Heading into Western France

Dropping Off the Paintings

Before we can properly start the vacation part of our vacation (as opposed to the exhibition part), we need to drop the boxes of paintings at a courier for storing while we decide whether to leave them in France—we’re considering returning next year—or to take them home. The GPS predicts an easy ten-minute drive from hotel to courier place. The GPS is wrong. A series of detours through the town and roads that don’t match what’s on the screen turn a simple errand into a hell drive of over an hour. Thank goodness Gregg is such a competent driver, but his skills are tested to the max. At one point, we drive up an alley with a massive ditch on one side and a truck coming towards us. I don’t know for sure, but I think we are about 2 inches from going over the edge when Gregg backs up to let the truck by. And with a gear shift.

We do know how to inject excitement into our lives.

Fnding Our Bliss Near Les Baux-de-Provence

After finally dropping the boxes off, we drive just two hours west to a charmingly rustic place near Les Baux-de-Provence called Domaine du Mas Foucray*. This is genuine van Gogh country and simply stunning. The cicadas buzz with impressive vigor and the lavender is thick with bees.

We originally intended to visit Arles, but at the last minute changed our minds because an acquaintance in Seillans told us about a new attraction at Les Baux that projects images of van Gogh’s work onto huge walls in an old quarry.

Going Ancient in Glanum

After a swim and a few hours off to write and draw, we drive thirty minutes over a twisty mountain road past craggy limestone outcroppings to Glanum–a Roman city with impressive ruins. We both have a soft spot for ancient ruins and so spent a happy–albeit hot–hour wandering around the columns and trying to imagine toga-draped senators posturing and ladies with elaborate hair dos keeping cool.

Getting Wowed by Les Carrières de Lumières

Next stop was Les Carrières de Lumières. Wow! Someone got the bright idea to turn a massive old quarry with soaring walls of stone into a tourist attraction. For over an hour, we wander through the blessedly cool indoor quarry to marvel at projections of van Gogh paintings and Japanese prints. The show is indescribable and a must-see for anyone traveling in the area. Reserve your spot online at http://www.carrieres-lumieres.com/ Parking is super tight and the venue limits admissions, so you don’t want to arrive without a reservation.

Hanging Out in Albi

On July 2, we drive further west to the delightful town of Albi, famous for its red brick cathedral and its tortured history of the Cathars. Our place is a two-story little cabin perched high above the river opposite the cathedral. It’s pretty much picture perfect except for the mosquitoes and a very low-beamed ceiling in the upstairs bedroom. The bump on my head did not subside for a good ten days.

Here’s the view from the front door of the La Cabane Albigeoise* — highly recommended, particularly if the weather isn’t too hot.

We’re within walking distance across a bridge into town and so head there to see the cathedral and the other main attraction—the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is Albi’s famous son and as such is honored with his own museum in the renovated Bishop’s Palace next to the cathedral. We spend a happy few hours wandering the large and nearly empty rooms and then enjoying the lively streets of Albi. Tourists are thin on the ground and the city has a comfortable, lived-in feeling. We like it very much.

We end the French portion of our trip with a bang-up meal at an excellent restaurant steps from our Bed & Breakfast. The place is packed, the food superb, and the service even better.

 Adieu France. We shall return.

*This blog post contains affiliate links from booking.com to hotels we actually stayed in and recommend. If you click one of the links, I could be rewarded credit or a commission of a booking. You don’t pay any extra. Please know I have my readers’ best interests at heart and only list places I’d recommend to my best friend.

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