France Apt 2000.10.17 - 10.23

In and Around Apt

We looked forward to returning to France since our departure from Paris on July 1. Having read Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence and Encore Provence, we pictured ourselves in rustic Provence surrounded by fields of lavender and grape vines, superb cuisine, hiking trails, and quaint villages of ancient beige stone houses. We had 2 ways to reach Provence from Munich: air to Marseille or Nice, or train. The train ticket was considerably cheaper; the travel time was 2 days. The air ticket from a last-minute ticket broker was about US$50 more than the train. Considering the cost of an overnight stop along the train route, the overall cost was nearly equivalent. We flew to Marseille.

We intended to be in southern France for 5-8 weeks, primarily staying at Bed & Breakfasts in quiet, remote towns recommended by friends, Peter Mayle, and Lonely Planet. Public transport would probably be limited. We rented a car through AutoEurope, the best deal in Europe for Americans and Canadians.

We drove away from the Marseille Airport in our Renault rental heading for Aix-en-Provence, a place chosen in advance from Munich because the name sounded interesting. Our B&B south of Aix-en-Provence was super; unfortunately, the city we came to visit wasn't. A day in Aix was time better spend elsewhere. We headed for Apt, a small town highly recommended by Masami's friend and mentioned in Peter Mayle's Encore Provence. In Apt, we felt that we had finally reached the Provence we were longing for.

Pretending to be Peter, we hopped through tiny towns perched on minor peaks and resting in vineyard covered valleys. With Peter's recommendations in hand, we experienced the market in Apt, bought baguettes at the boulangerie in Rustrel, peaked in the windows of the B&B in Saignon, strolled the narrow sandstone streets of Gordes, learned about lavender essential oil production in Coustellet, and watched the elderly men play boules every lazy afternoon. Everywhere we went, the locals, including the children, greeted us in passing, "Bonjour, Monsieur-Dame," with a gentle smile. We felt welcome, relaxed, and happy. We could be truly happy living in a small Provençal town.

The Apt market is a huge affair every Saturday. The center road is closed to traffic and stands selling everything from olives to cheese to pilaf to clothes to wine to baskets line every street in central Apt.
Wes buys an arm-full of baguettes at the (only) Rustrel boulangerie.
A short 20 minute walk from the center of Rustrel brings one to Le Colorado. Ochre (a blend of sand and clay modified by iron oxides) of white, yellow, and red give Provence its earth-tone colors.
Perched atop a small peak, the town of Gordes overlooks the Vaucluse Valley. Narrow winding streets and numerous small art galleries are a walkers delight.

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