My wife and I stayed in St-Remy from May 26th to June 2nd. We took the TGV from Paris To Avignon. The TGV is an exceptional way to get around France. We enjoyed the short trip from Paris. The trip was under three hours without a stop. A great way to see the countryside.
We rented a car from Auto Europe. There is a Auto Rental area right across from the train station. A little confused at first because we did not see the Auto Europe. I did find a young man who took us for a short bus ride to the Auto Europe kiosk. We got the car without a problem got directions to St-Remy and we followed the directions they gave us for finding St-Remy. I did not have a GPS, but used Google Maps before the trip to print our maps for our daily jouney's we took each day. Incidentally, one hint about driving is to look for City names first over street names or highway numbers.
We decided after searching hotels, and B & B's a gite would better suit our needs. The first part of our trip was a week in Northern France on a Globus Tour. We wanted a place we could do our laundry with a small kitchenette. We wanted a studio since it was just the two of us and found "La Bluette" on the St-Remy Tourism web site. Unfortunately, "La Bluette" has not yet listed on Trip Advisor. We simply loved "La Bluette". It was perfect for our needs. Annie and Daniel our the perfect hosts. We have stayed at many B & B's and have never met anyone as nice as Annie and Daniel. They are a charming French couple who speak English enough so we could all communicate without a probem. They make you feel very much as if you our a close relative and not merely a guest when you stay with them. We did extensive travelling around the area so our time was limited with Annie and Daniel, but when we did have a chance for a talk it simply was one of the highlights of our trip. We highly encourage you to take serious look at staying with Annie and Daniel. Here is the Web Site which perfectly describes "La Bluette.
Incidentally the art work displayed on the walls is Annie and Daniel's. They are quite the accomplished artists. Daniel told us about Super market location, restaurants, and free parking area in St-Remy with the map they gave us of St-Remy. They even told us about there favorite Boulangerie. If you are lucky maybe you will be able to taste Annie's home made jam. They do not have wifi, but we just went to the tourists office for free wifi.
We geared our trip to try to be in a town on market so we were able to be in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on Sunday of market day. It is as good as described. Our favorite market in Provence. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of goods and extremely reasonable prices. After visiting the market we headed North and spent the afternoon driving the Cotes du Rhone driving tour described in both the Michelin and Rick Steves Guide. We stopped in Gigondas to pick up some wine for our stay in St-Remy. However, we also had picked up some Rose at the SuperMarche in St-Remy. The Rose's are not sweet as American Rose's. They are a dry Rose which seems to be the drink of choice through out Provence. We found the wine prices inexpensive compared to American wine.
We lucked out on the timing of our visit to St-Remy. Whit Monday was the Transhumance Festival which is the goat festival. The goats, donkeys, and shepherds make a couple of passes around the ring road as they head off to the summer feeding ground. Get to St- Remy earyly to go to the market and get a good spot to watch the goats. St-Remy also has a market for the festival. St-Remy's market was our second favorite market. Barb, my wife, could not get enough of the markets.
That afternoon we took the short drive thru the Alpilles (small Alps)
to Les Baux. It is the most spectacular setting in all of Provence for a hill town. The lower village consisting of shops, hotels, and restaurants. The upper village is in ruins. The audio guide will walk you through the history of Les Baux. Bring good walking shoes and your camera.
We spent the day in Avignon. Daniel told us about a free parking lot just over the Daladier Bridge which has a bus that takes you back to the old town where it is just a short walk to the Palace of Popes. We took a mini bus tour of the city, which you can catch in the Palace square. They provide head phones in English, and it is a wonderful way to orient you to Avignon. After the tour we walked to Place des Corps-Saints, and enjoyed lunch at Ginette et Marcel on the square. The square is surrounded by other restaurants with outdoor shaded seating. We had a very reasonable lunch with a wonderful Rose about 15 Euro's for two. We then proceeded to walk the old town area of Avignon. Quite an enjoyable day.
This is St. Remy's normal market day so once again back to the market and then toured the shops of St. Remy. We were in St. Remy to mid afternoon. We also visited the Van Gogh hospital. He spent a year at this hospital before heading back to Paris and taking his life a few months later. It was well worth the visit. We relaxed at the Gite spend some wonderful time with Daniel and Annie. We ate a number of dinners at the Gite. The first day we picked up roasted chicken at the Supermarche which was excellent. Dinner a the gite were simple salads, cheese, baguettes, pastries and of course wine. Barb even made some chicken soup with the scraps from the roasted chickn.
We spent the day in Aix-en-Provence. This was our first experience in driving on a toll road. The Toll road is in exceptional condition. The road is very smooth. I felt like we where driving on a race track. Americans keep in mind this one thing slow traffic is in the far right lane, the middle lane for faster traffic, the far left lane for the fastest of the drivers. The French drivers all follow this rule. I wish we did this in the states. No problem at the pay station on the toll road. Just look for the green Cartes sign which also has a coin booth, simply slide in the card and pay. We only made one mistake we drove to a coin only area, but they have attendants who help by taking your debit card. Thursday of course is market day in Aix. We parked at a metered spot on the street. The meter was not in English, but we did find out between noon and 2:00 P.M. it is free. We asked a person on the street how to use the meter. We did not have enough coins. She could not speak English, but she was kind enough to break a five Euro bill to provide us with change for the meter. We found throughout our three week trip to France the French people our wonderful. I cannot empathize enough the importance of learning a few French words. Always start a conversation with Bon Jour. In French tell them you can't speak English, In French ask if they speak English. Most of the time you will get a yes, or a little. Always end a conversation with au revoir, and has an added touch Bonne Journee. We took the electric bus which only costs .50 Euros and drives thru old town. After the bus ride we went on to shopping. We had lunch on the Cours Mirabeau at Le Grillon managed to secure an outdoor table in the first row. Cours Mirabeau is the nicest street in Provence and outdoor dining for lunch is a must. Incidentally, Maison Bechard is the best patiserie we visited in Provence. We actually had to go back a second time for pastries. Delicious!!
We spent the day driving through the Luberon. We visited Lourmarin, Bonnieux, La Coste, Gordes, and Rousillon. We had a wonderful lunch with Rose at Restaurant de France overlooking the country side with a view back to Bonnieux. Some advice for the hill towns bring good walking shoes. Prepare for steep walks, use a Michelin map (Mapquest won't cut it) to get around the Luberon, always look for the city sign if you get lost. The Luberon is as spectacular as stated in all the guide books. Gordes has the best view driving into the city from the South. La Coste & Bonnieus have the best views. Lourmarin had a wonderful market. Rousillon was interesting because of the ochre.
It was a long day, and we only saw half of what we wanted to see.
Off to Nice and a happy but sad au revoir with Annie and Daniel. We did not want to leave, but as Annie said "Another Time". That phrase will always be a part of our vocabulary.
It is impossible in a week's time to see all the sights of Provence. We decided against Roman antiquities because of our trip to Italy. We did not have time to see the East part of the Luberon. We wanted to go to Uzes and Pont du Gard, but ran out of time. My advice would be to pick out the absolute musts you want to visit and have a few in hours late in the day for down time.