Marigold outside the famous Les Deux Garçons cafe. No, of course we didn't eat there. We're not millionaires!
Provence. Probably our favourite place. With more than a nod to New Zealand which we love, but is too far away to be seriously considered as an area to be visited and revisited.
We left the Hermitage at seven this morning in the faint hope that Nice would be traffic free. Some chance of that as it was, as ever, jammed solid. When we got to the Autoroute, almost the first thing we saw was a plane, surrounded by police cars, on the other carriageway. A light aircraft, not a Jumbo jet, but even so! It had made an emergency landing on the motorway. How exciting.
‘It’s a sign,’ I said and we got off at the next exit. Of course, that meant we had to pay at the toll booth and Marigold does not fare well at toll booths. The days of a little man saying ‘bonjour’ and patiently waiting while we find the money are long gone. Now it is a machine and machines and Marigold do not fare well together.
‘Could you say that again?’ She said.
It’s a machine,’ I say. ‘It can’t talk back.’
‘Well, I can’t tell what she says and there’s nowhere to put the money in.’
After a decent sized line of cars has built up behind us, we find out how much is required and pay. This is no easy process. We are driving a right hand drive car so the passenger has to put the money in the proper slot, collect tickets, change or whatever.
‘Push my bum,’ Marigold says, leaning dangerously far through the open car window. I push, strenuously. There are worse tasks, after all.
I push harder. She’s practically out of the car by now, but still can’t seem to get close enough. The car is only half an inch away from a vast slab of concrete, as close as I dare risk taking it, but English arms are, evidently, shorter than those of other nationalities. Eventually, the barrier goes up, I haul Marigold inside and we drive off, usually leaving any change still in the drawer to await the next customer.
Mission finally accomplished we head for the hills. Literally. Away from the coast, Provence is magical and we relive all the joys of this region in the next few hours. We know The Luberon well and that’s where we decide to go. Our route takes in the awe inspiring Gorges du Verdun and the ruined chateau of the Marquis de Sade along with a number of detours to perched hill villages which are seemingly around every bend in the road.
Lacoste was once the home of the famous, perhaps more accurately, infamous, Marquis de Sade. In the hilltop chateau that dominates the area, he staged his famous orgies. Young local girls were recruited as ‘staff’ and presumably compensated for their arduous labours. I certainly hope so.
Present day Lacoste is all cobbled streets, ancient houses and gorgeous views. John Malkovitch, Peter Mayle, Tom Stoppard all lived locally, but the castle itself was bought and restored by Pierre Cardin along with over twenty other houses, most of which now lie empty. This has not made Cardin popular locally, but as an outsider to see the old castle at least partially restored and the grounds stuffed with contemporary art on a grand scale it makes for a fascinating visit.
Onwards we go, through enchanting fields of flowers and vines, onwards to Aix en Provence with its many delights. We find a hotel within walking distance to the centre – fortunately, as it’s a hot day – and are soon wandering the side streets of this beautiful old town. As ever, we remark on the number of students, who always seem to be out and about. When do they study?
Stylish dressers abound, both sexes, the coffee houses are plentiful and food is widely available. We make our lunch venue choice and sit back to people watch. The waiter is friendly, amusing and stylish, sporting black braces and a fine moustache, (he wears other items of clothing too, not just braces,) but the food isn’t as good as we’d hoped. Ah well.
Where next, we ask. Yes, we do ask these questions of each other on a regular basis. Marigold will suggest somewhere, I will point out it is at least 500 miles away from where we are now, we have a rethink and so it goes. Tomorrow? Who knows? We’ll leave the hotel, turn one way or the other and see where we end up
It’s a good system.