Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The bug has bitten again and I'm off on my travels again – this time to Provence in the South of France. The family have been here several times, with the last time being, rather frighteningly, around 20 years ago. I'm here this time with my Brother in Law, and we're spending 4 days in a small town called Vaison-la-Romaine, which is about 30 kilometres from Avignon.

It sits dead in the centre of the Cotes de Rhone Wine region, and for those drunkards who can recite the names of the 17 or so villages which qualify for the Cotes de Rhone Villages Appellation in Wine Making, most of them are only a few minutes drive from Vaison.

Vaison has one of the the largest set of Roman Ruins in Europe, but they were discovered under the edge of the town, so the ability to excavate the full remains is limited by the need to flatten a large part of the current town sitting on top of them, which the locals are, perhaps understandably, finding difficult to come to terms with.

Anyway, we drove to Birmingham Airport, and got on an Air France Canadair jet. This was operated by a company called Brit Air, which seemed to indicate the possibility of yer actual cooperation between a French and a British Airline. Now this is something which struck me as a complete No-No. Remember Agincourt, and all that. But on searching around, it seems that Brit Air is actually a French company – very odd.

Lyon was reached early thanks to a bit of a tail wind, and we drove down the Autoroute du Soleil (why don't we name our Motorways) – towards Avignon, and branched off for the last few kilometres of the journey. Vaison was reached at the rather sociable time of 5pm, and we booked into the hotel. We had reserved the "Apartement" which was at the very top of the hotel, and reached after climbing four flights of stairs (no lift) with no rhyme or reason to the directions they randomly went off in. The good thing was it led onto a private balcony which overlooked the square in the centre of the town, which is great because you feel really in the middle of things, which actually you are!

The best word I can think of to describe the place is "Bohemian". Really off the wall art on the walls, which are painted in very distinctive colours, none of which seem to match. And a new thing for me - my bed is made of Wicker, and looks a bit like a gondola, except I don't think it would float for too long!

My ploy is always to chat up the receptionist, who thawed a bit when she heard my distinctive and rather individual approach to the French Language. We had been given half a ham roll on the plane, and apart from this, lunch seemed to bypass us, so we were on the gannetty side of ravenous by about 7 o'clock. Mademoiselle Receptioniste advised us of a decent restaurant near the river, and off we set to talk them into giving us a meal without having made a reservation.

A small degree of smiling and my idiosyncratic French aimed at the girl who seemed to be Head Cook and Bottlewasher there, secured us a place, whereupon the scale of our achievement was immediately made clear by her turning away the next couple who came in asking the same question we had. One up to us.

We ended up having the best overall meal I'd had in quite a while – Thyme smoked Duck on Balsamic Salad leaves, perfect Veal Fillet with wild mushrooms in a really zingy reduction, and a local goats cheese called Picodon, which is served with Peppercorns in a light peppery olive oil.

The wine list went on for a few pages, and none of them, apart from the Champagnes, were produced further than 20 miles away from where we were sitting. That's the way to support your local industry.

Back home to bed, except we seemed to end up in a café outside the hotel, drinking a couple of beers until just before midnight, when the hotel shut the door. The temperature was 17 degrees, the whole place still had a buzz about it and was sitting around just chatting to friends, and it all felt really rather pleasant.

Tomorrow is Market Day in Vaison, and Provencale markets are a bit special. I decided to get up early, and be on the streets before the market people arrived in the town, so I could photograph the build up, as well as the market in full swing. That meant being out of the door around 6am, which given we'd just arrived today from England, was actually 5am.

Ho Hum – we'll see.



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