These adventures I had with my best friend – Monsieur X, we were friends for 12 years (& 22 days) until he got another new girlfriend and literally blocked me out of his life – ‘MonsieurXit’. Provence is my favourite place in the world to visit but I don’t think I can go back to this country boy’s hometowns without him. It’s a shame it ended this way and I hope one day he reads this blog and sees how much our trips around parts of his beautiful country meant to me. There are still many other parts of France I want to visit which won’t have Monsieur X memories but now I don’t have my own personal translator/tour guide I need to get the dust off those ‘Teach yourself French’ books. C’est La Vie non? (2017 update we are back on speaking terms).
Miramas – My Entrance to Provence
Avant ‘MonsieurXit’ my plan was when I win the lottery this is where I’m living – Provence! Now I might buy a yacht instead! Now my yearly visits have ended, not just Provence but St Martin, various ski resorts and Cap Ferret I will miss living my French dream for 2 long weekends a year. I used to joke with him that maybe if he lived in a rough city centre instead of Miramas and worked indoors I wouldn’t visit him. My visits would always consist of stay at the Hotel de X, Miramas – Monsieur X’s home which is near to the train station. His Mom and Dad were the best hosts they always made me feel welcome and his Mom’s cooking was amazing.
Miramas is a 20 minute train journey from Marseille airport (Vitrolles Marseille Provence Airport Train Station -7€ one way). The route to Miramas passes the Étang de Berre lagoon (always looks like the sea to me), the pretty countryside and not so pretty Chemical Plant.
Miramas train station is small and could do with a makeover but as I walked out of the train station I said to myself ‘Now you’re in Provence’. Walking out of the train station there are two bars, a restaurant, and few shops and of course a Boulangerie as it wouldn’t be France without one. Behind the train station underneath the subway is the newer town centre (since 1837). Along the main road with the trees are the shops, local bars and restaurants, every time I visit it feels like a ghost town as the shops are always shut, I didn’t take it personally but on a positive note every time I visited it was sunny and having a drink in the square watching the fountains opposite the church is very relaxing. Again lunchtime eating in the week was very quiet, just the two of us at the Italian restaurant Aux Trois Viandes (36 Avenue Général de Gaulle, Miramas), good food and not expensive we had 2 large pizza and drinks for around 40€ for this unofficial private visit.
In Miramas there is a tourism office and up until this year 2017, there was no hotels which was a shame as the train station and good bus service links to the airport and most towns and cities. The nearest hotels were in Salon-de-Provence or Istres. Now there finally is a hotel in Miramas and a few holiday homes. All those years of staying in surrounding towns and Hotel de X and when he doesn’t want to see me a new Bed & Breakfast along with a new shopping centre (McArthurGlen Provence) opens up there! Now that’s just bad luck. L’Écrin de Soleil on booking.com looks amazing….oh well one day I will be back. Miramas and Monsieur X can’t get rid of me that easily.
The old town is a medieval village on a hilltop about 3kms away from the new town, great 360 degree views of Provence from up there and a few terrace cafes and restaurants. I can’t really comment on prices as my only visit was in 2004.
Provence – Body in Birmingham, head and heart in Provence.
I love Salon, every time I visited we usually do the same thing, drinks and people watching by the Fontaine Moussue or for a change of scenery (but still drinking) at the bar Au Bureau, Place des Centuries, next to the castle Château de l’Emperi and near the Nostradamus mural. For an alternative we have been to Portail Coucou, a bar/concert venue on 160 Boulevard Lamartine. I’m sure there is more interesting things to do in Salon however we never seem to get past a bar. I think the centre is easier to reach by train and bus probably because the French don’t know how to park and the roads are narrow. Has for somewhere to stay, I have stayed at the Hôtel d’Angleterre a few times and it only a minute’s walk away (300 metres) from the Fontaine Moussue and castle. The decoration is dated and not modern at all but for 50 – 70€ room only the rooms have Wi-Fi, the beds are comfortable, the rooms are clean and the showers work. That’s all I need somewhere clean to wash, sleep and Netflix.
My first visit it pissed it down and all I can remember is the rain and the worse dirty toilet I have ever had to use (Avignon bus station). My second visit we stayed on the outskirts of the city and the driving past the Palais des Papes it looked a lot more impressive in the sun. We stayed for the first 3 nights in Le Pontet, (only 15mintues drive away from Avignon centre) in a 2 bedroom apartment which was a converted garage attached to the owner’s house in a quiet residential area. It doesn’t sound great but this accommodation was clean and modern and the owners were very welcoming and helpful. Monsieur X found the apartment on www.leboncoin.fr/locations_de_vacances . Le Pontet was our base as it was centre to all the points of interest and villages we visited (Gordes, Pont de Gard, Cavaillon, Castillon and Les Baux De Provence).
Pont de Gard
This was a Roman aqueduct bridge and I’m not sure if it’s true but Monsieur X said it’s the biggest in Europe. Entrance fee to the bridge, the museum, cinema and parking was 18€ per car (up to five people). The museum on how and why the Romans built this bridge was interesting and I’m not a fan of museums. I imagine the Pont du Gard being crazy busy during the summer months.
Les Baux De Provence
A few hours of exercise in Les Baux De Provence, a steep walk around the village at the top of the Alpilles Mountains, Baby Alps Monsieur X called them. It was very touristy with lots of souvenirs shops, however they were not tacky (as the French don’t do tacky) as they were hidden away in the old buildings. Monsieur X’s tip don’t visit in the summer as the road up to the village is so busy people have to park at the side of the road and the queue can be half way down this hill.
The drive though the French countryside was amazing anyway but Gordes (another village another hill) was beautiful, the green and blue view surrounding me took the last bits of stress away from this city girl. Wikipedia states the Russell Crowe film ‘A Good Year’ was filmed there, I must get the dust of the my DVD to double check before I cross it over the TV/Film bucket list.
Fontaine de Vaculuse
A 20 minute drive from Gordes to the Fontaine de Vaculuse, then a quick walk/run along the river to the Fontaine as we only had 20 minutes free parking. I was expecting a waterfall but it was a spring underneath a cliff and no one knows where the water comes from or how deep the spring is. With all this water I needed the toilet and I have to say these public toilets beat Avignon bus station as the dirtiest I have seen.
My first visit Monsieur X and the woman at the train station said there wasn’t much to do in Arles – they were wrong! A walk along the Rhone, though the ‘entrance’ to Arles and around the outside of the Arènes d’Arles (Amphitheatre) and through the ‘Jardin D Ete’ following other tour groups along the way. It cost 7.50€ for entrance into the Roman Amphitheatre and the smaller Le théâtre antique d’Arles. I felt it was kept in such good condition for bullfights and concerts; it could have been build a 100 years ago not 1000 years ago. Also unlike some English tourist attractions it wasn’t ruined with Health and Safety signs. After we walked around the narrow streets and we had a drink at a bar near the Van Gough Café, probably cheaper and not so crowded.
A flying visit where we ran passed the Eglise Sainte Perpétue and Nimes’s Amphitheatre (no time to go in but one Amphitheatre is enough history for one day and besides it is 3 metres smaller than Arles) to have lunch at Le Café De Olive on 22 Boulevard Victor Hugo, a tasty plat de jour of mashed potato and beef with chocolate mousse for dessert (around 15€) before stopping off at the Les Jardins de la Fontaine. If Birmingham City Centre had a park like this I wouldn’t want to leave. A big quiet park a few minutes’ walk away from the car horns of the city centre.
Salin De Giraud – Camargue
Sunday in Camargue, so peaceful and beautiful. When I think of marshlands I think a muddy bog, either I’m wrong or only the French could have beautiful marshes as we drove though this national park to reach the beach. For a city girl this new little ghost-town was heaven, I couldn’t live there because the quiet would drive me crazy but I could stay for a week or two to recharge my stressed out brain batteries and remove the dirt from my old city centre polluted skin. A good spot to re-write that book at the Un Nid de Camargue – no TV in the room for distraction however it does have very good Wi-Fi connection for Facebook and Netflix procrastination. We went on a Sunday in April and nothing was open apart from a restaurant and a bar next door. Best to have lunch at the bar and dinner at the restaurant during low season as the bar was closed after 7pm.
I’ve had a few day trip visits to Aix, last time we stayed 2 nights. We rented a city centre apartment via http://www.leboncoin.fr/locations_de_vacances again; I called it the ‘Ne Pas Toucher Flat’ as the owner still lived in the flat during the week and only rented it out at weekends. She left notes everywhere saying do not touch her stuff. It was a culture shock for me, a student city lots of young people out drinking however there was no fights, no one being sick in the street and the fashion was classy not trashy no ‘who can wear the least amount clothes in the winter’ style I have seen Birmingham. The weekend was lazy days of window shopping, eating and drinking and my personal highlight was a burger meal at Quick, yes with all the culture, amazing landscape and great company this fast-food addict loved her burger and chips, so much better than Ronald, the King and the Colonel back home.
Places we stopped off for a café* (or a cup of tea but that doesn’t sound very French)
Castillon (du Gard on Google maps) – it was so quiet I felt myself whispering.
Uzes – Plat du jour at Le Provencal Bar, Place Belle Croix looked and tasted good it was meat salad and fries until Monsieur X said it was pig’s stomach then I couldn’t eat it. The Haribo Museum is on the outskirts of Uzes but he wouldn’t stop.
Cavaillon – Le Coquet Bar, Rue Lamartin my first taste of quenelle, this fish dish with rich and salad was one of my favourite meals of the week it’s a shame they don’t sell it in Sainsburys. Also I ticked another place of my TV/Film Bucket list as we walked through the square where a dance scene in Mr Bean’s Holiday was filmed as per Monsieur X’s guide to Provence.
Fos De Mer – look to left of the lagoon and it’s a beautiful view of the countryside and lagoon. Look to the right the view is a chemical plant and factories.
Saint Remy De Provence – Monsieur X said it’s where the rich and famous go and he felt it to be ‘snobbish’. I think he was right on both counts from the restaurant prices and that every other building was an Estate Agent advertising homes for sale at 500,000 euros or more.
Pelissane – Lunch at Café Tabac de la Place, 15 Place de Pisavis. Cesar chicken salad washed down with my last glass of wine for a while as we were passing through on the way to the airport.
There are posts on Marseille and Lake Annecy linked in with the TV Travel Bucket list in this blog and also his view on England can be seen in the England through the eyes of a Frenchman posts but to summarise the last time he visited me:
Liverpool: C’est Bon, Here Comes The Sun ( the song not the weather)
Birmingham: C’est Bon, but I think he was being polite.
London Camden Town: C’est Bon – ‘ah oui the market is a lot bigger than in 1988.’
Tower Bridge and the Thames: C’est Tres Bon
Central London: ‘So much to do here’… ‘oui I confirm top rep and guide! Merci’