Lou & Paul at L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Guest: Paul McVeigh
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In 2018 I went to Provence with my then partner, now husband Paul (pre-COVID times) for a week of road tripping. We travelled to Avignon by TGV from Gare de Lyon, Paris. This can sometimes be a little stressful if taking lots of luggage as the ticketing is for seats in a particular carriage, but I am yet to find a carriage with enough space for the passengers it carries together with their “bagage”! So we queued up in the spot we thought our carriage would arrive at to be first on board to ensure our bags would travel with us. It’s almost like a race to get on and settled!
We caught 2 trains. One to Avignon TGV station and then a second shuttle to Avignon Central. We were hiring a car in Avignon, which prompts me to mention another travel tip: always check the car hire is at the station at which you are arriving. It sounds quite simple, however at many French country towns the car hire offices are all at the same train station, but in some towns there is more than one station. We checked which station our car hire was situated at before finalising the booking for our train trip. Had we only bought a train ticket to the first station, we would have had to make our own way to the other side of town with all our luggage to get to the car hire place! Also, car hire offices seem to close at odd times in addition to the common closing time of 12pm-2pm daily for lunch. Check the opening hours and try to catch a train arriving at a time the car hire office is actually open!
Avignon & Maubec
Neither Paul nor I had been to Provence before. We were struck by the beautiful fortified walls around the old Avignon village. This is the town where seven successive popes resided during the 14th century rather than in Rome, so security was of utmost importance! We piled ourselves and our luggage into our car after having coffee for 23 hours waiting for the hire office to reopen, and then headed off to our accommodation at Domain Faverot in Maubec. This was a gorgeous place with a row of cottages decorated in the French Provincial style surrounded by a vineyard together with a tasting “cave” behind our accommodation. It was the perfect place to use as a base to return to at the end of the day whilst touring the region but unfortunately we only had one night there. In retrospect we would have stayed the whole week! We visited the sweet village of Maubec and grabbed many delicacies to share back in our cottage from a deli there. Sitting in our rustic kitchen overlooking the vines all around us with the Luberon mountains in the distance was a “lifetime memory” dinner. The terrace out the front of the cottage had overhanging huge fig trees. The owner kindly told us to take as many as we wanted, so we obliged and had some with dinner.
Our second day in Provence found us in a cooking class with the amazing Jean-Marc Villard. When we had decided that Paul was going to join me on a trip to France, I asked what his one not-to-be-missed experience was, and he suggested a cooking class. The description of this class which I booked online, did not at all prepare us for the exceptional experience we had. I have interviewed Jean-Marc in Loulabelle’s FrancoFiles episode 8. We started the day at the local market which was a hive of colour, scents, sounds and rich produce. We bought some of the items for our cooking day, as well as some chevre that I could not go past!
Gordes & L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
We travelled after the class to Gordes and stayed the night in tiny but cheap accommodation, so chose to eat a rustic dinner of baguette, chevre and figs we’d collected in the morning from Domaine Faverot. We sat perched outside in the fresh Provence air at dusk on the side of a cliff overlooking the magnificent valley below. Gordes is a striking and very beautiful village atop a rocky mountain, and has some sweet giftshops and bars with amazing views. We sat at one with an exceptional view, and chatted to lovely locals who were wonderfully friendly. Close to Gordes is the Bories village, where we saw an account of the way of life in Provence from times long ago, to just last century. The Bories are stone huts that are set up in a village fashion and had family trees displayed of some lines living in them for many generations going back hundreds of years, and as recent as 1912.
Not to be missed in this region is the less well known village of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It has a maze of canals running through it and is known locally as the little Venice. We stayed in a gorgeous apartment overlooking a canal in the centre of town. We arrived on market day so couldn’t initially drive to our accommodation, but it didn’t hinder us at all. We embraced the market and found a table in a bustling square to people watch. I struck up a conversation with a lovely Russian girl who spoke English. She had a French husband and knew the area well but not yet many of the people. She so kindly offered to show us around the next day, but our trip was fairly booked up in the Provence area from that point on. I’ll definitely get in touch next time though! These opportunities to connect with locals and really find out about life in a particular region don’t come by often!
We browsed through many boutiques de brocante and if antiquing is your thing, this is a heavenly place! The town is charming, quirky, and intoxicating. We ran into new friends Mike and Tammy from the cooking class in Maubec and sat alongside a canal for an afternoon aperitif. Sitting in the evening in our apartment with a glass of the local vin blanc, listening to the shenanigans in the street below and taking in the view of the canal was dream-like. An exceptional place!
We coupled the cooking day back in Maubec with a day wine tour in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The tour was run by Romain Gouvernet from Provence & Wine who was interviewed in Loulabelle’s FrancoFiles episode 10. We started the tour on the very top tip of the village and proceeded to taste grapes in vineyards across the region as well as wines in both small and large vineyards and “caves”. Many of the vineyards we visited were family owned operations and a number had amazing histories or stories to tell, with one having been the Gestapo headquarters for France through WW2. Romain has such incredible knowledge of the wines and the whole region that we left the tour feeling quite immersed in all the local area had to offer.
We stayed in a cute small accommodation which was limited to a large bed/lounge room and en-suite. An exquisite French breakfast was provided each morning by the lovely Brigitte, and she was so obliging and patient with my French but was also able to tell us anything we asked about in English too. Not always common in these more remote areas of the countryside.
After 2 nights in Chateauneuf-du-Pape we returned the car in Avignon and spent a few hours there before getting the train back to Paris. We rode the wave of the throng to the Pont d’Avignon. We couldn’t believe the crowds and would recommend getting there early in the morning or late in the afternoon rather than the middle of the day when all the tourist buses were also clambering for a glimpse of the famous landmark. We also took in a wonderful visit to the Pope’s Palace. There is an amazing new system at the palace where with the aid of an iPad, we could view the rooms as they would have been during the time of the pope’s residence. It was like looking through a window into history. Quite incredible.
A week didn’t seem like long enough in this beautiful region. So much to see, so little time!
Link for 2 day deal – cooking class and wine tour
Paul’s version of a traditional cassoulet coming soon
Charles Aznavour – Tous Les Visages De L’Amour (in English “She”)
Instagram posts with all the pics xx