It’s great to be back … after so many months hunkering down at home. Little by little, as vaccine doses do their thing, we’re getting back into the world — at least in our relative neighborhood. We’ve missed being able to share our little adventures with you.
So we offer a few more little pleasures from the last couple of months.
A couple of weeks ago, our friends Michael and Philippe, who live in Paris and Normandy, came to the south for Philippe’s niece’s wedding. We rendezvoused with them near Nîmes for a few days of hanging out and being tourists — and diners. We visited Nîmes, Arles, the Pont du Gard, and Baux de Provence. (Another post is coming soon to show you some of the Roman sites we enjoyed.)
Once again, the simplest things are such a pleasure now. We stayed in a rustic B&B about 20 minutes north of Nîmes, and not far from where Michael and Philippe were staying. Our Belgian host had transformed a very large stone village house into a green oasis. Everything inside and out was found-object casual; no pretense here. Lots of homemade jams for breakfast, and way-too-enticing sweet cornbread madeleines, which are apparently a local favorite.
Around the corner from the B&B is the bar / restaurant La Fontaine. Again: simple pleasures. We grabbed lunch here when we first arrived, and one evening after lots of driving, we enjoyed a couple of cocktails. Both times, there were plenty of customers. But noticeably local, without the English and non-French voices of pre-pandemic times.
We wanted to show Michael and Philippe the multimedia spectacle of the Carrières de Lumières. We’ve visited here a couple times in the past (past blog post). Earlier this year, two new programs debuted: one celebrating the paintings of Cézanne, and the other the works of Kandinsky. Just as stunning and fascinating as the earlier programs.
The quarries of the Carrières de Lumières sit just outside and below the promontory of the village of Baux de Provence. We enjoyed some pizzas on a sunny terrace overlooking the valley and rock formations. A wander through the stone streets was fun just because people were out and about. We had noticed previously that many of the shops are the same as the ones in La Cité de Carcassonne, and other historical spots. But no matter; we were glad to find them open for business. We stopped in a what looked like a non-franchise boutique because of some nice ceramics in the window. We found a green and white floral-pattern pitcher that would make a great vase for a wild bunch of flowers. As I was waiting for the credit-card machine to process, I asked where the ceramics were made, thinking of some young artisan in an old village nearby. The saleswoman said, “Oh, Sweden.” And shrugged.
The town of Arles is only about 20 minutes away from the Carrières. (Past blog post.) Perfect for a late-afternoon stroll, and (another!) bite to eat. The main square of the town sits over the ancient Roman forum; only a corner of one of the forum buildings remains. These days, the square is filled edge to edge with cafés and restaurants. Van Gogh made one of the cafés famous – Le Café La Nuit. The current owners make the most of the cultural notoriety.
There’s a new landmark in Arles: the just-opened LUMA Foundation Arts Resource Center, designed by Frank Gehry. The founder of the LUMA Foundation, Maja Hoffman, aims to create a world-class inter-disciplinary arts community, and she sees this extroverted building as part of putting LUMA — and Arles — on the contemporary culture map. In much the same way the Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, transformed that city. There’s plenty of controversy bubbling around this hyper-modern building in traditional Provençal Arles. It’s an odd beast: like a polished transformer (as in, The Transformers) posing on top of an old glass drum. Still, it is shiny, provocative and surprisingly not too out-of-scale for the town.
The host of our B&B talked about a nearby fine-dining restaurant with a beautiful lunch menu at a notably moderate price — which of course we couldn’t resist. After a morning of visiting the Pont du Gard (blog post coming soon), we stopped at the Villa Montesquieu in the village of Laudun. We found a boutique hotel with an attractive indoor-outdoor restaurant. Lovely meal.