Thursday, June 26, 2014

Travel Page: Aix-en-Provence

As I mentioned last week, I'm recapping my travels in Sweden, France and Italy. Next up: the South of France! After four hours on the high speed train, we made it from Paris to Aix-en-Provence. This was the one place we decided it was worth it to rent a car, since we knew there were so many wineries nearby that we wanted to check out and explore. I didn't realize how much I was craving that country air until I stepped off the TGV train from Paris. Whoa, what a difference! We made our way to our hotel, located just a 5-minute walk from the Cours Mirabeau, Aix's most famous street that's filled with cafés and shops once frequented by locals like Paul Cézanne and Albert Camus.
We only had a half day to roam around after our train trip, but we decided there were a few things we wanted to squeeze in. First up: A visit to Atelier Cézanne, the artist's home where he painted some of his most famous works. My favorite part was his gardens—all very protected and private. So easy to get lost in thought! After that, we tried to make our way to a winery nearby. The only glitch? Our car's GPS, which simply didn't work. This meant we had to handle things the old-fashioned way: printed maps and stopping wherever we could to ask for directions. I learned the hard way that "droite" (the French word for right, as in right-hand turn) and "aller tout droit" (to go straight) sound very similar when spoken. ;) But we made it to Chateau La Coste, a gorgeous spot, where we tried some crisp and lovely rosés.
The next morning, I went shopping at Compagnie de Provence (I love their lavender-scented hand soaps) and we grabbed baguettes and pastries for the road before heading off to the Bandol wine region of France, located close to Marseille and Cassis. We made it there alright, except for our spotty GPS, which caused us to take quite a few wrong turns! We finally arrived at Domaine Tempier, the one spot we had on our "must-try" list, just before they closed for lunch. Phew! After that, we spent the day getting lost, not always in a good way. It just seemed that every place we intended to check out was impossible to find—or closed. We hit a few more wineries, drove through Marseille, and finally began to make our way back toward Avignon for dinner, and one final wine tasting at a place we'd made a reservation at. 
But you know what they say about the best laid plans? Yep. We got to the winery late after getting lost again, and they couldn't accommodate us because they were all booked up. I was tired and ready to head back to Aix, but Matt wasn't giving up hope yet. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a winery about a half mile down the street called Dalmaran Chateau. Game changing. The woman working there that night—Anna—welcomed us inside. After sampling the wines, and telling her about our long day in the car, she made a restaurant recommendation that she promised we'd love in her town, about a 15-minute drive away. Then, as we were walking out, she raced after us to say: "If you can wait 30 minutes for me to lock up, I'm happy to lead you there. You can just follow me! And feel free to walk all around the vineyards while you wait for me to wrap up." I mean, I thought I might cry out of appreciation. She did exactly as she promised—and helped us find Le Théatre Restaurant in Tarascon sur Rhone. The spot was delightful and delicious—Anna's friend who runs the restaurant wakes early to make everything from scratch each day. Thanks to Anna, this became one of my favorite nights of the trip. We sipped wine, and people-watched as little kids raced with their families to buy fresh baguettes for dinner and kick a soccer ball around. After that, we made the quiet and peaceful drive back to our hotel in Aix-en-Provence.

Next week: Antibes and Cinque Terre!

PS: In case you missed it, Stockholm and Paris (here and here).

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