Partly to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary (3/1/05) and partly to celebrate the completion of Jesse's chemotherapy (5/30/05), we embarked on a restful 2-week vacation in the south of France, visiting parts of Provence and the Cote d'Azur. We departed the afternoon of September 29th and arrived in Nice on Friday, September 30th.

After much internet searching, Katie rented a small, 300-year-old farmhouse, about halfway between Nice and Aix-en-Provence, a half kilometer outside the small village of La Motte. Fully equipped with modern appliances, including high-speed internet and satelite TV, a swimming pool (a nice touch but, despite warm days, the water was too cold to swim), boule court and resident cat, we were very comfortable.

Our normal routine began with a liesurely breakfast, usually based on baked goods we had acquired the preceeding day at a local market. Then we embarked on our daily excursion, most often to a nearby village market, but also to more distant destinations, such as Nice, Aix, or St. Tropez. A relaxed lunch at our destination exposed us to the specialties of the region, including the products of local vineyards. After a little more sightseeing, we wended our way back to the farmhouse, frequently taking back roads to see as much of the region as possible. A light supper of the viands from our market visit (there was also a nearby supermarket that filled in the culinary gaps) and an evening of French TV (Turner Classics with French subtitles were a big hit) completed our day.

Our vacation ended after two wonderful weeks, and we regretfully squeezed back into Lufthansa's tiny uncomfortable seats for our return trip home. We hope that you can get some of the flavor of the region from our photographs. The galleries are presented in the same order as we experienced them.

Click here to view map of Provence

Click on Images to Open Gallery

Villefranche-sur-Mer is a small coastal town a few kilometers East of Nice. It reposes gracefully on the shores of a deep-water harbor (cruise ships bound for Nice harbor here) and ascends into the surrounding hillsides. An old fort overlooks the harbor, a reminder of times past. The heart of the village contains numerous restaurants, hotels, and shops. Having arrived in France a day before our farmhouse would be ready, we spent our first night here at the Hotel Welcome, right on the harbor. Click here for a panoramic view of the Villefranche harbor taken from our hotel balcony.
Cap Ferrat
Before venturing West to our vacation accomodations, we visited this famed site, just across the harbor from Villefranche. Previously owned by King Leopold II of Belgium, Somerset Maugham, and one of the Rothchilds, it is now a museum surrounded by carefully tended gardens, complete with streams and fountains.
La Bastide des Joncquiers
"The country home of the Joncquiers" is the long name of the small country house that was our home in Provence for two weeks. The first floor was an open space with living, dining and cooking areas, with a steep, narrow staircase at the back leading to the 2nd floor. Upstairs was divided into a large bedroom, long hall with closets, WC, and bath. Equipped with a large swimming pool and official-sized boule court, the house also had a 1-bedroom studio apartment separate from the house.
La Motte
The small village of La Motte is barely half a kilometer down the road from the farmhouse. Like many of the villages we visited, La Motte is built on the side of a hill. La Motte was the first village in Provence to be liberated by the Allies in 1945. The town has one grocer, one butcher, one bakery (althought a second one was advertised, we never found it), one pizzaria, and one "tabac." It had a post office but neither a bank nor an ATM. And like many businesses in Provence, they were closed between noon and late afternoon.
Frejus is the oldest Roman town in Gaul, founded by Julius Cesar in 49 BC, and is home to the Cathedrale St-Leonce et Cloitre, dating back to the 5th century. We did not tour the cathredral, but chose to spend our time in the street markets surrounding it.
Coastal Highway
The N-98 highway hugs the Mediterranean Sea for most of the distance between St. Maxime and Nice. We drove this beautiful route on our day-trip to Cannes, stopping for a delightful lunch along the way.
We decided to go to Nice on a rainy day for some indoor activities: visit the Matisse museum and do some department-store shopping. It rained in the morning but was sunny in the afternoon, so we enjoyed walking through the old city and ascending several hundred feet by elevator to a mountain-top park. Click here for a panoramic view of Nice taken from one of the mountain-top park overlooks.
Gorges du Verdun
Sometimes called "the Grand Canyon of France.," this natural wonder is over 35 miles long and reaches a depth of 2300 feet. The gorge begins at Castellane on the East and ends at Moustiers-Ste-Marie on the West. We picked up the Southern perimeter road just East of its midpoint and drove West. In addition to the dramatic scenery, we encountered a classic sports car rallye coursing in the other direction. The rallye got up close and personal when one of the cars (an enormous, British steering, open top, fenderless, '20s vintage) cut into our lane on a hairpin turn. We didn't actually touch, but the female passenger and I could have exchanged a friendly kiss on the cheek as we passed.
This unique village is built on two sides of a chasm created by a small mountain stream, the two sections joined by a bridge "above" and one "below" the city center. High above the chasm, a gold star hangs from a forged chain anchored in the stone on either side, originally placed there by a chevalier returning from the crusades in 1300. Home to many potters who craft "faïence pottery" in traditional style, several shops offer the ware for sale. (While much of the pottery suffers from "productionitis," one shop in partucular offered original and beautifully executed stoneware.
Ste-Maxime & St-Tropez
Ste-Maxime is about 25 km South of La Motte on the Mediterranean at the entrance to the Gulf of St. Tropez. We took a short ferry ride across the Gulf to save hours of driving and looking for a parking place in St. Tropez. The St. Tropez harbor was still filled with large sail boats following a festival that we missed by a couple of days. As the town was shutting down for the winter, the shops were full of bargains (and tourists).
The city of Aix marked the western boundary of our travels in Provence. We stayed mostly in the old city, visiting both the produce market and the open-air merchandise market (though the latter was less photogenic than the former). On our drive to Aix, we took the Auto-Route (expressway) with the outrageous toll of € 8 for a 60 km trip. (We took the local highway back.)
Abbaye du Thoronet
One overcast day towards the end of our stay in Provence, we were exploring the area northwest of our farm house. After a frustrating stop at Entrecasteaux — the main attraction, the 17th century chateau, was closed — we decided to detour to the Abbaye du Thoronet. What a fortuitous decision. The Abbaye, founded in 1146, was serene and comforting beyond description. The Abbaye is home to an annual medieval music festival: we brought home a CD from the gift shop.
Our visit to Fayence was the last excursion of our vacation. The market was disappointing, less than a block long with few vendors. The hills were particularly steep, with a bell tower at the highest point in town, and spectacular views of the valley below.

copyright 2005-2006 Jesse Blatt & Katie Moran