I am totally smitten by the south of France. It’s kind of like the southwest USA but entirely different: Arid, rocky hills give way to lush green mountains anchored by flatlands of lavender and vineyards. Simply, incredibly, beautiful.
And the people! They are wonderful! No one speaks English until I greet them with “Bonjour” followed by my explanation that I do not speak French, even as I speak my pathetic French. I speak a little Italian, Spanish and Portuguese but I’ve always run from the complicated French language. In fact, that’s something I hear all the time from French people: it’s complicated.
But everywhere we go, French tourists and shopkeepers are quick to point the way, describe what we need to know and do their best to communicate in English to us. While the language is not natural, the people are. We could not be treated more warmly.
Our first road trip took us to Les-Baux-en-Provence on the recommendation of our friends, the Freshmans, who visited while on a Viking cruise. We were prepared for the beautiful light show (see Carrieres de Lumieres, below) but we were taken totally by surprise by the gorgeous approach to the hill-top town of Les-Baux-en-Provence.
We twisted through tight turns even as we climbed through sun-bleached rock formations. Breathtaking both because it was beautiful and also because we were scared to death we would meet an on-coming car with no place to pull over to the side of the road to pass. It was a bit like Sedona but with white rocks towering over us on both sides of the road. Beautiful homes were built right into the rocky hillsides often incorporating caves as part of their design.
When we reached the town, we waited nearly 15 minutes for a parking spot to open in the 15-car parking lot next to the village rather than hike up the rest of the mountain. The picture below shows where we bought our parking pass – $5 for the entire day – after much coaching from some lovely French tourists. After a few hours of fabuloso shopping and gelato, we went to leave the parking lot when there was a tap on our window. “Do you speak English?” Yes, we do. “Can we have your parking pass? We can’t figure out how to use the machines. We don’t have Euro coins and it won’t take our credit cards.” Yes, you can. Where are you from? “Tampa.” No way! They live about 10 minutes away from us in the States.
The tiny village sits at the base of an old, decaying castle in a medieval town updated in a Sausolito kind of way. My friend Denise Brewster thought all the little villages would look this way. She said this was a great place to start our trip because it was such a stepping-back-in-time village.
You wander down twisty little streets that circle back on themselves then turn up or down the mountainside to be connected again by a flight of stairs. Shops the size of tiny living rooms feature timbered and plastered ceilings and lightly stocked shelves.
Shops sell honey, tiles, hats, dresses, toys, postcards, candy, carved wood…just about anything you would find in an upscale tourist town. See something you like? Ask if they have more or a different size and the shopkeepers hurry out the door to a nearby warehouse to get you what you want. We absolutely delighted in wandering through the little village imaging what life was like here 500 years ago.
One of Denise’s best memories: “We sat on a terrace overlooking the village, eating rabbit and black bull raised on a local farm Barbara had a very nice pasta which was delicious.” Oh, my good God, the French can cook! We ate at Bautezar Restaurant where we relaxed with decent service and fabulous food.
When we had exhausted all options in the tiny village, we headed for the sound and light show just down the hill. “You cannot miss the Carrieres de Lumieres,” my friends the Freshmans advised, “Great art is projected on the walls of an old limestone quarry.”
We purposely visited late in the day after the buses and hordes of tourists had left the mountain. We parked in a spot right in front of the show, walked up to the ticket office and purchased tickets for 12 Euro each.
We really needed restrooms after our very long lunch and way too much wine and we were directed down a hall to the left. Down the hall to the left ended up being a very, very long walk of about 2,000 yards down sandy paths and up short ramps! The bathrooms are immaculate but use the toilets before you arrive unless you’re ready for a very long walk.
The show, itself, was glorious! Images of Chagall’s paintings drifted through the air, landing on a stone wall or the ceiling or the floor or down a corridor. If you paused, the show landed on you and you became part of the festivities. Here’s a little video by Joelle Luce to demonstrate what a previous show was like. We didn’t see the Renaissance painters; we saw Chagall.
The show is projected on 5,000 square meters of limestone walls. The story of Russian born French Citizen Marc Chagall is told through 12 dream scenes of a summer night. Music ranges from classical to Janis Joplin as the viewer slowly falls in love with the work of Chagall.
It is impossible to aptly describe the experience. Let’s just say I left transformed.