A Travellerspoint blog

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Grand Canyon Getaway

Overnight Through the Gorges du Verdon

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(So...why do they call it "Point Sublime?")

July 23

We set out today on our overnight trip-within-a-trip around the "Grand Canyon," of France at least, the Gorges du Verdon It's not that far, but it's a slow, twisting drive with lots of places to stop. So we have a night reserved in a hotel in Castellane. Today is the southern route; tomorrow the northern.

Even before we got anywhere near the gorge, the drive was worth it, because we were seeing more fields of lavender than we had on any other day. It's the one thing Mom said wasn't how she imagined it in Provence - she thought there'd be lavender everywhere. Well, today was more like it!

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(Loving that lavender!)

Again, even before the gorge of the Grand Canyon, we had a stop of tremendous beauty, in Moustiers-Saint-Marie, which we dubbed "Mousyears." It's a glamourous, if touristy, cliffside village, split by a cascading waterfall. Beautiful place to stop and get a snack. It took us about an hour and a half to get there, only 90 km from Roussillon.

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(A Waterfall Runs Through it)

Soon, it was around the man-made Lac St. Croix, and across the bridge that signalled the start of the gorge-ous drive through the Grand Canyon area. The water in the lake and in the river at the bottom of the gorge was a brilliant blue. Anica said she thought the postcards had been photoshopped until she saw the colour for herself.

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(Fake lake, real colour)

We had lunch on a terrace perched about 800 feet above the river on a cliff. It was called "Le Chevalier," at the "Hotel de Grand Canyon du Verdon." Our waiter explained we could practice French with him if we want, but that he's Romanian.

Pont D'Artuby, later, was supposedly the highest bridge in Western Europe. There were other great vistas where we got out of the car to stretch our legs and take it all in. The driving was challenging for me, a flatlander, that's for sure, especially with the on-coming traffic. But we weren't in a hurry.

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Castellane itself was just a convenient stop for the night. It's kind of a backpacker town, and dinner was at one of the interchangeable restaurants. Out hotel was nice, with a good - but cold! - pool. The best feature of Castellane was visible from the hotel pool: a church set out on the edge of a massive, looming rock-face. Now that's faith!

July 24

The way back - the north side - or Rive Droite of the Grand Canyon was, believe it or not, even more spectacular. Especially the view from Point Sublime (well-named) and from the Route des Cretes, which is kind of like a fun detour. There, we reached 1340 metres, according to our car, and actually watched an eagle soar directly BELOW us!

We stopped in Riez for lunch and then it was back to Roussillon (by way of the Intermarche grocery store in Apt) where we stocked up for dinner on our own patio.

Posted by jennrob 05:54 Archived in France Comments (0)

Red Ochre Days

Roussillon and around

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(On the ochre trail, Roussillon)

July 25

Today, from Roussillon (our home base), we drove to Aix-en-Provence (pronounced X) and parked in a big underground parking garage. "Aix" is actually a much nicer, more prosperous-looking city than, say, Avignon, although it is much smaller. We strolled down Cours Mirabeau, their famous pedestrian-friendly street, past La Rotonde, a gigantic traffic-circle fountain. We had their city's specialty patisserie item, "calissons," and ate them outside, near one of the smaller fountains, moss-covered from centuries of neglect.

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(Aix-Rated fountain)

We also had a cafe break at "Aux Deux Garcons," once the favourite of Cezanne. It's been there since 1792, and among the others who ate there are Churchill and Picasso. We did a lot of shopping (at least for us), especially Anica, who bought earrings, a scarf, and a hat (all skull-themed in their own unique ways). Lunch was in Richelme square, where Jenn and I had the "suggestion" of the day, a lamb "plat."

At dinner, back in Roussillon, Jenn didn't feel well, so just the four of us went out, choosing the Bistrot de Roussillon again (like the first night we were in town). We enjoyed the dinner, but the smoking and the dogs beside me are starting to overshadow the pleasant aspects of the patio experience. I won't miss all the smoking when we leave France!

July 26

Out time here is winding down a bit, but we still got off on our early start today to beat the heat and the crowds. Today is a drive up Mont Ventoux. We can see it from Roussillon - we can see it from half the places we've been in Provence, actually. It's a 1912-metre peak, made extra visible by its chalky, deforested cap, and lighthouse-looking observation tower.

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(Summit Approach, Mt. Ventoux)

The road up is all about cyclists. They challenge themselves to cycle to the summit, which is often part of the Tour de France. A British cyclist died here in the 1960s, and we saw his memorial marker. The road is written or painted with messages of encouragement for the cyclists going uphill. We did our part by not running any of them over.

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(Like a lunar lansdscape)

Today there was a haze, probably from the extreme heat, but you could still see a long way in all directions.

We came down a different road, to Sault, where we also got out and looked around. It's the centre of the lavender industry, and there's plenty of lavender fields around Sault.

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(Sault What? Anica contemplates the lavender)

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(Get your lavender here)

It was still only about noon and we'd just had a snack (including "Lion" chocolate bars), so I suggested we take the "Gorge de la Nesque" road. Despite the fact that we'd been to the Gorge de La Verdon recently, this was an impressive sight. The problem was that there was no good way out, and we eventually had gone 30 km and were only 10 or 20 from Sault.

We headed "home" to have a hot dog/sandwich takeaway lunch from "Le Petit Snack" across the street, before having a relaxing afternoon. Jenn and I went and got groceries in Apt for dinner and lunch tomorrow. We made a car back up to get out of our way on the road/ramp to the parking lot, but I'd had to do that a couple of days ago, so ha!

July 27

The last full day in Roussillon - it's been wonderful. In the morning today, we did the famous ochre walk. You pay a couple of euros and enter a landscape like Mars. It's down the side of the cliff in a trail laid out, and the formations are partly natural and partly from the former quarry. So red! It's what many of the buildings are made with, and the palette extends through oranges and yellows and many shades of red. It makes Roussillon unique.

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(What a bunch of ochres...)

After more swimming, reading, shopping (Anica), we went out to dinner at Comptoir des Arts. It's a little more expensive, a special final dinner in Provence.

We've been doing so well with our French. I think it really helps. We always start in French, and stick with it unless the people we're speaking with switch to English. We've found none of the "rude" French stereotype, not here and certainly not in Paris. In fact, I would generalize the opposite: the French are exceedingly polite, we've found. Perhaps reserved, perhaps somewhat formal, but the opposite of rude.

Posted by jennrob 16:13 Archived in France Comments (0)

Northbound to Paris

A Few More Stops in France

July 28

Travel day - 450 km from Roussillon in Provence to Issoire in Auvergne. Sort of on the way to Paris. We tend to take the autoroutes for the most part, which are toll highways. It adds to the cost but makes 400 km easy to accomplish, even if there's some traffic.

Issoire is near Clermont-Ferrand, and our hotel for two nights, Hotel Le Pariou, is named after one of the many volcanic domes in the area. The "Auvergne" region is a softer landscape than Provence. It has a patchwork quilt of farms, but still lots of elevation changes, especially with the occasional volcanic "col." As much like England as Provence was like Italy.

Our hotel has spacious grounds, and we enjoyed the outdoor pool - wasp-free for Jenn. The town is really quiet. Really quiet. Especially for a Saturday night, and we were eating around 7 or 8 PM. We actually had Tex-Mex food and it was pretty good, dining outside and then walking back to the hotel despite the fact that the sidewalks had been rolled up.

July 29

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("Vulcania." This place is entirely logical)

Vulcania! Never heard of it before, but, through Jenn's research, Anica was really looking forward to this place. It's kind of a volcano theme park, but not with roller-coasters, nearer to being a science centre. All five of us went on all the various simulators/rides. Most of Vulcania is underground - in and around a giant cone with a crater in the middle. There's a simulation that takes you to the centre of the earth, another that simulates eruptions of nearby volcanic peaks, a fantasy scenario involving a dragon...

We also saw a regular twenty minute film in a huge movie theatre; in another theatre we watched and listened to a lecture where the speaker used google earth (or something like it) to tour the earth's volcanic areas. He spoke French, but we got the gist.

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("Vulcania." I'll have mine in a cone, please)

They had a really good cafeteria (it amazes me what a high priority the French place on quality food everywhere, whether it's a gas station on the highway or a cafeteria at a tourist attraction).

In total, we were at Vulcania almost seven hours - a full enough day. We looked at Puy de Dome before driving back to Issoire for a dinner at the only (practically) place open Sunday night near our hotel...Subway. With the music playing, Anica was able to add to her total of "songs heard in France that are on her i-Pod playlist." Apparently, the most popular song right now (in Canada or France) is Flo Rida's "Whistle." I joke that the music video station here only has six songs they ever show. We didn't have TV in Roussillon, but we've had it on in the hotel here, as you can see.

July 30

About 350 km took us to Chenonceaux, our last stop before returning to Paris and the flight home. Mainly we're here to see the famous chateau of the same name as the town (without the x).

Today was raining, though, so we checked into our hotel (luckily the rooms were ready just after noon). The hotel, La Roseraie, is beautiful. Old building with twisting staircases and we have huge rooms. Especially ours! Anica actually has her own separated room, in pink wallpaper, with the main room having blue wallpaper. The bathroom alone is bigger than some hotel rooms we've seen.

We ate lunch at a place across the street, the rain pouring down. I guess it didn't matter that it was a REALLY leisurely lunch, since we had nothing else planned. I wasn't feeling well, however, and didn't finish my lunch - in fact, that was it for me today. Sick.

I missed out on dinner at our hotel later - Jenn and Anica told me about their nice "menu" of escargot as the first course, then mackerel (Anica), steak (Jenn) and profiteroles.

July 31

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(The classic Chenonceau view)

Chenonceau day. We took the easy option of the hotel breakfast, and I was feeling better enough to give it a try. We then walked all of 400 metres to the entrance of the chateau grounds. It's not a big town...

The "driveway" is a long, very tall escort of plane trees.

The chateau is really interesting, magnificent not because of its size, but its setting and design.

The tour used i-pod video/audio guides. We were in the various rooms of Diane Poitiers and Catherine de Medici, the women who made Chenonceau. The "gallery" has a distinctive white and black floor in the room that spans the Cher River. From the exterior, these gleaming white arches give the chateau its signature look. Then there are the gardens: the mistress Diane's (she made the big one) and the queen Catherine's from when she took over.

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(The original HGTV reality show at Chenonceau)

We also had lunch there, then made our way through the labyrinth, strolled the outdoor vegetable/flower gardens, and visited Anica's favourite, the donkeys! She also enjoyed the salamanders all around the big garden. Chenonceau has a ton of history to it, great stories, really one of the best places to see in France. My parents had been before, and I'm glad they encouraged us to come here on this trip.

Aug 1

I can't believe it's August! We had only 150 km or so to go today to arrive in Paris, to the CDG airport where we dropped off the Peugeot. I can't say enough about this lease plan. It was actually easier than renting a car for a weekend in Ontario. And with this, you're guaranteed the exact vehicle. It's just like getting a brand-new car. We had our Peugeot 5008 for about the mininum amount of time (three weeks), but the longer you lease it, the more economical it becomes.

Our last night in France was at the Novotel at the airport, just because our flight's in the morning. My parents decided there was more than enough to do (especially with the free shuttle between terminals) in the airport terminal, so they stayed put today. Jenn, Anica and I took advantage or the RER (commuter trains) terminal connected to the Novotel to go back into Paris one more time! It was costly, there was a lengthy train delay, the trains weren't air-conditioned and it was hot, Paris was a lot more hot and crowded now that it's August, and yet...it was worth it. That's not just me saying it, all three of us agreed.

We got out at Place de la Concorde, battled the grounds in the food-court beside the Louvre in order to get a snack and a washroom to use (but whatever "air conditioning" they had was pretty feeble), and then walked along the Seine. The urban beach was set up on the lower level, an amusing sight.

Eventually Jenn said, I think if we go up from the river here, we'll come to Place des Vosges. She was right! Who needs a map? The nice thing about Place des Vosges is that it's shady and tranquil. We sat on a bench for at least an hour, just people-watching. Then we walked a couple of blocks farther and went to Chez Papa again, since it was one of our favourites in Paris.

The ride back to the airport was much quicker - we lucked out by getting an "express" train. We chatted with a woman from Brazil who was just in Paris for a lay-over.

Aug 2

The flight was fine and we're all home safely. We had an amazing month together. Writing about it in this blog makes me realize how much we saw and did! My parents were healthier than Jenn and I were on the trip. They had lots of energy and walked and climbed and did everything. We got along, I would guess, far better than most families would on this length of trip. There were moments when we got on each other's nerves, but nothing major.

The real conclusion is a thank-you. My mother and father paid for far more than their "half" of this trip, without going into too much detail here. This was a wonderful opportunity to share some of the most beautiful places in France. We now have memories and experiences that all five of us will treasure. I love my French family!

Posted by jennrob 10:23 Archived in France Comments (0)

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