You had to know this was coming. I mean, after the Coq Au Vin and the French Vinaigrette posts. So, of course here are exactly one bazillion photos of our jaunt through Southern France – specifically, Nice and the Luberon Valley in Provence. For those of you that asked- here you go. For those of you that didn’t, apologies for the gluttonous amount of my vacation pictures. If you are by chance, actually planning your own little jaunt, hopefully something here is helpful. Also feel free to drop me a line because the only thing I like to talk about more than food is vacation!
Our final destination was St. Remy de Provence in the Luberon Valley. We enjoy leisurely vacations, so rather than fight jet lag while driving in a foreign country, we flew into Nice and spent two days acclimating to French life. As in sampling twelve different versions of escargot swimming in garlic butter and dipping our wine happy selves in the Mediterranean. I highly recommend this plan.
We stumbled upon Le Plongeoir on day one for lunch. The dining room juts out over the Mediterranean. Food and the view were both 100. That never happens. And never has there been a better spot to sit, sip wine and adjust to the time difference. It’s a wonder we ever gave up our table.
The view from our hotel wasn’t too shabby. If we went back, I would probably stay in one of the gazillion AirbnB’s in the old town. The Hotel Suisse is pretty no frills but it has a killer ocean and city view and a cute little balcony. Also the location is perfect- at the base of Castle Hill, right off the Promenade de Anglais in the Old Town.
Yes, everything looks exactly like a postcard. As parents of young children, we were 100% content to wander about, following our noses in search of the perfect croissant, peruse the Old Town and the market, lounge on the beach and basically revel in the ability to finish a conversation together and the absence of lego landmines. But there are a few things you shouldn’t miss and a few things I would do if we go back.
Things to Do in Nice
Spend a morning poking around the market, croissant and cafe crema in hand. We were there on a Monday, and the vintage finds at the flea market are stellar. Mondays is the flea market, and the rest of week is produce/food/flowers-still amazing.
Lounge on the beach- the beaches in Nice are pebbly rather than sandy. Strangely, it was not uncomfortable and we spent several highly enjoyable hours swimming and sunning. If you are traveling with littles, check on the beach situations- there are a few with shallow water and easy access, but in most places, the shelf to get to the water is a bit steep and tricky. There are some cute little beach clubs where you can rent umbrellas for the day and some them lay out sand.
Castle Hill – right off the Promenade de Anglais and directly next to Hotel Suisse is Castle Hill (Parc de la Colline du Château). It’s a short but not too strenuous hike. Apparently there was an old citadel at the top but it was dismantled in 1706. The views over the city and Mediterranean are worth the walk. Most of it is a grassy meadow- it’s perfect spot to take some yummies from the market and have a picnic. There is also a great playground and apparently a waterfall that somehow we missed. Reasons to go back . 😉
Walk the Promenade Anglais, the seven kilometer oceanfront boulevard. Perfect for leisurely strolling or a morning run depending on your mood. I’m a sucker for old buildings, and the Promenade is lined by 19th century palaces and villas.
Day trips to Monte Carlo (30 minute train ride) and Cannes (1 hour drive or bus ride)
We didn’t make it to any – but if we were to spend more time here, I would hit up the the Musee Marc Chagall.
Nice was nice, but two days was enough to explore the old town and lounge on the beach. We headed north. I’ve been jonesing to see Provence since discovering the writings of Peter Mayle. If you have not yet delighted in his musings on the daily village life of Provence or his charming fictional “Who Dunnits”- consider this my gift to you. Get thee to your own local bookstore- or audible.com- whatever. Enjoy. You’re very, very welcome.
Y’all, this hotel. I have no words, but I’m going to try. Hotel St. Remy de Provence. Hotel perfection in every sense of the word. The decor is luxe and a little bohemian, the pool inviting, service top notch. The restaurant was excellent and the cute, cozy bar was the perfect spot for a nightcap before sinking into the most unbelievably comfortable bed. I felt insanely pampered and spoiled. It is also smack in the middle of town, yet feels super tucked away and private. We walked to dinner every night and to the market on Wednesday. We only used the car for day trips to nearby villages. St Remy is within striking distance to Menerbes, Gordes, Bonniux, Avignon, and Chateneuf-du-Pape. And a few others we didn’t make it to.
The MARKETS of Provence. Probably the thing I was most excited about. Known as the marche, it moves around to a different village each day. St Remy is Wednesdays 8am-1pm and it is probably the largest. The town becomes crowded on Wednesday mornings- so get there early.
Gorgeous textiles, antique jewelry and books, fresh flowers, handmade leather goods, and oh my gosh, the FOOD. Olives, produce, cured meats, fresh breads, pastries.
Okay- pay attention this part is important. If you see a hunk of ham on a stand like this- I don’t care how long the line is- you wait. This is Jamon Iberico. Ham from wild pigs of Spain that eat only acorns. And the butcher works for years to perfect his carving technique. Salty, nutty and sliced thin enough to see through. If there is ham in heaven – it will be Jamon Iberico. You can occasionally find it in better meat markets in the US where it costs exactly $100 per pound. So if you stumble across it in Europe- enjoy as much as you can.
We foraged for lunch and feasted in the sun with a bottle of crisp white. My favorite way to eat.
We ate A LOT of good food in Provence. We asked for a recommendation from the hotel concierge and he snagged us a reservation at L’Auberge de Saint-Remy on the first night. It was fantastic, set in a historic building right in the middle of town. But some things to know before you go- it is a tasting menu only. And it’s a LOT of food. It was amazing, but had I known prior, I would have skipped lunch. The experience was lovely. Impeccable service, creative and delicious food and a visit from the chef. And this charming courtyard…. I swoon. It has not one, but two Michelin stars and it lives up to the hype.
The other restaurant worth mentioning is Le Moulin de Sophie– More casual and moderately priced, reservations a good idea especially on the weekends. Magical courtyard, classic French food in a more casual yet super charming atmosphere. It’s run by a husband and wife team, and they were happy to talk food with us.
The bar next door to our Hotel St Remy was a cute spot to grab a pre/post dinner drink and was obviously mostly a local hangout. This is where Alan struck up a conversation with a friendly Frenchman who shared a whole list of things to do we had no idea about. If you are, like me, pretty happy to sit in a corner with a coffee or a cocktail and soak up the scene and quietly people watch- you should travel with someone like my husband who is a conversation starter. People are generally pretty happy to share what they love most about their hometown.
He tipped us off to this insane lightshow. Carrieres de Lumieres in Baux de Provence – one of my favorite things we did. The drive up was nail biting, but inside an old limestone quarry there was a Van Gogh exhibit like I’ve never seen. Classic masterpieces projected in movement onto the floor, ceiling and walls of the old quarry and set to music. Literally walking through these works of art was beautiful and moving-so worth the drive. Take a jacket though- it’s chilly in there.
The exhibits rotate and it is open seasonally, so check before you go. Looks like it re-opens for the 2020 season March 6th with two new exhibits on the works of Dali and Gaudi. I might need to go back. It’s kind of magical.
Chateauneuf-du-Pape was an easy drive from St Remy. The village is famous for two things. Chateauneuf-du-Pape means castle of the Pope, and for a short period in the 14th century, the papacy was based here. More importantly, it is known for the wine of the same name which happens to be Alan’s favorite. So naturally, we tasted a bunch and brought home as much as we could carry. Most of it won’t be ready to drink for another 5-10 years, so I’ll get back to you on whether it was worth it.
Gordes was insanely cute and we explored during a drizzle. We ducked into the charming Les Cuisines du Chateau right on the village square which looked touristy from the outside, but wasn’t at all. The clientele appeared about half locals and only half tourists. The wine selection was excellent, the food simple but decadent at the same time. It was warm and cozy and everything I wanted a little French village cafe to be on a rainy day.
French Travel Tips
Yes, most people do speak English- but it is simply polite to make the attempt. If I had a dollar for every time I said “Je desole, je ne parle pas Francais. Parle-vu Anglais, si’l vu plait?” (I’m sorry, I don’t speak French, do you speak English, please?) I could afford to go back. We tried to learn as much French as we could- but honestly- that simple phrase carried us very, very far.
Also, “Bonjour, Monsieur/Madame” when you walk into a shop/restaurant will get you better service. Basically, mind your manners and you’ll be fine.
Also helpful to be able to ask for a table at a restaurant, where the bathroom is located and such. With the exception of one surly waiter, we found everyone in the tourism, retail and restaurant business to be incredibly friendly, accommodating and helpful.
Driving in France- the roads in Provence were well marked and of course this the age of GPS- but take a lot of change because there are a LOT of toll roads.
Ask about events during your stay. We were in Nice the same time as an Iron Man Triathlon. Not a big deal- it was actually kind of cool- but it meant lots of extra crowds and it took a VERY long time to get a taxi from the airport. We had about a quarter mile walk through the windy streets of Old Town to access our hotel as the roads were closed for the event. Not a huge deal-and it was a blessing our bags were delayed a day and were delivered by the airline. Shlepping luggage through the twisty cobblestoned streets Old Town would be a slight bummer – but hey- you’re in France.
Any time I am tempted to spend a large sum of money on some unnecessary item, I trot myself to the bookstore. I spend a little time in the travel section. And it has never failed that I will remember that the thing I want most to spend hard earned dollars on is airplane tickets. Also, the travel section is where I discovered Peter Mayle and fell in love with Provence.