Helen and Bill arrived on-time with baggage intact (virtually unheard of for Air Canada) on October 17th. The weary travelers were in good spirits despite dining on semi-frozen airline food. We took them back to the house to drop off their bags, freshen up and have a tour. They were eagerly greeted by our furry welcoming committee.
Once they were settled in we did a quick driving tour of the neighbourhood, ending at T’ Cuyperke for supper. I’ve mentioned this restaurant before and you can find it listed in our ‘Favourite Belgian Restaurants’ in the Menu above. As always, we had a great meal there. Then we headed home for an early bedtime so we could hit the road bright and early.
Well, it wasn’t bright when we left. In fact, the sun was hardly up. Early? Well, by Matheson standards it was. The Volvo was loaded down with gear and food as we set off for our traditional first stop – Avignon.
This was Andrew’s and my third visit to Avignon. (If you’re interested you can read the other two accounts here and here). I truly love this city. Honestly I’m not sure that it’s any nicer than other cities of a similar size in the area (Orange, Arles, etc). But it was the first one we settled in and it makes a great base for exploring the area. The city walls and the Papal Palace are nothing to sneeze at either.
After settling at the hotel we set out to explore the city while we still had some light (although after dark the old city is beautifully illuminated and makes a great time for a stroll as well). We checked out the palace and wandered the narrow back streets and then stopped for supper at an Italian spot we had discovered with my parents. We filled up on pasta and wood oven pizza and called it a night.
The next morning we set out for Pont du Gard an ancient Roman aqueduct. Again, Andrew and I had been there twice before, but it doesn’t get any less amazing. We climbed both sides of the river for views of the structure and wandered below it as well.
Our next stop was a new one for Andrew and me (although we had been unknowingly right outside it on our first trip) – the asylum in St. Rémy where Van Gogh had spent time and painted. While still in use, one section of the hospital has been preserved as a museum. You can visit Van Gogh’s room, see the scenes that he painted from the window, and learn about the common illnesses and ‘treatments’ of the day. There is also a gallery of residents’ artworks that are for sale. It was a fascinating place.
(Before I go any further I should mention that Bill is a retired school principal and artist. Helen recently retired from the publishing world. Both are very interested in art so you will see this as a recurring theme to our explorations.)
Our last adventure of the day was at Les Baux de Provence. This is a tiny hilltop village with stunning view of the countryside. At the top of the town is an ancient castle and fortress. We took the time to tour the ruins and it was incredible. The sheer size of the fort was amazing. We clambered up some very scary stairs, but the view from the top was worth the vertigo. We took a few hours to explore the fort and the rest of the town. A few rolls of film (and some shaky knees) later, we headed out of the town and back to Avignon.
We dined that night at La Fourchette (The fork… doesn’t everything sound fancier in French?) We had to wait a while to get in, but boy was it worth it. The restaurant had loads of character, the staff was wonderfully friendly and the food was divine. I will definitely be adding this one to the list.
The following day was one of Andrew’s favorite type of days – a twisty, turny, driving day. We started out at my favorite place in the South of France – Gigondas. Like Avignon, I’m not sure exactly what it is about this town other than it was one of the first we discovered (and they have my favorite wine in the world). It just seems to have everything the ideal Provençal town should have – houses clustered together on a mountainside, narrow stone streets that go straight up, loads of potted plants and window boxes, a church and the remains of an old fort on top, views of vineyards as far as you can see, (oh, and did I mention the best wine ever?)
We wandered about the town, got a new case of wine and set out for my second favorite town (conveniently located just down the road) Séguret. This is another little town, very similar to Gigondas. We wandered through one of their art galleries, watched some women painting on the street and then set out again.
Andrew was determined to climb Mt. Ventoux. On our last attempt the road to the top was still snowed in. This time it was open… however the fog was so thick as we got to the top, we could hardly tell we were there anyway.
It was worth the trip on the way back down the other side however. As we turned a corner, Andrew saw a sheep in the road and slowed to a stop. The sheep was followed by another, and another, and then a goat. An entire flock of sheep and goats were being herded across the road by a Great Pyrenees (the first dog I had growing up). We were to see later that it was the time of year that many shepherds were moving their flocks from their summer grazing grounds to lower ground for the winter. (Livestock in the road was another recurring theme of our trip).
Stay tuned for the next instalment as we head to the Costa Brava…