Sunday, 29 June 2008

Provence - Apt and Roussillon

Sunday was the day we would be spending around the Luberon area of Provence, made famous by the Peter Mayle books like A Year in Provence, which I read before leaving for our holiday (apparently he also wrote Where did I Come From).

We had to drive through Apt and weren't anticipating stopping, but there was a big market open on the outskirts so we stopped to check it out - I had decided I needed a wine carafe and Linda was just happy to have found some markets. Ultimately Linda found something to buy while I left empty handed (don't worry, it all ends well).

We then moved on to Roussillon, which is ochre coloured from the red pigment found in the clay around the town. Linda and I agreed that Roussillon was our kind of French provincial town, nice and small, up on a hilltop, and touristy enough to keep us amused.

We got ourselves some gelato (Linda had some lavender flavoured gelato, which was surprisingly good) and wandered around, eventually leaving town with a small jug glazed red with the local pigments.

All my photos from Roussillon are here.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Provence - Saignon

It might not have a particularly comprehensive Wikipedia page, but Linda did a lot of research and Saignon came up winner as our place to stay for the majority of our time in Provence.

We arrived shortly before sunset and, like the sad tourists we knew we were, we immediately pulled out our cameras and started snapping off photos.

We walked down to a nearby lookout with a view over the countryside and back towards the town. We couldn't have asked for a more spectacular way to enter the town.

Eventually we had to actually check into our hotel, the Auberge du Presbytere, and headed out for dinner. We both got plates of Provincal specialities, stuffing ourselves silly but somehow finding room for the chocolate fondent with frambois sauce.

Given that Saignon was our base, we spent a lot of time in and around the town. Indeed it is a very cute little town with some fantastic restaurants, and is set amongst fields of wheat, cherries, and the famous lavender.

Consequently we took a lot of photos of Saignon, and you can find them all here.

Provence - Avignon

While just about everyone we met during our stay in Provence was kind and friendly, we had our only real altercation of the trip with the owner of the hotel when we were checking out, demanding that we hand over some sort of certificate that we were meant to print out from our internet booking. Anyway that was as bad as it got, and it was certainly the exception, proving the whole 'rude French' a bit of a myth in our minds.

We then started the day on a fruitless (no pun intended) search for some craft markets that were meant to be just outside the city walls, to find only a fruit and vegetable market - where Linda still managed to find a skirt to buy. We had better luck as we came back through Les Halles which contained row upon row of delicious foods of all kinds (not to mention it was air conditioned; not a minor attribute on such hot days).

We backed this up with some more gelato later in the day, and found a fantastic café in the gardens near a church where they had a spray system set up under the awnings to keep everyone cool. We were content with a salad by this point.

We then did a proper tour through the Palais des Papes, which was quite interesting, although I kept getting told off for trying to take photos and it is anyway such a huge building it is a little overwhelming to try and take in (you can only listen to so many audio commentaries before fatigue sets in).

We then took ourselves out onto the Pont d'Avignon. More audio guides. Actually, it was interesting to find out more about the history of the bridge and the associated song. Finally we walked up to the park above the Palais des Papes for a picnic and to see the view from above Avignon.

Eventually it was time to take our leave of Avignon and make the trip to Saignon where we would be staying the rest of our time in Provence. We picked up the car and navigated our way out of the narrow streets of Avignon and onto the road into the Luberon.

All my photos from Avignon are here.

Provence - Setting Out

Last Friday we picked up a rental car from Geneva and hit the road to Provence. Our plan was to go in June before the big crowds of July and August hit, and while the weather was warm and the Lavender in bloom.

Somehow we ended up taking the slow roads through the Haute Provence and Luberon all the way to Avignon, where we were staying the first night. While this was frustrating in some respects, it meant we travelled through some spectacular scenery and some interesting towns, including Sisteron, nestled amongst the mountains.

Eventually we arrived in Avignon, somewhat hot and bothered, dumped the car, and wandered through the paved streets to our hotel on the main square of Avignon. After taking some time to check out our room we headed out to take in some of the sights of the town.

We started by walking through our square and on to the Palais des Papes, where the Popes lived in the 14th and 15th centuries. It was mostly empty, except for some fashionable restaurants spilling into the paved square, and some kids playing soccer.

Then we moved on to the Rhône river and the Pont d'Avignon, the broken bridge famous from the French song Sur le Pont d'Avignon (on the bridge of Avignon).

We also took the first of what would be a great many photos of the lavender of Provence before completely running out of energy and seeking out dinner (and somehow finding a delicious gelato shop that we would visit a few more times during our stay).

Still being Euro 2008 time, there was a Turkey match on TV and when ultimately the Turks prevailed, we were treated to honking horns and partying all night. Not that I noticed, having thoroughly passed out from the long day of driving, hot weather, delicious food, and possibly the wine.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Euro 2008

Well the Euro 2008 has come to Switzerland and Austria, and this weekend held the opening matches.

We headed down to the big screen they had set up next to the lake in Vevey to watch the Switzerland vs. Czech Republic match. There was plenty of support from the locals, with everyone turned out in red and white to match the flag colours. It was a really nice night to be outside in any case, and we enjoyed being part of the action.

Unfortunately Switzerland lost their opening match, as did Austria the following night. The Swiss at least did not seem too disheartened by the loss - I don't think they come into the competition with great expectations - but it would be nice to see them win a game or two.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Lavaux Bike Ride

On Sunday we picked up some rental bikes at the train station, caught the train to Puidoux above Vevey and went for a bike ride through the vineyards of the Lavaux wine region that overlooks Lac Léman.

We'd been meaning to go riding for a few weekends now, since spring has finally sprung and the vines turned green. It was a little overcast but we figured we should go when we had the chance and consider it to be an explore of the area before we try it again on a nicer day.

It was really nice to be in the hills above the lake, and the view was amazing despite the hazy weather. Although there was some steep bits that had us puffing, mainly it was a nice gentle ride and next time we go we may mix in some wine tasting in the caveaux (cellars) that open up in the towns on the route.

It was so much fun, in fact, that I began looking at the distance to ride from work to home sometimes. Not owning a bike may be a small impediment to this dream so I'm sure I'll forget about it soon enough.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Fête de Vevey-est

Last weekend was the Fête de Vevey-est, which is the eastern part of Vevey that we live in. This meant there was a whole lot more stalls in the markets along the waterfront, as well as some performances in the town.

Of particular interest was the old steam boats, some of them more than 100 years old, which put on a performance in front of the town. I guess there's only so much of a 'performance' a boat can put on, but they looped around in the lake and tooted their whistles and it was all quite fun.