This was not my first time to Paris, so I had no interest in battling it out for a hunchback’s view of Notre Dame, or elbowing my way towards the gaze of Momma Lisa. Instead, I did the Louvre on roller skates and then spent the rest of the time poking around arrondissements, riding bikes and running on the Seine.
Tip: Stay in the St Germaine district.
After a few wonderful days in Paris it was off on the train to Aix-en-Provence where a rental car was commandeered and put in to perpetual motion around one particular roundabout. Signs for Marseilles, Aix and Avignon passed by repeatedly. The Earth traveled around the sun and then the car was shot in to the gravitational pull of another roundabout.
Tip 1: Get a rental car with GPS, roadmap and a guide book specific to the Provence region.
Tip 2: Always be clear about what side of Aix you are leaving from and relate it to where you are going. Highway exits where you can turn around are not as predominant as they are in the U.S.
Tip 3: There is a parking garage on the south end of town as you enter – use it.
Tip 4: Musée Granet is worth a visit to get a good understanding of what life was like in Aix in the early days, as well as see some of the works of Cézanne, Picasso and others.
Eventually a village with a name that stands for putrid or rotten flesh appeared in the headlights. The Romans obliterated a few testy Galls at the base of Saint-Victoire in 100 B.C. Unfortunately Cézanne was not alive yet to catalogue the blow by blow, but apparently they started to stink up the place and the name Pourrières was born.
Tip: There is no reason to stay in Pourrières but there are some great vineyards to visit in close proximity, and the trailhead to hike Saint-Victoire is nearby.
Lacoste & Bonnieux
The Marquis de Sade called this area home and settled in a little
hilltop village called Lacoste. Interestingly enough, the Savannah College of Art and Design recently did as well. The best route to the ruins is walking through the village. His chateau also serves as a museum of modern art and there are some provocative sculptures and installations.
The nearby village of Bonnieux is also well worth a visit if not simply for lunch and a stroll to the top of the hill.
Tip: There is great road and mountain biking in this area.
Picasso purchased a not-so-shabby chateau in the nearby village of
Vauvenargues; in fact, he’s buried on the grounds. I know, I know, he’s gotten to be a bit of a cliché, but it is for good reason. The man was a master of many mediums, and you will certainly appreciate them here.
Tip: You must schedule a tour ahead of time as they do fill up.
If you want to look headlong in to Mary Magdalene’s eye sockets then this is the town to visit. I’m not buying the oarless floating boat fable, but it is purported to be Jesus’s very mother that is entombed at the Basilique, which was constructed in the 1200s. The religious fervor extends not only to the beautiful architecture of this cathedral but also to the Sainte-Baume mountains where you will find a spirited walk up to a cave containing another place of worship. The views are gorgeous and granite is all around.
Tip: Another 1.5 km from the cave and you are presented with panoramic views of the Mediterranean.
I regret not having made it to Arles, Avignon, Cassis, and about a billion other places, but I think we often forget to actually relax on our vacations. I did not forget. Keep in mind there are some wonderful wineries in the Provence region, and plenty of cafes and street corners to sit back and soak it all in.
Upon returning to Paris, I was struck by the deep connection to America. Not only are there prominent statues, for example, of Washington and Jefferson, but we share many common bonds when it comes to revolution, liberty and education. In the 1800s many Americans traveled to Paris and the Sarbonne to learn more about medicine and architecture. The Brooklyn Bridge and a myriad of medical procedures wouldn’t exist without the French. Chances are we would not have won the Revolutionary War without them.
So any of you still eating freedom fries, get over it.