were coming and going from our place. It turned out to be a great spot, but it was just a little weird to check in at a nursing station!!
Views around Perpignan
We drove out to Casteil to do a little hike that turned into a pretty big hike. The refuge at the top had the best view around!
An abbey in the valley.
Ethan diving into the leaves, over and over and over again.
On the way home we stumbled upon the most amazing of stumbleupons. An old city wall. Completely intact. Around an actual operating town. I have never been able to truly feel what it would have been like to live in a walled city until we visited Ville-Franche-de Conflent. Quinn wants to go back and spend a whole day taking pictures. There are only two little streets with buildings lining each one. It is really hard to describe. Hopefully, his pictures will give you an idea. There are tons of aerial shots online that might help.
There are two or three gates that serve as entrances to the town and on top of the hill is a fortress for defending it. It is so remote in this valley I can't imagine that it needed so much defense. I guess that is why it is still intact today.
We celebrated the New Year in Collioure. France is not particularly known for its public celebrations for the New Year, but Collioure is one place that has a big street party with stands set up on the coast serving champagne and fresh seafood including oysters, which I tried and will not be trying again.
They also had an animated light show set to music projected onto the church wall that jutted into the ocean. The unique thing about this town is that the old town is built right on the water and the harbor/beach area is surrounded by the old buildings. It makes for a perfect opportunity for a party. An older woman befriended us and insisted on buying us food and wine and drinking with us. She was the life of the party, and spoke very little English. She talked away in French with English sprinkled in, but it didn't matter, we had a great time. The theme for the evening was 60's so we saw some great outfits. People were dancing and so friendly, and the longer we stayed, the more people talked to us. It felt like we knew the whole town.
First a view of the town from up on the hill, before it got dark.
One of the narrow streets. They were all filled with art vendors and restaurants.
The light show also had music and movement. This just gives you a tiny taste of what it was like. We were super lucky to score a table at a cafe just before the show started! Quinn has eagle eyes and cat reflexes.
The party animals.
The DJ booth. There was a lot of Michael Jackson!
The next day we cruised around Perpignan and saw the castle on the hill. Of course, there are more obligatory food pictures.
Adults having fun with bubbles.
Our drive home was 10 hours long. Here are some random things you see on European road trips.
Who needs a pick up to haul something when you have a jaguar?
Whew! That was a big, fun, exciting trip. Ethan needs a nap.