All right, so we’re officially a continent behind now. But we’re staying put in San Francisco for the next week and a half, which will hopefully give us time to catch up on O&A. Thanks for your patience!
Don’t hunt for guidebook recommended restaurants – we’ve found several delicious patisseries and restaurants just by stopping in small towns and walking around. Some of these had already been given the trifecta of Routard, Michelin and Lonely Planet stamps of approval, but they were finds to us and if we had made a point of hunting down specific places, it would have been a lot more stressful and we wouldn’t have enjoyed the atmospheric narrow roads nearly as much. Rest assured that most small towns will have at least one “Restaurant Gastronomique” or fine-dining establishment tucked away somewhere.
“Singapore, I love you” – Really? This stick-made declaration greets anyone who looks over the bridge spanning the awesome Gorges de Verdon, which plummets to a jaw-dropping 700 meters in parts. Lord knows how long it’s been there or what inspired some industrious Lion City lover to create it. The fastest hike down takes six hours so perhaps what the maker of this homage did to quickly get down was paraglide – this area happens to be home to the tallest paragliding spot in Europe so if you’ve got it in you, come here to get your G-force-ready thrills.
Breakfast in Cavaillon – Coffee in France is surprisingly difficult to find and quite expensive if you like milk with your java – it really made us miss Italy! But the best cups we had were at a bar/tabac in Cavaillon, Bar Tabac de la Mairie (11 pl Aimé Boussot), which was conveniently located on the same block as a wonderful patisserie, L’etoile du Delice (57 Place Castil-Blaze, tel: +33 04 90 78 07 51), and an excellent cheese shop, Fromagerie des Alpes (67 Rue Raspail, tel: +33 04 90 71 03 69). L’etoile had the best croissants we’d ever had, both of the plain and almond variety, and at the cheese shop, we made fast friends with the life-long mongers working there. After only two visits, they gave us fresh butter for free – the amount they gave us would have served us for 10 breakfasts!
O&A’s Favorite Towns in Provence
Bonnieux – Our first stop after the narrow, winding canyon road from the Haut Provence, Bonnieux sits perched upon the tallest hill in the area and affords fantastic views of the surrounding country side from the court-yard of the 12th Century church that caps the town. Take the time to wander through the town on foot and pop into Olivier Roche’s place on Rue Droite if you a film lover. His claustrophobic shop cum abode is packed to the gills with classic film posters and self-designed t-shirts with witty sayings that will show the world that you are a connoisseur of fine film. If you happen to be in the area at the right time, namely the summer and into early September, Oliver holds outdoor movie screenings projected from his “gypsy caravan”.
La Val – Per the logic outlined in the first French vignette, we stopped in La Val because it was the first village outside a larger charmless town filled with fast food joints, large hardware stores and supermarkets. We figured that the local beau monde must crave “the old days” and when we saw a helmeted motorist driving a James-Bond-on-holiday-type convertible towards La Val one Saturday around lunch time, we knew we had to follow. The town was predictably sleepy with handfuls of children and teenagers hanging around. We had a lovely three-course lunch at La Crémaillère followed by a walk around the local garden where Chris met a new friend.
Goult – If it’s your first time motoring around Provence, be prepared to be patient and allow generous amounts of time to drive seemingly short distances. We had the good fortune to stumble upon Goult while fruitlessly searching for another town we had intended to lunch in. There was no mention of Goult in our guide, which might be a good thing. It’s a gem, not only from a food stand point (two charming restaurants, two butcher shops just steps away from each other, and a wonderful epicierie that has a whole line of goods packaged under their own name) but simply to wander around the labyrinthine streets is a pleasure. Additionally, Goult is a well-placed rest stop from one of the dozen hiking paths that criss-cross the area.
Gordes – This was by far the most touristy of the places we visited, but definitely warrants the mandatory 3 euro parking fee. Strolling (or perhaps climbing is a more accurate gerund!) around this hilltop town for an afternoon, we took in the gorgeous views and marveled at the ingenuity of Provencal construction. To carve out comfortable buildings, steps, and streets from stone without the aid of modern construction tools is impressive and they managed to make it beautiful as well. The food possibilities here were as plentiful as anywhere but we did not have the opportunity to try them.
Cavaillon – Is the friendly, if not particularly attractive capital of Provence, but as mentioned above, it is worth a stop as it has the best cheese shop we visited in Provence. There is a good wine shop called Les Cinq Sens next door as well (81 Rue Raspail) and small bakery around the corner that specializes in a baguette called a pointe – a hearty whole grain bread with a satisfyingly crunchy crust. You will recognize the pointe as the sharp ends are blacked to a crisp due to the high heat used to create its crispy exterior. Be sure to pick up a Cavaillon melon or two to complete your perfect picnic meal.
We also visited Roussillon and Menerbes which are strongly recommended in all the guidebooks. We found them to be fine, but not nearly as charming as the five towns above as they were overrun with busloads of tourists. C’est la vie!