Category Archives: 2016 trip to Provence

This is our 2016 trip to Provence

Chasteuil to Berkeley (5/7)

We left Chasteuil about mid-morning for the drive to Nice.  Like I said yesterday, we have been here long enough that I felt we were leaving, not just passing through.  We really like being here.

The drive to Nice was uneventful.  We checked into our hotel for the night.  With some time to spare, we walked across the highway to the airport and got our boarding passes.  We had dinner at the hotel which was only ok but convenient.  Then the usual Bed, breakfast and then off to catch our plane.  Nice to Heathrow.  I still don’t like that airport.  Way to much walking and then bus ride then more walking to get from one terminal to another.  They don’t announce departure gates until just before boarding so you end up hanging out in a huge central waiting area and then rushing to get to the gate.  Again, the Virgin Atlantic flight was good.  Not great but definitely better than most.  The meal was good and there was a large selection of movies.

Kyoko picked us up at SFO.  It was definitely nice to be home.

This ends the blog.  I hope that you enjoyed reading it.  The text gave some context for Tai’s photos.  Understand, Tai had to cull almost 3,000 picture to get just what you see.  You can imagine how many other good ones that did not get selected.  I know that for some, just getting to the blog and navigating around the blog was not easy.  I will take into account the feedback I have gotten and try and improve the experience next time.

Chasteuil & Castellane (5/4-5/6)

Hang out in Chasteuil…yah!!!

After traveling for a couple of weeks, this was almost like coming home.  We have spent enough time here that it is very familiar.  Not that it was relaxing.  N&P had 8 guests for tonight.  That meant doing dinner.  That meant shopping.  So mid-morning Pascal and Tai took off for Castellane with a long shopping list.  I stayed home to try and catch up on blogging.  Castellane is a lovely smallish town.  There’s a farmer’s market in the town square and a supermarket a couple of blocks away.  There is a narrow, twisty 2 lane road with the Verdun river on one side and a steep rock wall on the other.  I rather dislike driving this road because French driver treat it as a race track.  they tend to drift over the center line unless there is a car directly coming at them.  Motorcycles are even worse.

So the shoppers got back safely.  We unload the truck and put stuff away.  Then it was time to start dinner preparations.  Tai and I pitched in.  the main course was chicken/apricot tagine.  Guests were served about 7pm.  By the time desert was served and we got to eat it was 9pm.  then cleanup and bed.

The next day was our last full day.  Nancy did here thing dealing with B&B reservations and Pascal took care of various chores.  Both seem to put in many hours a day.  Tai & I went for a walk along the trail east of the village.  Then we packed out stuff in preparation for our departure tomorrow.  Before long, it was time to prepare dinner for 10 guests.  This was a vegetable soup.  Same routine and then bed.

Hyères to Chasteuil (5/3)

Today was a travel day.  We are leaving Hyères and returning to N&P’s B&B in Chasteuil.  But first, we need to take a side to St Tropez.  We wanted to at least see the place and get a cup of expensive coffee.  We also wanted to get one of the famous pastries called Tropezienne, a mixture of two smooth creams in a brioche.  On the way, we stopped at a beach area called Gigaro and ate the sandwiches we brought.  Lovely beach.  Then on to St Tropez.

There is one road leading into and out of St Tropez.  It is three lanes, 2 in one direction and 1 in the other.  Today, they were doing roadwork and closed 2 of the 3 lanes.  The traffic jam was monumental since only one lane of traffic could go by the work.  We inched along but eventually got to the old port.  Found a parking place and we went for a walk around the port.  Two things struck me.  The mega yachts docked in the port and the small shops that lined the harbor.  The shops were actually not very expensive.  We had a cup of coffee which was not nearly as expensive as we anticipated and then went to a pastry shop for our Trapezienne.  This was going to be our dessert tonight in Chasteuil.

We then went back through the ridiculous traffic jam to head to Chasteuil about 2 hours away.  It was like coming home.  Wonderful.  We were met by Louisa, a friend of N&P who used to live in Chasteuil with them.  We had met her on a previous trip.  She had prepared dinner for us.  A very delicious soup, just what we needed.  For desert we had our St. Tropezienne.  We all agreed, it wasn’t that impressive.  Then, Pascal mentioned that a bakery in Castellane (biggest town near Chasteuil) baked a St. Tropezienne which was much better than the one we bought.  We’ll check it out.


Hyères (5/2)

Today was spent mostly just walking around this beautiful medieval city.  Although most of the buildings are private, the facades and the general ambiance was really interesting.  We did climb up the Knights Templar tower.  From the top you could see the city below.  We then walked up the hillside past St Paul’s church.  Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation.  Unfortunate because it houses over 400 ex votos.  These pieces of art are offerings by worshippers seeking grace or in gratitude for some miracle.  Further up the hill was Villa Noailles built between 1023 & 1927 in the cubist style.  We walked up to it but it too was closed.  From there we climbed up to the castle ruins which overlook the city.  We’ve done a lot of medieval castles ruins.  This was not really different but like all such castles, impressive views.  After all, they were intended as protection from enemies and the top of hills works best.

Cassis to Hyères (5/1)

Today was a travel day.  We left our more tourist oriented town to a much older city dating back to fourth century BC.

Our B&B was in the old town.  It reminded me of a San Francisco Victorian with 12ft ceilings.  Today was Sunday and also May 1st, Labor day.  The streets were very quiet.  Most of the shops were closed and many of the restaurants were also closed.  That made lunch a bit of a challenge.

After lunch, Pascal took us on a tour of Giens.  This peninsula sticks out into the Mediterranean.  The road runs down one side of the peninsula beside a beach out to the end.  At the end, one one side is small fishing port, Le Port du Niel.  Then, across the tip is another port, La Tour Fondue, which offers ferries to the offshore islands.  All around the peninsula are shoreline vacation rentals.

For dinner, Nancy researched pizza places.  She found one that got great reviews.  We ordered two pizzas.  Pascal & I walked over and picked them up.  The parlor was a little tiny place with no seating .  In the back was a wood fired oven that the pizza maker said was built by his father.  This clearly was a several generation business.  The cook was very surprised that we had even found the place.  By the way, the pizzas were quite good.

After dinner I connected my computer to the tv and we watched Portlandia on YouTube.  Then to bed.

Marseille (4/30)

Today’s activity was a trip to Marseille.  Of course, this was a different experience.  Marseille is a large city and port.  We spent the day in the old port area.   Lots of working boats and pleasure boats.  We started out by having lunch at a Moroccan cafe.  Then we went on to a new museum called MUCEM.  It focuses on civilizations of the Mediterranean.  We only had time to do three of the exhibits.  Algeria, a special exhibition of Picasso and a part of their permanent exhibit.

The Algeria exhibit dealt with the colonization of Algeria by the French.  I knew that it was a French colony but I had never known how intensive the effort was to subjugate the area.  A significant part of the exhibit was devoted to cartography and how the development of new map making techniques went hand in hand with the colonization.  Some of the maps dating back to the late 1800’s were really beautiful and rival the detail of newer satellite images.  What struck me was the way the French basically imposed their way on top of and regardless of the local way of life.  Frankly, it reminded me of what the Europeans did to the Native Americans.  And what colonizers did everywhere.  The Algerians were fortunate.  The were able to rebel against the French and establish their own country again.

The second exhibit was saw was a surprise.  Picassso and Popular Arts and Traditions.  It looked at how his Spanish upbringing influenced his work.  It then looked at how his encounters with various artisans influenced his art including woodworking, ceramics, silversmithing, linocutting, filmmaking, textiles and sheet-metal.  I have seen other Picasso exhibits but none that explored all these different facets at once.

The final part was Gallery of the Mediterranean, the Birth of Agriculture and the Emergence of the Gods.  It showed the development of farming equipment and how live stock and agriculture developed.  Primarily wheat, vines and olive trees.  It was a really interesting exhibit and of course needed much more time to really digest


The other major event of the day was Kyoko’s 38th birthday.  To celebrate, we took videos of ourselves at various locations wishing her a happy birthday and texted them to her.

Cassis day 2 (4/29)

Today we took a hike to the second of les Calanques that we boated into yesterday.  The first two Calanques are also boat harbors for private sailboats.  The hike in was really tricky because the rocks were extremely slippery.  The local Cassis limestone polishes beautifully.  That’s why it is used in construction a lot.  And that was the problem with the hike.  So many people walk the trail that the rock is highly polished.  The trail was also very steep.  We reached the Calanques.  Several interesting things happened.  There were lots of people there.  There were also 3 young boars rummaging around.  This is very unusual.  Boars can be ferocious and dangerous.  They can also be very destructive.  One woman’s potato patch in Chasteuil was destroyed four times in one week by wild boars.  These at the Calanques were young and had become used to people.  Not a good thing.  The rangers kept trying to chase them away but they kept coming back.

Tai, as always when there is the chance to go swimming did.  Nobody else was swimming until she got in.  Then several other people got in.  The water was cold and very clear.  After she got her fill, we sat on the rocks and ate lunch.

The walk out was much easier because we took a different route.

After we got back from the walk we got in the car and drove up to Cap Canaille.  These are the high cliffs that are in the background for many of the Cassis pictures.  Primarily we wanted to see the spectacular views of the coast.  And Tai wanted to see the blooming Rock Roses.



Cassis (4/28)

Today we spent the morning walking around the port.  I went into the L’Office de Tourisme as I usually do.  The woman I talked with spoke very good english.  After she did her spiel, she asked the usual question about where I was from.  I told her California.  She said she was from San Francisco.  I told her I was from Berkeley.  I asked her how she happened to be working at the tourist office in Cassis.  She said she had been living in France with her French husband for eleven years.  Too bad there were folks behind me in line because I would have liked to chat some more.  In the afternoon, we went on a 45 minute boat cruise along the coast into three of the calanques.  These are fiord like inlets.  It was a fun, interesting way to see some of the coast.  After we got back, we had a great tapas dinner in the port.

Arles to Cassis (4/27)

This was a travel day.  We left our hotel in Arles and drove to our B&B in Cassis.  We much prefer B&Bs because we are together and generally have a kitchen.

In the morning, we took in a couple of tourist spots in Arles.  The old Roman amphitheater and forum.  Then after lunch, and a little bit of shopping, we drove to Cassis.

Cassis is a charming port with mostly tour boats to the Calanques, small fishing boats, portside restaurants and shops.  We set up in our B&B did a little food shopping and cooked our own dinner.  Very relaxing.

les Baux & St Rémy (4/26)

Here are some more pictures of Arles as we leave for today’s adventures.

Today we went to les Baux.  It’s an old hilltop top town perched on a promontory about 650 feet above the valley.  It is surrounded by rugged cliffs.  One section is said to have inspired Dante’s Inferno.  The limestone is carved by nature and man into dramatic cliffs and caves.  The valley below is filled with olive orchards and vineyards.  The area is rather famous for these.  The area was, for a couple of hundred years,  a center for the mining of bauxite used in the production of aluminum.  That industry is pretty much finished.

The town consists of two parts.  The lower town which is packed with shops, cafés and tourist knickknacks.  Above the town is the castle.  There is a large, over 1 acre, open space at one end and the castle itself at the other end.  The open area was carefully paved over and used as a collection area for  rainwater.  This water was guided into cisterns.  The only other source for water was down in the valley.  It had to be carried up to the castle and was vulnerable to being cutoff by attackers.  This open area is currently used to display siege engines used by medieval attackers to break down castle walls.  Several different kinds of siege engines were displayed.  Several times a day the largest (a trebuchet)  was loaded up and demonstrated.  The process took a good 30 minutes and the “boulder” was lobbed about 100 feet away.  Rather dramatic and very interesting to see it work.  During actual battle, it could be loaded and fired maybe 3 times an hour.  It was surprisingly accurate.

The castle itself was, as always, in partial ruins.  Still you could climb up to the top where the lord and ladies lived.  And get a spectacular view of the valley below.  Sometimes the climb up to the top floors was very steep and difficult.  I imagined that the ladies in their formal gowns seldom left these upper floors because of this difficult climb.  The lower floors housed the kitchens and servant’s quarters.  The guards were also in this area.  An attacking army would have had a difficult time getting past all the defenses to get to the lord.

Check out the wikipedia site   Les Baux

Our next destination was St Rémy with a stop at Glanum.

Glanum is a Roman market town.  It was only recently discovered and is still being excavated.  We didn’t actually go down to the town.  It was getting late.  But we did examine some ruins near the road.  There was a Roman arch which marked the entry into the town.  And a tower which was a memorial to the grandsons of Emperor Augustus Caesar.

Then on to St Rémy.  We arrived there rather late and so most of the tourist sites were closed.  Even the Tourist office was closed.  We wandered around the downtown area for a while.  Pretty standard old town but not particularly touristy.  In other words, it was a city of regular working people.  It was approaching 7pm so we found a marvelous little restaurant to eat at.  And then headed back to Arles.