Lest I give the impression that our magical week in Provence was completely without disaster, let me be very clear, when faced with the combined presence of Brittany and I, there is absolutely no experience safe from the potential of absolute calamity. In our short six days alone together we: held up a toll booth because none of my credit cards would work in the machine, smashed my phone to smithereens though a freak GPS incident, lost a parking garage ticket in the pay machine which vanished into oblivion as even the parking attendant was unable to locate it after dismantling almost the entire contraption, scraped the paint off of the side doors to our car which had thus far managed to survive ten years of existence without experiencing such misfortune, and missed the same exact tunnel exit no fewer than three times resulting in a battle to the near death with the black, rotten core of Marseille's rush hour traffic. I just want you to remember that when you're looking at all of my carefully framed vacation snaps--there is always more to a story than meets the eye!
That said, all was certainly not as fraught as those moments, and the fact that we managed to make it out the door each morning clothed and fed meant that every day began with a minor miracle. After our whirlwind tour of Marseille, and our trip back in time to the height of the Roman empire, we spent our next day in Avignon, most notable as home to seven popes and two delightfully dubbed "anti-popes" of the Avignon Papcy from 1305 to 1403. While not our favorite stop in Provence, we did enjoy the East Villagy vibed Rue de Teintures, home to a number of organic, vegetarian, gluten-free eateries, artists galleries and the tie-dyed filled windows of tiny boutiques. The massive chocolate chip cookie did not fail to raise Avignon in my estimation.
The next day, we donned our finest artist's smocks, and headed to Arles for a tête-à-tête... à-tête... with the ignoble, misunderstood Vincent Van Gogh. Arles was the setting for perhaps Van Gogh's most prolific artistic period, (those sunflowers!) and was also, unfortunately the site of the mental breakdown which led to his eventual death in a hospital just a few miles away. His artistic inspirations have been marked by a delightful "easel tour" which winds throughout the city. Each easel shows the piece that Van Gogh was inspired to paint from its vantage point, undoubtedly the most famous being his Cafe Terrace at Night--now a garishly yellow tourist trap.
But, not to be outdone by that hapless artiste, the Romans once again stand seemingly impervious to the ravages of time. A recently restored, glaringly white amphitheater rests majestically on a hill in the center of town, and a somewhat less intact Roman theater nearby still plays host to musical acts and performers. While dismissed by many as grubby and workaday, we were charmed by Arles and counted it among our favorite stops.
For our final day in Provence, we crammed in as much of the hill villages as possible. We started our day in the red-ochre hilltop village of Roussillon, arriving just in time to catch the end of its market before lunch. The terracotta colored buildings reminded us of nothing so much as the American Southwest--feeling at some points as though we had been suddenly transported to New Mexico.
From Roussillon, we made our way to Lacoste with a brief stop at one last Roman ruin located just off the highway, Pont Julien. This graceful bridge dates to 3 BC and unbelievably was used for car traffic until 2005. Those Romans, man, they knew what they were doing. In Roman days, this bridge was a part of the Via Domitia, a highly traveled road which served to connect Italy with its territories in France.
Our final stop on our journey was in Lacoste, where mysteriously, there was not an alligator or polo shirt to be found. Instead, we discovered a near ghost town of winding alleys, grey stone buildings, the Marquis de Sade's crumbling castle, and of course a charming cafe just begging to be Instagrammed. And so ended our unforgettable holiday in Southern France just as a it should--avec café et une belle vue!