Some fireworks and some beach-time.

The days here fly by and we are definitely seeing progress with the house. However, I seem to take more pictures and have more stories on my days off… 😁

Here are some photos and details about the national holiday and a long weekend camping trip to the coast!

“Bastille Day” brought a show of fireworks to the village and we were invited to another delightful evening at the island home of Helen and Moyed, again with plenty of food and wine and good company.
I baked chocolate hazelnut brownies for dessert. (They were something I hoped would not have to compete with the local boulangerie that people had become accustomed to. And I was relieved when they went over very well! 🙂 )

We were told that every year the lower bridge between Bourpeuil and L’Isle Jourdain is filled with locals and people who come into town for the fireworks. 

While we waited for the fireworks and ate a delicious dinner in the front yard, we could hear his strange music coming from the bridge. 

We ventured out the front gate to see what was going on and discovered a group of bugle players performing a sort of pre-show entertainment in the crowd. 

You may not have considered it before (I certainly didn’t), but it is actually extremely difficult for numerous bugle players to create the same note at the same time as bugles are only ‘tuned’ by the way a player holds their mouth.

One player stood at one end of the bridge and played a tune, and then the group at the other end would echo it back. It was really fun!

The fireworks (or feu d’artifice en français) were set off from both the base and the top of the viaduct, and the water in the Vienne River was so still that night we got to see an incredible double display with the reflection in the water. They were gorgeous and lasted 20 minutes! 

This video gives you an idea of the coolness factor of seeing the fireworks and their reflections at the start of the show.

The next morning my ‘co-workawayer’ Viktor and I took off for the Brittany coast for a long weekend of beachy camping on Isle D’Oléron and Isle De Ré.
We packed up the little van with Corinne’s and Gilles’ bikes, blankets, sheets, and beachwear, and headed for the coast. I drove (stick shift as a right-side driver 😳), with Viktor as navigator. 

After what seemed like endless roundabouts (the true French road way, apparently), we first arrived in La Rochelle and saw the beach and wandered around the Old Town, and then took the viaduct over the water to L’Isle D’Oléron, and towards the Grand Village. 

We stopped for a coffee and some wifi with a view of the ocean, of course!

The Old Town area of La Rochelle.

I was happy to note the giant sign that read “La Ville Des Huitres” as we drove onto the island of Oléron. Oysters (and mussels) are *the* thing to get on the islands as they are farmed all along the shorelines. (You also get amazing Fleur De Sel here, direct from salt farmers). 🙂 Another happy place. 

We arrived at a very busy campground called Les Pins (pine trees) as it was located in the forested lower end of the Oléron island, yet only a ten-minute bike ride to the beach! 

Campgrounds here are even more deluxe than along the East Coast of Canada.

 It seems like the French like to arrive to fully furnished cabins, trailers, and structured tent units with running water and electricity. Some are really beautiful, and clearly big families come and stay for a while here. (There is even a regular schedule of some sort of family activities and/or entertainment every day.)

I spent a little time at the naturally-filtered pool (complete with waterfall!)

Bikes are pretty much essential on these islands not only to go where cars can’t, and due to the limited parking spots available near all the best beaches on the islands, but because the winding roads and endless pathways along the island are perfectly lovely to cruise on two wheels. 😎

An afternoon siesta? I think so!

There were a handful of restaurants just down the street from the campground, a boulangerie, and a little supermarket. It was quite convenient, as I ended up buying a sleeping bag the second day we were there because the nights were colder than I expected (wimp that I am, I should have known better).

Chez moi pour le week-end!


We set up camp in a sandy and shaded campsite (tent for Viktor, van-avec-curtains for me), and made our way over to the beach just as the last of the daytime visitors were leaving. The beach was almost completely empty, aside from a few guys flying a large kite, and so we checked out the water temperature (freezing) and wandered he shoreline, watching the sun sink down towards the water before we headed back to our campsite.

The next day we spent at the beach (La Plage de la Giraudiere). The water was very shallow for quite a distance out, and with the heat and wind, and waves all along the shoreline it was the perfect location for surf lessons. It was fun to watch both kids and adults run and jump onto small surf boards and glide along the shoreline (or slip right off and tumble into the water, which happened much more often). 

It was a packed beach, and actually reminded me of family vacations to Florida when I was younger. Lots of families, and lots of kids.

Every morning there was a market at our campsite, where you could purchase 6 varieties of local oysters 😁, fresh veggies and fruit, and bread. 

Viktor tried his first ever oyster, but wasn’t too keen on it, so I happily had oysters for lunch, while he had the tried-and-true cheese and bread.

Perfection

Friday night at a tapas bar and pizza place called La Choza we caught the most excellent live djs I have ever seen- 5 guys sharing 4 turntables, multiple pieces of effects equipment, and numerous boxes of records, and on top of that there was also a saxophone player who would improvise along brilliantly with the music when he felt like it. 

It was clearly a popular locals spot and was a very surfer/island/party atmosphere. After an excellent pizza dinner I ended up hanging out there until well after midnight watching them skillfully mix sweet music for hours!


Saturday we changed islands and made our way up to the northern tip of Isle De Ré. 

Clearly the more popular/touristy of the two islands, you have to pay a toll of €16 to drive onto the island. (It’s free if you walk or bike over. The bike ride would likely take 20 min over the bridge, and walking would likely be closer to 45, but as the island is almost 30km long we figured a vehicle would be more efficient this trip.)

The beach we spent the day at was idyllic. The sun was hot, the water was perfectly refreshing, and the beach was busy but not packed. The only thing I wished we had brought was a large parasol (as everyone else did), as there was no shade to be found otherwise.
After playing volleyball in the water with a bunch of Francophones, sunning on the beach, swimming and wandering along the shore (and checking out the huge dead jellyfish that had washed up hours earlier)….and possibly turning a bit pink (but not as pink as Viktor!), we searched for a campsite.

After the June road trip  where we never worried about pre-booking campsites, I didn’t have any concern for finding a spot. This was when I learned that this was the start of the summer holidays for not only public schools, but now private schools, and it took us until our third campsite to find an available tenting spot! 

Luckily, our campground was awesome (Camp Du Soleil), near the stunning town of Ars-En-Ré

Complete with restaurant, pool, arcade, and two perfect trees for the hammock we brought, this was our favourite spot to stay.



An evening bike ride over to Ars En Ré was absolute perfection Saturday evening, with the streets looking ready for a movie crew to set up a scene for a romantic French film at any moment. 

Pristine buildings, lavender and hollyhocks lining the cobblestone streets, and nothing but a few pedestrians and cyclists winding their way through the little village that has been named one of the most beautiful villages in all of France.


We came to the town centre and the regal Church of Saint-Etienne, where a boys choir was performing a small concert. If you come during the day you can sometimes climb to the top of the tower and have a great view, but I only learned this after we left. 

This is definitely a place I’d return to!!

I think that will have to do for now. So much to share, but I’m definitely finding it hard to sit still! 🙂

Provence. I heart you.

It was sad to have mum head home to Calgary on Monday as we had such a phenomenal month in France together. Here are the stories of our week in Provence!!

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Some vineyards near Modene and a view of the top of Mont Ventoux

It was a 45 minute drive from Avignon to our villa in Modene, and we couldn’t quite believe it as we walked in to the yard to meet our hosts Phillipe and Sylvie. (They are absolutely wonderful and if you want to stay in a spectacular bed and breakfast (or ‘chambre d’hôte’/’gîte’) , check out their website: http://www.villa-noria.com)

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The view out the window from the indoor dining room.

We walked past a gorgeous yard and large outdoor dining table and up the stairs to our adjoining rooms. The first had a king size four-poster bed, the second two single beds on wrought iron frames.

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imageThen there was our bathroom with a large claw-foot bath tub, dual sinks and beautiful shower. White fluffy towels and three white terry cloth robes were ready for us. After carefully waiting for Phillipe to turn his back to us so we could silently jump up and down in glee, he brought us back outside to see the yard and pool. Oh, the pool.

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When we went to Tuscany as a family ten years ago, I thought we had stayed in the crème de la crème of bed and breakfasts. I never thought we’d find a place even close, but here we did.

Our dining room table

Our dining room table, and their dog Hurley.

Our host is also a renowned chef in the area, and cooks dinner every second night if guests want a gourmet dinner at home. We of course were looking forward to his cooking and were not disappointed. Just like on the cruise ship, not only was quality at the highest level but the presentation was beautiful.

Chilled Eggplant soup with a poached egg and sesame crisp

Chilled Eggplant soup with a poached egg and sesame crisp

Broiled cod with crispy polenta, zucchini tartar and roasted tomatoes

Broiled cod with crispy polenta, zucchini tartar and roasted red peppers.

Cheese plate of local chèvre with various herbs and seasonings

Cheese plate of local chèvre with various herbs and seasonings

Chocolate crème brûlée with rhubarb

Chocolate crème brûlée with rhubarb

Our first breakfast was another good sign of how the week would go. Sitting under a giant tree with morning sun shining through the leaves, several options of loose leaf tea or coffee, and with an overflowing basket of fruit (including peaches and figs they had picked that morning!!), freshly baked bread, croissants, homemade yoghurt, and waffles with fresh preserves, we were in heaven.

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On our first day we wanted to check out a local market, and then meet up with friends from home.
We drove to Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue to the Sunday market and found it to be the best one we have been to by far! It was fairly busy, and the weather was beautiful. There were dozens and dozens of stands with everything from fresh produce, vibrant pottery, artisan baking and sausage, souvenirs, to lavender, honey, soap, and table linens. We bought some fruit (and we thought that Parisian fruit was delicious!), some nougat, some cheese, and the best almonds we have tasted in our lives by leaps and bounds. Oh, France, you’ve done it again. 🙂

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We were then off to Carombe to meet our friends Maggie and Terry who were on a 4-month trip across Europe! These adventurous folks arrived to meet us on a motorcycle, and after great hugs and drinks in the shade to celebrate, we decided to do dinner in Le Barroux, a town just north of Carombe with one of the few castles in the Provence area. (Of course, in between we went back to the villa for a swim in the pool and a little sun.)

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Looking at routes.

Looking at routes.

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With the view of the valley and a delicious dinner, we shared stories of our travels and with the sun setting we said goodnight.

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On Monday we wanted to explore, and using a cyclists’ map of the Carpentras area that my mum’s friend Hope had lent us, we showed Phillipe our plan for the day- head towards the hillside city of Gordes via Venasque and Rousillon. He generously went over the map with my mum, writing a list of towns that we should drive through or stop into on post-it notes so we would see the best spots.

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The view from Venasque

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A gorgeous old door and handle

A gorgeous old door and handle

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We stopped in Venasque first and wandered up beautiful tiny streets in the quiet town and discovered a wonderful artist and his small main-floor gallery. His paintings were oil on canvas using only a pallet knife, and showed the town and other hilltop towns with the fields below, and church steeples punctuating the simple but beautiful skylines, all using tones of blue, purple, red, and yellow . They were fabulous paintings, and we talked with him a bit (my mum, of course, charming him right away). He told us that he had a painting teacher tell him that “grass is not just green, trees are not just green, they are any colour you can imagine they could be” and he said that gave him a true freedom to his paintings, so none of the hills or fields were green- they were gold or purple. We loved them. If he had prints I would have bought one right then, but unfortunately he only had canvases and they were a bit out of my price range.

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We then went to Rousillon and right from the start noticed the red clay of the hill as we parked the car. As we walked up towards the town it was clear very quickly why this is called “The Red City”, with red and orange walls of buildings and red exposed earth on the hillside a gorgeous juxtaposition to the surrounding forests and fields.

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The view was fantastic here and on our way to finding a place for lunch, we came upon another gallery that housed several artists’ pieces that we all could easily see purchasing if we didn’t have to ship it over an ocean in order to keep it. There was a collection of charming statues of young girls doing a variety of things, from looking up with arms reaching into the sky, to crouching down looking at a frog, to dancing- and they all had such simple honesty and joy to them you couldn’t help but smile. Then there were the paintings we loved best that were very urban scenes, with tall skyscrapers and taxis and crosswalks, and they had movement and energy without being too detailed.

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We arrived in Gordes and couldn’t believe the buildings clinging to the side of such a steep hill. It was a winding road to get there, and European roads are the least generous when it comes to two way travel. For once I was not the driver- my mum and sister shared this responsibility, and I must say I think my motion-sickness is getting worse as I get older as even in the front seat all the quick twists and turns and deeking around oncoming traffic made me a little green along the way.

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Winding streets with the bumpiest, roughest cobblestone yet, we wandered in and out of boutiques, jewelry stores and galleries, and found yet another exhibition I enjoyed. Pieces made from found wood and incorporated with metal, fabric, and stone, animals and people were set in whimsical sculptures that I wanted to take home as well.

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We then headed home via the Abbé Senanque in the bottom of a valley with lavender fields. It was so relaxing you just felt your blood pressure drop as you stepped out of the car. We watched them gather the lavender bunches in one field before stepping into the sanctuary of the Abbé for a few minutes. It was a modest church with no decoration or sculpture, and it was very peaceful.

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A great way to finish our exploration before heading home for our second dinner. More photos of dinner, of course.

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Crispy tartin with olive tapenade, diced tomatoes, basil and fresh chèvre.

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Grilled organic chicken nested on steamed green beans with a tower of lightly grilled zucchini containing both toasted and soft spelt “risotto”.

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Warmed Camembert sprinkled with dried thyme.

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Cheese yogurt ice cream atop grilled figs from the garden, dressed with a red wine reduction on top of a sable cookie.

We designated Tuesday and Friday as ‘pool days’, and promised ourselves we would take it easy on those days, and only leave the villa to go to a market or get dinner. It was perfect weather for lounging by a pool, and the saltwater of the pool made it actually possible for me to enjoy the water without goggles as I find that chlorine pools make it difficult to open my eyes underwater. It was glorious.

Lunchtime picnic

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We met several other villa guests through the week from all over- some from elsewhere in France, one couple from Switzerland, one couple from USA and one couple from Berlin. There was almost always company at the pool, and at 4pm every day Phillipe would bring homemade iced tea to the poolside. Have I mentioned it’s heaven there? 🙂

On Wednesday we wanted a lighter travel day on a central route around our area through Bleauvac, Malemort, Methamis and St Didier, where we heard that they make best nougat in France. These towns had small main streets, charming buildings, churches, and many doors and shutters we wanted to capture in photos. In St Didier, we picked up nougat and a few other sweet snacks, and delicious stone oven pizza in Malemort were highlights to the exploration.

The blue paint colour that we've decided needs to be more prevalent in Calgary....

The blue paint colour that we’ve decided needs to be more prevalent in Calgary….

Where we stopped and had lunch- amazing pizza!

Where we stopped and had lunch- amazing pizza!

We loved the colourful shutters and doors throughout Provence, so as you can see we kept taking photos of them…

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 Yes, this giant brick of dessert can be yours for only $45.00.

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On Thursday we headed towards Sault, because it is known as the the heart of Lavender country. Phillipe was eager to recommend that on the way to Sault we take the road through Bedoin and up to the top of Mont Ventoux- the largest mountain in the area that we could see the white limestone peak and weather station/communication tower from everywhere in the area. We took his suggestion and went through Bedoin, a small but interesting looking town we decided we would revisit later. There were a lot of cyclists on the road and it was part way up the winding (have I mentioned: narrow?!) road of Mt Ventoux we decided we must be in the middle of a huge bicycle race or ride because there were dozens and dozens of cyclists making their way to the top as well. Try driving a manual car on a tiny road that twists and turns up a mountain with sheer drops on one side and cyclists veering in and out in front of you as well as oncoming traffic coming down…. We were going to need the relaxing lavender fields at the end of this!!

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This was partway up when we had a bit more space. And where it was flat. Actually, this photo does not give any real representation of our journey up the mountain. Except that there is proof of both cyclists and cars…. So in that case, you may want to disregard this photo. 😉

The hiking trail up. Dry and windy, but what a view at the top!

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Mont Ventoux had hundreds of people at the top (don’t drive here- it’s insane) between tourists, their families and friends, hikers and tourists, the top was busy!! The view is phenomenal and on a clear day (slightly clearer than when we went up) you can see the highest point of the Alps. We were happy to get down to the bottom again and to quieter roads to continue our journey. Oh yeah, and the extremely large number of cyclists? That’s just a normal day on the mountain; Mont Ventoux is the second most visited mountain by cyclists in Europe. And it’s not for the beginner cyclists either- with a height of almost 2000m, the climb to the top of the mountain from the town of Bedoin is 1612m.

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We were happiest when we reached the bottom of the valley and headed for lavender fields. The fields of purple flowers and stunning blue skies were divine as we entered the area around Sault and we had to stop and take photos.

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We wandered around the few shops in the quaint town of Sault, and of course picked up some more nougat we found there. Our insider’s tip: it was hands down the best we’ve ever had in our lives- so if you like nougat- this is the place to come- watch out St Didier! 🙂

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Antique shop finds

Antique shop finds

The drive back was on a larger highway (a small highway by Canada’s standards), with one stop before we really got on our way- in Moniuex, a gorgeous little town on the very edge of a mountain rock face with stunning views of the lavender fields below. We also came upon a restaurant that we would have absolutely gone to dinner at if we had passed through any closer to dinner time (and not 4pm).

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Friday we decided a little trip back to Bedoin was in order, and we found lots of charming little shops to peruse, and a lunch of delicious fresh-made pasta and homemade sauce to die for. We saw a sign pointing off the Main Street for a gallery so of course we couldn’t say no. Well, boy did we drool over the artwork in that space!! If we lived in the area it’s likely we would have walked away with several sculptures, and if we had more money we would have bought over a dozen pieces. It was a marvellous mix of styles and artists, in the mostly ‘modern’ genre of art. After much discussion with the gallery owner and mooning over various pieces, we left the store with three mementos of Paris in the form of paintings. My sister bought one and mum bought two, and they were both buzzing with happiness at their purchases all the way home. (As I am currently without any real walls, I did not buy any art there but will live vicariously through my family and see their art often.)

We then enjoyed a lazy pool afternoon with lots of swimming, some sunbathing, and a bit of journaling and blog writing, as well as checking out the garden where most of our fresh fruit and veggies (and herbs) came from for our meals at the house.

Their tiny peach tree. With six peaches almost ready to pick.

Their tiny peach tree. With six peaches almost ready to pick.

Their fig tree. We got the last of the first harvest, and they would then harvest again at the end of September. Amazing.

Their fig tree. We got the last of the first harvest, and they would then harvest again at the end of September. Amazing.

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My gorgeous mom!

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Provence melon! Yum!

One last gourmet meal….

Saffron gnocchi and shrimp salad.

Saffron gnocchi and shrimp salad with walnuts.

Pork tenderloin with honey and onion sauce, fried onions and garden carrots.

Pork tenderloin with honey and onion sauce, fried onions and garden carrots.

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Poached white peach with almond biscotti and crème anglaise.

The lounge area by the pool

The lounge area by the pool.

Goodnight, pool.

Goodnight, pool.

We packed, went to bed too late, and were able to sit by the pool for an hour after our last breakfast before heading on the road to get back to the busy and bustling city of Paris. So long, Provence! See you again soon. 🙂