Friday, October 2, 2009

From Paris to Les Olivettes in Lourmarin (May 2009)

As I said in an earlier post, we were in Lourmarin and Vaugines (Southern Luberon) at a wonderful villa, but it was during January and early February 2008. Unfortunately, the mistral, rain and -3c weather made it difficult to enjoy the region (not the villa, of course, with its roaring fire) and also many places were closed as families enjoyed the holidays. We stayed until January 21, then moved on to Rome through the first week of February.

We just had to return to Lourmarin and the Luberon, so as soon as we got back home we began to search for a home exchange for the following spring. Unfortunately, we didn't succeed but we did find a rental in Lourmarin, within walking distance to the lively village, and not far from our friend and local artist, Lilian Marco. We paid our deposit and when the euro dropped against the dollar, we paid in full for a two-week stay.

First things first! We flew into CDG. By now you know, if you've been following my blogs, that we are passionate about Paris. We arranged to stay at the Novatel at Gare de Lyon (and I mean to say, we literally walked out our door and up steps and we were in the station) for two nights--one we needed just to re-acclimate after passing through so many time zones and the other to enjoy an evening with our (former) exchange friends (who now had a new baby) in the 15e. To our delight, we had been invited for an authentic French family dinner in their home, which included their extended family (our hostess's parents). What a treat!

I should also mention that before we left I was browsing around Whole Foods, a new store here in Honolulu that sells wonderful organic foods and products, and I found a homeopathic product called "No Jet Lag." As anyone who travels knows, such a product--if it worked--would be the panacea for all travelers. Lo and behold, we followed the instructions to a "t" making sure we took a small chewable every two hours, staying away from alcohol and caffeine products (ok, this was a French flight on Air France so we did have a bit of wine with dinner), and hydrating well. From the time we awoke in Hawaii until we arrived in Paris, we were up 27 hours and never missed a tablet.

Following a fabulous welcome by our friends who not only picked us up at CDG but also drove us to the 12e to our hotel, we showered, unpacked and actually felt good enough to walk through the 12e, find a brasserie our friends had suggested, have an apéro and walk back to Gare de Lyon where we picked up a couple of carry-away Paris ham and cheese on baguettes and some water and walk back to our hotel. We ate, read a bit and then got into bed about 32 hours after after we arose the day before. We slept well (10 p.m. until 6:30 a.m.) and just like that we were on French time. We now do not leave on a trip without "No Jet Lag." We highly recommend it!

We took advantage of the next day by going down to the hotel second floor for a "petit dejeuner" and coffee, then striking out to stroll through the streets of Paris--something we savor so much. We thought to explore areas near the 12e, such as Le Marais--an area we had yet to really explore. We had an entire day ahead of us since we did not have to be in the 15e for dinner with our friends and their family until 8 p.m.

We thought first to take a walk through the Marais and sit for a bit in the Place des Vosges, a lovely park abutted with exquisite apartment buildings in an up-scaled area. The park is surrounded by upscale boutiques and art galleries. As we walked we happened by the Carnavalet Museée, a 16th Century palace dedicated to the history of Paris, including royalty, the revolution, etc. The gardens stopped us immediately and we began to take snap shots. We then read a flier and were enticed inside. There is no cost for this museum and what a wonderful building and museum we found inside. We spent several hours there, before we decided to drag ourselves away and continue our trek to the park and beyond.

We couldn't help but stop to "window shop" in art galleries and boutiques that glistened with beautiful works of art and intriguing items. When we finally ended up at the Place des Vosges it was noon time and the park was full of friends and families enjoying a bite to eat, reading and just lounging and enjoying idle conversation--indeed the reason we so enjoy France. With the heat of the tropics where we live, we rarely seek out a park on a sunny afternoon.

Settling in on a bench beneath a nice shade tree, we snapped photos of the lively scene and we also enjoyed some water and conversation. After a bit we decided to walk on and our intent was to check out the Canal St. Martin, an actual working canal with several locks that permitted boats carrying supplies and cargo to utilize it as another means of delivery of goods to urban Paris. We were quite surprised by the height of the canal water, which was almost at street level. Several bridges allowed pedestrians to move freely from side to side and we caught large groups of young professionals sitting along a berm at the water's edge, eating, talking and enjoying the pleasant sight of the canal.

We suddenly felt hot and tired and in need of nourishment, so walked into the République area and found a small brasserie, where we settled to peruse the menu. Most of the people were locals and many were smoking along the sidewalk café, so we opted to eat inside. We really enjoyed it and decided that it was more pleasant and less expensive to be inside and the waiters were very friendly. I ordered a delicious fluffy light quiche that came with mixed baby lettuce in a light dressing and Doug ordered a piping hot delicious looking croc monsieur (a sort of grilled ham and cheese) with a generous portion of those crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside pomme frites. We also splurged on a nice glass of red wine each. It was such a lovely afternoon. We decided to walk back to our hotel and rest up a bit, shower and get ready to take the metro to our friends' house--but first we found a nice chocolatier and florist. We bought a box of special chocolates and a bouquet of brightly mixed-color roses that the florist, when told "c'est un cadeau" (it's a gift) wrapped nicely for us in paper with ribbons. We thought it would be nice to give the flowers to our hostess and chocolates to her mother. As it turned out, both were delighted and so were we when Maman shared her chocolates with everyone! Delicious.

We caught the appropriate métro to Grenelle, then walked the short distance to rue du Bocage. We met the new baby (now 8 months old) and our hostess's parents. What a grand time we had. We were introduced to a raclette dinner--a traditional autumn and winter meal--where thick slices of raclette cheese are placed into small nonstick pans and each person puts them under a heating element in the raclette and once melted the bubbly cheese is poured over precooked vegetables and small pieces of proscuitto, ham and saucisson. It's wonderful, especially when served with a rich delicious French champagne. We had a wonderful homemade tarte for dessert with some ice cream on top. We also were able to see our new "faux nephew" enjoy his first taste of ice cream. Needless to say, he wanted more and it was a lip smacker for him!

Fresh cool night air invigorated us on our brisk walk to the métro, after a full evening of dining and conversation. We caught the métro back to the 12e, packed up our bags, except for what we'd wear the next morning, and fell into bed. We had a mid-morning train to Aix en Provence, so had plenty of time to sleep and lounge in the a.m. What a wonderful full day.

We had breakfast at the hotel, again, then pulled our suitcases next door to the station where we easily located our train and our seats. This time we were wise and Doug went on board without all our luggage until he located our seats, then he returned to help me and to carry the luggage. It worked out very well and we had a nice comfy first class seat with large wide seats and windows for viewing. It was a very comfortable ride. However, we do advise not buying the ticket with a meal, which is an option. The train food was lousy and neither of us ate it. It's really best to simply pick up a wonderful Paris ham and cheese baguette sandwich at the station and/or some fresh fruit at the stands near the station and a drink to enjoy along the way.

A funny thing happen to us on this train ride--well, now it's funny, but then it was a bit stressful. For some reason Doug read that our train would first go to Marseille then to Aix en Provence. I thought it odd, but didn't (and should have) question it. We came into a station and the announcement was made for "Aix en Provence." This was in advance of Marseille. We both looked at one another wondering how this could be. By the time we realized that the TGV Aix en Provence station was different than the Aix en Provence station that takes you into Aix en Provence, the train was pulling away and we couldn't get off. Not knowing what to do, Doug got up and went in search of a porter--taking our tickets with him. The Porter told us that if we immediately left the train in Marseilles and ran, we could catch another train that would be leaving from Marseille and would bring us back to the TGV Aix en Provence station (we had to go back as that's where our car rental was). So, we took heed and brought our luggage to the door so that as soon as it opened we could bail out and run lickety split to catch the other train. We had no ticket, and were worried they might kick us off, but we nonetheless followed instructions.

We got on the train going to the TGV just as it was pulling out and we quickly located and sat in vacant seats, hoping nobody would come along and tell us we were in their seat or tell us we were in trouble for not having a ticket. As luck would have it, neither happened and within 30 minutes we were back where we belonged. We got off the train and immediately to our left we saw the Avis building. It was a piece of cake! Before we knew it, we were on the Autoroute heading toward Lourmarin, only an hour north. Oh joy!

Les Olivettes was charming and as nice as the Internet site photos and description. There is a huge common kitchen (in case you want to prepare a larger meal or entertain guests) and sitting area with a computer. The refurbished farm also has a huge pool, as well as many gardens and bbq areas. Our apartment was upstairs and we had a nice sitting area with a terrace and double doors, a small kitchen, small living room and a nice size bedroom and bath. We had beautiful views of gardens, olive groves, Lourmarin and the Luberon mountains with windows on all sides. Wild sage, rosemary, lavender and thyme grew everywhere and perfumed the air. We'd found paradise. It was peaceful and quiet with the only audible sound being the fountains in the gardens below. We could walk into the village in less than 10 minutes for restaurants, boutiques and stores. We also had WI-FI. What more could we possibly need, we asked. Oh yes, some good wine from the Luberon. We climbed into the Peugeot and drove to the Super U. We love those grocery stores with their selections of wines, cheeses and great foods.

One of the most wonderful things about our rental was the fact that our patron would stop at the patisserie in Lourmarin each morning as he walked to Les Olivettes (or drove) and he'd leave a basket on our mezzanine filled with freshly baked croissants, pain au chocolat and bread--still warm! We would also get some freshly made preserves or freshly picked strawberries that were very small, sweet and juicy. It was paradise for us and we eagerly awoke each morning for our "pain" and "café."

There are some especially delicious restaurants in the small village of Lourmarin. We particularly enjoyed the creperie located a few doors down from La Poste. It is called "La Bouche À Beure" and it's is absolutely delicious. We had ham and cheese crepes with a light buttery creamy sauce on top followed by the most delicious dessert crepe with boules of creamy chocolate ice cream tucked inside and fresh chantilly cream on top. We also enjoyed a crisp white wine from the Luberon region. Excellent! You must reserve the day prior, though, as it is a very popular place for locals as well as tourists. The restaurant was recommended by our friend, Lilian Marco, and we were delighted to pick her up and take her along. She knew the owner and we were treated well. We'd already enjoyed two spectacular meals with Lilian and it was our turn to treat her. We had a terrific visit with her and also bought one of her limited editions of an etching she created during winter when Lourmarin was covered with a blanket of freshly fallen snow. It's a beautiful edition to our wall space, along with another of her etchings and a water color she created. We're constantly reminded of our Luberon experiences, as we frequently look at these works of art. Nice!

There is an excellent wine shop inside the chateau, so if you want to know about local wines be sure to stop in and don't forget to tour the chateau as well. It's got quite a history.

I've provided a few photos, below (our Paris stop and a bit of Lourmarin and nearby buildings) and I think you'll enjoy them!

Breakfast (le petit dejeuner)

No Driving In Lourmarin, Park and Walk--Lovely!

Wedgewood Blue Shutters And Flower Pots Are Common In Provence (Lourmarin)

A House On A Narrow Street In Lourmarin

In Advance Of Lavender, Poppy Fields Color The Landscape Everywhere You Go!

What A Difference A Season Makes! Look Back To Jan 08 in Lourmarin! Empty!

They Sell Everything Here At Super U, Even Microwave Ovens!

Super U Display of Fresh Fruits & Vegetables

Cheese, what to buy? Super U, Puyvert Has Many Varieties

A Centuries Old Mas (farmhouse) Conversion, Now Someone's Home

This Structure Bears Witness To Years Of Repair, Centuries No Doubt

Our Daily Bread, Delivered Every A.M. With Homemade Jam, Croissants & Berries

An Olive Farm and Clos

Castles Dot The Landscape In Provence, Luberon

Sunset In Lourmarin

Typical Lunch, Saucisson, Cheese, Bread, Cherries, Olives, Radishes, Wine

Narrow Streets Of Lourmarin Lined With Boutiques

Characteristic Stone House In Provence

View Of Lourmarin in Distance From Sitting Room Of Les Olivettes

Garden View From Our Kitchen Window, Les Olivettes, Lourmarin

The View Over Olive Orchard From Our Living Room and Bedroom Window At Les Olivettes
We Arrive At Les Olivettes, Lourmarin

Our Blue Peugeot Awaited Us At Avis, A Few Steps From The Train
TGV Station Aix En Provence

The TGV Is A Sleek Blue Comfortable Ride South

Gare de Lyon Where Our TGV To Aix en Provence Awaits Us

First Melt Cheese, Then Pour It Over Vegetables/Meat. It's a Raclette! Delicious!

We're Invited To A French Raclette Party Before Leaving For Lourmarin (Yum!)

A Croc Monsieur & A Quiche Are Enjoyed At A Republîque Café

Young Professionals Congregate Along The Canal St. Martin During Lunch

The Canal St. Martin, A Working Canal In The City of Paris

The Elegant Place des Vosges, A Great Park To Relax In (Marais)

The Impressive Gardens Of Carnavalet Musée in The Marais

Beautiful Louis XIV Furnishings In A Parlor (Carnavalet)

You Can Almost Hear The Harpist Strum Softly (Carnavalet Musée)

In The Marais, A Real Find: A 1543 Palace Museum Worth Enjoying
Offers Stunning Collections From The Past (Mural Surrounding Staircase)

May's Abundance Beautifully Displayed In The Marais

The Product "No Jet Lag" Allows Us To Have An Apéro 30 Hours After Leaving Hawaii! (Ok, we look beat, but really don't feel so bad)

What Nice French Amis Who Drive From 15e To CDG To Pick Us Up!

The Gendarmes Mean Business

Next Blog: More Pictures and Words About The Southern Luberon, Dijon and Paris!

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