Romantic Provence

By: Norm Goldman
Today, Norm Goldman, Editor of bookpleasures.com and sketchandtravel.com is excited to have as our guest,
Andy is an attorney in Milwaukee, WI, and is the author of Provence Made Easy, as well as several other books, Open Road's Paris Made Easy, and co-author of Eating & Drinking in Paris, Eating & Drinking in Italy, Eating & Drinking in Spain, and Eating & Drinking in Latin America.

Today, Andy is here to discuss Provence.

Good day Andy and thank you for agreeing to participate in our interview.

Norm:

Andy, when did your passion for travel writing begin? What keeps you going and how do you find the time to practice law, travel and write travel guide books?

Andy:

I was traveling in Spain with my friend Michael Dillon. We both thought our Spanish was pretty good. We knew that carne means meat, but when we tried to translate vieja ropa, we came up with old clothes. For the record, it's shredded beef (and it's delicious). Menus written in a foreign language are confusing and filled with slang and idioms. If you think about it, menus written in North America and Great Britain could be confusing if you spoke rudimentary English. Buffalo wings? Prime rib? Hash browns? Sloppy joes?

After many nights of ordering the wrong meal, I began to make notes about food items found on a menu and kept it in my pocket for use at dinner. The list grew and at one point, Michael said that I should expand the list into a book. I did and he used his graphic design background to create a beautiful presentation for publishers.

Our first guide (Eating & Drinking in Spain) was published by Capra Press, a small publisher located in Santa Barbara, California. Soon, I realized that writing a book is just the beginning. You have to promote the book. Many people write books, but if it isn't promoted properly, no one will read it. The first guide sold poorly and Capra Press was reluctant to publish the second guide, the Italy guide. They ultimately did publish Eating & Drinking in Italy, but put little into publicity.

I began to send out review copies, promotional postcards and press releases. I sent the Italy book to the New York Times and it was favorably reviewed. That made all the difference. The New York Times review was picked up by other newspapers and the Italy book sold quite well. The next guide, Eating & Drinking in Paris, was also reviewed in the New York Times, who called it an opinionated compendium.

After my series of menu translators and restaurant guides were published, I was asked to write several books for the Made Easy series featuring sights and walks. I jumped at the opportunity to write books to some of my favorite travel destinations: Provence, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin.

I love to travel. Sometimes finding the time to travel is hard, especially since I have a law practice. I've had the same assistant (Sue) for twenty years and that makes all the difference!


Norm:

Could you tell our readers where is Provence and what are the major towns that comprise this part of France?

Andy:

Provence is in the south of France. The largest city is Marseille, a vibrant and exotic port. Many travelers, put off by its urban sprawl, avoid it, as most come to this part of France for quiet villages. The four major cities are:


****Avignon: Home to the Papal Palace. Avignon was the capital of Christendom for 68 years in the 1300s and you're reminded of the papal legacy everywhere. It has a large student population and is Provence's most cosmopolitan city.

****Aix: A graceful and sophisticated city with shaded squares, bubbling fountains and the cours Mirabeau (the grand main avenue).

****Arles: Van Gogh came here in 1888 and painted some of his best-known paintings. It has a lovely Old Town, Roman ruins (especially the well-preserved Arena) and wonderful cafés.

****Nîmes: Officially part of the Languedoc region, you'll find some of the world's best-preserved Roman sights here.


Norm:

There are many very romantic little towns in Provence, if you had to opt for 6 of the most romantic and unique towns in Provence, which ones would they be and why? Do you have recommendations as to where to stay in these towns?

Andy:

Some come for the savory cuisine and wonderful wines, while others visit to get away from it all in quiet villages. There are also some of the world's best-preserved Roman ruins to see, and elegant seaside resorts where you can bask on sun-drenched beaches.

Whatever your reasons to visit, there's truly something for everyone in Provence.

FINE DINING:

LOURMARIN

Population 1,100

6 miles (10 km) south of Bonnieux. Lourmarin's winding narrow streets are lined with stone houses painted in shades of ochre and beige. The village lies at the foot of the Luberon Mountain range which is covered with pine and oak trees. Surrounding the village are olive groves and vineyards. Although French vacationers discovered this little village years ago, it's now popular with foreign tourists. It's renovated château is the site of frequent concerts and exhibits.

Visitors have quite a few cafés and restaurants to choose from. It's become the gastronomic capital of the area. It's a lovely town with much to offer, and a great base for touring some of the prettiest towns of Provence.

Recommended place to stay:

QUIET AND UNSPOILED

SAIGNON

Population: 1,050

2 miles (3 km) southeast of Apt

Out of the way, but certainly worth the trip! This lovely, quiet, and unspoiled town high on a hill has picturesque shady squares, ancient fountains and ruins of ancient baths. The wood-carved doors of the Roman church Eglise Notre-Dame de Pitié depict Christ and Mary. The cemetery behind the church provides its permanent "residents" with a panoramic view of the countryside.

Recommended place to stay:


A TASTE OF OLD PROVENCE

OPPÈDE-LE-VIEUX

Population: 1,250: 16 miles (26 km) southeast of Avignon/9 miles (14 km) south of Gordes:

This hilltop village (don't confuse it with the lower modern town of Oppède), surrounded by thick forests, was deserted in 1900. The ruins of a medieval château loom above. In fact, much of the town itself is still in ruins, although some artists and writers have moved in and beautifully restored homes.

You must park at the base of the hill and walk through a tiered garden filled with local plants labeled with their Latin, French and English names. Cross through the old city gate and walk up the steep alleys to visit the 13th-century church Notre-Dame d'Alydon, with its gargoyles and hexagon-shaped bell tower. Truly a
taste of old Provence.

ANTIQUES IN THE VENICE OF PROVENCE

L'ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE

Population: 17,200: 16 miles (26 km) east of Avignon/25 miles (40 km) southeast of Orange

The name means "Island on the Sorgue River." I love this valley town. You'll find pedestrian bridges with flower boxescrossing graceful canals. The town is often referred to as the "Venice of Provence." Nine moss-covered waterwheels (that once powered the town's paper, silk and wool mills) remain along the canals. Only Paris is said to have more antique and secondhand shops in France. There are more than 300 shops in this little town. Most are open daily. There's a huge antique fair at Easter. This otherwise quiet town is filled with crowds on Sunday. Stands loaded with local produce, crafts and antiques fill the streets along with street performers. Browse the market and then watch others do the same at one of the many cafés.

There's a more sedate market on Thursdays.

Recommended place to stay: Avignon is only 16 miles away from both
L'ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE and OPPÈDE-LE- VIEUX

.

You can stay in the expensive

OVERLOOKED

UZÈS

Population: 8,000: 15 miles (25 km) north of Nîmes/24 miles (39 km) west of Avignon

Don't bypass Uzès on the border of Provence in the Languedoc region. Begin your visit to this lovely town at the imposing Cathédrale St- Théodorit (you can't miss it and there's a large car park next to it). The cathedral, built on the site of a Roman temple, dates back to 1652. When outside, look up at the Tour Fénestrelle. It looks like the Leaning Tower of Pisa? As you face the cathedral, there's a former palace to your left that now houses the city's courts of law. Across the street from the cathedral is the old town where you'll find the ducal palace on place du Duché. Descendentsof the House of Uzès still live here.

But don't come here just for the palace, come to walk the beautiful and car-free old town and to visit the medieval garden on rue Port Royal. The place aux Herbes with sheltered walkways and medieval homes is a relaxing place to take a coffee break, although it's not so calm on Wednesday mornings and Saturdays when it hosts a lively market.

Recommended place to stay:

SUN-DRENCHED BEACHES


CASSIS

Population: 8,000: 19 miles (30 km) east of Marseille/25 miles (42 km) west of Toulon

Waterfront cafés around a beautiful port, buildings painted in pastel, boutiques and a medieval castle (theChâteau de Cassis) all make this Provence's most attractive coastal town. The water is clean and clear, and the beaches, like many others on this coast, are pebbly rather than sandy. The 1,200-foot cliff above the château is Cap Canaille, Europe's highest coastal cliff.

Frankly, there isn't much to do in Cassis except lie on the beach and either look at the castle or the beachgoers, but, after all, that's what you came here for.

Recommended place to stay: Cassis is an easy day-trip from Aix. In Aix, you can stay at the expensive or the inexpensive Hôtel Cardinal.

Norm:

As a follow up, could you name and briefly describe 6 of the most romantic restaurants in Provence.

Andy:

SÉGURET

Le Mesclun rue des Poternes: Phone: 04/90.46.93.43

Open April through October

Village restaurant serving Provençal dishes at reasonable prices. Great views of the surrounding vineyards from the outdoor terrace. Moderate.

LISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE

Lou Nego Chin

12 quai Jean Jaurès: Phone: 04/90.20.88.03

Closed Tues. and Wed. Closed Tues. in July and August

I've enjoyed Provençal fare in both the tiny restaurant and outdoors next to the canal. You can sip local wines while the ducks float by and colored lights twinkle above you. Just the type of dining experience you came to Provence for. Inexpensive Moderate.

LOURMARIN

Restaurant Michel Ange

Place de la Fontaine

Phone: 04/90.68.02.03

Closed Tues. (lunch)

This is only one choice of many in this town known for its restaurants. Outdoor dining on a quiet covered patio. Try the delicious fleurs des courgettes farcies (zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese)! Moderate.

BONNIEUX

Le Fournil

5 place Carnot

Phone: 90.75.83.62

Closed Mon., Tues., Dec. and Jan. to mid-Feb and mid-Nov. to mid-Dec.

Dine outdoors by the 12th-century fountain or inside in a grotto at this former bakery. Provençal cuisine and a great wine list. Moderate.

LE BARROUX

Les Géraniums

Place de la Croix

Phone: 04/90.62.41.08

Closed in winter

This family-owned restaurant is located in a hotel of the same name. Meals are served on the beautiful flowered terrace. Try the plateau de fromages de France, a platter of delicious French cheeses. Inexpensive Moderate.

NÎMES

Chez Jacotte

15 rue Fresque (in the Old Town)

Phone: 04/66.21.64.91

Closed Sat. (lunch), Sun. and Mon.

On a narrow street in the Old Town, this lovely restaurant serves Provençal specialties. You can dine indoors under a vaulted ceiling, or outdoors overlooking a medieval square. Moderate.


Norm:

When is the best time to visit Provence and why?

Andy:

During lavender season (late June through August), there's nothing more breathtaking than lavender fields and yellow fields of sunflowers. Lavender is harvested beginning in July. Most travelers come here in the summer. I prefer the fall. After the high-season onslaught of tourists in July and August, Provence can be even more enjoyable. It's easier to drive and easier to park in the small villages. The temperatures are comfortable, and life, especially in smaller towns, returns to normal.

Norm:

If you arrive in Paris and wish to travel to Provence, which means of transportation would you recommend?

Andy:

SNCF is the rail system for France. TGV trains are fast-speed trains that travel at up to 220 mph. TGV trains departing from Paris's Charles-de-Gaulle Airport serve Aix-en-Provence (3 hours), Arles (4 ? hours), Avignon (2 hours and 40 minutes), Cannes (6 hours via Marseille), Nîmes (3 hours), Marseille (3 hours and 15 minutes), and Orange (3 ? hours). Aix-en-Provence and Avignon have TGV stations on the edge of town.

Norm:

What does travel mean to you?

Andy:

Travel takes you out of your ordinary routine. It allows you to see how others live. Sometimes when you see how others live, you come away with not only a better understanding of the world, but a better understanding of yourself. Travel makes you think about what is truly important in life.

Norm:

Could you tell me something about your book on Provence?

Andy:

Provence Made Easy is a pocket guide to the best sights and walks of Provence. It's is all you need to make your visit fun, memorable, and easy. Inside you'll find short opinionated descriptions of both well-known and off-the-beaten-path sights detailed walking tours with street-by-street descriptions and great outdoor markets plus a travel-planning section to help you arrange your trip!
Some highlights: Walking tours including Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Nîmes, Arles, Antibes, and Nice:
Restaurant recommendations, including where the locals eat: Outspoken advice on what to avoid:
A bonus section on the French Riviera: Helpful French phrases: Great entertainment tips:

Hints on how to save money: Insider shopping tips: Color maps

What is next for Andy Herbach?

Andy:

I'm currently updating my book Paris Made Easy: The Best Sights and Walks of Paris.

Norm:

Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

Thanks so much for allowing me to talk about Provence!

Andy:

Merci, Andy et bon chance avec tous vos livres.

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