I have put off writing about Provence because I was not sure how to put my feelings about this place into words. To all of my friends, I have described it as “magical” or “very special” but these words weaken the swelling that begins in my heart when I think of the time we spent here. One shut of the eyes and I am instantly taken back to cornfield blue skies, intoxicating clean air, and food and wine whose memory flutters butterflies inside my belly. We also made new friends in Provence which only heightened our too brief time in one of the most blissful places on Earth.
Our journey to Provence began in a small town called Monteux, approximately 20 km from Avignon. Tucked away between fields of lavender and dandelions, Monteux is nestled away among Provencal agriculture while neighboring Carpentras on the outskirts. We chose a bed and breakfast for this leg of the trip and if you have ever had to make accommodations online in a different country you know the feeling of hoping and praying that you chose wisely once you arrive. Mas Les Fleurs d’ Hilarie joyfully exceeded our expectations.
We arrived around 5pm from Lyon and decided to it was best to unpack, open a bottle of wine, dip into the pool and have dinner on the property therefore not leaving the grounds for the rest of the night. It was a refreshing break from our time on the road. When we agreed to dinner, neither of us knew what to expect but figured it was worth it not to have to open up another map or reconfigure the GPS for the night. We were so glad we stayed. What began as “sure why not” turned into one of our most memorable evenings of our trip. Below are pictures of that dinner.
After dinner, we lingered at the table well into night fall and buzzed over a bottle of wine with our now new friends Alexis and Valerie. As their kids went off to bed, we exchanged stories about work and travel while they shared their own journey of raising children and the joy of having a family to call your own. Furthermore, it was quite difficult not to notice the glittering black sky above and not mention or admire the dusting of stars that encompassed the Provencal sky that night. Alexis told us that in french, meteor shower is translated to raining stars and ever since then I have been enamored by the idea of a rainfall of stars. This is the “magic” I refer to when I speak about our time in Provence. I tend to think, however, that a homemade meal in the company of good-hearted people always turns out this way.
On our second day, we enjoyed a typical Provencal breakfast outside in the garden. Mason jars overflowing with jams made from the apricot tree behind us, baskets stuffed with croissants, glass jars of milk and juice, it was everything breakfast is supposed to be; warm, sweet, and plentiful.
After breakfast, Valerie and Alexis were kind enough to invite us along as they visited one of Provence’s most celebrated markets in Carpentras. I was set on finding Provencal soaps. Indeed we found some and many other goodies for ourselves and for family. One of our favorite moments with Alexis and Valerie was at the market with their kids as they eagerly explored along with us and shared their knowledge on everything from soaps, to blankets, to cheese and even comic books.
We parted ways from our new friends and set off to Chateauneuf de Pape. Located in the southern Rhone Valley, this region of France permits 13 varietals with Grenache being the prominent grape. This is a red wine only territory and the wines tend to be earthy and powerful depicting deep red colors and reflecting flavors of jammy red fruits, vanilla, and spice. The landscape is painted with vineyards upon vineyards and within the village you will find gothic buildings made of stone that resemble the region’s history while offering a quaintness that is unmatched anywhere else.
We arrived back at Les Chambres d’Hilarie for our last swim before heading into Avingnon for dinner that night. Many places were closed due to the holiday season, but we found ourselves quite satisfied at an Italian restaurant, dining alfresco. We also happened to come across a Brooklyn based coffee shop in Avingnon that sold Brooklyn based products including local beers and bagels! They were closed, but it was fun to see Brooklyn represented in Provence!
Back at our bed and breakfast, we found Valerie and Alexis just wrapping up dinner. They invited us once again to sit under the stars over a bottle of wine. They also surprised us with a gift. As we found out the day before, Alexis has a love for comic books and at the market in Carpentras he found a comic about first time parents. It is a parody on parenting as it deals with ridiculous situations that first time parents would normally never have to deal with. For example, on the cover of the book is a man and wife with their children offering them cocktails and pampering them with massages while broken glass and garbage are strewn about. It is a very funny book and is right in line with our sense of humour. Most importantly, Alexis and Valerie thought about us and waited an entire day to give us the book as a farewell gesture. Inside they wrote: “We wish you all the best in your new adventures…This is a survival parenting comic, hopefully you will find here a few useful tips…and learn french as well. Thanks for visiting France.” It was signed by them and their children.
Beyond Provence being the France I was looking for in Paris, it matching every postcard, every movie, every dream I ever had of this country, Provence also offered us the opportunity to breathe. Matt and I reflected on how blessed we were to be on this journey together and dreamt of our family one day returning to Monteux. Making new friends like Alexis and Valerie seemed to fit perfectly into that picture of friendship and family that Matt and I are still carving out for ourselves. I believe that the stars were raining on us in Provence, and I only hope I can bring a little shine back to my own family when Matt and I begin our journey into parenthood. For now, Provence will always be in our hearts, reflecting off of the stars in Chicago all the way back to Monteux and over to Grenoble, where we hope Alexis and Valerie and their kids are happy and peaceful, too.