20 July 2008

Travels in the South of France

Esther and I had the good fortune to be invited to a wedding in the Mediterranean port city of Toulon two weeks ago. Since her uncle lives about a hundred miles north near Montélimar and I had not yet seen this part of the country, we decided to make a short vacation out of it. For me, the region has since taken a commanding lead in the race to the top of my mental list of "Ideal Retirement Location." Here's why:

  1. Climate It's really, really pleasant. The air is cool and dry but the sun is intensely hot. That makes for delightful days on the beach followed by cool evenings sitting outside.

  2. Landscape It's dry but fertile land, covered in patchwork fields, conifer stands, lavender fields and miles upon miles of vineyards. It's beautiful to look at whether you're strolling by on foot or tearing past in a car.

  3. Cuisine The French have a phrase, légumes du soleil, which translates to "sun vegetables" and it pretty much sums up the local fare. Tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, and eggplant show up in various combinations with fish, rice, olives, and great desserts. It's pretty much what we eat at home, but prepared better.

  4. Culture The area has been settled for a long, long time. The result is the overlap of various cultures with clear influences going back to the Romans.

In short, it's a really great place to be and we had a great time down there. Esther's aunt and uncle were incredibly welcoming and we made an effort to see as much as we could in the surrounding areas.

Avignon is a medieval city that was the seat of the papacy for several decades in the fourteenth century. They lived here, in the Palace of the Popes:

It also has a bridge, le pont d'Avignon, which is very famous in France if only because, as far as I can tell, it's the subject of a popular children's song. I was impressed by many aspects of the city (history, annual theater festival, etc...) but seriously disappointed by this bridge. Qua bridge, it's useless, as it doesn't completely cross the river. Now it's just some sort of promenade into the water that is a site of pilgrimage for French of all callings. Have a look for yourselves:

See what I mean? Totally useless.

Orange is another interesting city. In addition to being named after my favorite color as a child (actually, it's Wikipedia article specifies that that is not the case), it is home to an incredibly well preserved Roman theater. It still has the backing wall of the stage intact, making it the only roman theater in Europe and one of only three in the world to be so well preserved.

The wall was used as a common backdrop for all of the productions, as well as an opportunity to remind the populace of the omnipresence of the emperor, given his niche at the top. Totalitarianism = scary.

Finally, we went to Montélimar, a great little city known for its nougat. It's not the "nougat" that you find at the bottom of your Milky Way, but a white confection that varies in consistency from gooey to marshmallow-like to crunchy depending on your preference. Full of pistachios and with a flavor of honey, it's made in factories that are straight out of Willy Wonka.

The south has worked its charm on me, for better or worse. It was a fantastic trip that I hope we can recreate soon.

Travels - Southern France

1 comment:

  1. unfrozencavemandad3:48 AM

    Kurt & Esther,

    Wow, what a beautiful place! Mom shares your feelings of a wonderful place to retire. Enjoy ytour travels -- they are priceless!