This time last year we were bumming around France, mostly in the Drome and Provence regions. Tonight I put the last bit of my French grey sea salt (fleur de sel de guerande) in my salt cellar and was feeling nostalgic about our journey. Instead of writing a day-by-day recap of our experience, I'm just going to give highlights (les grands titres) of the areas we explored. We were a bit off the beaten track and I wholly recommend the same for anyone looking to make a trip to the French countryside.
france: dieulefit and the drome
We stayed a week in a lovely stone house in the Drome region of France, closest to the village of Dieulefit. The owners of the AirBnB rental were an English and German ex-pat couple who were extremely gracious and welcoming. Their own home was on the same property, but we had plenty of space and privacy. Berndt, the German, kept Merino wool sheep and did trail running through the mountainsides. He also had a well-trained sheepdog Jacques who delighted Jonas with his tricks. Berndt's wife was happy to chat about the region and kept a lovely garden (whose enormous snails were a fascination to Jonas).
Exploring the medieval village of Dieulefit was certainly a highlight of our time in the region. The village is known for its poterie (pottery) and there are many styles made locally. I bought a simple white stoneware bowl and my dad found some raku fired mugs to take home with him. The village had everything we needed for supplying ourselves with food, we just had to be mindful of when the shops were open. I had the most perfect strawberry tart from the small bakery in town. The region is also known for its strawberries and we enjoyed many during our trip. We spent several days strolling around town, collecting provisions and then having a relaxing dinner outside at the stone house.
If you aren't biking around the mountain roads of the region, then you're exploring medieval ruins or hiking through the trail system that connects the area. We spent a day in Le Poet Laval doing a bit of both. Nick and Berndt were going to do a long trail run back to the house, so we dropped them off and my dad, Jonas and I spent the afternoon in the village. There were lots of beautiful old buildings, some still in good repair and functional. There was an old church being used as an art gallery which had lots of passages to explore.
We had lunch at Les Hospitaliers, recommended to us by our hosts and easily the nicest restuarant in the village. French restaurants, even the more chic ones, still have a special set menu for children, which is usually something much more interesting than chicken strips or a burger. Jonas was more or less patient through the long lunch (which was excellent) and rewarded nicely by the fanciest dessert of his young life. He was also amused at the dog sitting quietly at the feet of its owner at the table next to ours.
We spent an hour or so wandering the trails near the village after lunch. Jonas practiced saying "Bonjour!" to everyone we saw along the way. If we had the time we could have hiked back to Dieulefit!
The next day, Nick and I did get a chance to embark on another hike near a ruined abbey outside of the town of Die (pronounced "dee"). Die was a much larger town and there was a flea market in the town square the morning we stopped through. My dad and his wife kept Jonas entertained while we trekked up through the mountains to a nice ridge.
It was a hot and sweaty hike, but beautiful and very different than typical Northwest hiking. We had the trail mostly to ourselves, but Nick did spy the local chamois!
Jonas kept busy playing in the dirt piles near the abbey while they waited for us to finish (we were up in that ridge somewhere).
We enjoyed the Drome region for many reasons. Mostly, it was very quiet and un-touristy. That did mean we had to attempt speaking French more than we would have in a larger city, but generally we managed to communicate. It was also great for hiking, biking and trail running. There was also an incredible amount of culture in the surrounding area considering that it is a good two hours from any major city. It is also a lovely place to just sit and relax and take in the countryside.
Next some highlights from Apt, where we spent the next leg of our trip.