Welcome back to the final part three of our Provençal getaway! I think my favorite day of our stay was when we visited the towns of Aigues-Morte and Ste. Marie de la Mer. Both towns were tiny but possessed so much personality and fun energy …
Right outside the walls of Aigues-Morte (the small town, like many others in the area, is fortified) we came across another outdoor market. There was eye-poppingly vibrant produce for sale along with beautiful French linens. I scooped up an embroidered ivory coverlet to take home as well as fragrant spices that made my mouth water …. ohhh, and the macarons … I found that these seemed to be much cakier than others I had tried but I wasn’t complaining!
Lots of heavenly-scented fromage and mountains of olives … yum!
One thing we didn’t have time for was a boat ride through the Camargue marshland. We heard rave reviews from a few friends who had spotted flocks of flamingos as well as beautiful snow-white Camargue horses. Did you know flamingos naturally inhabit the South of France? I didn’t until I started researching the area for our vacation – isn’t that terrific? J&I did spot a few pink flamingos as we made our way to Ste. Marie de la Mer but they were a little too far away for any good photos.
After a long lunch, we made it to Ste. Marie de la Mer … we saw the famous church where (supposedly) Mary Magdalene washed ashore with several other Biblical figures and then we quickly bought our tickets to the French Bullfight at the local arena which is located right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea … the views were tremendous!
The seats slowly filled up and my hubby somehow caught a short siesta before the excitement began. Even though the French bullfights proclaim the bull as the hero of the fight (as there is no killing that takes place like there is in a Spanish-style fight), I still couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for the bulls … that did change a little when one of the gardians/cowboys was gored right in his backside! Ow! We watched him be taken out on a gurney to a parade of three ambulances, poor guy!
Our last day was spent in Avignon. We enjoyed the views from the park above the Palace of the Popes (below) and enjoyed a leisurely lunch followed by some divine lavender-flavored gelato.
Top Tips for visiting Provence:
— If possible, coordinate the days you’re in certain towns with the market schedules. We made it to two markets (Arles and Aigues-Mortes) and I truly enjoyed all the interesting products for sale and the lively banter that goes along with the market scene. Here’s what I would recommend coming home with: Soaps, soaps and more soaps! I also bought a bouquet of freshly dried lavender and wheat – they look lovely and smell even better. Both are a great reminder of our trip. Also pick up some Fleur de Sel (flower of the salt …. it’s as fresh as salt comes and has a great flavor), some olive oil (I chose a Citron-flavoured one) and some local herbs (try Herbs de Provence).
— If you’re at all interested in Van Gogh, definitely include a trip to Saint Rémy to see the sanitarium he stayed at for 15 months. During his stay here, he painted roughly 300 canvases including some of his most famous works.
— When in Rome France … you will find that things are a little different than say, Paris, where restaurants and cafés tend to cater to Americans who like to eat early dinners at say, 6 or 7p … in Provence, make sure you don’t skip lunch or that you have some small snacks on hand because this region sticks to French traditions meaning restaurants typically don’t start serving dinner until around 8p … and dinners can last up to 4 hours so sit back, enjoy an afternoon apertif and indulge in a 5 or 6 course meal.
— When we were in Arles and Aigues-Mortes, I stumbled upon a few little antique shops tucked into what appeared to be residential areas. It was like coming across a diamond in the rough. Antique souvenirs are the best – definitely check them out if you come across any.
Restaurant recommendations in Arles:
— Le Plaza
This restaurant is quietly tucked behind the main square that holds the famed Van Gogh cafe. We had impeccable and perfectly attentive service, delicious courses and a wonderful time. I lost track of how many courses actually came out but here’s a glimpse at a few of our favorites:
— Le Café Le Nuit
I have to recommend going here if you are a fan of Van Gogh, as this was (supposedly) the cafe he famously painted at night.
— Finally, if it’s your dream to see the lavender fields and sunflowers in full bloom, head to the area between July and September. I missed out since we were there in April but I definitely wasn’t disappointed. There was still plenty of beauty!
Photography by Sarah Darcy of Classic Bride blog.