Big Daddy Paul’s Guide To Provence

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Have you ever met someone that you thought you might like, but turned out to be a Nazi who enjoyed burning down orphanages? This is what our recent trip to Provence was like, except the complete opposite. Provence wasn’t a Nazi, it was Mahatma Gandhi, and instead of burning down orphanages, he cooked, gave us foot massages and knew all the lines from Napoleon Dynamite. It was pretty much the best weekend we ever had.

We expected to like Provence, what with all its quaintness and whatnot, but we walked away after the weekend thinking it was one of the most enchanting places on earth. Everywhere we turned, there was some little scene that makes travel writers wet themselves with glee. More a state of mind than an actual place, Provence kept coming at us with imagery that wore down our pent up hustle and bustle until we were  left with a sense of tranquil serenity. (Foot rubs from one of the greatest pacifists ever helped with that too.) I can’t recommend Provence more highly.

“But Paul,” you ask. “How do I get me some of that?” Fear not, dear readers. I have the following list of suggestions that, should you find yourself making plans to go to the South of France, will help you fashion your own perfect Provencial vacation. Thank me later.

If I ever start a band, I am going to name it, "Old stone and shutters."

If I ever start a band, I am going to name it, “Old stone and shutters.”

1. Find some old shit. One of the most striking aspects of Provence is its age. People have been enjoying the high life in Provence for three thousand years, and many of the buildings still standing there date back to the 12th century. That’s old! Old stone buildings and long, rustic walls dot the countryside in Provence and the look is fantastic. Unlike your high school sweetheart, the older and more weathered the features of Provence get, the better they look. Many inns/bed and breakfasts are set in these old, weathered buildings. Find one with a price tag that fits your wallet and stay there. If you find yourself trying to use your accumulated points to stay at the Best Western in Aix-en-Provence, you’re doing it wrong. Your litmus test should be, “Does it look like its original owners died from bubonic plague?” If so, you’ve found your home. We stayed in a 19th century farmhouse called Le Mas des Arts and loved it.

2. Calm the hell down. Upon arriving in Provence, you will probably have a list of things you want to see and do, suggestions for where to eat, and a schedule. You will be tempted to maximize your opportunities and cram in as much as you can while you are there. Don’t do it! Part of the allure of Provence is to relax and enjoy life a little bit more than you are normally able. You can’t really do this if you have an agenda of things you have to do and long days filled with sightseeing and logistics.

Take time to stop and smell the Rosés

Take time to stop and smell the Rosés

Instead of being your normal travel self, try this: plan lazy days. Sleep in if you can and enjoy a little quiet time while you enjoy your coffee or some tea outside, listening to the birds. Putz around a few tiny villages during the day, then enjoy a nice, long, leisurely lunch. After, go back home, nap, read, shoot squirrels,  or do whatever it is that you find relaxing. Make dinner for yourselves and eat it outside. Drink some wine. Have some dessert. Get up the next day and do the same. Sure, you won’t have a completed checklist and a bunch of entry ticket stubs, but you’ll have a much more satisfying holiday. How many vacations can you say left you relaxed and happy? Try it. Provence won’t let you down.

3. Throw out your guidebook and go explore. This one may be tough for some, but you will ultimately be rewarded. For the most part, the most enjoyable parts of our weekend involved stumbling onto things that were completely unexpected. One day, I noticed we were out of dessert. I took off without any idea of where I was going. While I was lost looking for cake, I saw this:
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And this:IMG_6232

 

And this:IMG_6236

All this, on a pastry run! I eventually found a little patisserie on a little square in a little village called Goult that had the most ridiculous tasting creamy chocolate and nut cake ever. If you had told me before hand that there was an patisserie in Goult with an excellent cake there, I would have sought it out and readily agreed with you after. The cake was so much better, though, because of the surprise factor. Sure, there was a chance that I could have stumbled into the French version of Deliverance (“il a une très jolie bouche, n’est-ce pas?”) but even that would have made for some interesting vacation stories after. Let Provence surprise you. Leave your guidebooks next to your Hilton Honors card.

When in Provence, rent a car, and then set out each day on a small, one lane roads following the signs to little villages with hard to pronounce names. Don’t go to the places in Provence, let them come to you. I took 650 pictures in four days, 190 of them turning into something I kept. Pictures of what? How bout this:

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Or this:IMG_6482

4. Avoid other people. People, for the most part, suck. Stay away from them. Definitely don’t stay in a city. Don’t even visit the cities. I even found the mid-sized villages too cramped. Provence is huge area, you have absolutely no need to put up with crowds. Do you like busloads of German tourists arguing over World Cup prospects this summer? How about the Americans who talk TEN DECIBELS TOO LOUD BECAUSE THEY THINK THAT ANY LANGUAGE BARRIER CAN BE OVERCOME WITH ENOUGH VOLUME? Russian tourists are only and always looking for one thing: sex. It’s a fact.

Don’t put up with this. If you find yourself amongst a large group of people, get the hell out of there! The good thing about exploring without a guidebook is that if you run into a large herd somewhere, you have the freedom to bypass it. I look back at our experiences over the weekend and there was definitely a correlation between how crowded a place was and how much we liked it. I have said it before, and I will say it again, “Smaller is better!”

Normally, crappy chipped paint jobs are frowned upon. Here, they are cultivated by decades of neglect.

Normally, crappy chipped paint jobs are frowned upon. Here, they are cultivated by decades of meticulous neglect.

5. Look everywhere. Approach Provence like you are at Costco when they are handing out free samples. Wander. Savor. Try cheese twice! Almost everywhere you look when you are in the small villages there, you will notice something interesting. Walk around and take it all in. Once off the beaten path, you will have the opportunity for unscripted discovery. Take advantage. Just don’t go into stranger’s houses and try to nap on their couch. Evidently, that is still considered trespass.

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How many places in the world will give your kid a crossbow and teach him how to shoot it?

6. Go to the castle. Having said to not have an agenda, there was one thing we did that was so cool that it bears mentioning. There is a museum at a castle called Chateau des Baux. Go there. It is awesome. They have working catapults and give demonstrations. They have sword fights where (like political pundits on cable news shows) the combatants pretend they hate each other. Oh, yes, they also let you shoot fucking crossbows. Other than the museum of boobs and awesome pizza, there could be no more satisfying museum experience in the world. You will not be disappointed.

The castle is only half of it, however. Below the castle is an art exhibit set inside a huge cavern. Inside the cavern, on 50 foot high stone walls, they project huge works of art, some of it stationary, some of it moving in choreographed pieces. The room is pitch black, so the effect is surreal.

Thing made us go "Hmmm."

Thing made us go “Hmmm.”

The cake topper is that they pipe in loud orchestral pieces to accompany the art and the sensation of seeing it all come together is insane. Other than Emmet Smith’s House of Fantasy Football Art & Bacon Factory, there is no other art exhibit that can measure up.

You will find crowds at the castle and the art exhibit. Thankfully, if you follow my rules, they will be the only crowds you run into in Provence. We have just returned from our trip to Provence, but are already plotting how to get back. Gandhi, get those fingers ready!

Here are a few more pics:
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8 responses to “Big Daddy Paul’s Guide To Provence”

  1. Jean says:

    Your pictures truly captured the extraordinary experience we had. Thanks for the memories.

  2. Laurie says:

    Your pictures are just amazing. So glad you guys got to experience all that. The art gallery in the cavern. Wow, I want to go there.

  3. Sean says:

    So ur saying you liked it! Actually sounds amazing and a pretty entertaining blog

  4. Judd says:

    I think “Smaller is Better” is a better band name, but hey, that’s up to you. I like “The Old Stone Shitters” too. By the way, saw the first baby squirrel out today. It was calling, “Paul, Paul, come and get me.”

  5. Annie says:

    Great one Paul.. I got lost in Provence for a few minutes just reading this… I’m worried if I went to visit I might just get a job and stay.. 🙂

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