Chapter Five: We Head To Provence

provence-france-1Chapter Five: We Head To Provence

Day Five: “Diesel” Or “Diesel”, Shut Out At Obi-Wan Kenobi, Never Pick The First Restaurant You See, Lost In Translation, Chicken Or Beef, It Helps To Have The Address, Room With A View, Beautiful Bonnieux, Circuitous Dinner Route, Dining Delight and Carrying A Torch

It was time to leave Beaune, but not before consuming vast amounts of Les Jardins de Loïs’s great croissants and jam. I reiterate; this is one of the finest lodgings we have stayed anywhere in Europe!  The gate opened, and we were on our way.

01-1Our destination was Bonnieux in the Luberon area of Provence. Tooling down the highway, I noticed we were in need of petrol, something that always causes consternation (for those that don’t know the great “Italian Petrol Fiasco of 2005,” please click here…it’s hard for me to read without breaking into a cold sweat).

Fortunately on this excursion, we knew we needed Diesel, so truthfully I thought this would be pretty easy…until we reached the gas pumps. Seemingly every pump said “Diesel,” but some also read “Gazole” or “gasoil Diesel.”

gasoilThe only “Diesel” I didn’t see on the pumps was Vin Diesel.

vin-dieselAs we pondered the pumps, we saw that a woman (who we discovered was from Germany on her way to Barcelona) was having a similar conundrum. She laughingly pointed out that we would immediately know if we selected the incorrect fuel ( was she in Italy in 2005?). Sadly neither one of us spoke French very well, so when we asked a French guy, “Diesel” or “Diesel,” he, as you might imagine, was rather perplexed at our dilemma.

Stepping inside the station, I asked the same stupid question, and while I’m sure the lady behind the counter thought, “Geez Americans are dumb,” she smiled and gave me the number of the pump that would would not force us to re-live that Gubbio nightmare.  As it turned out, the correct pump said, “Diesel Diesel,” which actually could be Vin Diesel’s kid’s name if he had a sense of humor.  Our sticker could have been of help, too, had we looked closely (perhaps we should stick to trains).

stickerBack on the road to Bonnieux, we made a left turn near Avignon, and even with our GPS, we were feeling lost. We turned into a rest stop, and spent some time looking at a real map until we moved on.  Soon we were really on the road less traveled. I had planned for our first hill town to be Oppède le Vieux, which by the time we arrived had been renamed Obi-Wan Kenobi (four hours in a car can make people a little crazy).  I even had a restaurant picked out (Le Petit Café).

A small road led us to a paid parking lot below town, where divergent paths would either take us into town or on a nice hike. As we stood debating which path with a French family and a British family, once again there was hesitation.

p1090298It was difficult to ascertain which way was the correct direction into town. Fortunately at that moment some people came from the path on the left and told us that was the correct direction.

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As was the case for our entire time we spent in Alsace many years ago, thanks to an unscheduled rest stop and trying to figure out the correct way to enter Obi-Wan Kenobi, we missed the 2 p.m. lunch bewitching hour by seven minutes (“No soup for you!”). The patio of the restaurant looked charming for those who arrive in time.

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I was going to ask my now starving bride if she’d like to walk the 20 minutes up to the castle, but once again knew that would be a horrible decision (I’d yet to receive “the look” on this trip).

p1090377We strolled around the square, walked back to the car, via a small cemetery…

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…where I think Tracy wanted to leave me after missing lunch, and we were on our way to our next hill town destination.

p1090300Most of our driving experiences from here on were peaceful, beautiful and, as a Southern California native, thankfully devoid of traffic.

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Next on our hill town hit list was Ménerbes, a town that many said Peter Mayle ruined by writing “A Year in Provence.”   From what had been written, I thought there might be hordes of tourists…

p1090310…however as we entered it was more like a ghost town.  We walked along the first street…

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…and were amazed to find an open restaurant, so we immediately plopped down at a table on the patio, thankful there was an establishment open at this hour. Our meal, however, became somewhat of an adventure in dining.  We were “lost in translation.”

p1090314Tracy ordered a “Coke Light,” but instead was served a Cafe Latte. We tried to explain she wanted a coke, but after a minute we realized this was a fruitless endeavor, so I drank the latte. Caffeine baby! She did finally get a Coke later.

Tracy ordered a “boeuf” plat, but instead was served chicken, which was puzzling since there was no “poulet” dish on the menu. I also received the wrong dish, but the frites were delicious, and we knew we had 8 p.m. dinner reservations in Bonnieux, so we got a good chuckle about our luncheon adventure in which we received nothing we had ordered, except my beer and, finally, Tracy’s coke (to be fair, the food we did receive was good, just not what we ordered).

p1090315Afterward, we decided to stroll up to the top of Ménerbes and the Place de la Marie. In about five minutes we came upon an open restaurant with a gorgeous view of the plain below.  Live and learn!

The castle was on our left as we made our way up…

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…with great views out toward the countryside.

p1090322We walked by Dora Maar’s residence (she was a photographer and Picasso’s mistress, and he bought her a house here).  Poet Joe Downing also lived here (not at the same time), and we stopped by his garden.

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Ménerbes must have known we were coming because they had installed a defibrillator station along the route (actually, a lot of hill towns seem to have these at handy spots where tourists might decide to croak). This little hike was a good way for us to walk off those two meals we didn’t order.

p1090320Finally, the Place de la Marie loomed ahead and we got a picture of the church that isn’t a church anymore.

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Views out toward the other side of Ménerbes were lovely, as well.

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On the way to our car, we strolled a few more streets, but it was time to move on once again.

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Back in the car, we made a quick stop in Lacoste, but since it was late in the afternoon, we decided not to venture up to the castle once owned by the Marquis de Sade…plus we were too tired for sex anyway.

lacoste-france-1It was at some point between Lacoste and Bonnieux…

les-terrasses-du-luberon-view-bonnieux-france-france-1…that Tracy and I realized something we had forgotten; the address and directions to our next B&B.  Our GPS could get us to Bonnieux, but after that we were on our own. Suddenly, it was 1996 all over again…finding a place by the seat of our pants.  After a 15-minute wait at the entrance to Bonnieux (thanks to a car being hoisted on the back of a truck)…

01-bonnieux-1… we did what we did in the old days…looked for a sign in a small town designating our lodging choice.  Driving through Bonnieux, we could tell this was a cute town.

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Just like the old days, the lodging sign was there, and five minutes later we were driving down the driveway of Les Terrasses du Luberon, another super choice (thanks to jamikins of the Fodors travel board).

The B&B has five rooms, a heated pool, a breakfast room and our living quarters (as did the other four) had a front patio offering spectacular views over the valley (photo from internet…we don’t own a drone).

terrasses-luberon-47396-1_w500We got the lay of the land from our gracious hosts. We opened a bottle of wine, and while relaxing on the patio, it started to rain…for about a minute. Our host, Jean Marc, told us that the area had been parched, because those were about the only type of rains (brief, with little moisture) they have had the past six months.

Our dinner reservations on this evening were at L’Arôme.   Our walk into town for dinner would prove to be an adventure.

First of all, Jean Marc, in an Indiana Jones moment, asked whether we needed a “torch” to walk into town.  Were we going to walk through a cave with a big rock rolling after us?

dw8h8jrAs it turned out, the torch was a flashlight, which we would need when we returned from our “easy” walk to and from the restaurant.  Having iPhones, we declined.

Jean Marc said there would be just a little traffic on the walk into town along what turned out to be a little busier road than expected with no shoulder.  It really wasn’t dangerous…I think.

What was dangerous was our hearing skills. Jean Marc had given us great directions to walk to L’Arôme. On the way to dinner, there were lots of cars passing by and not much in the way of a shoulder to walk on.  Somehow we missed the turn onto the path less traveled, but 20 minutes later…

bonnieux-france-france-1…we found the restaurant which is much more picturesque than the website.  It was tough to decide between eating inside the 11th-century cave or outside on the covered terrace.  We chose to eat inside which was fortuitous as smoking was allowed outside.

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L’Arôme is really one of the prettiest restaurants we have dined at on all our travels.

p1090329To make this a completely wonderful experience, the food here was exquisite (if food can be called exquisite).

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Our server, Clara, was very nice and helpful with the menu.  Tracy started with a Kir Royale, while I decided to try the Cocktail Maison (orange juice, Cointreau and cranberry juice).  Clara brought out an amuse bouche consisting of creamy mozzarella, tomato and basil pesto on a Parmesan biscuit.  It might the first ever amuse bouche to receive a “Wow.”

p1090333Tracy went with the €45 Menu Gourmand: House duck foie gras on fruit toast with quince chutney…

p1090332…Seared scallops with artichoke puree and walnut emulsion(L’Arôme is well-known for its seafood)…

08-arome-1… a fromage course…

p1090339…and a Lava cake with cinnamon ice cream. All those dishes were great with the lava cake receiving the coveted “Wow.”

p1090338I started with the green salad with walnut vinegar dressing (€11)…

p1090336…followed by lamb chops in thyme jus (€33). These were the best lamb chops I have ever had. Even Tracy, who really doesn’t care for lamb, gave it a “Double Wow.”

p1090337Oh, I was content!

p1090335Before heading back to our B&B, we walked through town to scope out our other two restaurants. We stopped at a wine bar to soak in the local ambiance (and more wine) before heading back along the road.

bonnieux-vin-1Although Don McLean could be singing Starry, Starry Night or van Gogh painting it, it was still very dark on the walk back home.  We used our iPhones as our “Torches,” which made me break into a little refrain of the Blazing Saddles theme song. “He made his blazing saddle, a torch to light the waaaaaay.”

mpw-38022Fortunately we were alone, and in the dark, so I couldn’t tell if Tracy was giving me “the look” or not.

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Our fluffy, comfortable bed (reminded us of those great Austrian fluffy beds) afforded us a great night’s sleep, which was good, because we would travel to some lovely Luberon villages the next day, and the first one had us seeing “Red.”

Next: Day Six – Seeing Red, Old Man “Squirrel Whisperer” Hiking, Another Sleepy Town, Taking My Lunch With A Grain Of Salt, Do We Need To Buy Them a Gift, Chateau Diversion, Busy Hill Town, Chasing Camus, Sunset In Bonnieux, Hail Cesar and An Impromptu Meeting Of The United Nations

 

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