I fell in love with Paris even before I had ever visited the city. In fact, I fell in love with everything French as far back as in my early childhood, when I first heard the language (probably on TV) and watched French movies and travel documentaries about France. It was an instant crush.
For the record: I have always had a passion for languages, - even different accents of my own language have always fascinated me, - and foreign languages are like music to my ears. The French language more than any other.
I first visited Paris in 1984, and it was everything I had dreamed of, and more. Le Tour Eiffel… L'Arc de Triomphe… Les Champs-Elysées… Pont Alexandre… Le Louvre… Montmartre… all the famous places, of course. But most of all it was the sounds, the smell of fresh baguettes from the bakery, the restaurants, the elegance of the French women, in all its simplicity… the green areas…Jardin de Tuileries… La Seine… les bateaux mouche… Notre Dame… Sacre Caeur… le Quartier Latin…
I was lucky enough to be visiting my French friend, who lived with her newly wed husband in a Paris apartment close to La Place d'Etoile. Thus I was able to experience first-hand what it was like to live in one of those wonderful old buildings. The solid wooden door… the concierge downstairs… the spiral staircase… the high ceilings of the apartment and the large windows, opened up to let the summer breeze play with the light curtains…
And the kitchen, facing the backyard, with a large window where the sounds from the neighbors came in and tickled my ears, with their laughing, the sounds of their pots and pans as they were making their dinner in the neighboring flat.. the smell of food… a dog barking… All familiar sounds, but yet so different there… Because the backdrop was different from what I was used to.
And I loved the Paris shops, all the specialized shops: boulangerie, pattisserie, charcutterie … Even going to the local supermarket and buy food was an adventure! What a selection! The Bon Maman jams … the cheese… the sausages… the wine … oh-la-la!
But even going to the big malls, like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, was a more pleasant experience than visiting many other malls I’ve been to. And the Paris life … starting the day with a bowl of café au lait and some croissants with confiture du framboise… Perhaps not the healthiest alternative in the long run, but my God, what a joy!
Lunching out at a restaurant, watching the people walking by and having a nice conversation with friends … flaner sur les quais… listening to someone playing the accordion in the French way … the sound of Edith Piaf on the radio, or some more modern music on Radio Énergie … In 1984 they played “Red, red wine” with UB40 and “Neun-und-neunzig Luftballons..” - and my friend recorded the radio-program for me and I played it again and again when I came back home, and longed back to Paris.
Me in Montmartre (1984)
It took me a while, though, to get back to Paris. I always wanted to go back, but I got married and gave birth to 2 children, and vacations became a family desicion and not something I could decide all on my own. So for quite a few years, family vacations were spent mostly at home, entertaining guests, or somewhere in our own country, most likely in some child friendly environment. On a few occations we also visited friends in England, so we did go abroad at some point, but not as often as I would have preferred.
But then - finally! - in 2009, my (ex) husband suggested that we should all spend a week in Paris, and of course I jumped at the opportunity! We booked a private apartment that was perfectly situated close to the Metro station St. Ambroise, and I just loved it! The location made it easy for us to get around and visit many of the sights, like La Tour Eiffel, L'Arc de Triomphe, Louvre - and many more. Living in an apartment was also like being at home, and so much better than staying in some cramped hotel room. We could prepare our own food when we wanted to, we could get our clothes washed, and we had plenty of room to relax and watch TV or do whatever we liked in the evening after a long day walking around Paris. I promised myself that I would never again stay in a hotel room unless I'm on my own and only need a bed to sleep in, and that's a promise I have kept.
We had a lovely week in Paris as a family, and I loved spending time there with my kids, who were then teenagers. I hope that I will be able to go back there with them as grown-ups, too, because every age has its own preferences and the experience would be different for all of us the next time around, I'm sure. There will always be new things to see and do in Paris. It's a beautiful city, and I just love the athmosphere, the old buildings, the river Seine and the embankments ... les bouqinistes... sitting in a street café watching people passing by ... the museums ... the churches ... the shops ... My great wish is to be able to spend a longer period of time there, and some day I will make it happen.
I also went back to Paris in 2014, with the teenage son of my best friends. He had a wish to go to Paris, and since I had more time on my hands than his working parents at the time, I suggested to take the boy with me and spend a week there. And so we did.
We arrived the night before Bastille Day, and stayed in a private apartment. The landlord had left a lot of food in the fridge for us and also lots of useful information about how to get around easily and where we should go on Bastille Day to get a perfect view to the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. So we followed his instructions and had a spectacular time! And of course we spent the week visiting many of the other most famous sights, since this was my young friend's first visit, and I didn't mind seeing them again. But the next time I will probably spend more time exploring parts of Paris where I haven't been before. I know there are so many passages, small parks, shops, cafés, museums and galleries everywhere, just waiting for me to find them! And I can't wait to tell you all about them!
Back in 2014 I hadn't yet started my travel blog, so I didn't write down a lot about the places I visited or took pictures with a blog in mind. This is something I regret now. So the next time I go, I will be equipped in a better way and more prepared to share my adventure with the public. This time around, I just wanted to share some thoughts on what it is that I love about Paris, and maybe inspire you to go and explore the city on your own.
I will always long back to Paris. I’ve been there twice since that first time in 1984, but hardly often enough. As much as I love the rest of the world and want to see it all: Paris will always have a special place in my heart.
Paris, je t'aime.
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(All pictures are my own.)
In the summer of 2018 I decided to try housesitting for the very first time. I have been a member of House Carers since 2016, so I decided it was about time to try it out. I checked out some of the housesit notifications on the members' page, and ended up with a deal to housesit for a nice woman in Venice who needed someone to look after her Airbnb outlet for a week while she was on holiday in Britain. She had already had an American woman there for one month, but this other woman had to leave earlier than planned, so she needed someone tho housesit for the last week of her holiday.
I was really excited and thought it was a great opportunity, so after having checked flights and found that they matched perfectly, I booked my tickets and flew off to Venice in the middle of August.
I had never been there before, but the house owner sent me a lot of useful information about how to get to her apartment from the airport, and with the help of Google Maps on my cellphone and an exact route description, I had no problem finding it. It took me only 15-20 mintues to walk there from the bus station, and when I reached the front door of the house where the aparment was and rang the bell, I felt a rush of excitement when I heard a cheerful voice on the intercom by the door. It was Sally, the American woman.
She would be leaving the next day, but was waiting for me to arrive so she could show me everything I needed to know in order to take care of the Airbnb outlet in the best possible way.
Sally was nice, the apartment was nice, and I just knew that my week in Venice would be great. Sally showed me the local grocery shop and market, and also left me a very useful street map and guide and gave me some useful tips about some galleries and other interesting venues, along with some practical information about the vaporetto fares etc. In the evening we went to a very cosy restaurant in the neighbourhood, where we had a nice conversation over a delicious lasagna and some dessert, before we decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. Sally had still a few things to pack and would be leaving early in the morning, and I had been up at the crack of dawn and was a bit tired after my journey, so we said goodnight early and went to bed. I slept on the couch in the living-room that first night, since Sally was still occupying the main bedroom, but when she had left the next morning, I could install myself in there with the few belongings I had brought with me. It was a nice room with an ajoining bathroom, so I didn't have to share bathroom with the Airbnb guests, which was nice.
From the hallway in the building where I was housesitting.
It was quite hot in Venice during my week there, but the apartment had air-conditioning, so coming back there after hours in the sun was always pleasant. I found a good rhythm to my days which suited me well.
I basically got up around 9 a.m. and had breakfast, and if there were Airbnb guests leaving in the morning, I cleaned the outlet rooms (one bedroom and a bathroom), changed the bed-sheets and made sure the room looked nice for the next arrivals, before I went out. My host kept me updated on WhatsApp about new guests, when they would be arriving etc, so I could make sure I was at the apartment to welcome them and show them the facilities, give them keys and tell them everything they needed to know about the shutters, the laundry machine, house rules, and so on. Apart from that, my time was my own. During my one week stay, there were only 2 new arrivals to tend to, since the guests all stayed 2 nights on average and there were a couple of days inbetween arrivals. Preparing the room and doing the laundry took maybe one hour of my time each time, so I didn't exactly break a sweat on that job.
All-in-all I have found that housesitting is a great way to see the world. If you want to find out more about it, you can check out my preferred housesitting organization, House Carers, here. (Please note that this is my personal link, so if you sign up for a paid membership with House Carers through my link, I will receive a small commission. This will of course be without any extra cost for you.)
There are several other similar organizations, like Trusted Housesitters and House Sitting World, but my personal experience is with House Carers, and I find it to be a very good and reliable organization to be a part of. That's why I recommend that you join House Carers if you're considering housesitting. You can join as an unpaying member first, and then upgrade at a very low fee if you find that you like it.
Now back to my stay in Venice (please note that this blog post is more about the benefits of housesitting and traveling light than it is a description of Venice as a destination. I'll come back to that later):
I spent the first day exploring the neighborhood. The first thing I did was to shop for groceries so I didn't have to go out for every meal during my stay. That's one of the great things with staying in an apartment instead of a hotel: You can prepare your own meals and save a lot of money on food, - money that you can spend on other things instead. You also have all the facilities you have at home, like a stove, a fridge, laundry machine, etc., - for the same price as a hotel-room. Other benefits: Being able to wash your clothes and hang them out to dry in warm weather makes it possible to pack less clothes, because they dry quickly - actually within a few hours - so you can wear them again the same day, if you want to. That's why, when traveling to Venice, I only brought hand luggage with me on the plane, which also made everything easier at the airport. No extra waiting to get my luggage checked in, and no extra waiting to pick it up on arrival. Traveling with a capsule wardrobe is highly recommended (more on that here ...), and if you don't want to carry with you any clothes at all (!), there's actually a solution for that, too: Renting a capsule wardrobe online and having it delivered at your preferred pick-up place on arrival! Want to find out more about that? Check out Trvl Porter here (this is not an Affiliate link). I haven't tried out their services yet, but it seems like a good idea if you want to travel luggage-free. You can sign up and make a profile with Trvl Porter and they will choose items according to your style preferences and size specifications, and ship them to your destination! How great is that!? I think it's pretty cool!
Like I said earlier: It was quite hot in Venice when I was there (late August), so I soon found out that I preferred to go out early (after the required work with the Airbnb rooms, if I had any that day) and spend a few hours walking around, visiting sights etc., and then head back "home" to have lunch and relax for a while. I spent some time uploading my most recent photos and maybe do some work on my laptop, check my email etc., and then I went out again for a few hours to do some more exploring.
In a way, I felt like I already knew Venice, even though I'd never been there before, because some years back, I had my own business from home, helping people writing, editing and proofreading their manuscripts etc., and one of my customers was writing a book about his many visits to Venice. He described it in great detail, so when I found myself staying in an apartment not far from the Campo di Santa Margaritha, which I had read so much about in his manuscript, and actually doing my grocery shopping in a store close to that square, I almost felt like it was home. And I found great pleasure in looking up some of the other places described in that manuscript, like the Ponte dell'Accademia (which was under restoration while I was in Venice).
There are many campos and churches in Venice, as well as galleries, museums and palaces, - so many historic buildings to be seen and photgraphed, so many narrow streets and pictoresque bridges across the canal ... plenty of interesting sights for everyone, really. It's a beautiful and unique city with lots of history and culture and romance about it, and I just loved it! But I do understand why more and more of the young people of Venice are moving out of there, as can be seen from recent statistics. Because living in Venice, especially if you're young and want to raise a family, can be a real challenge. Part of the reason is that there are so many restrictions when it comes to housing, or more precisely what you can do to a building, like modernizing it to meet the standards and needs of a modern, young family, - but also the many steps you have to climb around the city, wherever you want to go to take care of your daily errands etc. (there are more than 400 bridges). They're not really suited for young parents with babies in a tram.
But the tourist boom is probably the biggest challenge of all. It's been estimated that close to 30 million tourists visit Venice each year, and the combination of high prices resulting from this tourist boom, along with the logistics of the city and erosion from the water surrounding it, have taken its toll on the permanent Venetian residents and resulted in a decrease in their number.
There are 5-6 large cruise ships passing through the city of Venice every day, and they bring with them pollution and damage to the lagoon on which Venice sits. The city also frequently floods, and the flooding season, or "aqua alta" - a period of particularly high tides in the Adriatic Sea - runs from autumn to spring in Venice. The city has taken measures to regulate the number of tourists, but this has not helped much so far.
I'm glad I've been able to see Venice, and I was actually quite lucky when I was there, because I didn't find it over-crowded with tourists at the time and I didn't notice the "bad smell" that many have been talking about lately (due to pollution or bad sewage). So all-in-all, my housesitting opportunity came at the perfect time for me, and my memory of Venice is a good one. If you're thinking of going there some time, - if Venice is on your bucket list, - I suggest you do it sooner rather than later, - before the city is reduced to a "theme park" of historic buildings and tourist shops, with no permanent residents left to give the city it's authentic charm.
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Cavaillon is a mid-sized Provençal town in idyllic countryside, situated in the Departement du Vaucluse, on an eastern spur of the Luberon Range. It’s strategically placed at the crossways of several roads, 22 km from Avignon and 54 km from Aix en Provence.
In my previous blog post, I told you how I accidentally came across this town and fell in love with it when I was on a road-trip in Provence in 2014, and I gave you my Reason #1 for why this is so, namely Colline Saint-Jacques.
If you haven’t already had a chance to read about that, I suggest that you do. But right now, I want to tell you a few more facts about Cavaillon and give you the 7 other reasons why I fell in love with this town and why you might, too.
First of all: The town is perfect to spend a day in before you push out into the Luberon to be wowed by all its river gorges, lavender fields, ochre quarries and perched villages.
As I mentioned to begin with, my
Reason # 1 for loving this town is the green
St. Jacques's Hill – or Colline Saint-Jacques
View from Colline St. Jacques
- which lies in the heart of the city and allows you to have a «walk in the country» only two steps away from the cafè terraces and shopping area. From the top there's a magnificent view of the town itself, and it continues all the way to the plains of Apt, the Luberon, and the Alpilles.
Read all about my walk up this hill in How I accidentally fell in love with Cavaillon, and 8 reasons why you might, too.
Reason # 2) Hôtel du Parc
Picture from the Hôtel du Parc's website
The second reason I personally fell in love with Cavaillon, is the Hôtel du Parc. It had such an inviting and homely feel to it, and the staff was very friendly and service-minded. As far as I can tell from their website, the hotel has been re-decorated since I was there, but it still looks wonderfully charming! In fact: I can’t wait to go back!
I will never forget my breakfast in this hotel. It was served in a beautiful breakfast room, and it was delicious! The food was presented in a very delicate and inviting way: Fresh croissants, fresh bread, delicious butter, a variety of cheeses and sausages… And everyone could boil their own eggs to their own liking. In short: it was a simply marvellous breakfast!
The room itself was beautiful. It had high ceilings, a tiled floor, and a perfect view to the old staircase that lead up to the rooms, and where the railing was a combination of wrought-iron and dark wood.
The room also had typical provençal colors, with details in sunny yellow and light blue, and there were huge windows which offered a perfect view to the terrasse outside. The terrasse was full of green plants and had a fountain that gave a calming sound of running water. There were also a few benches and some simple café tables with chairs, so it was perfectly possible to have breakfast out there, too.
What a perfect athmosphere for a breakfast!
My room in Hôtel du Parc was delightful, with air-conditioning and a very comfortable bed, so I slept like a baby all night. And the bathroom was very clean and inviting. I felt really lucky to have found this great place to stay at such a reasonable price. The fact that they had a safe and free parking space for my rental car, was also a big plus.
I highly recommend that you stay in this hotel if you ever go to Cavaillon.
Reason # 3) Melons and Fête du Mèlon
Photo by Cup of Couple from Pexels
The fertile soils around Cavaillon nourish all kinds of fresh fruit, like the lauded Cavaillon melon. This is actually how most people in France know the name of the town, and there’s even a festival in July to honour this delicious fruit. Cavaillon is actually considered the King of the melon market.
In addition to growing melons, there’s a surplus of cherries, pears and apples in summer. But it’s the melons that have put Cavaillon on the map. According to www.thecrazytourist.com, this cantaloupe came from Africa via Italy in the middle ages, and is in season from June to September.
If you visit the market in Cavaillon to buy melons, the merchants will show you how to pick the best ones. The most important is the weight: the heavier it is, the sweeter and juicier. It's supposed to be eaten the same day, and the stem must be cracked and ready to fall off.
Of course, melon appears in dishes at local restaurants when the melon is in season. You’ll find it as a starter with cured Bayonne ham, in salads, in tarts for desserts, and even as gazpacho (cold vegetable soup).
The melon festival I mentioned earlier, Fête du Mèlon, takes place on the second weekend of July every year. It only started 5 years ago, so it wasn’t on when I first came to Cavaillon in 2014, but I'll definitly try to get back to experience the festival some time in the not too distant future.
From what I’ve learned, there’s a market on both the Saturday and Sunday morning during the festival, inviting producers and artisans from around the region, as well as dozens of the best melon growers from the area.
As the Saturday progresses, things get livelier: There’s a melon-themed parade and cooking contests, and most of the bars in town set up stalls at an open-air bodega. There’s also live music until the early hours.
However, the most memorable moment happens at 22:00 when 100 white Camargue horses are released to run through the city streets. Being a horse-lover myself, I’d sure like to watch this some time! It must be a spectacular sight!
I actually met some horses while I was exploring the area, as you can see below.
But Cavaillon has more attractions to boast of, like …
Reason # 4) The Roman Arch
The Roman Arch on Place du Clos
According to www.thecrazytourist.com, nobody is too sure what this Roman arch on Place du Clos was built for. What they do know, is that it wasn’t always at this location. It was moved here piece by piece in the 19th century, and before that it had been integrated into Cavaillon’s episcopal palace. The palace was sold off and destroyed after the Revolution, so maybe the arch is what’s left of it and was therefor preserved. I don’t know.
Whatever its purpose, the arch is definitly something to inspect up close so you can get a good look at the rich carving that covers almost every surface. There are beautiful rosettes and acanthus leaves, and you can also make out the faint outline of a winged deity.
The Roman Arch was one of the first things I noticed in Cavaillon, since it’s placed in the vicinity of the parking area where I first landed, on Place du Clos.
Reason # 5) Lavender
A cornerstone of Provence’s identity is definitly lavender, which also grows near Cavaillon.
The time to come and see this beautiful spectacle is around July when the colors are at their boldest, just before the lavender is harvested at the beginning of August.
The Musée de la Lavande is also in the vicinity of Cavaillon, in Coustellet, which is 9,5 km away. I went there, and it's well worth a visit. In addition to the museum itself, there's also a shop where you can buy products made from or with lavender.
Reason # 6) Via Ferrata de Cavaillon
As you can see from the picture above, you can reach the Via Ferrata de Cavaillon by the same path that leads up the Colline Saint-Jacques, or to be more precise: The starting point is Colline Saint-Jacques.
I haven't yet tried this out, as I'm a little bit scared of heights, but I'm considering if for my next visit to Cavaillon. Even though it's a little bit outside of my comfort-zone, I think the fact that this is a possibility, is a reason to love Cavaillon. It's definitly one of the reasons why I do.
I grew up in Åndalsnes, Norway, which is a town with a rich mountaineering history, and which has another Via Ferrata and plenty of other mountain adventure possibilites at close reach. If you want to know more about that, I've written about it in another blog post. My background is probably why I love everything related to mountaineering. Discovering that there's a Via Ferrata in Cavaillon, made me feel even more at home there.
If you’re new to Via Ferratas, they’re horizontal climbing courses attached to a cliff-face. You follow the route via rope bridges, ladders, monkey bridges, Tibetan bridges, gangways and beams.
There are two courses in Cavaillon: Via Natura and Via Souterrata. The first one is family friendly and carries you along the cliff-face. The other one, the Via Souterrata, is more challenging and guides you into the Colline Saint-Jacques’ cave network.
If you like adventures like this, you'll love Cavaillon, for sure!
Reason # 7) Plenty of leisure activities
Via Ferrata Cavaillon picture by Simon Bié
Cavaillon is a great place to stay for so many reasons, but especially if you want to have a variety of activities to choose from.
Here’s a list of leisure activities that you can choose from in Cavaillon:
Monday morning market
Cycling / mountain biking
Climbing (with the Via Ferrata de Cavaillon as a great option)
A variety of summer events (the Fête du Melon is just one of them)
If you’re in decent shape you can see what Provence is all about on the “Luberon à Vélo” cycle trail. It slices through the Luberon Massif, all the way from Cavaillon to Forcalquier, more than 100 kilometres away.
This obviously isn’t for everyone, but you can ride sections of the route, or go halfway, which means to the town of Apt, and never have to deal with a main road.
Whatever you choose, you’ll ride through the Provence of movies and paintings, with its garrigue scrubs, cedar forests, limestone gorges, ochre ridges, olive groves and - of course - lovable perched villages where you can stop for meals and breaks.
When I think of all the great things to explore in Cavaillon, I know for sure that I need to go back before too long. I love markets, good food, horses, tennis, checking out old buildings and museums, and of course learning more about the history and culture of a place, - and Cavaillon has all of this.
Beside the above mentioned reasons why I've come to love Cavaillon, I know there are even more I could include here. But I’m sure you’ll find your own reasons if you go there, because there are plenty of more things to see, buildings to visit, and so on, - like Le Musée Archéologique de l’Hôtel Dieu and l’Hôtel d’Agar, just to mention a few.
The last (but not the least) reason why I love Cavaillon, is ...
Reason # 8) It's a perfect starting point for exploring the area
Since Cavaillon is situated strategically at the crossways of several roads, it’s easy to get to other places in Provence from here. For instance, you can make day visits either to the Alpilles or the Luberon.
In the Luberon, there’s the regional nature reserve to see, and plenty of beautiful villages to admire.
The Alpilles conveys an image of the deepest Provence, the authentic Provence, with its style and refinement. This is the Provence of St Rémy de Provence and Les Baux de Provence. This is the land of the authors Alphonse Daudet and Frédéric Mistral, and also the land of Van Gogh, who lived in St Rémy and who was inspired by its light, its sunflowers and its famous cypress trees.
L’Office du Tourisme in Cavaillon can provide you with information on different excursions with themes such as «The Ochers of Roussillon», «The Lavender of Lagarde d'Apt», or «The stained glass windows of Gordes», just to mention a few of the opportunities.
Apt en Provence
Adorable hilltop villages
Provence wouldn't be the same without its adorable hilltop villages, and there are dozens of them within reach of Cavaillon, so it's definitly a perfect place to stay if you want to explore Provence.
Well-known towns can easily be reached from here. Avignon is 22 km away, l'Isle-sur-le-Sorgue 8 km, Aix en Provence 54 km, St Rèmy de Provence 20 km, Ménerbes 15 km, - just to mention a few.
Ménerbes is rated as one of the most beautiful villages, not just in this region but all of France. The village is no more than a few streets and alleys crammed onto a narrow hilltop, but the stone architecture is wonderfully rustic and there are traces of a citadel from the 1500s.
Marcel Pagnol is one of the many authors who have written about Provence, and Mènerbes is often mentioned in his work. The village is also known because Pablo Picasso had a house here.
Gorges de Régalon
Literally at Cavaillon's doorstep is also the Gorges de Régalon, which is only 10 kilometres away. This is an otherworldly canyon hidden in the rocky garrigue countryside.
The gorge has sheer walls of limestone, and these walls taper so much that they block out the sunlight. You’ll even have to squeeze through in places.
In other places, falling rocks have been suspended by the walls a few feet above the canyon floor to create archways.
The canyon is a humbling natural sight, but be aware: It can be dangerous to explore this area during or after heavy rainfall. That’s why it normally closes during sustained periods of bad weather.
If you want to know more about this beautiful place and find practical information about hiking there, I recommend that you read Carolyne Kauser-Abbott’s blog post about her experiences with it. It’s very informative.
And this is just the beginning
Enough said for now! You just KNOW that you need to go to Provence some day, don’t you? Because what I’ve covered here is just the beginning. Provence is so rich with culture and history, good food, beatiful villages, activitites for everyone, whether you're travelling alone or with family or friends - that I don't think I'll ever be done exploring or writing about it.
That's why you'll definitly find more about Provence in future blog posts from me, so stay tuned if that's something you'd love to read more about!
And as for Cavaillon: This town has firmly rooted itself in my heart, and I'll definitly be going back there, - sooner, rather than later. Who knows... Maybe you'll beat me to it? If so, I'd love to hear about YOUR experiences!
If you want to find out more about this great town and the Lubéron, you should definitely visit https://www.luberoncoeurdeprovence.com/decouvrir/villes-et-villages/cavaillon
For now, I'll just say ...
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I’ve been in love with France, and especially Provence, for as long as I can remember. But it took me some time to actually get to Provence. It was just a dream, or a longing, for many years. I went to Paris, Bordeaux, Agen … but not to Provence.
Without realizing it, I actually heard about Cavaillon way back in the 1990’s, when I was watching the BBC TV-series «A Year In Provence», based on the wonderful book by Peter Mayle. But since Cavaillon was not the main focus of the series, I didn’t really pay attention to the name of that village.
That’s how, when I went on my first road-trip to Provence in August 2014, my only plan was to start in Nice, rent a car and explore Provence. I had a few places on my bucket list, though, like Aix-en-Provence, l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, and Avignon.
I didn’t book any accommodation beforehand, except for the first night. I just wanted to «go where my inner compass told me to», if you see what I mean. I only had one clear rule for the trip: Stay away from the motorways as much as possible.
Following the back-roads
Being on my own and therefor the only driver of the car, it was important to me to be able to stop where and when I wanted, and that’s just not possible on the motorways. I wanted to see as much of Provence as I could,, and not just have to keep my eyes on the road all the time (which you should, at a speed of at least 100 kilometres an hour).
So I went on the back-roads, which was a much more pleasant experience. The only stretch I traveled on the motorway was when I started out from Nice Airport, heading towards Aix, because it was simply the easiest way to get out of the busy traffic in Nice.
Besides, Aix-en-Provence was my first goal, and the only place where I had booked a hotel-room. So I wanted to get there at a decent hour in the afternoon and have plenty of time to explore the town in the evening.
I’ll tell you more about Aix and other places I visited in Provence in future blog posts. I just mention it here because it was the first destination on my road-trip, like it is for so many others who visit Provence. There are good reasons for that, of course, and I’m guessing you’ve heard them all, but I’ll come back to it all the same.
What I’ve experienced, though, is that very often, when we have high expectations for some thing or some place, we end up feeling disappointed. Or maybe we don’t even reach the destination we had in mind, and then we’re sad because we missed it. However, it’s what you least expect or plan for, that often turns out to give you the greatest pleasure.
Little did I know that this was exactly what the days ahead had in store for me.
Following my bucket list
Like I mentioned at the beginning, l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue was also one of the places on my bucket list for the trip, and so was Avignon. As it turned out, however, I didn’t really get to explore any of those places. Why? For a very stupid, but nevertheless real reason: I simply couldnt’ find any available parking space!
Let me explain:
This was at the beginning of August, and «all of France» was on holiday. Or at least so it seemed! Add all the foreign tourists to the equation, and I’m sure you get the picture… That’s right: Chaos! At least in the typical tourist spots, like l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where there’s not much space to begin with.
So after I’d been to Aix and arrived in l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue around noon on a sunny August day, the small village was packed with tourists. I mean, it was crowded! I searched and I searched, but I just couldn’t find anywhere to park my car. That’s why, after a while with no luck, I said to myself: «I’ll just drive on a little bit further, and then I’ll come back here later…» And so I did.
After a little while, I saw a road sign that said Cavaillon. Since it was in a convenient place to drive off of the main road and make a turn, I drove into the town … and then I drove out again, without checking it out. I knew I’d heard the name before, but couldn’t find any particular reason to explore it any further…
Now, you might say: «Wait a minute! You say you love Cavaillon, but you never actually went there!?»
Bear with me for a moment. I’m getting there…!
For some reason, I couldn’t find my way back out at first … In fact, I had to drive around for quite a little while before I found the sign that pointed me back to the main road, and I almost felt like Cavaillon wouldn’t let go of me…! I actually ended up in the same place in the middle of the town 2 times before I was able to find my way out. And when I finally did find the right way, it was actually quite easy, and I couldn’t understand how I’d completely overlooked it earlier!
Determination is key, they say
In the end, I was back on the road towards l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
I didn’t want to give up on that place quite yet, as I’d heard so much about it. So I wanted to go back there as soon as possible and give it another try. I thought to myself: «Surely, some cars must have moved by now…?»
Well, they hadn’t. Not one inch, so it seemed.
So I thought «OK, I’ll just skip it for now and go straight to Avignon instead.» After all, Avignon was only about 22 kilometers away, so I thought this was a great solution, and merrily I went on my way.
Avignon, however, turned out to be just as packed with cars as l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, if not more. And since I’d never been there before, I didn’t really know where I was going, so I just had to follow the signs and see if I could find a parking area somewhere.
Voilà! Big fat «P» sign and an arrow showing the direction! My hope rose again, and I followed a long line of other cars who were heading in the same direction, through a narrow arch-way, into some old castle grounds, so it seemed … or was it a village in the middle of the city? I couldn’t tell.
We all went further and further in, and the buildings were suddenly towering over us on each side of the street, which had now become significanctly narrower than where we came in… Turning around was completely impossible at this point.
And then everything stopped. No one could move. The first car had reached a dead end, and when the driver tried to back out, he was trapped. The «jungle telegraph» would have taken forever to reach the car in the back and make everybody realize there was no possibility of getting any further, so I started to look for some other option to get out of there.
All come to those who wait
I was lucky! Some locals (or so I reckoned) was just passing my car on foot, so I boldly called out through my car window and asked (yes, in French!) if they knew of any way out of this trap, other than backing out. And then one of them showed me the solution:
Right where I was standing (Dieu, merci!) – and where they were heading – was a pedestrian passage through to the road outside these «castle walls», and the sidewalk was just wide enough for my car to drive through! I was lucky enough to have a fairly small rental car, - which turned out to be a blessing in this situation.
Although it was a not-quite-acceptable manouver, I decided to take my chance and go for it. I only hoped that there was no gendarme nearby who would give me a fine or put me in jail …!
Well, there wasn’t, and I managed to wiggle my car out of the line and got both myself and the car safely back out on the D973, without as much as a scratch. I must admit that I gave a sigh of relief…!
Heading back to l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
However, the experience didn’t exactly encourage me to try and find another parking area. It was a hot day, and the traffic in Avignon was rather heavy, so I decided to leave it behind and try l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue again instead.
About 25 minutes later, I was back in the famous village, only to find that the parking situation had not changed at all.
This was a huge disappointment. I’d been looking so much forward to visiting this beautiful village, known for its numerous antique dealers and second hand shops, beautiful mansions that have been converted into art galleries and museums, and of course the fairs that take place from Easter and over the August 15th holiday.… But it obviously wasn’t meant to be. Not this time, anyway.
However, I’m a person who always tries to see something positive in a situation, so after a few minutes of disappointment, I shook it off and told myself that now I simply had a very good reason to go back to Provence in the not too distant future. And then I’d come back at a less busy time, I thought, like early spring…
This lifted my spirit significantly, and I decided to drive a little further along to find somewhere to stay for the night, since I didn’t want to wait until too late in the afternoon before I booked myself into a hotel or some other accommodation. I had no plan, though, - just decided to see where the road would take me….
All roads lead to Cavaillon
And there it was again: The road-sign that said Cavaillon.
Was it a sign from above?
As soon as I saw it, I got a strange feeling inside. This was the third time that day that Cavaillon sort of called me back! It was the strangest thing…! Was it a sign from above?
«Well … All good things are three…», I said to myself, and it was with a feeling of both curiosity and anticipation that I entered the town for the third time.
And now the road was familiar. I drove straight back to the same spot where I had been twice already: A huge parking area right in the middle of the town. And lo’ and behold: There were plenty of FREE parking spaces available!
I could hardly believe it! I checked for parking meters, but couldn’t find any. Nor did I see any signs that said «No parking» or «Interdit» or showed any restrictions whatsoever.
I just had to laugh! Cavaillon was where I was supposed to stop, for sure! So I parked happily and went out of the car. It was wonderful to be able to stretch my legs at last, after several hours in the heat, just driving around to find a parking space!
On my left hand side, just a few meters away, I saw a big but charming building with Hôtel du Parc written on it (https://www.france-voyage.com/hotels-guide/hotel-cavaillon-57459.htm ), and right in front of me, at the end of the parking area, at the foot of a hill, was the Office du Tourisme.
Picture from Hotel du Parc's webite
I decided to go to the hotel first and find out if they had any available rooms for the night, since I would have to drive on and find something else if they didn’t, - and then – if I had any luck - I’d head for the tourist information office after that, before they would close for the day. (I checked the sign on the door, to be sure, and noticed that there was still time.)
I went into the hotel. It had such a welcoming athmosphere, and as I entered the reception area, a woman came out from a room nearby and greeted me with a smile: «Bon après-midi, Madame! Bienvenue au Hôtel du Parc!»
I greeted her back, and asked in my humble French if she had any rooms available for the night, and I was lucky. A few minutes later, I’d been handed the key to room #62 and was on my way up the stairs.
I can’t really describe how I felt, but I suddenly had a feeling of coming home… And when I opened the door to my room, my feelings just overwhelmed me! I felt something burst in my heart, and the tears started running down my cheek.
My room at Hôtel du Parc
This was meant to be. I was sure of it! I felt now that my inner guide had been trying to tell me all day that Cavaillon was where I should stop, - not l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or Avignon. But I’d been so determined to see those places that I’d pressed on to make it happen… only to be disappointed.
And here I was, in this beautiful and homely hotel in Cavaillon … and now I couldn’t wait to explore the town! Would I find it just as charming as the hotel?
I decided to go to the Office du Tourisme to get some leaflets and possibly a map of the town, and then find somewhere I could get a meal. Because by now I was starving! As I went into the tourist office, I noticed some old stone steps to the right of the building, and a path that seemed to lead up the hill. I decided right a way that I’d take a closer look at it later.
As I checked the town map, I found out that the place where I was standing, right outside the Office du Tourisme, was Place du Clos, and the pathway that I’d noticed would lead me up the Colline Saint-Jacques (or Saint-Jacques Hill), - should I be so bold as to try it on.
It looked a bit steep for a woman in my condition (I wasn’t at my peak back then…), but I decided to go for it. But first: Food!
Just a few blocks from the hotel, I found a nice restaurant with an eating area outside. I think it was called Chez mon oncle, but I can’t remember 100 %. Anyways, it looked inviting, so I sat down at one of the tables outside. It didn’t take long before a waiter came with a menu, and shortly after, a delicious meal was presented to me.
I felt like I’d arrived in heaven, for sure! It had been a long day, with a few disappointments and also quite a bit of stress before I got out of the «castle grounds» in Avignon, - but all I could feel now was gratitude. Gratitude for having been guided to this calm oasis, this tranquille town in the Lubéron district, where there didn’t seem to be many tourists at all, but plenty of free parking!
After my delicious meal and a coffee to follow it, I took a stroll along the nearest streets, before I went back to the hotel to rest for a little while and ask where I could park the car overnight. It turned out that they had a garage under the hotel, with free and safe parking for guests, so I moved the car there and brought my suitcase up to the room.
It was still early in the afternoon, so after a good rest and enough time to digest the meal I’d had, I decided to climb Colline Saint-Jacques.
It turned out to be a very good decision. Actually, it’s one of the 10 good reasons I fell in love with Cavaillon and why I believe you might, too. So let me put that down as my ……
Reason # 1) Colline Saint-Jacques
The hill is a detached outcrop of the Lubéron Massif to the west of the town. Generations of Cavaillon’s citizens have made this walk to visit the small chapel on top of it, Chapelle Saint-Jacques. It’s been there for at least 1,000 years.
You get a beautiful view of Cavaillon on your way up the steep slopes of the hill, and there are beautiful plants to enjoy along the path.
The first steps on my way to Colline St. Jacques
If you get tired, there are a few benches where you can rest for a while and enjoy the view.
When you get to the top, there’s an adorable little garden, and also an orientation table which points out the various landmarks in the plain below and Petit Lubéron to the east.
Some pictures of the Orientation table at Colline St. Jacques
I enjoyed very much walking up this hill. It was so peaceful up there, and the view was absolutely amazing! I could hear the distant sounds from the village below, - one was a young man singing and playing the guitar; another sound was from a group of people laughing and obviously enjoying each other’s company… and then there was a barking dog … All familiar sounds that made me feel very much at home and happy and grateful for being in this beautiful, tranquil place.
I walked around on Colline Saint-Jacques for a little while, and discovered that beside the chapel there were also other estates up there, estates where people lived. And I said to myself: «What a great place to live!»
A sign on a wall made me smile … it seemed so typically provençal!
View from Colline St. Jacques
I eventually decided it was time to go back down, as the sun was going down and I thought I'd better go down before it got dark. I took my time on the way down, as it was quite steep. I was sad to leave that place, but I decided there and then that I would definitly come back some day…
I knew now that I had fallen in love with this town. It felt inviting, homely and peaceful, and there were obviously very interesting things to see and do. It was my very first evening in Cavaillon, and I knew already that I simply couldn’t leave the next day. I had to stay at least one more night, so I could see more of what this town had to offer, before heading off to explore more of Provence.
In my next blog post – which will be Part Two of this article about Cavaillon and released in a few days – I will give you 10 More Good Reasons Why I Fell In Love With Cavaillon And Why You Might, Too.
I hope you’ll come back for more!
Stay tuned, and I’ll see you soon!