Southern France – La Joie De Vivre

Southern France is definitely among the places one has to visit at least once in a lifetime. And if you get lucky, you will take away more than you ever expected. But I’ll explain that a bit later.

Our trip was planned in advance. This certainly played a huge role, given we were traveling around Easter when the prices were spiking. The great thing about the trains of SNCF and the hotels is that you get really good deals if you book them at least a couple of months in advance. Keep that in mind.

We set for Lyon as a first stop. The city is the original french gourmet capital. One can get to savor the local cuisine at best in the Vieux Lyon quarter. On top of that, the local wines are simply amazing. Don’t go for the bottles, ask for vin de la maison (the house wine). For 10 days, we were not mistaken even once. Restaurants cater to their customers in the best way possible and wine plays a huge part in the whole user experience with the service. They know it and you will know it.

After Lyon, we made a trip north to Dijon. We took the wrong train and got to visit Mâcon while switching to the Dijon line. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to find any restaurant worth visiting. People were getting ready for Easter and so very few restaurants were open.  But we managed to have a great stroll exploring old Dijon and naturally, a set la moutarde de Dijon (Dijon mustard).

The next day, we went to Grenoble. For some reason, no one ever thought of creating a space to leave luggage at the train station. So, travel lightly. We managed to walk around with our suitcases and thanks, God, Timbuktu, and The North Face made them very durable and easy to cover the distance with. When in Grenoble, take the lift and go up, sit at the restaurant, order something and just enjoy the view.

Avignon. Ah, Avignon! Small, but quite delightful. Never stop walking there. Just get lost within the walls of the old city and stop only for food. Again, order vin de la maison. I would recommend visiting the papal palace. Yes, the only time a pope lived somewhere else rather than in Rome, was in Avignon. And naturally, the Avignon bridge – you can’t miss that, can you?

As we were walking in the narrow streets of Avignon, a friend of mine wrote from Marseille asking if we plan to visit. And so, we decided to change our plans and spend the next day in Aix-En-Provence and Marseille. Changing tickets was super easy and here went. Aix-En-Provence was amazing and very windy. I was mesmerized and did not pull my camera out. I was just experiencing it. We will have to go back, though. We kind of rushed it for just 4 hours, because we needed to catch the train to Marseille.

Marseille, just like Naples, is another Europe. The influence of Northern Africa is visible and it gives the city a particular and enjoyable twist. Marseille is also very French, and very Southern France, I might add. As a coastal city, everything is centered around the sea experience. Fish soup is recommendable if you can afford it, though – a bowl of the real thing cost about 50€. Don’t forget to walk all the way up to the church on the hill. The wind might not blow you away, but the view certainly will. And if you have a friend just like our Ves, your visit will be perfect. Merci beaucoup, Ves!

Afterward, it was time to get to Arles. It was supposed to be a regular visit to an old French town… On the way to the hotel, we have noticed that nothing works, not even public transport. The only thing that was generating any effort was the construction of marry-go-around. At the hotel, they told us that we are in town for the biggest festival in Arles and Southern France. The restaurants were getting ready; shopkeepers were building stands to sell everything you can imagine at a village fair.

We thought we saw a big church and wanted to go in and check it out… It turned, however, that it was a bar/concert hall. We probably looked so puzzled that the people inside asked us if they could help. We had a few laughs and they told us to come back at 8 pm for something very special. Ok, we said and went to look for a restaurant.

During Easter, there is a corrida in Arles. The bull, they kill there, gets to be served to you later in a few restaurants around the city. Additionally, you can try the local specialty – la paella. And no, it is not paella valenciana. Again, remember the vin de la maison!

At 8:30 pm we went back to the church and to our surprise, the venue was packed. But moreover, the stage was filled with guitars. It turned out, it was the festival of the gypsy song. Famous Roma guitar players and singers were gathering Arles every year and showing their art through incredible performances. In addition, amateur flamenco dancers and clubs from around the country were dancing their costumes off on the dancing floor. You have to experience this to believe it. Words cannot describe! It was definitely one of the best nights of my life.

The next day, we went to Nîmes. It is a small, but a very old city. One should enjoy a walk in the huge garden, the amphitheater, and the small streets in the old town. It is worth the visit when you are in Southern France.

The next stop was Montpellier. And this city gave a new definition of “laid back”. It reminded us a lot of our hometown – Plovdiv. Everyone was smiling and walking slowly. Even the trams were all painted with flowers, balloons, and animals. There were so many young people on the streets. A truly fascinating place. Be sure to visit the art museums at the end of the park in the center of the city.

Carcassonne followed the next day. Somehow we managed to visit the old city entangled by century-old walls, try the famous casserole with beans and chicken and finish up with a boat tour on the canal. It was fantastic, magnificent, simply yuge, as a certain president-elect would put it. The guide on the boat was telling us stories in French, Spanish, and English. Well, English was only for the two of us, since she heard we were from Bulgaria. She never asked if we speak French…

The next day, it was time to catch the trains home. 15 hours, I think, was the train ride back from Southern France, and specifically Montpellier, to Munich…

Southern France is worth your time. It is worth anyone’s time. I wish I knew the right words to put in this blog post our experience more eloquently.

Enjoy the photos! And don’t forget to tell me what you think!

Copyright © 2016 Borislav Kiprin. All Rights Reserved.