We arrived in Cassis at 7pm and stayed at a nice hotel right on the boardwalk overlooking the Mediterranean. The view was stunning, this place is mind boggling and looks exactly like it should. Cassis is in the state of Provence and to the west of Nice and east of Marseilles. The town in my opinion is far superior to that of these other touristy commercial areas as it is a small and charming. All of the trees in the area remind me of Cezanne. The harbor is filled with big touristy cruise boats, yachts and fisherman and surrounded by a vast array of restaurants specializing in bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse is not any joke; 69 euros a person and requires reservations. Amy and I ate dinner together for the first time which was nice, we both had a Kronnenburg and three cheese gnocchi on the patio as the sun set; ecstasy. We sat right beside a Grand Marnier Crepery; decadent smells waffing by.
The next morning was excellent as we lounged by on the boardwalk and cafe. There was an excellent market with exceptional olives, lavender, tapanade; huge garlic bulbs, funky jewelry and top of the line clothing. I FINALLY found Munich’s. The most amazing shoes on earth which I must purchase; ringing in at 139 euros each; ack. Before leaving we took a 45 minute cruise through the beautiful coves called Canlanques. White stone, green trees and turquoise ocean water, I wish you were all with me. On the open sea the boat jumped around like it was on an acid trip. The boat literally teetered from left to right practically capsizing; wicked cool. My hair smelled, tasted and felt like sea salt all day. Leaving Cassis we drove on Rue de Crete which takes you north over the mountain with breath dumbfounding panoramas; only pictures will suffice. Zig Zagging up and down I could barely look out the side of my window as it made me queasy; the only view was down. After an hours drive we arrived in Aix en Provence. AH I can’t emphasize how much I loved this place. We visited Cézannes studio as this city was his home and main influence to his masterworks. The city is 30 percent students as the university in the downtown core is one of the oldest in the country. Students abound roaming the streets and I thoroughly enjoyed people watching. Every student here seems to dress up for class, I love it, none of this pajamas roll out of bed garbage; these are my people; gorgeous and loving what they learn. Aix can be summed up as an ancient city; beautiful shutters on all the windows and stylish beautiful people; “even the bums look good,” a quote from my father. This city surprisingly was very haute couture. For a city of its size it was practically its own little Bloor Street with Louis Vuitton, Lactose, Hermes and D&G boutiques to name a few; I just realized I need to win the lottery badly. I think the students here can afford Prada sunglasses and LV bags because they don’t pay for university in this country. Harper get on that lickity split. The smells in this city are great, I was gitty with excitement when I saw a cherry clafoutis. Martha Stewart introduced me to this South of France treat years ago and now I was staring it in the face. This is the city to find a fashionable life partner ladies and gentlemen.
We drove to St. Remy of Provence; 6 roundabouts from the main city center as our descriptive directions curtailed. The road is like driving through a tunnel surrounded on each side by huge looming Sycamore trees. Our local tonight is absolutely mind boggling. Breath taking is not justice. Turning down the lane we drove through a beautiful tunnel of 300 year old Sycamores; as this is the age of the Chateau estate. I felt like I was in a movie and we were all dumbfounded and just in shock saying wow would not suffice. The property is hundreds of acres, the chateau is 300 years old and reminds me of the palatial homes in Gone With the Wind and other movies like The Others. The ceilings are HUGE and each room feels like you are walking back in time, I can not describe with words. We were greeted by several cats and thoroughbred terriers.
Dinner was Amy’s 23rd birthday. We went to La Gousse d ail or the Garlic Bud. This place got 15 out of 10 for decor. It is located in a huge old garage and inside are tons of antique toy trucks, a puppet show and even a life size merry go round. The place would blow you away, the menu changes every 5 days, talk about fresh new ideas and innovation in the kitchen.
Puff Pastry tapanade
Grainy Mustard Olives
Puff Pastry with goat cheese
Salad of melons and cured ham
Fois gras of duck with onion jelly
Smooth creamy tomato soup with basil
Fresh pasta with crème anglais, gruyere, pistoue and almonds
Cafe, chocolate cake; caramel custard; lemon curd and roast banana.
This morning I woke up with a huge stomach upset. I had it coming to me after eating that 200 course meal last night. Seems every day my dad is popping me new pills to fix one of my new found illnesses, doctors do come in handy every so often when abroad. This morning we walked all around the property into the Poppy gardens, huge fish pools, statue galleries and by the river where mother was attacked by gigantic swans; a personal highlight of my day.
First stop was a town called Little Venice; Provence’s antique Mecca. THE ENTIRE CITY is full of antique shops, mother was drooling and I was apprehensive. The entire city has clear rapid rivers running down the streets and every few blocks you can find huge ancient water wheels covered in bright green moss.
We then took the drive to Village des Bories. Mistake. This place is a 14th century town built by Shepard’s and constructed entirely of rocks. The streets were the tiniest we have come across; and hope to ever come across for that matter. We could barely open our doors when on the streets as they were stacked on both sides with tall walls of rock. We took a wrong turn at one point and could definitely not do a successful 3 point turn. Swearing ensued, Amy renamed the city Crapville and I enquired to why we were not at Disneyland Paris.
We then head to Gordes a Medieval Dark Ages village on top of a mountain cliff. Perked right on top in the center of the town is a looming fortress. All of the buildings in the entire city are made from the same stones the Shepard’s in Bories used hundreds of years ago. I enjoyed an excellent chocolate gelato which will probably be my fondest memory of this city.
We then head to Roussillon the capital of Ocre et Couleurs. The geology is stunning here as the pigments of this sand like landscape run a spectrum from rusty red to lemon yellow. Ocre was a major commodity here as it was used in oil based paintings. Most of the resource has now been depleted so it has been turned into a bit of a sanctuary in which one cop strolls up and down the cliff face to ensure no tourists snatch any of this precious mineral.
We were all exhausted by this point and decided it best that we return to the chateau for a nap. After an hour of rest we set off to Arles a city famous for its remains of Roman occupation back in Julius Caesars day. Entering the city I had a funny feeling the experience was not going to be great. It looked run down, unkept and a bit like Scarborough. After finding a parking spot we walked to the river Rhone and were pretty disappointed by the lack of anything worth looking at. Thinking on the positive we headed into the main city center to find a pretty crummy area. By then it was dinner time and we found the major town square and sat by a restaurant called Van Gough’s Cafe. Big Mistake. After attempting to order off the menu it became apparent that the restaurant was out of everything. I was going to order duck and ended up having paella which was dreadful. A huge plate of overcooked orange rice with two pieces of dried shrimp and a few miniature mussels topped with the smallest and revolting thigh of chicken I have ever set my eyes on or tasted for that matter. Mom ordered steak, dad was recommended a succulent filet of sole and Amy ordered chicken. I almost laughed out loud when their food arrived. It all looked like hospital food and EACH of their plates was smeared with the exact same sauce. The chef must be blind and unable to smell and taste. All the food tasted horrific. We were all staring at our plates just mortified, I honestly didn’t know people, let alone a restaurant could make and serve such unedible food. My gut told me as soon as we sat down it was a bad spot when we were constantly told; oh we don’t have that. The apple flans arrived after we told the waiter we were finished with our food; in which dad hid his under a napkin since he barely touched it. I laughed out loud when I saw the flan as it looked 10 days old and was burned black. I have come to the conclusion that North American restaurants in general have a much higher general standard for their service and food quality. I think the chef basically threw together some dishes with whatever decaying foodstuffs he could find in his fridge. As dad paid for the bill I was hopeful to buy a nice yummy nutella crepe right down the street since I barely ate any of my joke paella. Again Arles disappointed; rubbery and probably made 12 hours before, wouldn’t have fed that mistake for a snack to my worst enemy. If things couldn’t get worse on the walk back to the car mom got shit on by a bird. We were all in hysterics, apparently today wasn’t our day. As Stefan Virtue, the ever so wise once said, “You win some, you tie some.”
We arrived back at the Chateau nice and early tonight around 9pm so we are all doing our own thing. I wandered through this palatial place and room after room I was more and more in awe. This place is huge people, I found a billiard room, card room, reading room. I think we are living in the board game Clue. The atmosphere here is really eerie something mother noticed this morning. There are taxidermy animals all over the place and probably thousands of cats roaming the halls. Mother is convinced the lady of the house is Wicca because of all the cats and the witch ornaments in her main office. This place seems like a big haunted house…kind of exciting…if you don’t hear from me again we have probably all been killed. But on the bright side of things if we make it out of here alive, well be driving in Avignon tomorrow morning.
This morning we bid adieu to our Chateau and drove into St.Remy for a cafe latte and strolled down the street to gaze at the many local artists and their works. We then drove to Chateau des Baux another ancient medieval city located on an awkward cliff; similar to that of Gordes a few days back. They did the place up well for the tourist as the employees of the parks were dressed up as frumps and jesters back in the 12th century. The grounds were situated on white rock and had two catapults which I thoroughly enjoyed. I spent most of the time here lying in the center of the walled and fortified city lying on a huge stone under the hot sun rocking out to Gwen Stefani.
We then took the 45 minute drive into the famous walled city of Avignon. This is another fashion highlight with more shoe shops that you can shake a stick at. We parked right on the river Rhone beside the Bridge of Saint Benetez. It was necessary for us all to stop in the beautiful main square at a pizzeria for a light lunch in order to prevent ourselves from fainting in the heat. I had a nice pizza and an orange Malibu, I felt lovely. The family then spent the afternoon at the Palais des Paps; also known as the Palace of the Popes. This huge medieval palace was built in just 20 years which is mind blowing and acted as the center of the Catholic Church during the period when it moved from Italy to France. Next stop was the Petite Palais Musse, an art gallery dedicated to Gothic art pieces from the 13-1500 time period. All of these were painted on wood panels as was traditional for this period and gold was a predominant choice of paint. The central themes in these works are all of religious significance and the Virgin Mary, the size of King Kong and commoners the size of Polly Pocket. Our last visit of the day was at the Musee Angladon Avignon which is a famous collection of works collected by a very rich Frenchmen. Pieces included works from Valasques, Chardin, Degas, Picasso and Van Gogh. At this point the entire family is about to fall over as the fondly titled Dobson Exauhstication continues. We made our way back to the car and I realized that I had defiantly received my first sunburn of the trip. My neck is the colour of a sweet spring tomato. Throw some bocciccini on me I’m done. Avignon is great, it sounds French even with several musicians playing the flute, accordion and bass. My favorite moment of the day was when I saw an 80 year old women dancing by herself in the square to a man playing the accordion. Perfect place.
Our hotel is really nice with big rooms and just a stones throw away from where we spent an incredibly authentic Provencal dinner. Hands down the best made meal in France thus far. The waitress welcomed us into her 7 table restaurant with a great big smile, she was the definition of cute. She looked about 50 and was so fast on her feet she would have put me to shame. She took care of 2 outdoor tables, the four of us, 2 French couples, 3 Germans and 5 rowdy Dutch men. The men from Holland were continuously experiencing fits of heavy laughter so my dad asked them what was so funny…One of them responded that they were all talking about sexual relations with their wives; a bit of an awkward moment.
Two Spoons; cucumber, sweet vinegar, coriander.
bacon wrapped roasted banana with hot red paste
Tomato tartar and goats cheese olive oil with herbs of provence
Fillet mignon of pork simmered with sage and prociutto
Panna Cotta of white chocolate, soup of strawberries and sorbet.
Satisfied yet not full, just as I like it. To bed.