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France photos

Since researching my inaugural trip to Europe, I have always wanted to visit Provence in the South of France. Unfortunately, Provence was a victim of itinerary adjustments on 2013’s excessively planned Globo Trip as I reduced the time allocated to France (Zambia and Malawi were the alternative destinations!). I finally rectified that outcome by prioritising a visitation to Provence after the Games in Paris and spent 5 days exploring the region. I based myself in the medieval papal city of Avignon and visited nearby towns and attractions on day-trips, which was easily managed with efficient train and bus connections. Provence successfully lived up to pre-conceived expectations I had of the region, with beautiful sandstone old towns, Mediterranean gardens, rolling hills of vineyards, magnificent produce, delicious regional cuisine and near constant sunlight.


Avignon is a small city of approximately 100,000, yet its historical significance is monumental. The city was founded in the 6th century BC by Greek settlers and quickly became a strategically important regional centre due to its fortifiable location on a rock and adjacent the Rhône. Avignon was absorbed into the Roman Empire and become part of the first transalpine province. After dozens of changes to rulership in the early middle ages, Avignon became the Pontifical seat and capital of Western Christianity in 1309. Five successive popes resided in the city, with each adding to the gargantuan Palais de Popes (as opposed to, say, helping the poor. You have to admire the blatant hypocrisy of the Catholic hierarchy). The building, considered to be one of the best examples of Gothic palatial architecture in the world, utterly dominates the skyline of the modern-day city. The popes also constructed the medieval walls that encircle the old town of Avignon, an evocative reminder and unique vestige of the city’s past. The Papacy returned to Rome in 1377, although Avignon remained an enclave of the Holy See until 1791 when it was formerly incorporated into France. The vast old town now consists predominately of 19th century buildings, a smattering of Romanesque churches, narrow winding streets and charming hidden squares with fountains and trees.


The Rhône briefly splits into two branches near Avignon, the Petit Rhône and Grand Rhône, with the largest inland island in France located in between. Extending from Avignon’s old town is the remaining 4 arches of Pont Saint-Bénézet, a medieval bridge that once spanned the Rhône and consisted of 22 arches. On the opposite side of the river is Villenevue-les-Avignon, an even prettier sandstone town than Avignon. A monumental fortress occupies the hilltop above the town, which formerly housed a large French garrison when Avignon was still a papal enclave. The area inside the walls now consists of a beautiful Mediterranean garden with tremendous views over Avignon and the surrounding countryside.


The South of France is scattered with Roman ruins, as the region was one of the earliest conquests of the Roman Republic. The most glorious vestige of Roman rule is Pont du Gard, a remarkable aqueduct bridge spanning a scenic valley. Aqueducts were constructed in Roman provinces for both functional and symbolic purposes, as they were an explicit demonstration to local populations of the technology, wealth and power the Roman state possessed. Pont du Gard was constructed in the first century AD as part of an aqueduct system carrying water 50km to the Roman colony of Nîmes. Pont du Gard is the tallest Roman aqueduct at nearly 50m in height and has a gradient of just 1 in 18,241, a phenomenal testament to the precision of Roman engineering! The three-tier aqueduct bridge, traversing a beautiful river used for swimming and canoeing, is idyllically located amid Mediterranean scrub and is definitely one of the most impressive ancient monuments I have visited.


I caught a train about 45 minutes south of Avignon to the historic city of Arles; an important centre during Roman times and the subject of innumerable Van Gogh paintings. The narrow, winding and mostly pedestrianised streets of the World Heritage listed old town are stupefyingly beautiful, with pastel buildings framed by brilliantly coloured doors and windows and verdant vinery. Seemingly around every corner in Arles is another streetscape begging to be photographed. The compact urban fabric opens up in patches to reveal a Baroque square, the ruins of a Roman theatre and, brilliantly, a massive Roman colosseum. Unfortunately I did not enter the extraordinary edifice because it was being used to host bull racing, a sport from the Camargue region of Provence with an ethically questionable reputation.


The French adoration and respect for la terain, “the land”, is explicitly demonstrated at street markets, which occur in each Provençal town once per week. I visited the Friday market in Carpentras, which completely takes over the streets of the town centre with over 500 stalls displaying the incredible bounty of Provence. The market bursts with colour from the fresh produce of the fruit and vegetable stalls selling piles of peaches, apricots, grapes, pears, berries, cantaloupes, lettuces, aubergines, capsicums and superb tomatoes. Fromagerie stalls offer a myriad of Provence’s famed and mouthwatering goat’s cheeses, from fresh to aged and natural to marinated. Charcuterie stalls abound with local speciality hams, saucissons, terrines and pates. Other prized ingredients abundant at the market include lavender, honey, extra virgin olive oil, olives, garlic, nougat and rosé. Permeating throughout the streets are the intoxicating aromas of the rotisseries, which originate in Provence. Chickens basted in a tomato sauce slowly rotate on spits, with potatoes and stuffed vegetables cooked in the resultant dripping on a hot plate at the bottom. Visiting a street market is an unmissable aspect of Provence to observe how the French rightfully celebrate the food from their lands.


Provençal cuisine is essentially a fusion of French and Italian influences, creating one of the greatest regional cuisines in the world. The diet is noticeably lighter than elsewhere in France, with the prolific use of olive oil (instead of butter) and vegetables. Nevertheless, my opening
Provençal meal was an artery clogging 3 cheese tartine (open faced grilled sandwich), offset at least my a walnut and butternut lettuce salad. In Avignon, I enjoyed 2 superb multi-course dinners. The first started with a goat’s cheese and herbs cheesecake with smoked salmon and tomato salad, followed by quail with a creamy barley side and a lemon curd to conclude. The second dinner consisted of Provençal stuffed vegetables (highlight dish- tomatoes and zucchinis stuffed with a spiced pork mixture and served with red wine sauce and salad), fried white fish with ratatouille and a citrusy cake. In Arles, I had the opportunity to enjoy one of my favourite French dishes: steak tartare. The ground raw beef topped with a raw egg yolk was flavoured with capers and finely chopped cornichons and red onion and served with fried potatoes and salad with a mustard vinaigrette. In Avignon, I feasted on a lunch tasting plate of Provençal specialties, which included zucchini gaspacho (very refreshing), salmon and rocket cream wrap (rich), carrot and turmeric pudding (strangely pleasant) and Serrano ham with cantaloupe (easily the best melons I have ever eaten were in Provence). This was followed by a decadent chocolate and pistachio fondant with strawberries and red currants. One of my favourite experiences in Provence was to picnic on local specialties on the balcony of my Airbnb, watching the sky colour gradually change At sunset above the terracotta roofs.


Provence was yet another French destination I absolutely loved for the climate, history, architecture, food and lifestyle. I only scratched the surface in my fleeting visit of Provence; for example, I never even managed to explore the region’s picturesque villages and varying landscapes. Doubtless I will be returning to this wonderful pocket of the world in the future.

That’s all for now,


France photos

Posted by Liamps 23:16 Archived in France

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Hi Liam
You're in Hubert country now. Max's dad was born in Carpentras & he seemed to think he was of Latin descent which seems highly likely.
You're reminding me of how I spent last Winter...this winter has been one big endurance test in Melbourne!

by Jo

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