As you know, food features prominently on this blog. Throughout Provence, the meals were awesome, and the biggest complaint we typically heard from our travel companions is that they spent their entire day feeling full. We typically started off the day with cooking a breakfast at the house we were renting, doing a little bit of touring, having some snacks on the patio, swimming in the pool, and finishing the day with a dinner out at a local restaurant. Sometimes there would be a lunch stop involved, and in the process we would make a point to see some of the local sights. It was also during this spot in the trip where Kristen and I would try to sneak off for a ride in the morning before our guests missed us. I'll make an effort to summarize, but it could get long winded. We love Provence.
Our first night out proved to be quite a success. We dined at a restaurant in the town of Villars, which has maybe 200 people, and all of them seemed to be out to enjoy a musical performance in the square. I can't say it was good, but we speculated that they likely had won the local battle of the bands and were therefore the default performers in the area.
As for the food, the plate on the left is duck and the one of the right is fish, and both were amazing. I think we grabbed a card if you are ever in the area.
We took this pic for my cousin Brett, who is nicknamed Spud, and is a standout jumper in track and field. This should be his personal logo as far as I'm concerned.
On our first day in Provence, we hit a lot of great little towns with views that stretched for miles, buildings that date to the 12th century, and wine that we couldn't carry enough of. I also can't get over how blue the sky is here. No other place I have been provides such clear blue skies and white puffy clouds. This first town is called Oppède le Vieux, and there are only narrow little walkways.
Here Kristen is trying to get a peak into a property with a wall around it. I took this for evidence later.
I won't highlight each little town, but we also stopped in Oppede, Menerbes, Lacoste, and Bonnieux. At this point, it is tough to tell which is which, but this area is worth a visit.
I'm not really sure what is happening with these sculptures and the ruins from this castle, but it felt like it would have been designed by the family in Beetlejuice.
If I remember correctly, it was slightly hot on this day, so after some hours of exploring, hiking up and down the steep little streets and getting carted around in a hot car, everyone took the afternoon to relax and spend some time by the pool. The property we were at had a great pool and a lot of land, and was the perfect place to spend an afternoon.
The next morning after our bike ride, we went on the hunt for lavender. This area is known for its lavender fields, and it is possible to find soaps, oils, honey and even ice cream all flavored with lavender. We were here at a good time and were able to take in some beautiful countryside blanketed in lavender.
In addition to lavender, nearby is an area called Le Colorado Provencal. It is likely that the state as we know it was given its name from this area, but to me it is more similar to terrain found in Sedona, AZ. Nonetheless, it is quite stunning and certainly seems almost out of place in the french countryside. This particular area lies just outside the town of Rustrel, and 20 miles to the west is another town called Roussillon that is also known for its red rock. On one of our morning bike rides we ended up in Rustrel and another in Roussillon.
This guy was hot and found a creative way to cool off.
Here is a picture out the window where we were staying, and a picture of the property. This place was really amazing, because it was once a farm that had fallen into disrepair, and a guy bought it, turned the outbuildings into apartments, cleaned up the property and built an awesome pool. The main house has more rooms than I can remember, but I think there are 4 bedrooms, and 3 bathrooms, and he still has his work cut out for him. It is the kind of place that immediately gets my brain turning on taking on a project like this in the future.
After 3 days in Provence we got on the road to Languedoc. Along the way we stopped for a view of Gordes. We were here last summer and took the same picture, and it didn't lose any of its splendor. It is a very incredible medieval French town.
Our home in Languedoc was another renovated farmhouse in the town of Saint-Marcel-sur-Aude. This place was larger than the first one, and the apartments were built within what was likely the stables and the barn. There were 12 apartments on the property, again with a pool, and a large farmhouse. This one was owned by a German family, and unlike the place in Provence, they lived there full time and managed the property. There was an onsite store that was the most unique I have seen anywhere, because there were local wines, honeys, crafts and trinkets that were priced the same as from the producer, but you could take it whenever you wanted on the honor system. Guests wrote down what they took and how much it cost, and when checking out, paid for whatever they had taken.
I don't even remember anymore what we did after we checked in. I know we were greeted immediately with a carafe of rose and olives, both local to the area. I think we then drank the free bottle of wine that was on our table when we got to our room and went to dinner. Like I said earlier, this trip included a lot of time eating and drinking wine, with some sightseeing in the middle.
Thankfully there are pictures from the next day. We drove to Peyriac-de-mer to see a bird sanctuary and sea-salt production. Unfortunately it must have been too hot for birds, because we didn't see a single one. We tried to salvage things with a stop at a winery, but that too was closed.
Gruissan was next on our list, and ended up being a winner, but the heat was certainly keeping more people indoors. Having the towns to ourselves wasn't all bad though, because when we stopped at an ice cream shop we were able to sample almost everything they had. Gruissan is known for the fort built on a steep hill in the center of town, but I thought it was amazing for the walkability, the flowers along the promenade and the quaint feel of the little fishing boats in the bay.
Imagine getting your morning bread from a floating store. We saw a boat cruise up next to this place, hand some money over, and get back a bag of bread. It was really more of a tourist shop with souvenirs and things, but the bread was authentically French.
Polly really wanted to take a boat ride, and after a long day in the sun, the rest of us weren't all that excited about it. It's always good to support the group though, so we went along. It turns out that we all really enjoyed the boat ride, and our captain was quite entertaining. We had the boat to ourselves aside from a woman and her dog who were just getting a lift home, and enjoyed a relaxing cruise along the Canal du Midi. It is possible to take the canal clear from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, but according to the captain, that feat takes a few days. Along the canal there are houseboats that are permanent residences as well as rentals and vacation homes.
Here is the other passenger with her shaggy dog, and her home where we dropped her off.
There is always graffiti and some of it is more entertaining than others.
It is hard to see what is going on here, but the canal actually crosses another river. It seems really strange to be in a boat on a bridge.
Our captain. He was a retired Dutch riverboat captain. He and his entire family all piloted barges of coal up and down rivers of Northern Europe. Now he does this for fun, which is why he is willing to take 4 people out for an hour for a very affordable rate.
Locals are very proud of this bookstore and the captain encouraged us to check it out.
The boat tour started and ended in Le Somail, and the captain said there was no other place along the canal he would rather live. I can attest to the fact that this area is very beautiful, and the food is quite good too, though I'm not sure if they compete with Provence on that one.
Because we just couldn't quite get enough boating, we found a place in Roquebrun to do some canoeing on our last day in Languedoc.
Our mornings were again spent cycling the area. Here are a few snaps from that.
Just as our guests were starting to get in the swing of our travel tempo, we had to drop them off for their flight home. Their final stop was Barcelona, but of course, we had to hit one more stop along the way in Besalu. The 12th century bridge into town was worth the stop.
From Barcelona Kristen and I made the push to Grenada, which Google says takes 8 hours, but is really closer to 10. And why have we never heard about the tolls in Spain? Anyway, Granada's big attraction is the Alhambra, and it is close by to the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the namesake to the range in California. I loved it here, but Kristen was less convinced. The tight streets make it tough for walking a Ethan. Kristen also took a digger on a gravel road outside of Granada while riding our bikes.
Spain still has 22 bullrings according to Wikipedia. We visited 3 of them on this trip, the first one in Granada.
We were lucky to be in Granada during a weeklong arts celebration, and were lucky to get 2 of the last tickets for a flamenco music performance in the Alhambra.
A hike into the Sierra Nevadas. There were people cycling to the top which caps out at just over 9000 feet, and they looked either really strong or really tired.
The Alhambra did not disappoint, but it was pushing 100 degrees the day we were there, and one of us was caressing a large bottle of ice water.
From Granada we moved to Ronda, with a quick stop in Setenil de las Bodegas. Homes here are built right into the rock walls, and in some cases consume the entire house.
Ronda's main draw is called the Puente Nuevo (new bridge), built in 1751 to replace the old bridge built in 1616. There is also a bullring with a really large museum and collection of antique guns.
American Pancakes in Spain. We normally have pancakes on Sundays, so it was nice to keep with tradition.
We checked out of Ronda a day early and tacked another day onto our reservation in Seville. This was the best choice we made this trip, as Seville is one of my new favorite cities. I'm getting really long winded on this blog, so I'm going to start Seville on the next one. I'll leave you with a few pics from Zahara, on the road to Seville.
Ethan was having some eye issues.
And the Spanish are so committed to siesta that even the parking meters don't work between the hours of 2 and 5.