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Tuesday
Sep062016

les grandes titres, part deux


France: le luberon and apt

We moved southward for the next segment of our time in France, closer to the Provence region in an area called the Luberon, staying in the town of Apt.  Our house was a charming bungalow set in the hills of the area with a lovely view (and an infinity pool!).   The owners were a married couple with grown children they would visit anytime someone wanted to rent their home for a week.   We were warmly greeted by the gentleman who cheerily showed us everything we needed to know about the house.  He had made us an eggplant tart and left a bottle of wine to welcome us.   His wife did not speak English, so I practiced my French as best as I could as we talked about her grandchildren and items she had that might be of interest to Jonas.    They then left us to catch their train to Paris, giving us a restaurant recommendation and tips on feeding the stray cat that came to visit them.   

We explored a few areas close to Apt and a highight was the village of St. Saturnin les Apt which had a lovely farmers market and some older ruins to wander through.  

Nearby was a park with ochre hills you could hike through.   A smaller version of the Roussillon, this park was called the Colorado and not exactly worth seeking out, but fine for an afternoon of hiking if you were in the area.  

There was a small aquaduct carved from stone and Jonas delighted in throwing small leaves and watching them float down to small pools.  Sometimes travels with children mean finding simple pleasures for entertainment. 

We took a day-trip to Arles the following day for what was probably one of my favorite days of our vacation.   I had found a cooking course online that looked interesting and was willing to work with non-French speaking students.   Many cooking classes in Provence seem geared towards Parisians or other native French speakers.  I managed to communicate well enough with our instructor, Erick, via e-mail preparing for the class, but he would arrange for an interpreter to come and be present for the actual class.   The class would just be for my dad's wife and myself, everyone else keeping busy in Arles checking out the old Roman architecture.   We had to arrive quite early in order to visit the market and get supplies for cooking with Erick.   Nervously, Debbie and I searched out the apartment in the city center where the class was held, and realized we had been given the wrong house number when we rang the bell of a woman who answered the door from her windows on the second floor.   Amazingly, I was able to tell her what we were looking for in French and understand her answer. Erick's apartment was just a few doors down (we had been told it was number 13 when in fact it was 31).  We were greeted by Erick, his assistant/interpreter Lidie and set out for the market.   

Unfortunately, I didn't have the camera for this part of the day (the pictures are from the boys' time in Arles at the old amphitheater in the city center), but we followed Erick to the market and watched him buy peas, mussels, calamari and various other fresh items.  Lidie was very sweet and easy to talk with and she had helped Erick on several occasions and made the class go rather smoothly.   Two hours later, we were setting out a 5 course meal and Nick, my dad and Jonas came back to join us for a leisurely lunch.   Erick was self-taught and specialized in older Provencal cuisine which drew quite a bit from other Mediterranean cultures and even using Asian ingredients such as fish sauce.   Jonas loved the food and was a good guest.  Coincidentally, one of Erick's sons was named Jonas as well and we met him as we were eating. Erick and I found out we also shared a love of making Pain au Levain at home.   His house had all sorts of collected cookware and he also dabbled in making essential oils.   Despite the language barrier, we had a good connection and the class was very worthwhile and special.  

Quite full from lunch, we took a side trip to the Pont du Gard, one of the large Roman aqueducts.   It was a perfect place to sit and enjoy the architecture and put our feet in the cool river.  

 

After our trip to Arles, we had one more full day left in the Luberon.   Nick and I really wanted to explore medieval ruins near Buoux and were impressed by what we found. 

 

A stairwell carved into stone with a precarious drop off!   This must have taken several decades to complete and was a bit of a secret entrance into the living area of the ruins.   The ruins were on top of a hill, in a prime location to see any invaders making their way towards the enclave.   There were several dwellings in the ruins, some complete with moats and bridges, and even a church.   Nick explored some of the quite deep cisterns.  

Clearly this was not a place to bring your 4 year old to play.   We were glad to explore on our own and had the area mostly to ourselves.   That evening Nick and I went out alone again to dinner at the restaurant our host had recommended, Le Bistrot de Lagarde d'Apt.   This was no city restaurant, but a remote dining experience tucked away in the hillsides with literally nothing nearby.   And it was very much worth seeking out.   To make a reservation, you had to leave a message with the restaurant during the day and then they would call back to confirm.  Somehow we managed this, despite not having phone service, using the house phone and having them call back my dad's mobile phone.   With a reservation secure, Nick and I went to gas up the car before driving to the hills.  However, the gas stations wouldn't take our US credit or debit cards and the cash kiosk was closed.   We took a gamble that we had enough gas to make it to the restaurant and back.   It would have been a long walk home if the car ran out of gas, but luckily we didn't have to find out how long.  

The dinner delicious and memorable.   Almost all of the waitstaff were women, which is a rarity in France.  We ordered le Pigeoneau, which turned out to indeed be a small pigeon (or squab).  The menu was in French, which left an element of surprise to the meal. We had a set menu with several courses, all quite interesting and well done. Afterwards, we returned to the house, coasting down the hill in the darkness to save on gas, happily full of great food.   

The next day we said au revoir to my dad and Debbie and caught our TGV train back to Paris.   Off to the the city of lights for a few days before our journey back to the States. 

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