October was the most difficult month we’ve had in our time here in France. We had unexpectedly returned to Greenville for a few weeks and, fter losing my Dad to a sudden illness on October 21, we came home to France and the daily routines of life. The week after we returned, the boys had a Monday off from school which gave us a 3-day weekend. We were emotionally exhausted and hadn’t gotten around to making any plans, but this 2nd week in November, we decided it might be good to get away a bit with a little trip down to Provence. And of course, CoCo would come with us, her first trip!
We had visited St. Rémy for lunch back in May when our friends Jeff and Ella had come to visit, but we really had hoped to go back.
It is probably one of the most charming towns we’ve visited here in France and it’s no wonder that Van Gogh spent so much time here and found such inspiration for the most famous of his paintings.
We found a cute little gîte near the center of town that was owned by an Australian couple who had bought an old farmhouse and renovated it in 2016. They had a guest house on the property with a separate yard/garden that was the perfect size for all 5 of us and CoCo!
On Sunday, we drove to Arles, another cute Provençal town that we’d wanted to visit but had never had enough time to visit during our other trips down to Provence.
It was really cold that day, and CoCo didn’t have a coat (Frenchies don’t have lots of fur), so we wrapped her up in a wool blanket and popped her in her backpack (yes, they make a backpack for French bulldogs… they are known for their laziness! haha) and off we went!
Though it was Sunday (which means that most shops and restaurants were closed), there was lots of beautiful Roman architecture that remains.
There are still bullfights held in this arena but they are typically Provençal-style, in which the bulls are not killed. However, in September, more typical Spanish-style bullfights are still held- that always start with the traditional bull-running through the streets!
Arles was a place of great influence to Van Gogh. Though he only lived there from 1888-1889, it was the sunshine and the bold colors of the south of France in addition to the quiet, charming village atmosphere that drew him to this area-such a contrast to the busy Parisian life he was living prior to this period. He painted over 300 works during this time, including some of his most famous ones- the Yellow Room, Sunflowers, Starry Night Over the Rhone, and many others.
We also saw the café that Van Gogh painted in “Café Terrace at night” on the Place du Forum in 1888.
His influence is felt heavily here; most of the items in the souvenir shops were Van Gogh related.
This woman and her dog performed for passersby in front of an old amphitheater full of ruins…
Arles is full of culture and is known for its’ annual photography festival.
Many restaurants were closed and since it was too cold to eat outside, we were looking for a restaurant where we could sit inside with CoCo. We are still new dog parents who tend to assume that, like in America, it is less common for restaurants to allow dogs than not. But here in France, many people like to bring their dogs to restaurants! In fact, the staff at restaurants usually seem surprised when we ask for 1) a table for 5 2) but only if we can bring our dog. “Of course!” they say, “how about this table over here?”. Sometimes, they even bring a bowl of water over for her!
Cuit Cuit was the coolest little spot serving Sunday lunch which was a simple menu with just a few choices- roasted chicken- 1/4, 1/2 or whole, chicken strips, handcut fries and homemade cheese sauce. These beautiful platters showed up at our table piled high with so much deliciousness.
We won’t forget this place. Apparantly, they have a much broader menu on other days during the week, but it didn’t matter to us, our meal had been so perfect.
Next, we hopped in the car and drove down to Camargue, a huge natural reserve of marshy wetlands that sits on the Mediterranean and is home to some unique birds, animals and insects. First, the Camargue horses, which are believed to be one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. Small and agile, these wild horses have roamed freely across this large river delta for thousands of years.
Interestingly, the Camargue bulls that also roam here are used for the Provençal style of bull-fighting mentioned above throughout the south of France where the sport of bullfighting still widely exists. Cowboys ride the Camargue horses in the herding process.
Its’ saltwater habitat is a unique environment and home to over 400 species of birds, most famously, pink flamingos (one of the only places in Europe they can be found!) and insects (the most vicious mosquitos in Europe are found here!)
By the time we arrived, it was late afternoon, very cold and extremely windy, so we didn’t venture out to the coast, but we did stop along the river and climb up onto a viewing stand that offered a expansive 360 degree view.
Driving through these beautiful marshy wetlands as we made our way back towards St. Rémy, everyone was so quiet. It felt really therapeutic to be able to sit, look out at the beautiful landscape and reflect on everything that had happened over the last month. Our recent, unexpected trip back home to Greenville changed each of us forever. It was the first time that the boys had experienced loss and during these weeks, there was lots of thinking, reflecting, many questions, and lots of tears.
That night, we weren’t in the mood to eat out, so we picked up pizza & paninis from a tiny pizza shop in the center of town and brought it home. There was something I wanted to share with the boys and Chuck.
One of the most meaningful and special things I left Greenville with a few weeks before was a small manila envelope I found when unpacking my suitcase once I returned to France.
Tucked inside were many photos of me as a little girl, with my sisters and my parents when we were young. They came from such a happy, uncomplicated, innocent time in our lives as a family.
My sisters, Mom and I had spent the week after Dad had passed away sorting through all of my parents’ collective belongings from their 48 years of marriage. We found many hundreds and hundred of photos and momentos extending as far back as his childhood. My sister, Maureen, had spent hours putting aside the ones of our immediate family and sorting them into piles for Jen and I and unknowingly tucked mine into my suitcase.
When I first arrived back to France, I couldn’t bring myself to look through them. But now I was ready.
We left Provence the next day, hoping this would not be our last visit to this absolutely magical region of France before moving home. There’s just something about each of the small towns here are so enchanting.