Well, no, we are not travelling again but 2½ weeks ago we hit the road when we drove south. We usually drive to Spain via the French Atlantic coast, via Paris and Bordeaux. This time, since we were not heading to Zaragoza as usual, but first to Calafell in Catalunya, the shortest way was via the French Mediterranean coast.
Taking the Mediterranean way to Spain, it was the perfect excuse to stop by one of my best friends, Swedish L who nowadays live in Provence with her French boyfriend F. They live 1003 km from Brussels, in a small village in the region of Lubéron, north of Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.
Driving in France is so much nicer than driving in Germany (when driving to Sweden); less traffic (if not driving when all the French are going south), less queues and less crazy people driving 200 km/hour. However, there is one thing I definitely prefer on the German autobahn – the toilets!! Another drawback is that you have to pay toll on many French (and Spanish) motorways, but they are usually in a very good condition so we don’t complain too much.
O loves listening to Radio Autoroute (107.7 fm) and I am in charge of understanding the traffic announcements. At one point they announced that there was a car driving in the wrong direction on the exact motorway section where we were driving. It took me a while to understand in what direction the car was travelling as I got confused – was the car driving south on the north-bound side, or the reverse? It turned out that the car was on our south-bound lane but driving north – scary!! Fortunately the driver had probably discovered his / her mistake and had stopped or maybe it had been stopped by a so-called patrouiller because the alert was called off. The patrouiller is not like the American highway patrol, ie not the police, but what I have understood the motorway company’s patrol cars that are usually first on the scene when there is an incident on the motorway (accident or a car breaking down etc).
Happy we were not driving north through Lyon (the Rhône river is next to the north-bound lanes on the left). Mental note for next time: find a way to drive AROUND the city (we still haven’t found a way to avoid the périphérique (ring road) of Paris).
It was O’s first time visiting Provence, but I spent three summers in the 1980’s in the south of France with my family and was back in 2005 (girls’ weekend in Ste-Maxime) and 2006 (wedding weekend in Aix-en-Provence). Hopefully we will be able to drive to Spain via Provence many times in the future, especially as our friends L & F became parents to a small baby girl last Monday (11 days after we had visited them).
Our friends live on the same property as F’s parents but in their own little house (jokingly called the Pool house as it is next to the pool). F’s parents live in a typical Provençal mas (farmhouse), even if this one is not an old one but only 20 years old. The whole setting is very picturesque; the two couples share custody of the old diabetic cat Lucky (pronunced in French, bien sûr), F and his father complain that the village butcher is flirting with their women and between their homes and the village is a huge sunflower field and the wine cooperative.
O was surprised at how similar the landscape was to his region in Aragón, only the Lubéron mountains are lower and there are so much more tourists here than in Aragón. We discussed why – maybe because the Mediterranean sea is 1 hours’ drive away instead of 3 hours? Or maybe because holidaying in Provence (and especially la Côte d’Azur – the coastline) has been popular with both French and foreign tourists since the 19th century*? The French are also better at preserving old houses instead of just building new homes, which means that the villages have kept their charm unlike their Spanish counterparts (especially along the Spanish coasts!)… However, the locals are now complaining that the foreigners have pushed up the prices on the village houses and the old-style mas in the countryside which means that the younger generation can’t afford to live in the area. O and I would love for some rich Brits or Dutch in search of the sun to come to his village in Spain and renovate some of the crumbling old buildings!!
Unfortunately we only had time to stay for less than 24 hours in Provence as O’s sister and niece were waiting for us in Spain. We had to wave goodbye to our friends, who we knew would be 3 next time we see them… We had another 560 km to drive before we would reach our second destination, Calafell in Catalunya.
*) The nick-name la Côte d’Azur was coined in a guidebook to the region, published in 1887 (according to Lonely Planet: Provence & the Côte d’Azur)