Summer Travel Part Two: South of France With a Side of Paris
When I was booking our trip to Greece I got greedy, and added a quick France Itinerary to our Instagram vacation. Our kids would be in Michigan, and there was no reason to come back to the States other than work, which seemed overrated at the time of booking.
I was very excited to spend an extra week my hubby AND to be visiting on of my top ten countries. I love France so much, but had never been to the south. Since I could not decide between Provence or the Cote D’Azure, I figured staying in Marseille (France’s own second city) we could get a little taste of both.
Following our Grecian getaway, we took the earliest direct flight from Athens to Marseille, and set up camp at the super luxe Hotel De Dieu in the Panier district. We decided to spend one day exploring the city of Marseille, a second day in the coast, and a third inland in Provence. I realize now, and I guess in a way I also did when I was planning, that I should have stayed longer in Provence. However, I sacrificed time in Provence for time in Paris, and I’m OK with that.
Marseille is a great city, very proud to be a gritty and edgy port town. It reminded me of Guayaquil, where I grew up. Not as user friendly as Paris, but once we figured out where to avoid the tourists, we were fine. Since our return, I have done a little more research on Marseille, and we are realizing we barely scratched the surface, especially regarding the underground food, art and design scene. Can’t wait to come back with the kids to eat all the art and see all the food.
Being a museum junkie (i.e. nerd) I made sure we visited a few smaller ones in this part of the trip. The Museum of Culture was a fabulous way to spend a few hours, and the Halles de la Majeure a perfect place to have a bite before or after the much needed dose of culture (only open for lunch and dinner). A fun and loud food hall, the Halles de la Majeure is a short walk from the museum and adjacent to the-do-not-miss Cathedrale Sainte-Marie-Majeure.
We loved sampling a variety of local food vendors and discovering the panisse (at first I though they were fries), delicious chickpea fritters, similar to fried polenta. The Provencal specialty was a yummy reminder that Marseille is truly a rich cultural melting pot. After a quick city walk where we took in the impressive street art scene, we found ourselves early at the hotel to catch the Bastille Day fireworks.
On day two, we drove to Cassis and explored the calanques which are the coastal rock formations on the Mediterranean Sea (don’t quote me on that.) Calanques National Park is truly a sight; there are beautiful views of the water and plenty of opportunities to hike, sun bathe and jump in the ocean. Here I wished again (like in Greece) that I had those water shoes to go in the ocean worry free. The surface is rocky and slippery making it very hard to get in and out. Even the locals were struggling. Worth it tho. What a view!
After the Calanques we strolled the pastel hued city end explored downtown Cassis. Like the cliched tourist we’d slowly become, the hubby and I enjoyed our waterfront libations, violette ice cream and people watching in the main port. I must admit this was a bit kitschy, but after the hike up the calanques we welcomed it with open arms. On our way back to the Marseille, we stopped for the sunset at the hilltop church of Notre Dame de la Gard for the best views of the city.
Day three we set out on a road trip to Aix en Provence and a few towns around the Luberon region. Aix was cute and shopping abundant. it was also a bit touristy, but a visit to the studio of impressionist painter Paul Cezanne was a great excuse to get away from the crowds. The studio is tiny, but if you have an interest in process and are a fan of Cezanne it’s worth visiting.
There are a myriad wineries around the area, so we did a quick search and drove to a few. My husband and I love going to supermarkets when we are abroad and putting together a pic-nic for our road trips. Food is culture after all, and you would be surprised at what you can learn about a region from its supermarkets and food in general.
Sadly, after a fun filled trip it was time to leave for Paris and start our journey home. We spent a few days in Paris decompressing, dining with friends and generally slowing down as we were about to be hit hard. The post vacation crash is always tough.
The last couple of weeks in Europe had been eye opening, if not life changing, at least for me. Out of nowhere, I found myself silently crying on the plane while watching 30 Rock re-runs. Being so far, and so far removed, from America, distanced from the division that is plaguing our county these days, I was able to breathe easier. I felt calmer, more at ease.
I’ve been trying to keep that vibe going with more meditation, more yoga, less social media. It’s working. In the end, that is what vacations are for. To challenge us, to change us, to make us think differently, and see the world thru the eyes of others. To inspire us to be better at our jobs, at parenting, to ourselves, to our earth, and our community. To make us crave another journey, and appreciate home when we come back.
Tomorrow, my kids start school and everything is new. As I see life thru them, fresh, excited and eager to learn, I can truthfully say: mission accomplished. I am ready to level up.
What we did
We stayed in Marseilles and took day trips. It was very efficient to stay in one place. Do not recommend packing and unpacking as every place we visited was less than an hour away. Not worth the hassle of checking in and checking out of hotels/Airbnb. Saves time too!
Unlike Greece, this time we def rented a car. My husband loves to drive, and I adore the convenience of having a vehicle not just to transport us from A to Z, but also to store the things we kept acquiring while we were out. Nothing worse than carrying bags around while you walk or visit the sites. We packed a day trips’ worth and we were on our way.
What to bring
Believe it or not, a map! Sometimes in these smaller towns GPS is not accurate. My hubby had a secret map, that we ended up using when the ole GPS was making us take turns that did not exist. Old school ya’ll.
Love re-usable cotton string bags. We used them over and over and they were so easy to store and travel with. I HATE plastic bags, and these were super useful throughout our trip. From the markets of Provence to the neighborhood store, these were a great asset. You don’t realize how much you stop and shop when you are travelling and these made me feel good about my carbon footprint.
A knife to cut bread, cheese and meats! It’s France!
Water shoes. Tennis shoes. South of France is not easy on the feet. Streets are cobly and beaches are rocky.
What we would do differently
We waited last minute to rent a car and paid for it, plus the cost of airport transport etc. Going back to grab the car was a big time waster too. We would also not try to do as much as we did and concentrate on one area. Or we could add more nights, as we found out about cool things in the area from the locals I was sad to miss due to lack of time.
What I wore
First and foremost, my jewelry!! There is nothing that makes you feel more beautiful than slipping into something that actually fits after days of being on the road and bingein on ice cream at every turn. My trusty hat, and easy dresses. Comfy shoes are key and I always had the tennis shoes in the car in case there was (and there were) a little hike or harder walk. Lots of old streets, inclines, gravel, dirt. You get the idea.