France 2016: Lyon & Provence

Part 2 of our trip:

We left Paris on Tuesday, May 24 and rode a train to Lyon, about 300 miles outside of Paris.  Lyon is known for its cuisine and its history of silk weaving. It features a funiculare that takes you to a church and ‘old town’ with the ruins of a Roman amphitheater at the top of the city.

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Can you believe this was our view from our room:

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(Not the same church at the top of the city; we stayed just outside Place Bellacour in the modern town.)

While in town, we began with a walk to orient ourselves and then lunch.  I was dying to try the ‘salade Lyonnaise,’ which are greens topped with hunks of bacon, croutons and a poached egg.  We toured a museum of Roman ruins (obviously a highlight for Andrew), but I was more intrigued by the fashion show going on one level below us.  I got to chat with a young woman studying costume makeup and design whose work was featured in the show.

We chose a Rick Steves’ recommended restaurant for dinner, Les Lyonnaises, and we sat family-style, shoulder to shoulder with boisterous locals, some of who were ordering bright blue shots…on a Tuesday night.  I tried the epitome of Lyonnaise cuisine, a quenelle brochet, which is a fish souffle of sorts, served with a creamy red sauce.  It was absolutely divine.

The next morning, after walking the La Croix-Rousse district (known for its history of silk-weaving and garment-making), we toured a tiny silk-screen printing shop, where we saw first-hand how authentic screen-printing is done.  It’s incredibly labor intensive and I came away with a beautiful scarf as a treasured souvenir.  On our way out of town, we picked up our rental car:

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Finally!  The part of trip Andrew and I may have been looking forward to the most–our stay at L’Ecole Buissonniere.  We stayed there for one night on our trip last year, and it was not enough.  Not even close.   Our hosts, John and Monique, greeted us warmly with wine and olives.  It’s the most bucolic little b&b in Provence with only 4 rooms for guests.  They have a small pool, an enchanting patio and their hearts are as big as their arms are wide when they embrace you and kiss your cheeks. If they hadn’t had a room available, we may not have even made the trip across the pond!

Directly translated, L’Ecole Buissonniere means ‘to play hooky’ and is a play on words as the b&b is located in the town of Buisson.

Our room:

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The view from our balcony to the patio:

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The view from our other balcony, a field of grape vines:

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Just like last year, our first dinner in Provence may have been the most memorable of the entire trip.  John suggested we try Cote Terrasse, in nearby Seguret, and after an eventful drive (a story that can only be told in person, sadly), we arrived just in time for our reservation. As the sun set on the terrace and we sipped our wine, we both basked in the glory of vacation.  We’d left busy Paris behind us, broken in the rental car and we had five glorious days ahead of us in slow, warm, sunny Provence where the most important part of your day is hitting a different town and choosing a cafe for lunch.

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While farmer’s markets here in the States are often on Saturdays, markets in Provence vary by village and can be on any day of the week.  In fact, if you stayed in the region for seven days you’d probably be able to hit each village’s market at least once.  We started in Nyons, a nearby village, for their market.  Markets in Provence are a high highlight of any trip, and are a cross between a farmer’s market (including fresh fish, live chickens and prepared foods) and a flea market (with everything from handmade purses to famous Provencal table linens and knock-off purses).

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In Nyons, we picked up the ingredients for a picnic lunch and took it back to L’Ecole Buissonniere and ate on the patio.  The b&b is even equipped with a ‘summer kitchen’ with a small fridge, stove, sink and tableware. Chilled wine can be found at any grocery store for a couple euros.

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After lunch we headed out on a driving tour of the region, where we saw hilltown after hilltown after hilltown.  These tiny villages, built into the sides of hills, were originally situated that way for protection; now they’re often inhabited by fewer than 25 people and might be some of the most quaint places on earth.

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The next day was my birthday!  While being on vacation in Europe sure is a fantastic way to spend one’s birthday, it can easily turn into just another day of sightseeing without any of the typical well wishes from friends and family.

After a day of wine-tasting (and buying), Andrew took me to a small pizza place for an early dinner before our evening plans.  He even shooed me away to the bathroom so he could ask the waitress to put candles on my dessert (in French, of course).  When I came back out and sat down, out came the chef himself and the entire village square got in on the singing of ‘Happy Birthday,’ some in English and some in French.

This year, Andrew decided to make my day extra special and–after much hemming and hawing–bought us ticket to see Alexis Gruss equestrian horse ‘circus’ show.  Not only was the show amazing–it took place in the ancient Roman amphitheater in Orange, a town about 30 minutes away, which is one of only two amphitheaters in the world still standing with its stage.  It was magnificent.

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The rest of our stay in Provence was a mix of scenic drives in the countryside, visiting small town after small town (see the just-starting-t0-turn lavender, below) and more market days.

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We stopped in to Isle sur la Sorgue, which holds happy memories for us as it was the place where a kind and proud Frenchman loaned us his car years ago so we could see the many beautiful towns in the area (the trains had been on strike at the time).  Isle sur la Sorgue is known as the largest of the markets in the area and for its antique shops. We toured the market and ate lunch at Cafe du France, where I had a salad with shrimp, foie gras and smoked duck.

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We popped into Roussillon, known for its distinct red color.

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That night, at John’s recommendation, we ate at Le Comptoir de Les Vocones in Vaison la Romaine, where I ordered what he recommended: the lamb sweetbreads (neck muscles) served in a brown sauce with fresh pasta. Delightful. Andrew and I surprised each other by ordering the exact same dessert: a crepe with salted caramel ice cream, caramel sauce and whipped cream. Taken from my journal: ‘It might have been our favorite sweet of the trip.’

Andrew wanted some night shots of the ancient Roman bridge in Vaison, so we wandered the town in the dark.

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