One year today ago, my husband and I, along with 3 other couples, travelled to Provence. The four gals had discussed travel one evening at our weekly knit night. It’s not unusual for us to make dinner plans for an upcoming weekend, or even a weekend to PEI, but this night we got a little carried away, and by the end of the evening, I had been elected travel guide. Southern France somehow resonated with the group, but we still had to consult our husbands!
Finding a place for 8 adults to rest their heads for a week was the first task. About ten years ago, my husband and I had rented a house just outside Gordes for a week with our daughters, aged 9 and 10 at the time. After three days in Paris, a train ride the day a transit strike ended, and learning how to navigate the roundabouts and traffic signs, we were happy to arrive at this quaint stone cottage on the hillside. I was certain we could find the perfect location that duplicated that feeling, but was close enough for some adult dinners out (who wants to cook every night!). We searched numerous websites that listed properties, amenities, maps and the most important…..photos! After researching tips and reading reviews, I was comfortable I wasn’t jeopardizing our vacation money. Mas de la Laiterie, an old dairy farm, had the charm we were looking for and it was in the perfect location. Located on the outskirts of Pernes-les-Fontaines, it was a short walk to bakeries, cafes and restaurants, but felt secluded and private.
Driving around France is not difficult if you ask my husband, and others we have travelled with. My trouble is that I’m not the best navigator of maps and signs. My best advice is to get the GPS device! Often the first time you get in the vehicle, you are jet lagged and disoriented from an overnight flight, so even the simplest directions can result in driving in circles. This group wanted to stay together, so a large 8 seat van was on our wish list. Although I did not drive the van, there were some tricky driving situations getting around the narrow lanes.
After landing in Marseilles, we loaded our van and made our way to the village of Pernes-les-Fontaines in about an hour and a half. Our gem of a house was well-hidden, but after some wondering by foot, we eventually found it. After getting the rules of the house and claiming our beds for the week, we were ready for supper. Arriving on a Sunday meant we had no opportunity to stock the pantry. The owner of our rental, Joel, had kindly made us a reservation at a local restaurant, Dame l’Oie. It was a short walk from the house, and had a very lovely provencal feeling. A great end to a long day of travel.
We did not have a strict itinerary for the trip, but a couple of days were somewhat planned, as we didn’t want to waste too much time trying to orchestrate 8 adults on the fly. One of our first tours was a visit to the quaint village of Gordes. I already mentioned that my husband and I had been there, and we knew our friends would enjoy it. We parked the van at the bottom of the hillside village, and made our way up to the village, enjoying the scenery and views. A simple day of exploring the shops and gathering for a light lunch.
Pont du Gard was also on our list of sites to explore. This ancient aqueduct system is really quite astonishing when you consider it was built in the first century BC. There were a number of school groups among the tourists visiting that day, but it was easy to navigate and explore the grounds. We separated and took in some of the various trails around the area, and probably spent a couple of hours in total.
The trip into the walled town of Avignon was a bit of a nail biter. This is the day we had second thoughts on the large van. After several trips around the walled perimeter, and down a few lanes that would be tight for a Fiat, we eventually made it to a safe parking spot near the University, outside the walls. Historic Avignon is another of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites , with lots of activity to keep you entertained while taking in the historic surroundings.
One of our planned destinations was Monaco, so we departed fairly early that morning. We tried to make a stop in the city of Nice, hoping for a stroll along the beach and a toe dip in the Mediterranean. But there were numerous streets closed for construction , creating traffic and parking chaos. Since we had planned on returning to our villa for the night, we kept on driving, making our way up the scenic mountainous roads to Monaco. It was the week before Grand Prix, so traffic was quite congested and parking more of a challenge. However, we finally were able to escape the van and walk the streets to explore. While the guys sat down at a sidewalk cafe for a cold beverage, the ladies made the walk up the steep hill to the Palais Princier. The views from here are astounding. There was lots to see just strolling through Monaco.
Many of our days were far less structured. A stroll into the village of Pernes-les-Fontaine to the boulangerie (bakery), or an afternoon glass of wine in the cafe. Short drives to Carpentras, Isle sur la Sorgue for market day and half a day in Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer, where a couple of people got their swim in the Mediterranean. Another highlight was our dinner cooked in by our own Chef Ronald!
Have you travelled with friends before? What types of trips do you enjoy to do with groups? I would love to hear from you!