As I mentioned before, I turned to Trip Advisor to find a tour guide to take us around Provence rather than renting a car. We were with another couple and decided that we would hire a guide/driver for just the four of us.
One Day in Provence had great reviews and after several emails I knew that we would be in good hands. We were going to do this tour on a Friday, the day we were to embark on our AMAWaterways cruise up the Rhone. I inquired if he could arrange the tour so we would end up in Arles and then drop us off at our ship. He readily agreed. To me, that helped offset the price of a private tour since we wouldn’t have to take 2 taxi rides as well as a train ride from Marseille to Arles. Turned out that this was a great decision since, unknown to us, there was a huge festival that weekend in Arles and we probably wouldn’t have found a taxi.
William, our driver/tour guide, was prompt in picking us up at our hotel in a Mercedes Benz van. As soon as we got into the van, he pulled out his map to review what we wanted to do and to make sure that we were all on the same page. He gave us a few options and explained the pros and cons. We decided to go to some of the smaller villages and around behind the mountains. We did want to go to a winery since we were in the Rhone Valley with all their wonderful wines.
As we traveled along some of the backroads outside of Marseille on our way to the winery, William began telling us the history of France…how it was first settled by the Celtics, then the Greeks and the the Romans. Marseille is the oldest city in France and was an important port during the Roman Empire. He went on to tell us more about the history of the area which we found fascinating. There are four islands off the coast of Marseille and on one of the islands, a fortress turned prison, was built. This fortress was the setting for Alexander Dumas’ story The Count of Monte Cristo.
Just before William turned off the road for the winery, he called them up to let them know we were coming. They were closed since they were in the midst of harvesting the grapes but opened for us. We were able to sample the same wine twice; once in an oak barrel and again in a stainless steel barrel. We all enjoyed the oak barrel over the stainless steel. It was quite and education for us.
On our way to the small village of Lourmarin, we passed by the Pont (bridge) Julien which was built in the 3d century BC. Until recently cars still used this bridge as a means to go over the Coulon River. That information just blew my mind seeing something that old and still in relatively great shape way we passed by. The village is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France.is surrounded by vineyards, olive trees and almond trees. The day that we were there was an French market that all from around the area go to. I’m a sucker for the outdoor markets featuring all different types of foods, clothing, crafts and so much more. One of my favorite foods is cheese, particularly French, pungent cheeses. We were able to get some to take with us on our cruise and since William had a cooler in the back of the car, we knew we could keep it cool till we arrived on board. Walking along the alleys and pedestrian ways, I felt so at home even though I could not understand the French language. I felt like I had come home.After walking through the narrow passageways and back to our car, we set off for lunch. William had a suggestion where we should eat and we let him make that decision. He called ahead to let them know we would be coming. This meal turned out to be the BEST meal we had in all of France. Le Carillon, located in the small main square in Goult, turned out to be a Michelin restaurant. We sat outside and enjoyed the scenery, the entire ambiance of these delicious meal. We had the fixed price meal which included an appetizer, main course and dessert. I had the best beef carpaccio that I ever had with shaved parmesan cheese on top with a few capers. We would most likely have never found this restaurant if it hadn’t been for William. Here we are in a very small French village in the countryside, no traffic at all, sitting outside under an awning eating one of the best meals we have ever had. This is what travel is all about.
The rest of the day was traveling through more little, quaint villages. Another of our favorite was St. Remy which has become quite popular and expensive due to celebrities who live around here. William asked if we liked chocolate. What a silly question to ask us, of course we all do. He took us to a well known chocolatier and even though the shop was quite small, the chocolate had great taste. They had small squares of chocolate and on each top was a letter of the alphabet. This letter corresponded with what type of flavoring it had. One of the flavors was lemon and clove; another was violet. Many were traditional flavors and others were different combination. We were able to hand pick the chocolates that we wanted.
As we were getting closer to Arles, William told us how lucky we were to be here at this time since Arles was celebrating The Festival of the Harvest of the Rice – honest! The next day there was to be a bull fight in the their colosseum, bulls running through the street like in Pamplona and fireworks in the evening. We sometimes “luck” into special events like this and were happy to hear that it would be happening again.
William pulled up to the dock, we hopped out, gave him a hug and a huge thank you for all that he did for us, all that he shared and showed us as well as enriching our experience in Provence. Our vacation continues to get better and better and we are anxious to see what adventures we will have on the river cruise portion of the trip.
More coming up in future posts.