Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mini-Trip to Provence

As I touched on last time, I was getting increasingly grumpy with Switzerland’s freezing excuse for spring, so I convinced Mr. Big to make a road trip into southern France to find some sunshine.  Well, we found no sun but we did find some of the most remarkable scenery and quaint villages that exist on the planet.

Folks, there’s a reason why Peter Mayle is now a millionaire author and, conversely, much-hated in Provence.  Yes, he moved there about ten years ago to the town of Menerbe and yes, he wrote many books about it.  HOW COULD YOU NOT?  It’s like paradise.  Really.  I have lived in California, which is also beautiful, but it does not have the unrelenting ambience that Provence has.  California does not have old French men in berets fishing from the sidewalk.  California does not have castles and houses round every curve that were built in the TENTH century.  Unfortunately, the effects of Mr. Mayle’s books have been an absolute inundation of tourists into the cities, towns and hamlets of the area known as Provence and it is no wonder that the locals are growing weary.  (They are, however, enjoying the fact that the value of their properties have increased tenfold.)

Our trip has at least three sub-genres that I can write about in this blog, so I am only going to touch on the first one today.  Namely, where we went, what was cool and what was crap.

First, the crap.  OK, here is the way I normally plan a trip.

“Mr. Big.”
 “Yes, Dear Trailing Spouse.”
“Let’s go somewhere.”
“Where would you like to go, O Love of My Life?”
“I’m thinking Provence.”
“What country is that in, Snookums?”
“It’s in France, Mr. Big.”
“Well off we go then.  Do we need plane tickets?”
“No, we can drive.”
“Well, alrighty then, do we need hotel reservations?”
“No, we are going to wing it.”
“Brilliant.  Do I have to bring anything besides blue jeans?”
“No, dude, you are good.”
“Will they have the internet in this place you are taking me to?”
“I will make every attempt to find you some internet wherever we stay.”
“Lovely.  Off we go then.”

That, my friends, is how you plan a vacation.  That is also why I can never, ever stay in a B&B, (or an auberge or gite or anything with less than 20 rooms.)  Bed and Breakfasts give Mr. Big the heebie-jeebies.  He does not want to have to run the risk of sitting and conversing with strangers.  Also, there is a 99% degree of probability that a B&B does not have the internet.

Hence, our days in Provence were filled with small villages and complete wonderment and the taking of over a thousand pictures, but our nights were spent in the cities.  Here is where the crappy part comes in.  Have you heard of Avignon?  Do not go there.  It was disgusting.  It was filthy, crowded and vile.  We stayed in the Mercure right off the Pope’s Palace and I watched two drunk, teenage girls pee on the side of the hotel thinking they were hidden by the potted olive trees.  Um, no, ladies.  You were in plain sight.

I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking I am spoiled because I live in the land of exceedingly polite, quiet and clean people.  I assure you, Avignon will make even a person from Newark, New Jersey turn up their nose.  Don’t waste your time or your money.

The next night, after a lovely day out in the countryside, we spent in Aix-en-Provence.  This is the hub town in Provence.  For those “in the know”, it is just pronounced “Ex”.  I would pronounce it “Ex-traordinarily Overpriced and Overrated”.  I’m sorry.  There are about 67 other towns in Europe that I can think of immediately off the top of my head that are nicer that this town.  Again, avoid at all costs.

Having said that, if you do find yourself in Aix against my good advice, do go to a fabulous restaurant there that we found simply called “White”.  It is tres trendy but the food was absolutely outstanding.  (Hint:  wear black.)

On to the good bits:

Gordes—undeniably fabulous in every way.  You will be spellbound.

Lacoste—as in “Izod”.  Medieval village perched on a hillside that Pierre Cardin has bought and is pissing off the locals in every way.  Fabulous.
Rousillon—you will not believe that it is a real, functioning village, it’s that cute.
L’isle-sur-la-Sorgue—where the men fish from the sidewalks and the antiques are EVERYWHERE.

Bonnieux—Mr. Big wants to buy the church on the top of the hill and renovate it into a house.  I’m like, Mr. Big, I’m pretty sure it’s owned by THE CHURCH, so that’s probably not going to happen.  (Ever since he found out flippin’ Pierre Cardin bought his own rundown castle in Lacoste, Mr. Big wants his own rundown castle).

And, a few other towns that no one appears to have “discovered” yet, so I am not going to tell you about them until I get my mas and then I will pass on the location!  I am a ruthless bitch, am I not?


  1. Not ruthless, and you're such a fun writer! I have just found your blog and have yet to read your "about me" where I'll suspect I will find that you are a professional writer. I disagree with you on Avignon and Aix en Provence. I live a few minutes from Aix and I think it is thoroughly lovely, and Avignon also wins my heart. You have let Switzerland get to you, perhaps? Thanks for the super post and I am looking forward to more. (Psst, you can tell me about the secret villages, I'm a local!)

  2. I am really enjoying your blog. It was recommended by a high school classmate from Michigan who is now living in your same Swiss city since her husband transferred there in 2006. It give us girlfriends back home a really good idea what it is like since your writing is not only witty but insightful. For me, your writing of Chamonix brought back so many memories of my touristy trip back in the 80's. Thank you so much. I can hardly wait until I make it back to the beginning.