Yes, it’s that time again and the holiday blog post is here! This year, we went to the south of France for a beautiful blissful seven days and I am mightily fromage-d off to be back in boring old Angleterre, even though the weather here is really rather nice and apparently it’s crapping with rain at the moment in Nîmes (the Tour de France is pedalling wetly there as I write).
This year I’ve gone for mini-slideshows plus day-by-day summary of our activities, just to add some variation to the what-I-did-on-my-holidays essay format. I took something in the region of 250 photographs, but don’t worry, they’re not all featured here – I’ve picked out my favourites for you.
Day 1: Saturday 12th July – Bonjour la France!
Arrival in Avignon at 4.05pm after a two-hour delay on the Eurostar, but I didn’t mind much because this gave me time to finish reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Mr Aunty Muriel (henceforth Dr B) and I took a bus to the car hire place where we collected the Fiat 500 rented for the week and then we drove to the gîte in Pujaut where we met les propriétaires, Jean-Claude and Josiane Chambon. We were hot and tired, and had been on the go since 5am, so it was pizza delivery and then bed.
Day 2: Sunday 13th July – Avignon
Spent the blistering day in Avignon, which was a blast of colour and sound because the Avignon Festival takes place in July. Visited the Pont d’Avignon (of course!), or rather, what’s left of it, and the Palais du Pape.
Day 3: Monday 14th July – Kayaking from Collias to the Pont du Gard
Hired a Kayak Vert and travelled downriver from Collias and underneath the Pont du Gard to the pick-up point a little further on. In the afternoon, we doubled back to visit the Pont du Gard on foot. (Astonishing to think that the Romans built this without using mortar – the blocks are cut so cleanly that they all just fit together and stay there. Incredible.) Then Dr B went for a swim in the river. I didn’t swim, in spite of the heat – far too many skinny young things running about and I couldn’t face the humiliating struggle that is necessary to shoehorn my bum into a swimming cossie, so I carried on reading Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train instead.
Day 4: Tuesday 15th July – les beaux villages: L’Isle sur la Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Gordes and Rousillon
There are some exceptionally beautiful little towns and villages in the south of France and we saw some fantastic sights, starting with the waterwheels at L’Isle sur la Sorgue. We travelled on to Fontaine de Vaucluse where we failed to visit Petrarch’s house, but we did go up the mountain to view the source of the Sorgue. You can walk up to a certain point, but then there’s a sign warning you not to go any further because of falling rocks. Everyone ignored this, including us, and we clambered over the barriers and made our way down over the rocks to get a closer look. It has to be said that the crowd dispersed pretty quickly when a rocky missile from above smashed into a little tree just a few feet away from us. ‘Time to go!’ I said brightly. On the way down, Dr B and I wandered off the beaten track again to climb down to a rockpool where we bathed our toasting feet in the icy water. A tourist from the States told us we were very brave for doing so, but I don’t know. It was probably just stupid. Worth it though, because my feet were boiling hot.
After a couple of beers we made our way to Gordes, one of the hilltop villages referred to as ‘perché’. There are many such villages in this part of the world, and they are all stunning. They were not built to be tourist traps, however, but places of refuge during the religious wars in France. Our final stop for the day was in Rousillon, another village perché, famous for its ochre-coloured buildings. The sunlight was still very strong so my photographs don’t really do justice to the vibrant reds of the place.
Day 5: Wednesday 16th July – Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Beach day! Drove fifty-odd miles to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and by gum it was worth it. The sea was unusually cold for the Mediterranean, but being in the water was lovely once I’d got my breath back from the initial plunge. On the drive home we saw flamingos, for which the collective noun is apparently ‘a flamboyance’. Isn’t that lovely?
Day 6: Thursday 17th July – La Roque sur Cèze, Cornillon, Cascade du Sautadet and Uzès
Today, if you’ll pardon my French, was bastard hot – over thirty degrees and really a little bit too scorchio for weedy English people who are more accustomed to grey skies and light drizzle. However, touristy things had to be done, so we visited another couple of beaux villages and – the most astonishing sight of the day – the beautiful waterfalls at Cascade du Sautadet. There are warning signs everywhere not to swim in the falls (30 people killed there since 1960), but of course the first thing we saw was heaps of peeps happily splashing about, jumping into the water from heights that made me whimper even from my position of safety, other people merrily dumping their tiny children onto lilos and shoving them off into the rapids…it was amazing! Another brilliant example of Ignoring The Warning Sign. I suppose with only 30 deaths in 54 years, those who chose to swim reasoned that the odds were on their side. Even Dr B and I had a bit of a paddle. Josiane later told us that the waters there are especially dangerous when there’s a storm up in the mountains which translates into flash floods further down at the Cascade. If you’re ever in the water there and you spot rainclouds in the distance, il faut sortir de l’eau toute suite, mon brave.
Day 7: Friday 18th July – Mont Ventoux for Dr B and Nîmes pour nous deux
Dr B rose at stupid o’clock because he had this stupid idea to cycle up to the summit of Mont Ventoux, no doubt imagining all the while that he was wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France. At least he had the sense to set off early – he was cycling by 5.30am – because by midday it’s about 40 degrees on Mont Ventoux, as well as being horribly windy (hence the mountain’s name). Tom Simpson died up there in 1967 while trying to finish one of the stages of the Tour de France and he was a lot younger than Dr B. Nevertheless, a text arrived at 8.10am from a victorious Dr B to let me know that he’d done it and that it had been horrible. I, on the other hand, had a lovely morning sitting on the patio with tea, bread and the last few pages of the Highsmith novel.
In the afternoon we went to Nîmes, where we did a walking tour of the old town, bought a new bande dessinée book for me, ate some ice cream in a café, and then drove back to Pujaut before Dr B could fall asleep on his feet.
Day 8: Saturday 19th July – Châteauneuf-du-Pape and retour de l’Angleterre
Well, what can I say? Can’t possibly go to the south of France without picking up une bouteille de my favourite tipple right from its very source. The château in question is just a ruin now, of course, but a very picturesque one, and there were plenty of little wine shops and cafés to keep us from sinking into despondency. We saved that for the Eurostar home. It’s a long journey from Avignon to London – six hours direct – but Dr B was reading the Highsmith and I got most of the way through Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, so it was bearable.
Home by about 11pm and miserably to bed. Ah, la belle France, elle me déjà manque!