As part of our time spent in a difficult country serving the U.S. government, we are given two weeks of what’s called “Rest and Recovery” – also known as R&R – once a year. The government pays the cost of the flights for this official travel, setting a limit to the prices. With this opportunity, we considered the time restraints and the amount of travel we were willing to do, and decided that we really needed to focus on resting and enjoying our time away from work with as little stress as possible. We also knew that we wanted to see the Western world again and we didn’t want to travel too far. Our affinity for delicious food and warm weather helped us to decide on the South of France as our destination, spending time by the Mediterranean and in the countryside of Provence – neither disappointed. And since we would be flying through England and so close to our good friends, Becca and George, we spent a few days at the end of our vacation with them at their cottage in Kent County just outside London. The whole trip was such a treat, I wish it could have lasted forever!
The trip began in Cassis, a small sweet port outside of Marseille where the locals go for vacation. It is tucked away, surrounded by vineyards and cliffs called Calanques. In this small town, we ate delicious seafood, shopped, boated the Mediterranean, hiked, enjoyed the beaches, and relished the coastal breeze from our balcony. We spent only two nights here, but it was such a wonderful respite we easily could have done four. Next time.
Man’s best friend is a recurring sight everywhere in France. They go to work with their owners at the market, they enjoy a cafe by the port, they go on hikes, they go shopping in the stores, they walk the Roman ruins. It is a dog culture with friendly well-behaved pooches of every breed around each corner. We enjoyed cooing at them and saying hello, fondly remembering our own best friend patiently awaiting our return. We couldn’t help but think how pigpen would love to live in France. Just like mom and dad.
From Cassis, we drove a couple of hours to Provence where we stayed in another small town called Orange. We selected this spot because it situated us nicely next to the Cote du Rhone and in proximity to other towns such as Avignon and la Vaison du Romaine where we drove our rented Peugeot for day trips. In Orange, we toured the countryside and ancient Roman Ruins, visited a wine museum in Chateauneuf du Pape where we did some wine tasting, and ate and drank and ate and drank and ate and DRANK. We learned that in wine country, wine is typically served, if not by the bottle, then by small pitchers called pichets – either 25ml or 50ml – and these pichets are easy to keep ordering since the price is so cheap. It is interesting to note that the regional cuisine in the South of France is very similar to Italian food, with pizzas, pastas, olives, and gelato. David missed his duck confit, but we had no complaints.
Charming towns with cobblestone roads, flower boxes, outdoor seating at restaurants where patrons linger over their boissons and people watch. They enjoy the sun and ignore the wind, there is nothing to complain about here. La vie est belle. Inspiring. Enchanting.
The excitement and luxury of staying in these small towns with the locals means French is the only language spoken and people are very friendly. The experience allowed us to truly settle into the French culture without any fellow tourists to distract us from what is authentic and pure. We’ve decided that finding the quiet destinations is becoming more and more our preferred way to travel. When we drove to Avignon, we were interested to see the town, but didn’t spend more than two hours touring the area because we suddenly became overwhelmed with all the people around us taking pictures and crowding the popular sights. We retreated to the lookout points admiring the architecture, gardens, and the Rhone river, but then left without even eating a meal. Maybe this means we’re getting old?
An open window carries the gentle wind and delicate light into the room, the curtains move with the breeze as the sound of a church bell rings and a perched pigeon coos. The leisurely pace and indulgent red wine at lunch invites an afternoon nap before the next adventure and the next three course meal.
After three nights in Orange, we drove to Nice where we took the scenic route in order to see France’s Grand Canyon, les Gorges du Verdon. The drive took longer than eight hours but gave us some remarkable views. David will attest that I let no pretty sight go uncaptured by my camera!
The cascading soleil enjoys its own delayed departure. Reluctant to set over the glorious countryside, it lingers until after 9PM, allowing for one last snack of pizza from a nearby stand.
The Mediterranean coast in Nice is bright and exciting providing perfect temperatures and weather conditions for farmers and tourists. The water is aqua before it becomes a deep rich azure offering gorgeous views from high and low. Crowds gather on the rocky shore with their towels and soak in the sun, some women even electing to go topless. Ooh la la!
The locals are happy and friendly. I speak French to them when interacting without much fluency, having the best communication when ordering and dealing with services rendered. It is fun to see the limit of my comprehension. Unlike Paris, the locals do not respond to my French with English, they continue the dialogue as if I am a native speaker. Only until I delay in my response or admit I don’t understand do they begin with their own limited knowledge of English.
In Nice, the regional cuisine is called, Niçoise, which is primarily seafood with Italian influences – lots of shellfish, tomatoes, olives, and pastas. I particularly enjoyed the salade niçoise which in its most basic form has lettuce, tuna, boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, tomatoes, and a vinaigrette. We later found out after returning our rental car that the border of Italy is only a thirty minute drive from Nice and Genoa is only two hours away. Since we spent five nights in Nice, I think we would have taken a day to cross the border and see some Italian countryside. Next time.
At the conclusion of our France trip, we enjoyed the company of Becca and George by touring the English countryside surrounding their home. It was beautiful with lush green rolling hills and brick and stone homes decorated with colorful gardens. We visited a local manor, Ightham Mote, that was actually purchased by an American, Charles Robinson, after World War II for only five thousand pounds since it faced being divided up and sold. Before he died, Robinson donated the property to the National Trust to preserve its history and integrity. We also toured Penshurst Place, the home of a present-day lord and lady and I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite shows, Downton Abbey, the whole time imagining the lives of the family that’s lived there for centuries.
Of course, I will have to mention the food, as it was all delicious. The first night we had dinner with Becca’s family at a pub that served traditional Sunday roasts. It felt just like Thanksgiving dinner with roast beef, ham, and turkey, sides of potatoes, vegetables, and gravy, and the most delicious dessert called sticky toffee. YUM! We also had some afternoon tea of cakes and scones with clotted cream and jam.Oof, it was so hard to leave behind our good friends and such a comforting lifestyle. — We love you, Becca and George! Thanks for being there for us!