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Doug Phillips

100+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
The Pyrenees and the Luberon, Sept. 22 – Oct. 8, 2022 - Part 1: Martigues to Minerve

Why we were there:

The genesis of this trip was the Slow Europe Contest in 2019. My name was drawn 6th. I held my breath as the Italian options disappeared. I was able to select a ½ price week in Kathy Wood’s wonderful rental in Bonnieux in the Luberon region of France – my #1 pick in any contest. We had visited the region 3 times previously, but not for more than a decade. We invited our younger son & our daughter-in-law to join us for the week in Bonnieux, after they spent a week in Dublin. Then Covid hit. Three years later we were able to claim our prize. Kathy Wood was more than understanding, as I had to cancel our booking at least twice.

Before our week in the Luberon, I decided to spend a week over in the Pyrenees, based in a small house in Lagrasse for 6 nights, with one night a couple of hours south in the town of Prades.

Also, on arrival in Marseille, I had booked 2 nights in a hotel in Martigues, a seaside community under an hour from the Marseille Airport.

So, Martigues, Lagrasse, Prades, Bonnieux. Some plans change.

Planning:
Since I was quite familiar with the Luberon region from previous visits, most of my research involved the Pyrenees portion of our trip. I was most intrigued by the Cathar connection to this part of the world. My knowledge of the Cathars was both slight and wrong.

The most engaging source about the Cathars was a work of fiction – Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Another source was Montsegur and the Mystery of the Cathars by Jean Markle. I found this a bit of a slog, possibly because it has been translated from the original French.

I can recommend two books by the British writer, Rosemary Bailey. Life in a Postcard: Escape to the French Pyrenees is a memoir of the partial restoration of a monastery near the village of Mosset. Love and War in the Pyrenees: A Story of Courage, Fear and Hope, 1939-1944 is a sad history of a very difficult time in this part of the world. Being there makes the story much more real.

And, of course, there is a guide book. The Rough Guide to Languedoc & Roussillon is excellent.

Flights:
Air Canada from Ottawa to Marseille & Lufthansa on return, with connecting flights from Montreal both ways, and Brussels on the way over, Munich on the return. Brussels & Munich airports were a challenge.

Accommodations:
The biggest decisions were where to stay, for how long and in what accommodations. Below are the results after much consideration.

Martigues - 2 nights – Hotel Le 5 – modest hotel in a great location. The friendly, young owner lives in the hotel. Park your car in the hotel lot, walk everywhere; OK breakfast; very reasonable cost. Recommended
Lagrasse- 7 nights – I booked a week in a small house in the village, planning to spend one night away, in Prades. We stayed 2 nights in Prades & left a day early to go to Arles. We paid for 7 nights, stayed 4.
Prades- 2 nights –Best Western Le Vauban – Well, we liked this hotel a lot! Recommended
Arles – 1 night - Best Western Hotel Atrium – tourist/tour bus hotel in a great location.
Bonnieux-7 nights – Bonheur in Bonnieux – Kathy Wood’s lovely apartment in the middle of Bonnieux. Superior accommodation.

Car Rental:
We rented a Lynk & CO SUV from Europcar. It was an excellent, if not economical, option
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Times & Places

Arrival - Days 1-2

Martigues
is a lively seaside town of bridges and water and one-way streets – lots of vehicles and boats! Less than an hour from the airport in Marseille. Two nights in Martigues. We parked our rental at the hotel & walked around – just what I want to do after hours in the air and airports. Pedestrianized central area, many dining options. The restaurant recommendation from the hotel owner was very good – so nice we went there twice! Historical section, shops, pharmacy, cafes, a beach, relaxing stay. Maybe worth a day trip if you are in the area. I liked Martigues.
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Pyrenees - Days 3-8

Aigues Mortes
(Dead Waters) is a walled-town in the Camargue, founded by the French king known as Saint Louis (as in Missouri), the starting point of 2 Crusades – including the disastrous, insane Children’s Crusade. The area was an early casualty of rising waters – two products of the region are sea salt and rice. The town has some charms and a lot of commerce. Aigues Mortes is a very popular day-trip from regions near and far. An intriguing name and history, glad we visited for a few hours on our way to the Pyrenees.
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Lagrasse is a town in the Pyrenees. Highly regarded by some, I think we missed the best of the community – late in the season, poor weather, not much to do, dissatisfied with our accommodations. BUT it has a great history, including a large, impressive abbey that was a very powerful political centre in the south of France/northern Spain for centuries AND proximity to the walled city of Carcassonne. Maybe a base for a few, i.e. 3-4. days, but no more, in my opinion.
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Carcassonne, the tourist magnet in the Languedoc, less than an hour from Lagrasse, is a famously well-preserved medieval walled town on a hill, dominating the surrounding area. The modern town, down the hill & over the Aude River, is a couple of kilometres walk away – a pleasant walk to the walled town, but uphill for the last bit. Carcassonne is a bustling centre of commerce – a place to have a good lunch & shop for … whatever. And busy. Not quite what I was expecting, still a rewarding experience. Recommended.
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Minerve, an hour+ north of Lagrasse on narrow, winding roads, occupies a dramatic setting on top of the gorge of the River Cesse. It is one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”. Minerve was a Cathar stronghold, destroyed by a Christian force under Simon de Montfort in 1210. Unique. Minerve is a remarkable place to visit. Our best day in the area!
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Great photos, thanks for the show and description.
I see that they grow rice in the Camargue. It seems that there was a wild red variety that crossed with the white one.
 
Great photos, thanks for the show and description.
I see that they grow rice in the Camargue. It seems that there was a wild red variety that crossed with the white one.
The Camargue is a very low-lying area, likely very good conditions to plant rice.
 
The Pyrenees and the Luberon, Sept. 22 – Oct. 8, 2022 - Part 2 Prades & Arles

Prades was a base for 2 days in the Pyrenees close to the border with Spain. Our time in Arles was unplanned – we left our rental in Lagrasse a day early.

Prades (like the handbags) almost 2 hours south of Lagrasse, close to the Catalan region of Spain, is a modern, busy town along the Tet River. Prades is best known for its summer music festival, inspired by the life of cellist Pablo Casals, who lived in Prades in exile from fascist Franco Spain for several years. A large weekly market, an attractive main square, many dining options, very good accommodations, close proximity to a number of interesting communities. I had only planned to spend one night in Prades – we upped it to two. Prades is a good option as a base for few days at least. I think we could have explored the area a bit longer. Nice place to stay.

From our base in Prades we visited 4 of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” over 2 days. They were:

Evol is a small hamlet on a outcropping in the Pyrenees, surrounded by higher mountains, about a 20-minute drive from Prades.
The main historical feature of Evol is an 11th century church that has a graveyard functioning as a modern cemetery. A visit to Evol involved a lot of walking uphill and down and not a lot of activity in the community.
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Villefranche-de-Conflent is located on the lower Tet River, about 10km from Prades. It looks much like it did in the 17th century - two long streets pressed between high protective & covered ramparts.
So nice, we went there twice! First to tour the town and then to walk the ramparts. Villefranche-de-Conflent was by far the busiest of the 4 villages. Lots of shops, restaurants & cafes open even late in the season.
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Eus occupies a dramatic setting on a hillside near the Tet River on the approach to Prades. Very quiet on our time there, with very steep walkways and streets. No economic activity. Attractive in parts, but hard to imagine living there.
The best views of Eus are from afar and the best views in Eus are looking out from the hillside setting over the valley and the mountains beyond.
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Castelnou is on a high rocky promontory about 30 minutes from Prades. There is a town with the chateau at the peak. The chateau was closed for the season on our visit, but there was enough activity in the village to keep us there for a time. Nice place to visit, but bring your walking shoes.
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Arles – Day 9


We left Lagrasse a day early – poor weather & dissatisfied with our rental - & drove 2+ hours to the city of Arles, on the edge of the Camargue. Arles is perhaps best known for its connection to Vincent Van Gogh and its Roman amphitheatre. We had been to Arles several years ago when we parked along the Rhone, visited the amphitheatre, had a pleasant lunch and tried to suss out the charms of Arles. It was very quiet when we were there – must have caught it on a bad day. This time was an improvement. We stayed at a hotel near the town hall; lots of activity wherever we went; enjoyed a very nice dinner in a small restaurant; explored the remains of an ancient Roman underground forum. We had a very pleasant time in Arles.
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We had a gite in Eus for a week in 2008. It is a lovely little village and there was an ice cream place there when we stayed there. An elderly gentleman told us all about the church including that it was built by women ! We enjoyed our stay there and visited all the Plus Beaux villages you mentioned as well as the abbeys - St Martin de Canigou and St Michel de Cuxa and the Serrabone Priory. It is a lovely area not mentioned much on travel forums.
 
Sorry to hear you had a bad rental experience. We have always been lucky with our gites, but it can be a leap of faith when booking.
We have visited the places you went to over several trips. The most recent was Minerve in 2018. It was a lovely drive to it from our base in Rieux Minervois. Did you go to Abbaye de Fontfroide? We enjoyed our visit to it.
I often see Lagrasse mentioned as a place to stay. We made a brief stop in 2012 on our way from our gite in Couiza to our gite in the Aveyron but do not remember much. We should have returned when we were in the area in 2018 and did not.
 
Thanks for the trip report Doug and looking forward to the Luberon part. I merged your two threads so the whole report will be in this one thread. That way someone can easily read the whole thing.

I am not sure what is going on with the photos. I’ll message you. It would be nice to see them full size.

I think we were in Vaison la Romaine when you were in Bonnieux! We could have had a Canadian GTG!
 
The Pyrenees and the Luberon, Sept. 22 – Oct. 8, 2022 - Part 3 - A Week in Bonnieux

Bonnieux in the Luberon – Oct. 1-8

We were first in the region 17 years ago, two weeks in a large apartment on a rural gite between Lacoste & Menerbes. This was our 4th visit to the Luberon, but the first in more than a decade.

Bonnieux
Our base for a week in the Luberon was the "village perché" of Bonnieux with its distinctive profile of two church steeples. There is an active daily village life with several shops and services, a weekly market on Friday morning and a rather amazing number and variety of dining options. Bonnieux is an ideal location for touring the region and certainly an ideal rental is Kathy Wood’s apartment, “Bonheur in Bonnieux”, in the middle of it all.
And, by the way, the weather was excellent for our week, even trending a bit too warm some afternoons.

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Sunday, Oct. 2
Coustellet market
We like the Coustellet market - many local products from hard working people offering good value. Our favourite market in the area.
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L’Ile sur la Sorgue market
By far the most famous & popular market in our area. Attractive setting along the Sorgue River, a very large & eclectic variety of items on offer, from whatever you can imagine to sunglasses.
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Monday, Oct. 3
Mont Ventoux
Mondays are very slow days in most towns & villages. We decided to venture a bit farther afield - over & up to the top of the iconic Tour de France stage finish. Many cyclists making their way up & some come flying down. Great views.
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Vaison-la-Romaine
Over to Vaison-la-Romaine after our time on Mt. Ventoux. Most places were closed, but we did find a place for lunch. Vaison-la-Romaine gets its name from the connection to Ancient Rome - the remains of ancient streetscapes below modern ground level is one attraction, but the most iconic remnant is a Roman bridge, still in use. The is also an old part of the city, across the river and built into & on a rocky outcropping. Great market later in the week, very quiet today.
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Tuesday, Oct. 4
Much less driving today, as we visited a trio of nearby villages.
Lourmarin
A large chateau is a striking feature in the landscape, but the commercial activity and restaurants are likely what attracts most visitors. We arrived mid-morning. Some stores were opening, others were still closed. The popular restaurant area on the main street was mainly deserted - too early for a meal. Excellent lunches there in past visits and it was always a friendly, lively place.
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Ansouis
Thirteen years ago, in June 2009, six of us stayed in a large house in the small hilltop village of Ansouis. The Bar des Sports was opposite, just a few yards away. Great memories of Ansouis! Pleasant time in the village today
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Cucuron
Cucuron is best known for the plane tree shaded étang in the centre of the village. Restaurants line one side of the pond. We chose one for a leisurely lunch in a great setting.
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Wednesay, Oct. 5
Aix-en-Provence
Extended time in Aix today - lots of activity, lovely city in the south of France. Mid-morning coffee on Cours Mirabeau, early afternoon salad lunch on an interior square, roaming around and shopping for a couple of hours. Lovely day in our part of the world!
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Thursday, Oct. 6
Lacoste
Our first visit today was to the nearby hilltop village of Lacoste. It’s chateau was the home of the Marquis de Sade, We walked from the bottom of the village to the grounds outside the chateau at the top. And then walked back down again.
For many years Pierre Cardin was renovating several buildings in Lacoste, but he’s dead. The dominant force in the village is the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD)
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Gordes
Everybody goes to Gordes. By far the greatest asset of this “village perche”, awarded a Croix de Guerre for it’s resistance during WWII, is it’s stunning effect on approach. WOW! Is too mild. Nobody can forget their first view of Gordes.
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Roussillon
Roussillon is a popular place to visit in this part of the world - great setting, lovely views, attractive buildings, lots of places to shop & eat & drink for several months of the year. AND you can walk through abandoned ochre quarries for a modest cost.
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Friday, Oct. 7
Saint Paul de Mausole
Vincent Van Gogh committed himself to this mental hospital in St. Remy for a year (1889-1890). A few months after he left, he committed suicide. His year at the hospital was the most productive of his artistic life. His room has been recreated as it was when he was there. If you look out the window, you are looking at his subject matter. Sole pic is from the grounds around the hospital, the inspiration for some of Van Gogh's paintings.
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Les Baux de Provence
We have visited Les Baux before, but never spent much time in the village, always heading straight for the dramatic landscape at the top, with it’s great views, recreated wooden weapons of war, and connections to the fierce Wars of Religion in French history. Today, Liz & I spent our time in the village, while our companions explored all aspects of the site.
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Saturday, Oct. 8
Home to Canada
Mid-morning drive to the Marseille airport; 2-hour flight to Munich; navigate our way around the large airport and through busy Passport Control; long flight to Montreal; short flight to Ottawa; Meredith was at the airport with our car – great to have wonderful children. Home by midnight. Very long travel day. All’s well that ends well.
 
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I am not sure what is going on with the photos. I’ll message you. It would be nice to see them full size.
We decided to leave the photos as they are. I like the look of the smaller versions together. Click on the attachments at the bottom of the post to see full size.
 

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