Monthly Archives: November 2014

Provence to Paris by TGV

After two glorious weeks in Provence with sunshine and warm weather everyday, it was time for us to leave Provence and take the TGV fast train up to Paris. From our base in Cucuron, we estimated about an hour drive to Avignon TGV train station. Although the traffic was light and we stopped to fill up the gas station, we found the drive was closer to 1 hour and 30 minutes on the D973and the N7 roads. When you reach the outskirts of Avignon, follow signs to La Courtine, which is the area where the TGV station is located on the southern outskirts of Avignon.

avignon_tgv_stationUpon arrival at the Avignon TGV station, we found the station parking areas under some construction, which made finding the car rental return area a bit confusing. Car rental returns used to be located on the south (back side) of the station, but are now located on the north (front side) of the station. As you approach the station, enter the P1 parking area through the gate and veer right, then follow the signs to the car rental companies offices. Park in one of the designated spots and return your keys to the car rental office.

If you are travelling on a rail pass, make sure your pass has been validated by the ticket office on the first day of use. Enter your passport number and the first date of travel in the numbered dates of travel boxes provided. Note that the dates are entered vertically: i.e. day in upper box and month in lower box. The year is not required in the dates of travel boxes since the first and last day, month and year of the pass validity are already printed above. Repeat for subsequent dates of travel.

IMG_1460If you are travelling on the TGV or any other premium trains, you will need a reservation, and your reservation ticket must b e validated in the yellow borne  machines in the station prior to boarding the train. Put the reservation ticket into the validation machine (borne)  with the right side of the ticket into the machine with the print side down.

Once the platform (quai) number is posted on the departures board, make your way to the platform and look for the composition de train  to determine where on the platform you should wait to board the specific coach number indicated on your ticket. Many TGV trains are duplex with upper and lower seating areas, and your ticket will indicate whether your seats are located in the upper duplex or lower duplex.

There are luggage areas at the entrance to each coach, but these can fill up quickly. More luggage areas are located mid-coach and also at the entrance and midway in the upper duplex area as well. It can be a challenge to drag large and heavy suitcases up the stairs. Make sure you dont overpack and keep your luggage as small and light as possible. You can wait in the entry area until the other passengers are seated, and then take your luggage to the upper level if necessary. Make sure you pack all your valuables separately in a bag that you will keep with you at all times, then you can leave your luggage downstairs even if your seats are upstairs and you won`t have to worry about your valuables.

10140_zshopThere are dining cars on most TGV trains where you can get snacks and beverages, but we prefer to buy a sandwich and a drink at the station prior to boarding. Many stations have a good boulangeries and sandwich shops such as Paul, one of our favourites.

Once you are settled in your seats, you can relax and enjoy the views of the passing countryside en route to Paris.

Bon voyage!

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Apt market

371The weekly Saturday morning market in Apt has taken place since the Middle Ages, and is considered an outstanding market and one of the best in the region. The atmosphere, quality and range of the products are superb.

A kaleidoscope of colours and fragrances tempt shoppers and passers-by as they wander through the streets of the historical centre of Apt.

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At the market stands, you will find local produce and products, food, flowers, herbs, soaps, clothes, fabrics, table cloths, baskets, musicians, and more. Many shops along the market also stay open or have stalls on the pavement, adding to the selection of goods.

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We love to discover local artisans and specialty producers at the markets. At the Apt market, we we found a fabulous selection of fresh wild Cèpes mushrooms that are in season in the fall. Their French name cep comes from the Gascon word for ‘trunk’, referring to the mushrooms’ thick, creamy stem. Their Italian name porcini however translates as ‘piglet’ and refers to the little, plump, spongy cup which has mild, nutty notes.

030Cèpes mushrooms are quite large and one of the most flavourful mushrooms making them a sought after delicacy and a favourite of French chefs. They have a delicious hearty rich flavour with the perfect combination of earthy and sweet taste. Cèpes also retain nearly all of their taste when dried, making them one of the most versatile varieties found in many French and Italian dishes. Watch for an upcoming post about how to prepare cèpes mushrooms & some recipes.

Also at the Apt market, we sampled foie gras produced by a charming gentleman from Gers in the Midi Pyrenees region of SW France, who has a farm and has been raising ducks and producing excellent foie gras for decades.

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The market sprawls and swirls through several alleys and squares in the heart of old Apt, which is centered around the 11th-century Cathedral, on what was once an island between two branches of the river Calavon. Two ancient towers, the 18th-century Bouquerie tower and the 16th- century Tour de l’Horloge both have beautiful campaniles. In some of the narrow, paved streets you’ll see vaulted passages and some very lovely fountains.

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In the village, we discovered a fascinating shop & atelier where beautiful handmade marbled faience pottery is made in the traditional methods established in Apt in the 18th century. The elderly gentlemen explained the ancient technique passed down from generation to generation, and took us through the atelier to show us samples of  pottery pieces in progress. The mixing of coloured faience with yellow and red ochre and other natural pigmentations (manganese and cobalt) is covered by a light film of transparent glaze to bring out the veins and the enhance the marbling to create depth and movement.378

We really enjoyed our visit to the Apt market. It is one of the biggest weekly markets in Provence, and has been going on for some 900 years.  The market is definitely worth a visit, and takes place on Saturday mornings until about noon, year round.

 

 

Roussillon

326Roussillon is an incredibly picturesque Luberon village and classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France.

As you walk through the village you will see the clock tower and its campanile, the vestiges of the ramparts, the remains of the 10th century castle, narrow cobblestone streets, squares and vaulted passageways, and lovely 17th & 18th century homes with ochre washed facades & tiled roofs.

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333Roussillon was long specialised in the mining of the natural pigments contained in the ochre lands – and only stopped in 1945 with the advent of synthetic products.

Next to the village there is an ochre path through the heart of the old ochre quarries, where you can appreciate the great beauty and many shades of the ochre colours contrasted against the green pine trees and intense blue skies.

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You can also explore the history of the ochre mines by visiting the “Conservatoire des Ocres et des Couleurs” set up in a former ochre factory just outside the village, where you can learn all about the use of ochres, and take part in classes.

 

Roussillon has many restaurants from simple cafes to high end fine dining with views of the ochre cliffs. Most restaurants are clustered around the square near the top of the village and the picturesque mairie and clock tower. There is also a great ice cream and sandwich shop “Côté Sucré Salé”, just as you start walking up the hill towards the ochre quarry and cemetery. You can sit on the wall overlooking the ochre cliffs with your ice cream, or take your sandwich into the quarry, where there are a few small picnic areas.

8465-terraceWhere to stay in Roussillon:  In the heart of the village, Maison Jolie is an exceptional and very well appointed vacation rental house with 3 bedrooms & bathrooms, wonderful views, a heated pool, surrounded by terraces, luxury amenities, and lots of charm. The house is characterized by large rooms with typical, warm Provencal decoration, including a vaulted ceiling kitchen with an antique oak table. The house is elevated and the terrace is up one floor from the street level, so it is a private and calm space with magnificent views of the Mont Ventoux, the vineyards of the Luberon valley, and the ochre cliffs of Roussillon.

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Contact http://www.francebound.net for reservations.

Gordes

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Gordes is a very beautiful village, perched on the southern edge of the Vaucluse plateau. The stone buildings and houses cling to the cliffs and spill down the southern hillside. The view of the village on approach is stunning, and from within the village the view is a southern panorama out across the fields and forests and small perched villages to the Luberon hills.

gordes-squareCrowned by a Renaissance castle, the narrow cobblestone streets wind around a small square with a fountain and terrace cafes. The stone paths and steps meander through the village past lovely stone houses built on several levels and spectacular views of the Luberon valley. The village has many restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and several other shops plus a market on Tuesday mornings.  Gordes offers exceptional charm, and is one of the most beautiful villages of France.gordes-bories

Just outside Gordes , you can visit the Village de Bories, an ancient hamlet of all dry-stone buildings that are found in this area, including a fascinating collection of houses, walls, barns and a variety of other enclosures, including a period silk-making shop. gordes-senanque

 

 

Nearby, just to the north of Gordes a small roads leads to the picturesque Abbaye de Sénanque only 4 km away. The Abbaye de Sénanque is particularly beautiful in June when the fields of lavender are in bloom.

 

Where to stay: Domaine Gordes is an exceptional villa for up to 12 guests with 6 bedrooms & bathrooms, heated pool, incredible views, sumptuous furnishings & decor, and a tennis court. Contact http://www.francebound.net for reservations.

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Villa Luberon

8423bbVilla Luberon is an ideal retreat for a holiday in the Luberon. With breathtaking views and exceptional comfort and privacy, this luxury villa is one of our favourite villas in the Luberon. Featuring an open floor plan with spectacular views of the mountains, nearby villages, and surrounding vineyards through multiple French doors and large windows, this large private property includes a main house with 3 ensuite bedrooms, a guest house with 2 ensuite bedrooms, several outdoor terraces, a heated horizon pool, and beautiful gardens.

114The villa is beautifully designed and very well appointed. In the main house, the spacious open plan living and dining rooms have cathedral ceilings, rustic wood beams, plus a wall of French doors opening out to the terraces, pool, and panoramic views.  The Provençal-style chef’s kitchen is at the heart of the home, and is equipped with top-of-the-line appliances, and a large country style table that is perfect for informal meals and kitchen gatherings.

8423kitchenThree large bedrooms in the main house, all have king-size beds, en-suite bathrooms, and air conditioning. One is on the main floor and the other two are upstairs. All the bedrooms enjoy gorgeous views of the countryside, and open to terraces. The smaller adjacent guesthouse is perfect for teenagers or a  nanny and younger children: 1 room with queensize bed, plus a children’s room with twin beds. Both rooms also have ensuite bathrooms and air conditioning.This beautifully appointed villa accommodate up to 10 guests.

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Nearby Goult is a charming and relatively quiet Luberon village with pretty golden stone houses, several shops, cafes & restaurants, and a Monday morning market. At the top of the village is a picturesque windmill with panoramic views.

Contact http://www.francebound.net for reservations. There is still good availability for 2015.

Lourmarin

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The village of Lourmarin lies in the southern Luberon valley, at the base of the Luberon range and sheltered from the Mistral winds. Lourmarin is one of the loveliest villages: it has a special art de vivre, charming boutiques, art galleries, cultural sites and a beautiful Provençal market, which are all reasons why Lourmarin is so popular for visiting and living.

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This perfect Provencal village is one of our favourites. The village is filled with outdoor cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the cobblestone streets throughout the village – a fabulous place to spend a morning or an afternoon enjoying the sunshine and the Provencal lifestyle.

The beautiful Renaissance castle is worth a visit and is surrounded by beautiful green fields, The impressive belfry Castelas stands at the highest point of the village, and is built on the remains of the medieval moated castle that once dominated Lourmarin.

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Many artists lived and worked In Lourmarin, including the Nobel prize-winning French author Albert Camus, whose L’Etranger is one of the great novels of the 20th century. Albert Camus is buried in Lourmarin cemetery and has a street in Lourmarin named after him.

There are lots of pretty cobblestone streets and walking paths winding into the village, where you will find lots of charming boutiques. Lourmarin has a market every Friday morning, which fills the main street leading into the village. It is a good sized market and one of our favourite in the area.

397During our week in the Luberon, we had coffee or lunch several times in Lourmarin at the outdoor cafes in the beautiful late October sunshine. We had great salads at L’Insolite and Chez Gaby on the Place de la Fontaine.

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The Michelin starred chef Reine Sammut has her famous gastronomic restaurant  and hotel – the Auberge la Fenière, in Lourmarin. And we enjoyed a lovely Sunday afternoon lunch with friends at the newer Bistrot, which was excellent. Highlights were the peach and grapefruit cocktail, and the seabass served with a caper, olive and tomato sauce – delicious.

Bonnieux

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Rising above the valley, Bonnieux appears on the hillside after the last curves in the road, which is the passage-point for crossing the massif Luberon dividing the northern and southern Luberon.  027

The road winds back and forth through the hills and up into the village of Bonnieux – a popular ride for cycling enthusiasts. In the village, the views of the surrounding valley are superb, with a patchwork of vineyards and orchards, and also across the Vaucluse plateau to the equally picturesque perched village of Lacoste.

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In the village you can walk up through the narrow streets of the village passing through arched tunnels beneath the houses, and up 86 steps to the top, where you can discover the 12th-century “Eglise Haute ” church with a high, pointed steeple, and take in the spectacular views.

Past the end of the high church, there is a lovely little park with lush green grass shaded by tall pine trees and magnificent centuries old cedars with a view of the gorges cutting through the Luberon to the south.

The Musée de la Boulangerie is located in the village in a 17th-century house. The museum explains the history of bread, from Roman times through Medieval and the French Revolution. Explained is the entire sequence of bread making, from the agrarian civilizations and their farming equipment, through the milling to the distribution. The museum is open in the summer, daily except Tuesdays. In the Spring and Summer the museum is on weekends.