Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Provence: Part 1

I've been getting one very annoying distress signal on my iPhone lately: My storage is full. I cannot download new apps or even take photos. Womp womp. So I've been painstakingly deleting photos, one by one. Many of these pictures have already been uploaded to Instagram or Facebook, so it's no big deal. Yet, it still pains me each time I have to confirm deletion of a beloved photo. My husband accuses me of being a picture hoarder, and he's right. (I also balk at the idea of deleting the photos off a digital camera memory card, even after said photos have been uploaded to a computer and hard drive.) 

The upside of having to go through old photos is that I get to take a trip down memory lane and reminisce about past travels. I just deleted, for instance, hundreds of images from a bicycle adventure in Provence. I look back on that trip with such fondness and I'm happy to share some South of France memories here.

For our one year wedding anniversary Justin and I planned a bike trip in Provence and a stopover in Paris. I blogged about the Paris portion of our trip here. (We had both been to Paris before so we went to a couple of museums but mostly walked around and tried as many delicious restaurants as possible.) Provence was new to us both. And while we love biking around our neighborhood in the West Village of Manhattan, neither of us had done any intensive cycling before. Entrer: Cyclomundo. We had googled something along the lines of "bike trip Provence" and come across a NY Times article by someone we'd never heard of: Joe Nocera. Nonetheless, we followed him to France and booked his same tour company for a four-day bike trip throughout Provence. 

Let me clarify: this was not a guided tour of the South of France. This was a (wonderful) tour company that set us up with rental bikes and a map. Cyclomundo transferred the bulk of our luggage from village to village and arranged for our room & board. We were responsible for getting from one destination to the next. We had only each other and an interesting set of directions to rely on. One example, paraphrased: "Go left at the woodshed with a faded yellow brushstroke on it."

We didn't get lost on day one. Day one was a relaxed ride from Avignon to St. Remy. 

About Avignon: It's a wondrous walled city unlike any other place I've been. Its cobblestone streets are picturesque (as is the case in most Provence places we visited). However, it's a touristy town. Dining and shopping for lavender soaps in Avignon didn't feel all that authentic. The silver lining? It being our anniversary celebration, we splurged on a fancy hotel for the nights before and after the decidedly non-fancy bike tour. It was a highlight of the trip. La Mirande is the most beautifully decorated hotel I've stayed at in recent memory. There's a sun-drenched sitting room for afternoon tea and cookies and a courtyard covered in flowers for dining outside. We ate dinner alfresco at the hotel and enjoyed the most gorgeous setting, while sipping our new favorite wine: chateauneuf du pape. Then we retired to the hotel bar for nightcaps. Plus, our room had the prettiest decor: dainty floral pillows and beautiful wallpaper covered in botanicals. It was the perfect combo of fun and luxury.

Avignon Sight
Avignon View
La Mirande Sitting Room
La Mirande Courtyard
On day one of our bike trip we saw beautiful flowers along the road. But we biked quickly; we didn't know how long the 38-ish km ride would take us and we were determined to make it to St. Remy before nightfall. Each day we were responsible for sourcing our own food for lunch. Each evening we had dinner at a restaurant arranged by Cyclomundo. On that first day I had plucked some croissants and fruit from the hotel. In fact, every day I made sure to pack snacks from the hotel breakfast in my backpack, much to the horror of my husband. (I was surely the only hotel patron wrapping the contents of the--French! Delicious!--bread basket in napkins.) For lunch on day one we stopped at a grocery store and picked up more french bread, along with meats, cheeses, tomatoes and wine. We set up a picnic by a sunflower field. We were the only people for miles save for the occasional car that rode past us. For the picnic and throughout the day we were surrounded by nature completely: said sunflowers and other beautiful foliage, trees taller than I'd ever seen in my 30 years on this earth (outside of Redwood National Park), white horses grazing in fields, streams of water snaking around cottages that looked straight out of Jane Austen movies. It was a glorious day. 

We even made it to St. Remy with plenty of time to spare before sundown. The biking had been a breeze! We were hot but not all that worn out. We took a dip in the hotel pool and relaxed before dinner, wondering if maybe we had signed up for too easy of a tour. The scenery on day one was breathtaking, but the biking was basically flat and uneventful. Surely a little hill here and there would be fun, too.

The fun, it was coming. But first an evening in St. Remy: St. Remy is fabulous. It caters to tourists, but it's not touristy. It boasts the classic beautiful cobblestone streets, along with gorgeous ivy covered buildings and quaint restaurants and shops. It felt like the East Hampton of Provence. We didn't exactly stay in a Hamptons-like hotel, but we had a clean, comfortable bed within walking distance of everything the town has to offer. We were giddy. We meandered into a restaurant courtyard for a refreshment before making our way to dinner. After a yummy meal we posted up at a cigar bar and took in a sidewalk salsa performance. Then we got some rest before day two of the bike tour.

En route to St. Remy
En route to St. Remy
New friends en route to St. Remy
Picnic Lunch

St. Remy
St. Remy Refreshment

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