Monday, 30 June 2008

A Week in Provence

Just back from a great week in Provence with the extended family - all 15 of us including 9 adults and 6 children. We flew to Marseille with Ryanair and then spent a night in Avignon before heading about 60kms east to the hamlet of Gargas near Apt and the beautiful l'Oustau des Vanels set in the Luberon region.

Avignon was a very good stopover - it is a charming city with plenty to do and see. We stayed in the Grand Hotel where we were able to book 4 family rooms (aka Superior Rooms) for the excellent price of €149 per night for 4 people w/o breakfast. The hotel was excellent for the price and was ideally situated since a number of our party were arriving by train and the Grand is next door to the train station. In Avignon we saw the Palais des Papes and had a look at the famous Pont (I never realised it did not go all the way across!) - but the highlight for me was the Wall Garden (as opposed to a walled garden) or perhaps they call it a Vertical Garden at one of the theatres? check it out...

Wall Garden

The girls claim to have seen a bridge planted in the same way on their shopping trip to Aix but we have no photographic evidence to present. Incidentally - how do you thing they keep the building in trim - doesn't look like a job for a petrol mower...

sur la pont D'Avignon

In any case before picking up our keys we spent a couple of hours up in Chateau Neuf de Pape which was about 15 mins north of Avignon where we tasted some of the local produce - none of which I found really compelling.

During the week we did some touring, journeying as far north as Sault (with a great ice cream parlour/choclatier straight out of the movie Chocolat), as far west as the very beautiful town of Isle de la Sorgue and east to the truly stupendous Grand Canyon de Verdon. The latter was a highlight for me of the whole trip. Although our drive to get there was long (about 2 hours of twisty roads) and the circuit of the gorge is approx 75km (of even twistier roads) I thought the scenery was incredible and well worth the journey. There are a range of activities available in the area such as hiking, cycling (NOT to be recommended) and kayaking. Unfortunately we had a couple of 5-year olds for whom hiking in 32C is not too much fun so we were more passive observers rather than active participants in the place although we did go for a swim in the lake.

The Grand Canyon de Verdon

Lac de St Croix

My pictures, pretty though they are, do not do justice to the scale of this place. The gorge is up to 700 metres (2100Ft) deep and the drive puts you right on the edge, especially since many of my fellow road users seemed to prefer my side of the road when they were cornering. I have never been to the real Grand Canyon but I have been to Yosemite and I would be equally as enthusiastic about the Gorge of Verdon. What is amazing to me is that this place is not better known. I would definitely go back and spend some more time in this area in the future.

This is a pretty long post - so here are my top recommendations:

1. The Grand Canyon de Verdon
2. Kayak down the Sorgue river from the Fontaine to Isle de la Sorgue (€18 per adult, suitable for children ~€12 from 6 up).
3. The Abbaye de Senanques
4. The town of Isle de la Sorgue
5. The villages of Gordes and Rousillon
6. The Colorado Provencal (near Saturnin)

My top things to avoid would be:

1. Cars on your side of the road
2. Going on a hike without a proper map
3. Getting lost in Marseille
4. Going to the coast - it was too crowded even in late June

You can see more pics on my Flickr

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